Saturday, April 26, 2008

Interview - Biodefense Research

Interview with Edward Hammond, Director of the U.S. Office of The Sunshine Project, an organization focusing on oversight of research involving biological weapons agents.

Inside Iraq - Media influence on Iraq?

This week Inside Iraq examines media coverage of the Iraq war and its influence.

US student held in solitary confinement on terrorism charges

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By Tom Eley

In a chilling example of the expanding prosecution of individuals on trumped-up charges of “terrorism,” Syed Hashmi, a 27-year-old US citizen and former student at Brooklyn College in New York City and at London Metropolitan University, is being held in solitary confinement in a federal prison on trumped-up charges of providing material support to Al Qaida. He could face as much as 70 years in prison.

In June 2006, Hashmi was arrested by British security personnel at Heathrow Airport, where he was waiting for a flight to Pakistan where he was to visit relatives. Eleven months later, Hashmi was extradited to the US, where he was placed in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan under conditions of extreme isolation.

Hashmi grew up in a Pakistani-American family living in Queens, New York City. He majored in political science at Brooklyn College, graduating in 2003. He then studied international relations at London Metropolitan University, earning a Masters Degree in 2005.

The evidence against Hashmi is based on the plea bargain of Mohammed Junaid Babar, another US citizen arrested on five counts of aiding Al Qaida. In exchange for testimony against Hashmi and other cases pending in Canada and the UK, Babar stands to receive a substantially reduced sentence.

According to Babar, he stayed at Hashmi’s London apartment in 2004 en route to Pakistan to deliver items such as raincoats and waterproof socks to an Al Qaida representative. He claimed that Hashmi served as a conduit in this alleged pipeline of non-lethal material, by virtue of the fact that Babar kept the items in the student’s apartment. Hashmi is also accused of allowing Babar to use his cellular phone.

While the offenses Hashmi is alleged to have committed occurred in Britain, he became the first person ever extradited by the British government to the US on terrorism charges, while never being charged in Britain itself. Under US law, any American citizen accused of aiding terrorism abroad may be charged in the US. The extradition strongly suggests that British authorities did not believe the evidence strong enough to support a prosecution there.

Hashmi’s former professors at Brooklyn College have recently circulated a “statement of concern” via e-mail. According to Jeanne Theoharis, Hashmi’s senior thesis advisor, “the statement makes no presumption about Syed’s guilt or innocence but focuses on the constitutional issues raised by his case and the ways his civil rights and liberties have been abridged.” Theoharis intends to present the petition to members of Congress, the Justice Department, and the media.

Hashmi faces severe isolation in prison, conditions imposed by the office of the US Attorney General under its so-called “special administrative measures” or “SAMs.” Theoharis described these medieval regulations:

“Hashmi must be held in solitary confinement and may not communicate with anyone inside the prison other than prison officials. Family visits are limited to one person every other week for one and a half hours and cannot involve physical contact. While his correspondence to members of Congress and other government officials is not restricted, he may write only one letter (of no more than three pieces of paper) per week to one family member. He may not communicate, either directly or through his attorneys, with the news media. He may read only designated portions of newspapers—and not until thirty days after their publication—and his access to other reading material is restricted. He may not listen to or watch news-oriented radio stations and television channels. He may not participate in group prayer. He is subject to 24-hour electronic monitoring and 23-hour lockdown, has no access to fresh air, and must take his one hour of daily recreation—when it is given—inside a cage.

“Other factors compromise Hashmi’s right to a fair trial: the government may withhold evidence from his attorneys yet share that evidence with the judge; the government may share evidence with his attorneys but not allow Hashmi to see it [...] and the conditions of Hashmi’s detention may impair his mental state and ability to testify on his own behalf.”

Additionally, Hashmi’s attorneys have been required to submit to invasive personal interrogations in order to communicate with their client. Among other things, the lawyers are required to reveal their psychiatric and drug use history over the past ten years. Hashmi’s lead attorney, Sean Maher, has protested these requirements, arguing that they lay the basis for creating a separate class of government-approved terrorism defense attorneys.

Were the government’s case against Hashmi based solely on the limited accusations and threadbare evidence exacted from Babar’s plea deal, this would already demonstrate the despotic and quasi-legal character of arrests, prosecutions, and punishment in the so-called “war on terror.” But additional evidence seems to suggest that Hashmi has been singled out for his political activity as a student.

Theoharis has pointed out that Hashmi had written his senior thesis “on the treatment of Muslim groups in the United States post- 9/11.” As a student at Brooklyn College, Hashmi was also a member of a student group called Al Muhajiroun, which may have been related to an Islamic fundamentalist movement of the same name operating out of Britain. Babar, who has now turned state’s witness against Hashmi, once spoke as guest lecturer at one of Hashmi’s student organization events.

Hashmi’s case has been virtually ignored by the US and British media after a few celebratory accounts of his 2004 arrest.

The case of Syed Hashmi serve as a stark that the “war on terror”—which both Democrats and Republicans promise will continue indefinitely—can be increasingly used for the suppression of American students and political opposition at home.

Financial speculators reap profits from global hunger

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By Stefan Steinberg

A series of reports in the international media have drawn attention to the role of professional speculators and hedge funds in driving up the price of basic commodities—in particular, foodstuffs. The sharp increase in food prices in recent months has led to protests and riots in a number of countries across the globe.

On Tuesday, April 22, a UN spokesperson referred to a “silent tsunami” that threatens to plunge more than 100 million people on every continent into hunger. Josette Sheeran, executive director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), noted: “This is the new face of hunger—the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are.”

A recent article in the British New Statesman magazine, entitled “The Trading Frenzy That Sent Prices Soaring,” notes that increases in global population and the switch to bio-fuels are important factors in the rise of food prices, but then declares:

“These long-term factors are important, but they are not the real reasons why food prices have doubled or why India is rationing rice, or why British farmers are killing pigs for which they can’t afford feedstocks. It’s the credit crisis.”

The article states that the food crisis has developed over “an incredibly short space of time—essentially over the past 18 months.” It continues: “The reason for food ‘shortages’ is speculation in commodity futures following the collapse of the financial derivatives markets. Desperate for quick returns, dealers are taking trillions of dollars out of equities and mortgage bonds and ploughing them into food and raw materials. It’s called the ‘commodities super-cycle’ on Wall Street, and it is likely to cause starvation on an epic scale.”

World prices for basic commodities such as cereals, cooking oil and milk have risen steadily since 2000, but have escalated dramatically since the developing financial crisis in the US began to bite in 2006. Since the start of 2006, the average world price for rice has risen by 217 percent, wheat by 136 percent, corn by 125 percent and soybeans by 107 percent.

Under conditions of growing debt defaults arising from the US subprime crisis, speculators and hedge fund groups have increasingly switched their investments from high-risk “bundled” securities into so-called “stores of value,” which include gold and oil at one end of the spectrum and “soft commodities” such as corn, cocoa and cattle at the other. The article in the New Statesman points out that “speculators are even placing bets on water prices” and then concludes:

“Just like the boom in house prices, commodity price inflation feeds on itself. The more prices rise, and big profits are made, the more others invest, hoping for big returns. Look at the financial web sites: everyone and their mother is piling into commodities.... The trouble is that if you are one of the 2.8 billion people, almost half the world’s population, who live on less than $2 a day, you may pay for these profits with your life.”

Investment in “soft commodities” is currently highly recommended by leading market analysts. According to Patrick Armstrong, a manager at Insight Investment Management in London, “Raw materials can prove to be the best investment class for hedge funds because the market is so inefficient. This results in more chances for profit.”

Much of the international speculation in food commodities takes place on the Chicago Stock Exchange (CHX), where a number of hedge funds, investment banks and pension funds have substantially increased their activities in the past two years. Since January of this year alone, investment activity in the agricultural sector has risen by a quarter at the CHX, and, according to the Chicago firm Cole Partners, involvement by hedge funds in the raw material sector has trebled in the past two years to reach a total of $55 billion.

Large-scale investors such as hedge and pension funds buy futures—shares in basic goods and foodstuffs to be delivered at a fixed date in the future. When the price of the commodity rises significantly between the time of the investment and the time of delivery, the investor is able to take home a large profit.

In light of the current food crisis, substantial returns of profit are guaranteed. According to CHX figures, wheat futures (for delivery in December) are expected to rise by at least 73 percent, soybeans by 52 percent, and soy oil by 44 percent.

Major ecological disasters, such as the recent drought in Australia, which hit food production and drive up basic commodity prices, are good news for the corporate investor.

Substantially reduced harvests in Australia and Canada this year have led to soaring wheat prices. Deutsche Bank has estimated that the price for corn will double, while the price for wheat will rise by 80 percent in the short term.

Such ecological disasters, which can ruin ordinary farmers and mean poverty for millions through increased food prices, are an aspect of the “inefficiency” of the raw materials market referred to above, which currently makes “soft commodities” such an attractive prospect for major speculators.

Deadly greed

An article headlined “Deadly Greed” in the current edition of the German weekly Der Spiegel gives some details of the activities of hedge funds in food market speculation. The magazine cites the example of the hedge fund Ospraie, which is generally regarded as the biggest of the management funds currently dealing in basic foodstuffs.

The manager of the fund, Dwight Anderson, is nicknamed “the raw materials king.” Already, in the summer of 2006, Anderson was recommending the “extraordinary profitability” of agricultural crops to his shareholders. While Ospraie is reluctant to publicise its profit levels from speculation in basic commodities, a leading German investor is less reticent.

Andreas Grünewald started up his Münchner Investment Club (MIC) in 1989 with seed capital equal to just €15,000. MIC now controls a volume of €50 million, of which €15 million is from investment in raw materials.

According to Grünewald, “Raw materials are the mega-trend of the decade,” and his company intends to intensify its involvement in both water and agricultural stocks. MIC investment in wheat alone has already yielded profit levels of 93 percent for the 2,500 members of the club.

The Spiegel article points out that MIC and its members give little thought to the catastrophic consequences of their speculative investment policy for undeveloped countries. “Most of our members are rather passive and orientated to profit,” Grünewald notes.

MIC, with its €50 million, is a minor player compared to the finance giant ABN Amro, which recently acquired a unique certificate allowing it to speculate on behalf of smaller investors on the CHX.

In the wake of the hunger revolts that took place a few weeks ago, ABN Amro put out a prospectus noting that India has enforced a ban on exports of rice, which, together with poor harvests in a number of countries, has led to a worldwide decline in rice reserves. “Now,” ABN Amro notes in its prospectus, “it is possible for the first time to have a share in the number one foodstuff in Asia.”

According to the Spiegel report, those responding to the ABN Amro appeal were able to realise a 20 percent rate of profit in the space of three weeks—a period that saw a huge increase in investment in rice in Chicago and other major centres.

Biofuel investment

Another particularly lucrative investment sector contributing substantially to the current global food crisis is biofuels. Initially championed as a means of protecting the environment, biofuels have become increasingly identified by big business as a profitable alternative to increasingly expensive oil. Within the space of a few years, biofuel has become a booming private industry capable of generating large rates of profit.

Huge tracts of land across the planet have in recent years been switched from food crops to the production of ethanol or biofuel, aimed primarily as a supplement to oil-based gasoline. Next year, the use of US corn for ethanol is forecast to rise to 114 million tonnes—nearly a third of the entire projected US crop.

In the words of Jean Ziegler, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, the switch to biofuels at the expense of traditional forms of agriculture is nothing less than a “crime against humanity.”

Although maize production worldwide is growing, the increase is being more than absorbed by biofuel diversification. According to the World Bank, global maize production increased by 51 million tonnes between 2004 and 2007. During that time, biofuel production in the US alone (mostly ethanol) rose by 50 million tonnes, absorbing almost the entire global increase.

Subsidised by the US government, American farmers have diverted fully 30 percent of corn production into the ethanol scheme, driving up the cost of other, more expensive, grains that are being bought as substitutes for animal feed.

The European Union, India, Brazil and China all have their own targets to increase biofuels. The EU has declared that by 2010, 5.75 percent of all gasoline sold to motorists in Europe must stem from biofuel production. This month, a UK law enforced a mandatory mix of 2.5 percent biofuel in gasoline sold to motorists. A similar law stipulating a staggered 10 percent increase in biofuel share in gasoline was recently struck down in Germany following opposition from the auto industry, as well as ordinary car owners who would be forced to buy new cars to accommodate the new fuel.

In addition to the rapidly rising price of basic commodities as a result of the decreased production of grains for food purposes, the switch to crop production of biofuels has served to orient food prices to the high price of fuel. An equivalence is emerging between the price of food and the price of oil.

According to Josette Sheeran of the World Food Programme: “We are seeing food in many places in the world priced at fuel levels,” with increasing quantities of food “being bought by energy markets” for biofuels.

With oil topping $100 a barrel, the biofuel sector is currently regarded as a potential source of huge returns for investors. The drive for maximum profits by the biofuels sector was summed up in the advertisement for a congress held in 2006, which declared:

Biofuels Finance and Investment World is Europe’s definitive investor congress focusing exclusively on the value chain evolving around the new biofuels economy. Investors and financial institutions will gather with key industry stakeholders to discuss future investment opportunities, the risks and areas with huge potential for profit.”

The April 22 edition of Money Week recommends that investors stung by the subprime crisis switch their funds to the lucrative biofuels market. Money Week sides with Fortune magazine in identifying the oil multinational Royal Dutch Shell group as a guarantor of good returns: “We love it because it makes huge profits and is very cheap, but apparently it also has a large stake in Iogen, a Canadian firm with an exciting-sounding ‘potential breakthrough in ethanol technology.’”

Food crisis needs aid on scale of tsunami to avert famine

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By Ben Russell

Pressure for international action to combat the "silent tsunami" of the global food crisis intensified amid warnings that spiralling prices meant more than 100 million people could be plunged into hunger.

A Downing Street food summit called by Gordon Brown heard calls for the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to bring forward aid payments to countries worst hit as the first step towards a co-ordinated action by the G8 industrialised nations to tackle the worst food crisis for a generation.

Britain announced a £455m aid package, including £30m to the World Food Programme (WFP) and funding for research into food production methods.

The Government rowed back from its support for biofuels, announcing a review of the technology and warning that ministers would press for cuts in European biofuel targets if they are found to hit food prices.

Mr Brown said: "We need to look closely at the impact of biofuels on food prices and the environment." The European Commission also pledged nearly £100m to help the worst-hit regions. Estimates suggest that 25,000 people are dying daily from hunger, a crisis exacerbated by food prices that have hit their highest level since 1945.

Josette Sheeran, the executive director of the WFP, warned that food prices had pushed 100 million people into hunger and likened the crisis to the giant Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 250,000 people and left 10 million destitute. She said: "This is the new face of hunger – the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are."

She called for an aid effort similar to the £6bn given to help victims of the 2004 tsunami.

The Prime Minister said that food shortages represented a crisis on a par with the global turmoil in the financial markets, and threatened the stability of nations. There have been food riots on Haiti and unrest in a string of countries including Egypt, Mozambique, Senegal and Indonesia.

Leaders in South America have also warned about the impact of biofuel production on food supply.

Mr Brown said that global problems of food supply were contributing to spiralling prices on British high streets. He said: "Hunger is a moral challenge to each one of us as global citizens, but it is also a threat to the political and economic stability of poor nations around the world. Riots now threaten democratically elected governments."

At Strasbourg, Louis Michel, the European commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, told MEPs that the growing cost of basic food is "a worldwide humanitarian disaster in the making".

A report for the international affairs think-tank Chatham House said that a revolution in agriculture was needed to cope with a projected 50 per cent increase in the demand for food by 2030.

The report's author, Dr Alex Evans, said: "While the current focus on humanitarian aid is welcome, we need to be thinking now about the long term too – especially how to grow food supply and make sure that the process benefits rural poor people. What we're seeing now is the start of a multi-decade challenge."

Vicky Hird, Friends of the Earth food campaigner, said: "Food production must be revolutionised to prevent a global catastrophe. This means developing food and trade policies that put people and the planet first and abandoning damaging false solutions such as biofuels and GM."

No Middle East Peace Without Tough Love

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By Henry Siegman

We now have word that Tony Blair, envoy of the Middle East Quartet (the UN, the EU, Russia and the United States), and German Chancellor Angela Merkel intend to organize yet another peace conference, this time in Berlin in June. It is hard to believe that after the long string of failed peace initiatives, stretching back at least to the Madrid conference of 1991, statesmen and stateswomen are recycling these failures without seemingly having a clue as to why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is even more hopeless today than before these peace exercises first got underway.

The scandal of the international community's impotence in resolving
one of history's longest bloodlettings is that it knows what the problem is but does not have the courage to speak the truth, much less deal with it. The next peace conference in Germany (or in Moscow, where the Russians want to hold it) will suffer from the same gutlessness that has marked all previous efforts. It will deal with everything except the problem primarily responsible for this
conflict's multi-generational impasse.

That problem is that for all of the sins attributable to the Palestinians - and they are legion, including inept and corrupt leadership, failed institution-building and the murderous violence of the rejectionist groups-there is no prospect for a viable, sovereign Palestinian state primarily because Israel's various governments, from 1967 until today, have never intended allowing such a state to come into being.

It is one thing if Israeli governments had insisted on delaying a
Palestinian state until certain Israeli security concerns were dealt
with. But no government that is serious about a two-state solution to
the conflict would have pursued without let-up the theft and
fragmentation of Palestinian lands that even a child understands makes Palestinian statehood impossible.

Given the overwhelming disproportion of power between the occupier and the occupied, it is hardly surprising that Israeli governments and their military and security establishments found it difficult to resist the acquisition of Palestinian land. What is astounding is that the international community, pretending to believe Israel's claim that it is the victim and its occupied subjects the aggressors, has allowed this devastating dispossession to continue and the law of the jungle to prevail.

As long as Israel knows that by delaying the peace process it buys
time to create facts on the ground that will prove irreversible, and that the international community will continue to indulge Israel's pretense that its desire for a two-state solution is being frustrated by the Palestinians, no new peace initiative can succeed, and the dispossession of the Palestinian people will indeed become irreversible.

There can be no greater delusion on the part of Western countries
weighed down by guilt about the Holocaust than the belief that
accommodating such an outcome would be an act of friendship to the Jewish people. The abandonment of the Palestinians now is surely not an atonement for the abandonment of European Jewry seventy years ago, nor will it serve the security of the State of Israel and its people.

John Vinocur of the New York Times recently suggested that the
virtually unqualified declarations of support for Israel by Merkel and
French President Nicolas Sarkozy are "at a minimum an attempt to seek Israeli moderation by means of public assurances with this tacit
subtext: these days, the European Union is not, or is no longer, its
reflexive antagonist." But the expectation that uncritical Western
support of Israel would lead to greater Israeli moderation and greater willingness to take risks for peace is blatantly contradicted by the conflict's history.

Time and again, this history has shown that the less opposition Israel
encounters from its friends in the West for its dispossession of the
Palestinians, the more uncompromising its behavior. Indeed, Olmert's reaction to Sarkozy's and Merkel's expressions of eternal solidarity and friendship have had exactly that result: Olmert approved massive new construction in East Jerusalem- authorizing
housing projects that were frozen for years by previous governments because of their destructive impact on the possibility of a peace agreement-as well as continued expansion of Israel's settlements. And Olmert's defense minister, Ehud Barak, declared shortly after Merkel's departure that he will remove only a token number of the more than 500 checkpoints and roadblocks that Israel has repeatedly promised, and just as repeatedly failed, to dismantle.

That announcement shattered whatever hope Palestinians may have had for recovery of their economy as a consequence of the seven billion dollars in new aid promised by the international donor community in Paris last December. In these circumstances, the donor countries, not to speak of the private sector, will not pour good money after bad, as they so often have in the past.

So what is required of statesmen is not more peace conferences or
clever adjustments to previous peace formulations, but the moral and
political courage to end their collaboration with the massive hoax the
peace process has been turned into. Of course, Palestinian violence
must be condemned and stopped, particularly when it targets civilians. But is it not utterly disingenuous to pretend that Israel's
occupation-maintained by IDF-manned checkpoints and barricades,
helicopter gunships, jet fighter planes, targeted assassinations and
military incursions, not to speak of the massive theft of Palestinian
lands-is not itself an exercise in continuous and unrelenting violence
against more than 3 million Palestinian civilians? If Israel were to
renounce violence, could the occupation last even one day?

Israel's designs on the West Bank are not much different than the
designs of the Arab forces that attacked the Jewish state in 1948 - the nullification of the international community's partition resolution of
1947. Short of addressing the problem by its right name-something that is of an entirely different order than hollow statements that
"settlements do not advance peace"-and taking effective collective
action to end a colonial enterprise that disgraces what began as a
noble Jewish national liberation struggle, further peace conferences,
no matter how well intentioned, make their participants accessories to one of the longest and cruelest deceptions in the annals of
international diplomacy.

* Henry Siegman, director of the US/Middle East Project in New York, is research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Program, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Siegman is a former national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America.

Happy Passover and Have a Pleasant Closure

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By Bassam Aramin

How beautiful and wondrous is the exodus from slavery to freedom, and how glorious is liberation from the ropes of enslavement! How heavenly is it to be freed from occupation, and how fine is the justice that follows oppression! How good it is to win the opportunity to express oneself freely after years of repression and exploitation, and to be saved from death during a time of massacre! The concepts around which all of these statements revolve are the freedom and liberty that each human being deserves, those grand ideals that affect every individual as well as society as a whole. And if we look at the underlying values of the Jewish holidays we will find a focus upon freedom and liberation and opposing slavery and oppression.

But the reality we live in is the complete opposite. For in a way that never ceases to amaze there is no end to the oppressive behavior of those who originated these holidays and speak in the name of these values. For what is the Israeli occupation but a fusion of enslavement and suppression and oppression, incarceration and the hijacking of the freedom of the Palestinian people as a whole in a way that prevents them from moving freely and carrying out their daily lives? It is as if the whole concept of freedom doesn't apply to anyone except the Israeli Jewish people.

Take, for instance, the holiday of Passover, the holiday of liberation that is going on right now. Jews all over the world are reclining, family by family, around the seder table, the table of freedom. Above all, each celebrant must imagine himself as if he himself was a slave in Egypt , and remember that today he is a free man, Ben Khorin. And the members of the Israeli families, like all Jews around the world, talk about the value of freedom for all humans, regardless of their differences—with the exception of the Palestinians whom they place on the outside of this moral equation. Perhaps because in the eyes of the Israelis (and I do not wish to say, `the Jews`), we do not belong to the human family. Therefore, from the beginning of the celebration of Passover a complete closure has been enacted upon the Palestinians, all of whom are now subject to restrictions of movement enforced by the soldiers of the occupying Israeli army. And all this in the name of a transcendent, noble need: that the Chosen People can celebrate their holiday of freedom, and commemorate their deliverance and their exodus from slavery to freedom, even at the cost of enslaving another people. We can see how the well-known saying that the freedom of one man ends where the freedom of another begins has not yet penetrated the minds and hearts of Israeli Jewish celebrants.

So I take this opportunity to call upon the Israeli Jew who is celebrating his holiday of freedom to answer this question: How on this night can you stand to celebrate your freedom at the expense of another's freedom? Was the value of human freedom created for you and you alone? How can you even think about celebrating your holiday when your neighbors suffer under closure? Have you never stopped to think that the values this holiday embodies are in complete opposition to your behavior in reality?

And to all the progressive Jews who feel ashamed at the actions of the government of the occupation that decrees closures upon the Palestinians to commemorate Passover, I say to them: How can your voices be heard at the highest levels against the continuation of the oppression of the Palestinian people? I wish that next year the Palestinian people will celebrate its independence from the Israeli occupation, and that this will be the biggest and sweetest celebration in the history of our people—we who dedicate our lives day in and day out to the pursuit of our freedom. And until that day comes, I wish my friends a happy holiday and ask that they wish us, at the very least, a `quiet closure.`

Evidence-based bombing

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By Scott Ritter

It looks as if Israel may, in fact, have had reason to believe that Syria was constructing, with the aid and assistance of North Korea, a facility capable of housing a nuclear reactor. The United States Central Intelligence Agency recently released a series of images, believed to have been made from a videotape obtained from Israeli intelligence, which provide convincing, if not incontrovertible, evidence that the "unused military building" under construction in eastern Syria was, in fact, intended to be used as a nuclear reactor. Syria continues to deny such allegations as false.

On the surface, the revelations seem to bolster justification not only for the Israeli air strike of September 6 2007, which destroyed the facility weeks or months before it is assessed to have been ready for operations, but also the hard-line stance taken by the administration of President George W Bush toward both Syria and North Korea regarding their alleged covert nuclear cooperation. In the aftermath of the Israeli air strike, Syria razed the destroyed facility and built a new one in its stead, ensuring that no follow-up investigation would be able to ascertain precisely what had transpired there.

Largely overlooked in the wake of the US revelations is the fact that, even if the US intelligence is accurate (and there is no reason to doubt, at this stage, that it is not), Syria had committed no crime, and Israel had no legal justification to carry out its attack. Syria is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and under the provisions of the comprehensive safeguards agreement, is required to provide information on the construction of any facility involved in nuclear activity "as early as possible before nuclear material is introduced to a new facility". There is no evidence that Syria had made any effort to introduce nuclear material to the facility under construction.

While the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the global watchdog responsible for the implementation of nuclear safeguards inspections, has pushed for the universal adherence to a more stringent safeguards standard known as the "additional protocol of inspections", such a measure is purely voluntary, and Syria has refused to sign up to any such expansion of IAEA inspection activity until such time as Israel signs the NPT and subjects its nuclear activities to full safeguards inspections. While vexing, the Syrian position is totally in keeping with its treaty obligations, and so it is Syria, not Israel, that was in full conformity with international law at the time of Israel’s September 6 2007 attack.

The United States and Israel contend that the Syrian-North Korean construction project was part of a covert nuclear weapons programme. However, even the United States admits that the facility under construction in Syria lacked any reprocessing capacity, meaning its utility for producing plutonium for a nuclear bomb was nil. Rather than serving as the tip of the iceberg for a nuclear weapons programme, it seems more likely that the Syrian facility was intended for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Following the same path as Iran, Syria most probably was positioning itself to present the world with a fait acompli, noting that the current US-Israeli posture concerning the regime in Damascus would not enable Syria to pursue and complete any nuclear programme declared well in advance. By building the reactor in secret, Syria would be positioned to declare the completed facility to the IAEA prior to the introduction of any nuclear material, and then hope to hide behind the shield of the IAEA in order to prevent any Israeli retaliation.

But this is all speculation. By bombing the Syrian facility, Israel not only retarded any Syrian nuclear ambition, peaceful or otherwise, but also precluded a full, definitive investigation into the matter by the international community. Perhaps fearful that Syrian adherence to the NPT would underscore its own duplicity in that regard, the Israeli decision to bomb Syria not only allowed the Syrian effort to be defined as weapons-related (an unproven and unlikely allegation), but by extension reinforced the Israeli (and American) contention that the nuclear activity in Iran was weapons-related as well.

The international debate that has taken place about the Syrian facility shows how successful the Israeli gambit, in fact, was, since there is virtually no discussion about the fact that Israel violated international law in attacking, without provocation, a sovereign state whose status as a member of the United Nations ostensibly affords it protection from such assault. The American embrace of the Israeli action, and the decision to produce intelligence information about the nature of the bombed facility at this late stage in the game, only reinforces the reality that the United States has turned its back on international law in the form of arms control and non-proliferation agreements.

The Bush administration seeks to use the alleged Syrian nuclear facility as a lynchpin in making its arguments against not only the Iranian nuclear programme, but also to scuttle the current discussions with North Korea over its nuclear weapons activities. Having embraced pre-emptive war as a vehicle to pursue its unilateral policy of regime change in Iraq (and having sold that conflict based upon hyped-up weapons of mass destruction charges), it should come as no surprise that the Bush administration would seek to support, and repeat, past patterns of behaviour when pursuing similar policies with Syria, Iran and North Korea.

Truth, and the adherence to international law, have never been an impediment to implementation of American policy objectives under the Bush administration.

“Farewell Israel”: Myth and Reality

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By Alan Hart

With his political documentary FAREWELL ISRAEL, Bush, Iran and The Revolt of Islam, American director Joel Gilbert has launched what could be described as Zionism’s propaganda weapon of last resort.

The film is described by its promoters as “An historic journey, from the birth of Islam, through its 1,200 year reign over the civilised world, to the last 300 years of Islamic decline, overtaken and dominated by the West - then humiliated by a Jewish state… In this groundbreaking film, the total rejection of Israel by Muslim states since its inception in 1948 comes to light as a religious duty for Believers.” (My emphasis added).

According to the same promotional script: “The Iranian agenda for acquiring strategic weapons to eliminate Israel comes clearly into focus. Today, at the direction of Iran, Islamists are preparing for a fateful war for Islam - and Israel is the number one target and obstacle in the path of Islamic revival for Muslims.”

For the sake of discussion, let’s suppose that sometime in the foreseable future Iran does have nuclear weapons. Would it then go for a nuclear first strike against Israel? The answer, I assert, is no. Never! So what really is all the Zionist and American neo-con fuss about?

Perhaps without realising that he has let a great, big cat out of the bag, Joel Gilbert has provided the answer. He says (my empasis added): “Even without attacking Israel, the mere capabilty of Iranian missiles to lay waste to Tel Aviv would create a ‘strategic umbrella,’ preventing Israel from using its superior strategic assets in a conventional war. With Israeli missiles neutralised, Muslim countries could overwhelm Israel with their superior numbers, conventional armor and short range missiles.”

And that’s the real point. Israel’s military leaders and their political yes-men don’t believe, and never have believed, that Iran, if it possessed nuclear weapons, would unleash them in a first strike against the Zionist state. The real problem for its leaders is that the moment Israel ceased to be the only nuclear-armed power in the region, would be the moment it lost its ability to impose its will on the region. And actually the world.

I don’t doubt that Joel Gilbert is “one of the few Western scholars of historic Islamic-Jewish relations”, but that has not prevented him from closing his mind to the reality of events and the truth of history. The statement that Muslim states have totally rejected Israel from its birth in 1948 is nothing but a manifestation of Zionist propaganda nonsense. As documented in THE IRON WALL, Israel and the Arab World by Professor Avi Shlaim, one of the two leading Israeli “revisionist” (which means honest) historians of our time, de-classified Israeli state papers and the diaries of departed leaders leave no room to doubt that it was Israel, not the Arab states, which never missed an opportunity to close the door to peace.

And still today the impotent but pragmatic regimes of the Arab and wider Muslim world are prepared, with the consent of the overwhelming majority of their citizens, to make peace with an Israel inside its pre-1967 borders. It’s true that Zionism is not interested in a genuine two-state solution because it’s mission was and is to take for keeping the maximum amount of Arab land with the minimum number of Arabs on it; but that doesn’t change the fact that most Arabs and other Muslims would, even now, accept an Israel withdrawn from all the territory it grabbed in the 1967 war.

The main message of FAREWELL ISRAEL, Bush, Iran and the Revolt of Islam is addressed in particular to the present and the next occupant of the White House. It, the message, is something like this: “Don’t push Israel to do things it doesn’t want to do because it’s facing the real danger of annihilation, and that being so, it’s prepared to tell the world to go to hell if necessary.” (If necessary means in the event of the major powers led by America requiring Israel to be serious about peace on terms virtually all Palestinians and most other Arabs and Muslims everywhere could accept).

From reading between the lines of what Zionists and other supporters of Israel right or wrong have been saying and writing for the past year and more, it’s clear that at least some of them do believe that the day is coming when an America administration will conclude that the Zionist state is more of a liability than an asset, and will be prepared to apply all necessary pressure in an effort to cause it to make peace on terms the overwhelming majority of Palestinians and other Arabs and most Muslims everywhere could accept.

And that’s the context in which I suggest that Joel Gilbert’s documentary could be described as a Zionist propaganda weapon of last resort. Its purpose is to explain in advance why Israel might one day tell an American President to go to hell.

On the subject of Joel Gilbert’s vision of Israel one day being overwhelmed, I recall the words spoken to me many years ago by Golda Meir, Mother Israel, when she was prime minister. At a point during an interview I did with her for the BBC’s Panorama programme, I interrupted her to say: “Prime Minister, I want to be sure I understand what you’re saying… You are saying that if ever Israel was in danger of being defeated on the battlefield, it would be prepared to take the region and the whole world down with it?”

As stated on the second page of Waiting for the Apocalypse, the Prologue to Volume One of my book Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, Golda replied, without the shortest of pauses for reflection, and in the gravel voice that could charm or intimidate American Presidents according to need, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.”

Within an hour of that interview being transmitted at eight o’clock on a Monday evening, The Times (pre-Murdoch and not then a cheer leader for Zionism) had changed its lead editorial. Its new one quoted what Golda had said to me and then added its own opinion - “We had better believe her.”

I did and still do.

‘Western Leaders Are War Criminals’

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By Mick Meaney

The former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, has echoed calls for Western leaders to be charged with war crimes over the illegal invasion of Iraq.

Speaking at Imperial College in London Mahathir, who was in office from 1981 to 2003, singled out US President George Bush, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australia’s former prime minister John Howard as he wants to see them tried “in absence for war crimes committed in Iraq”.

The event was organised by the Ramadhan Foundation which is a leading British Muslim youth organisation working for peaceful co-existence and dialogue between communities.

Mohammed Shafiq, spokesman for the group said: “It was an opportunity for students to put a range of questions about war crimes and the international situation. He said that people have to stop killing each other and use arbitration, negotiation and discussion as an alternative to violence, war and killing.”

Speaking about the Iraq war, Mahathir focused on “the thousands dying, the economic war, the power of oil and how we could utilise some of these tools to have a leverage against the people who commit countries to war”, Shafiq said.

The event was incredibly well attended with over 450 people and 200 more had to be turned away.

Among the mountain of war crimes Western leaders are guilty of include:-

The illegal use of napalm and other chemical weapons

Intentionally torturing and abusing detainees

Blocking aid convoys

Killing unarmed civilians, including shooting into family homes

Western leaders are also guilty of many other violations of the Geneva Convention, the Charter of the United Nations, the Nuremberg Charter, International Law and the Constitution of the United States, including crimes against peace and crimes against humanity.

International law professors have called the attack against Iraq “a fundamental breach of international law (that) would seriously threaten the integrity of the international legal order that has been in place since the end of the Second World War.”

Mahathir Mohamad’s statement appears to be valid as the International Criminal Court defines the following as international crimes:

(a) Crimes against Peace:

Namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing:

(b) War Crimes:

Namely, violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations include, but not be limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity:

(c) Crimes against Humanity:

Namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.

Iraqis Dying for Us to Leave

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By Dahlia Wasfi

During the build-up to our illegal invasion of Iraq, American mainstream corporate media failed to challenge the lies of our government. Serving more as a lapdog than watchdog of the administration, the media perpetuated the lies of Iraqi connections to Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and the events of September 11, 2001. In fact, the Iraqi people—suffering and starving during economic sanctions—NEVER posed a threat to the U.S. or anyone else. Five years into our illegal occupation, while the stories have now shifted from a context of international terrorism to sectarian strife, the misinformation continues.

As I continue to speak around the U.S. calling for the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of American forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, the response shaped by the media is: “we want to bring the troops home, but we’re afraid of what might happen when we leave.” My typical reply is sarcastic: “Like we have such a good thing going [in Iraq and Afghanistan] now, we don’t want to mess it up.” It simply does not make sense to predict that while Iraqis were better off before American and British soldiers illegally invaded (free healthcare, free education, better electricity and water services, and most importantly, the security of law and order), they will be worse off when the military occupation ends. Considering four of the major consequences of foreign troop withdrawal, it is clear that the first step in the right direction—for Iraq, America, and the rest of the world—is to bring the troops home.

1. Ending the occupation means ending aerial bombing raids. Bombs dropped by pilots and personnel who cannot see their targets continue to be a significant cause of civilian morbidity and mortality. The Iraqi Air Force was destroyed in 1991; it is only American and British bombers in Iraqi air space.

2. Ending the occupation means an end to American-run prisons in Iraq. The International Red Cross/ Red Crescent (IRCC) has estimated that 70-90% of those incarcerated in these jails have been arrested “by mistake.” Young, military-aged men are rounded up in ongoing daily house raids because they are the same (assumed) age and gender of resistance fighters. Every innocent boy or man who is imprisoned, tortured, raped, and/or murdered by American prison guards is the raison d’etre of the resistance.

3. Ending the occupation means an end to U.S.-run death squads in Iraq. In the 1980’s, the horrors of kidnappings, disappearances, torture, murder, and bodies in the streets terrorized the societies of Latin American countries with American CIA involvement (e.g. Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador). This frightening description applies to Iraqi society today, where American administrators and military are in charge. Without further Congressional supplemental bills for occupation, there is no further funding for death squads and mercenaries.

4. Ending the occupation means an end to the rape, torture, and murder of Iraqis by Americans. And I can guarantee you this: Bringing the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan means that Americans will stop dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that is the ONLY plan that will accomplish that mission.

In September 2006, a majority of Iraqis called for the removal of U.S. troops within a year; 60% supported attacks on occupying forces. The Bush administration responded with a surge of troops that brought a surge in violence and greater suffering for Iraqis. In 2006, nearly 80% of Iraqis said the U.S. military in Iraq provokes more violence than it prevents. Their concern is the deadly occupation—not civil war—that has destroyed their lives and made Iraq a failed state.

If America were invaded by violent foreigners who coveted our resources and brought death and destruction, we would fight back—NOT to defend the Bush administration and Congress, but to defend the people and lives we love. Certainly our National Guard and armed forces would be on the front lines of our defense. If we respect the humanity of Iraqis, we should not expect them to do any less. Their legitimate resistance will bring an end to our illegal occupation. We must immediately and unconditionally withdraw troops from Iraq as if lives depend on it. Because they do.

Dahlia Wasfi, M.D.

The Republican Erosion of America

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By Angel Of Mercy

There is, it seems to me, an area in the political discussion which has been woefully ignored for much, much too long. Historical fact: Prior to the rise of the radical right some 30 years ago, America was the most innovative, most prosperous, most vital nation on the face of the Earth. And it wasn’t just an obscenely rich fraction of one percent skewing the numbers, it is today. Broad-based, bottom-up prosperity--in which liberal Democratic administrations specialize--really DID lift all boats. Lean in close and let me whisper to you an uncomfortable truth that the GOP will never dare mention...

Republicans are the rogues and rapscallions who took a hearty, robust economy that was the envy of the entire world and ran it into the ground. I’m not merely talking about the current fiscal catastrophe that is looming before us; no, I’m concerning myself here more with how we got this way, how the cheap-labor conservatives conspired, deliberately and with malice aforethought, to lay us low...for that is precisely what they did.

Follow me down and I’ll show you how...

Did you know that ALL recessions since the 1930’s, save one, have taken place under Republican presidents? True fact. The single exception occurred at the conclusion of World War II during the administration of Harry S. Truman and it was one predictable consequence of ending a war. It was also the shortest, as well as the shallowest. Contrast that with the fact that we are now enduring our SECOND recession due to the gross mismanagement of that congenital idiot and the band of thugs in his administration.

The irrepressible BartCop, whom I quite enjoy, is fond of saying "It’s the Republicans’ job to crash the economy so the super-rich can swoop in and buy companies and assets for pennies on the dollar." (Vol. 2139, in "Quotes" near the top of his page) Now, this is a bit on the simplistic side, but in essence, it’s EXACTLY what they do! And another for good measure: "Never trust a Republican. It’s their job to crash the economy so their billionaire friends can buy once-healthy companies for pennies on the dollar, fire the employees and sell the assets for profit." (Vol. 1064, in "First term job growth" near the middle of his page) I’m not embedding links here because if you’ve ever visited the Tequila Treehouse, you know that it’s laid out as all one page: Disregard these words at your peril.

Need I remind you here about the Great Depression? That worldwide catastrophe was brought to your predecessors courtesy of the Republican Party. After Warren Gamaliel Harding was elected president in 1920...and died two years later, vice president Calvin Coolidge took over the Oval Office. He served out the remainder of Harding’s term and was reelected in 1924, serving until he was replaced by yet another hardline GOoPer, Herbert Hoover, in January of 1929. One of the worst of the outrages perpetrated by "Silent Cal" was the transformation of the Federal Trade Commission, through his appointees, from an agency intended to regulate corporations into one dominated BY Big Business, FOR Big Business. Sound familiar?

Looking back on the so-called "Roaring Twenties," hindsight quickly reveals the abjectly corrosive nature of Republican ideology. Andrew W. Mellon--at that time one of the three wealthiest men in America!--was Harding’s Secretary of the Treasury and Coolidge kept him on, a voracious fox charged with guarding the henhouse. Mellon’s maniacal dedication to such hair-brained schemes as income tax cuts, inheritance tax cuts and an aggressively pro-business agenda coupled with utter disdain for fiscal caution, resulted in skyrocketing debt...and made the decade appear to "roar." It also served as camouflage for underlying economic weakness. Farmers were already in an economic depression at the time and it was a widening income disparity which ultimately caused the bottom to drop out of the Stock Market on "Black Tuesday," October 29, 1929. Bank deposits were withdrawn in a frenzy after that and something on the order of NINE THOUSAND banks failed between 1930 and 1932.

Your GOP at work!

And if you think they’re not trying for a rerun, you just haven’t been paying close enough attention. Did somebody mention Bear Stearns?? The vast gulf between the "have mores" and all the rest of us is at its greatest point since then, excepting only the tech-bubble years of 1999 and 2000. It’s no secret that wages have stagnated...but creative book-cooking has hidden the extent of it. Just over a year ago, it was revealed that in the midst of unparalleled corporate profits, we also have record poverty.

How bad is it really? Well, don’t expect THIS administration to come clean...but the US Mint tells us that it’s now illegal to melt down NICKELS AND PENNIES because they’re worth more in ingots. (This leads me to wonder why the government would even bother to continue minting coins that cost more than their face value. But I digress...)

Haven’t you noticed that there isn’t really much that you want to buy anymore? Oh, I don’t mean that monster 42-inch plasma HDTV that makes you salivate just walking past it in the electronics store or those ridiculous speakers that can blow your hair around if you stand in front of them. I’m talking about the little necessities, the unsexy, everyday things like mops, brooms, shelving, shoes, clothing. Nowadays, everything is a choice between what you can tolerate, what you’ll settle for, what you don’t detest outright. For example, everything--EVERYTHING--that’s sold at Payless Shoe Source comes from China...or some equally disreputable cheap-labor cespool. Can you say that you really LIKE that stuff? You can still purchase real leather shoes that are hand-stiched and heavenly on your feet...if you want to pay an arm and a leg for them.

It’s the same story with clothing. Well-crafted items of apparel are still being made from quality material by workers who care what they’re just can’t afford them anymore! I refuse to even set foot in a Wal-Mart because they are the major enablers of Third World sweatshops. (They also take advantage of their employees, their customers, their neighborhoods and the general environment, but the litany of their sins is not my focus here; you know it as well or better than I do.) Nor do I buy those designer sneakers...and for the very same reason. Those shoes aren’t made in ANY country where they would have to pay their workers a decent, living wage. (I refer you here to the 1998 Michael Moore movie "The Big One," where Big Mike confronted Phil Knight, the CEO of Nike, on-screen about his business practices. Good stuff...)

Among the things for which I despise Wal-Mart, its very success is perhaps the biggest. These are rapacious people, the embodiment of avarice. The Walton family has more money than Midas...and it’s not enough!! Furthermore, their Republican allies in government have steadily and relentlessly undermined the Middle Class to the extent that they very nearly have no other choice about where to shop. This isn’t the result of globalization that we’re talking about here, it’s the end product of 3+ decades of deliberate GOP class warfare in their pre-meditated attempt to eradicate all those popular benefits of liberal policies that WORKED, policies like the New Deal, the Great Society and the War on Poverty. This is no accident.

Take grocery stores, for example. I recall when there was no alternative to the big chain grocery store like A & P, Kroger’s, Food Lion and Giant Eagle. Now, with people pressed to feed their families on wages which have not kept up with inflation, there are limited assortment grocery outlets making inroads into what used to be exclusive territory for the big guys. German-based Aldi Foods has met with huge success here in America utilizing its concepts of central distribution, limited assortment, private brands and stores without any frills whatsoever. (You even buy the bags in which to pack your groceries!) Close on their heels is Sav-A-Lot, a subsidiary of food distributor SuperValu, who has taken the very same strategy pioneered by Aldi and made it work for them as well. Imitation is the sincerest form or something. Sharp Shopper and PriceRite are newcomers...but it’s a good bet that you’ll be hearing from them soon.

To get the full impact of what these unclean Republicans have wrought in our once proud country, you have to turn off the computer, get up and go outside. I live in the Great Lakes area of the Midwest, not long ago the most heavily-industrialized area in the entire world. It has subsequently come to be known as the Rust Belt...and those of you who do not live here cannot possibly grasp the spot-on accuracy of that epithet. Our economic situation here is probably worse than some places...and undoubtedly better than some others. We have no shortage of water, for example. But it ain’t no Swiss picnic...

Departure of the steel industry has turned Youngstown, Ohio into a hopelessly low-income ghost town just as the passing of the rubber industry did to Akron, Ohio. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that a total of 235,900 manufacturing jobs were lost in just that one state between 2000 and 2007. These dark days I can drive past a super-abundance of half-empty--or even entirely abandoned!--strip shopping centers. The ones that still have a few remaining commercial tenants seem to be top-heavy with dollar stores selling bright, shiny trash imported from Third World ratholes; cellphone outlets with giant signs for FREE! PHONES! and discount closeout stores filled with damaged, expired merchandise. There might be a fast food chain restaurant or two, dealing in high cholesterol, factory farm burgers or grotesque sub sandwiches stuffed with don’t-wanna-know-what’s-in-it lunchmeat. (Ah, but the bread is baked fresh on-site!)

And let us not forget the ubiquitous and sleazy little payday loan joints that seem to sprout up like weeds in those places. You know the ones: They’ve got names such as Cashland, LoanSmart, Advance America and Money Mart. They’re all decked out with signs in eye-catching primary colors, fresh new facades and attractive clerks...but they’re pushing the same old usury that was disreputable in the ancient days of Plato. I came across my first article touching on the evils of this new wrinkle in loan-sharking a year and a half ago at It’s a dandy; go read. It tackles multiple aspects of the burgeoning Fringe Economy of which payday loans provide just one; also included are pawnshops, check-cashers, tax refund lenders, rent-to-own stores and "buy here/pay here" used car lots. These ravening greedweasels have targeted those most vulnerable in our society...surprise, surprise, surprise.

You see, desperate people are wont to do incredibly stupid things when their backs are up against the wall and they believe the wolf is at their door. Borrowing against the receipt of one’s next check certainly qualifies as payday lenders typically charge an annual interest rate in the 300-400% range...and that’s EXCLUDING fees and penalties. If you’ve taken out a loan for $300, for example, with a due date two weeks in the future, paying back that loan may well eat up most or all of your forthcoming paycheck...and your payday then becomes THEIR payday! And what exactly do you live on in the meantime? A recent study quoted here found that the average payday loan sucker takes out EIGHT loans in a given year and ultimately pays $800 for that $300 loan! And back in impoverished Ohio, an umbrella group representing some 600 nonprofit agencies found that the state is home to over 1650 payday extortionists, more than all of Ohio’s McDonald’s, Burger Kings and Wendy’s franchises PUT TOGETHER. That’s just wrong.

Fortunately, the runaway proliferation of these parasites has attracted the attention of Ohio lawmakers and they are all but certain to be reined in. Similar changes are occurring in South Carolina, Arkansas and New Hampshire among others. One small victory...

Of course, there’s more to this sordid story. Please stay tuned.

Cross posted at, "Centeral Command in the War of Ideas!"

Islamic Finance

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By Loretta Napoleoni

Islamic finance has become the fastest-growing, most dynamic sector of global finance. Every Western-style financial product has its sharia, i.e. Islamic law, compliant instrument: microfinance, mortgages, oil and gas exploration, bridge building, even sponsorship of sporting events. Islamic finance is innovative, flexible, and potentially very profitable. “Operating in 70 countries with about $500bn in assets, it is poised to expand geometrically.” With more than one billion Muslims eager to support it, analysts project that this system will soon manage approximately 4 percent of the world economy, equivalent to $1 trillion in assets. Such figures explain the eagerness of Western banks to tap into sharia financial services. Citigroup, along with many other Western banking retailers, have opened Islamic branches in Muslim countries.

At the end of 2004, the Islamic Bank of Britain, the first bank catering to a European Muslim client base, floated its shares on the London Stock Exchange. Ironically, Western capitalism’s three major global economic crises - the 1970s oil shocks, the late 1990s Asian crisis, and 9/11 - paved the way to the ascent of Islamic finance. Unlike market economics, Islamic finance centers on the religious tenets of Islam and operates in a way to keep Muslims compliant with sharia, the religious law that comes directly from the Koran. Islamic activists, intellectuals, writers, and religious leaders have always upheld the prohibition of riba, the interest charged by moneylenders, and denounced gharar, which refers to any type of speculation. Under this belief, money must not become a commodity in itself to create more money. Islamic finance thus shuns hedge funds and private equities, because they simply multiply cash by stripping assets. Money serves as a means or instrument of productivity as originally envisioned by Adam Smith and David Ricardo. This principle is embodied in the sukuks, Islamic bonds. Sukuks always link to real investments - for example, to pay for the construction of a toll highway - and never for speculative purposes. This principle springs from the sharia’s ban on gambling as well as on the prohibition of any forms of debt and activities that trade risk.

At the end of the nineteenth century, supporters and promoters of Islamic finance repeatedly expressed discontent with the Western-style banks that had penetrated Muslim countries.
Several fatwas, or religious decrees, were issued to reiterate the tenet that the interest-based activities of the colonizers’ banks proved incompatible with the sharia. Yet, because Western financial institutions were the only banks active in the Muslim world, the faithful had to use them even if they performed poisonous practices based on prohibited activities.

From the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, economists, financiers, sharia scholars, and intellectuals studied the possibility of scrapping interest rates and of creating financial institutions centered on a sharia-compatible alternative to the riba. In their mind the Islamic economic system would incorporate the zakat - obligatory almsgiving to help the poor - and other fundamental elements of the Muslim religion, such as the funding of the haj, i.e. the pilgrimage to Mecca. The first projects of applied Islamic economics came into existence concurrently in the 1950s in the countryside of Lower Egypt and in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Egyptian project, located in Meet Ghamr, Egypt, supported a housing plan for the less wealthy. The Malaysian government-sponsored experiment was promoted by the Pilgrims’ Administration and Fund of Malaysia. It supervised financial institutions that collected savings and invested them in accordance with the sharia. It aimed to finance the haj, which, together with the zakat, is one of the five pillars of Islam.

Until the early 1970s, Islamic economics was essentially embryonic and regarded with deep skepticism. “Back then, no one really thought Islamic banking would ever become big,” recalls Sheik Hussein Hamid Hassan, an Egyptian scholar involved in the creation of one of the first Islamic banks. “People thought it was a strange idea - as strange as talking about Islamic whiskey!” Western skepticism compounded daily because of the Muslim countries’ chronic lack of capital. They had no money to start an alternative banking system, many thought they never would, therefore people dismissed the idea of Islamic finance as merely utopian. This scenario changed with the 1973–1974 oil shock, which generated a massive capital inflow into Arab oil-producing countries from Western importers. The quadrupled price of oil generated the capital needed to put into practice what had remained only an idea debated for decades. That idea materialized with the establishment of an international developmental bank for the Islamic region. Such a bank would enhance the Organization of the Islamic Conference, considered a potential power base for some of the newly enriched countries, especially Saudi Arabia and Algeria. At the same time, the bank would serve as the instrument for distributing financial help from oil-rich Muslim countries to their brethren in Africa and Asia. The first call for the establishment of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) came from the heads of state of Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Somalia. In 1974, when the articles of agreement of the IDB were drafted, it formally stated that the bank’s activities had to be conducted in accordance with the sharia.

At the core of sharia-compliant economics there is an exceptional joint venture. Indeed, this alliance emerged in the 1970s when richMuslims and sharia scholars began working together. This unusual partnership is a phenomenon unique in modern economics, but one that cemented the foundation of a new economic system. A few visionary personalities, like PrinceMohammad al Faisal (son of the late Saudi King Faisal bin Abdul-Aziz), Saleh Kamel of Saudi Arabia, Ahmed al Yaseen of Kuwait, and Sami Hamoud of Jordan, channeled some of the new wealth produced by the first oil shock into the formation of a new breed of Islamic banks. Sharia scholars and clerics drew up the monetary structure of the new banks.

Partnership between leaders and clerics, therefore, serves as the root of Islamic finance. This concept springs from the essence of the Umma, the body or community of believers, central to the spirit of Islam. For Muslims, the Umma represents a single and unified entity; it breathes, thinks, and prays in unison. It exudes the soul of Islam. Individualism within
Islam does not make sense because Islam, based on tribal culture, does not recognize it. Traditional tribal values, such as the strong sense of belonging, the obligation to help friends in need, and the acceptance of religious leaders’ authority are the pillars of Muslim culture. Sharia scholars transplanted these values into Islamic economics; these same principles allowed Arab Bedouins to withstand the harshness of the desert for centuries. Cooperation was essential in such a hostile environment and is still a must in modern times.

Partnership is the heartbeat of Islamic economics. “Underlying the system is the philosophy of risk sharing: the lender must share the borrower’s risk, making the two in effect partners, injecting a strong social component into the financial system. This concept separates Islamic Finance from Western Finance, which seeks to maximize profits and minimize loss through diversification and risk transfer.” Also, money must be put to work. Because Islamic finance prohibits interest, it seeks revenues from rents, royalties, business profits, or commodity trading; a mortgage, for example, represents a “rent to buy” arrangement. Thus, conceptually, Islamic economics is the opposite of Western finance, which revolves around the individual’s self-interest.

Above all, Islamic finance represents the sole global economic force that conceptually challenges rogue economics. It does not allow investment in pornography, prostitution, narcotics, tobacco, or gambling. As discussed above, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, all these areas have blossomed thanks to globalization outlaws under the indifferent eyes of the market-state.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Says US Preparing Military Options Against Iran

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By Ann Scott Tyson

The nation's top military officer said today that the Pentagon is planning for "potential military courses of action" against Iran, criticizing what he called the Tehran government's "increasingly lethal and malign influence" in Iraq.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a conflict with Iran would be "extremely stressing" but not impossible for U.S. forces, pointing specifically to reserve capabilities in the Navy and Air Force.

"It would be a mistake to think that we are out of combat capability," he said at a Pentagon news conference.

Still, Mullen made clear that he prefers a diplomatic solution to the tensions with Iran and does not foresee any imminent military action. "I have no expectations that we're going to get into a conflict with Iran in the immediate future," he said.

Mullen's statements and others by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates recently signal a new rhetorical onslaught by the Bush administration against Iran, amid what officials say is increased Iranian provision of weapons, training and financing to Iraqi groups that are attacking and killing Americans.

In a speech Monday at West Point, Gates said Iran "is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons." He said a war with Iran would be "disastrous on a number of levels. But the military option must be kept on the table given the destabilizing policies of the regime and the risks inherent in a future Iranian nuclear threat."

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, who was nominated this week to head all U.S. forces in the Middle East, is preparing a briefing soon to lay out detailed evidence of increased Iranian involvement in Iraq, Mullen said. The briefing will detail, for example, the discovery in Iraq of weapons that were very recently manufactured in Iran, he said.

"The Iranian government pledged to halt such activities some months ago. It's plainly obvious they have not. Indeed, they seem to have gone the other way," Mullen said.

He said recent unrest in the southern Iraqi city of Basra had highlighted a "level of involvement" by Iran that had not been understood by the U.S. military previously. "It became very, very visible in ways that we hadn't seen before," he said.

But while Mullen and Gates have recently stated that Tehran must know of Iranian actions in Iraq, which they say are led by Iran's Revolutionary Guard, Mullen said he has "no smoking gun which could prove that the highest leadership [of Iran] is involved in this."

In an incident early local time yesterday, a cargo ship contracted by the U.S. military fired "several bursts" of warning shots at two fast boats that approached in international waters off the Iranian coast, defense officials said today.

The unidentified small boats approached the Westward Venture, a ship carrying U.S. military hardware, as it headed north through the central Persian Gulf at about 8 a.m. local time, said Cmdr. Lydia Robertson, spokeswoman for the Navy's Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain.

The U.S. ship initiated bridge-to-bridge communications, and, after receiving no response, it fired a flare. The speed boats continued to approach, so the ship fired warning shots with a .50-caliber machine gun and M16 rifle. The boats then left the area, she said.

"They fired several bursts, it went pretty quickly," Robertson said.

Soon afterwards, an Iranian coast guard boat queried the Western Venture, Robertson said. It was unclear whether that was one of the small boats.

"There have been some Iranian boats that have operated this way, and some unidentified boats," said Robertson, adding that the crew had no voice communication with the small boats.

In January, five Iranian patrol boats sped toward a U.S. warship and dropped small, boxlike objects in the water, an incident that alarmed military officials and that President Bush called "a provocative act." The objects turned out to pose no threat to the USS Port Royal or two other U.S. vessels accompanying it.

9/11 Contradictions: When Did Cheney Enter the Underground Bunker?

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By David Ray Griffin

With regard to the morning of 9/11, everyone agrees that at some time after 9:03 (when the South Tower of the World Trade Center was struck) and before 10:00, Vice President Dick Cheney went down to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), sometimes simply called the “bunker,” under the east wing of the White House. Everyone also agrees that, once there, Cheney was in charge---that he was either making decisions or relaying decisions from President Bush. But there is enormous disagreement as to exactly when Cheney entered the PEOC.

According to The 9/11 Commission Report, Cheney arrived “shortly before 10:00, perhaps at 9:58” (The 9/11 Commission Report [henceforth 9/11CR], 40). This official time, however, contradicts almost all previous reports, some of which had him there before 9:20. This difference is important because, if the 9/11 Commission’s time is correct, Cheney was not in charge in the PEOC when the Pentagon was struck, or for most of the period during which United Flight 93 was approaching Washington. But if the reports that have him there by 9:20 are correct, he was in charge in the PEOC all that time.

Mineta’s Report of Cheney’s Early Arrival

The most well-known statement contradicting the 9/11 Commission was made by Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta during his public testimony to the 9/11 Commission on May 23, 2003. Saying that he “arrived at the PEOC at about 9:20 AM,” Mineta reported that he then overheard part of an ongoing conversation, which had obviously begun before he arrived, between a young man and Vice President Cheney. This conversation was about a plane coming toward Washington and ended with Cheney confirming that “the orders still stand.” When Commissioner Timothy Roemer later asked Mineta how long after his arrival he overheard this conversation about whether the orders still stood, Mineta replied: “Probably about five or six minutes.” This would mean, Roemer pointed out, “about 9:25 or 9:26.”

This is a remarkable contradiction. Given the fact that Cheney, according to Mineta, had been engaged in an ongoing exchange, he must have been in the PEOC for several minutes before Mineta’s 9:20 arrival. If Cheney had been there since 9:15, there would be a 43-minute contradiction between Mineta’s testimony and The 9/11 Commission Report. Why would such an enormous contradiction exist?

One possible explanation would be that Mineta was wrong. His story, however, is in line with that of many other witnesses.

Other Reports Supporting Cheney’s Early Arrival

Richard Clarke reported that he, Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice had a brief meeting shortly after 9:03, following which the Secret Service wanted Cheney and Rice to go down to the PEOC. Rice, however, first went with Clarke to the White House’s Video Teleconferencing Center, where Clarke was to set up a video conference, which began at about 9:10. After spending a few minutes there, Rice said, according to Clarke: “You’re going to need some decisions quickly. I’m going to the PEOC to be with the Vice President. Tell us what you need.” At about 9:15, Norman Mineta arrived and Clarke “suggested he join the Vice President” (Against All Enemies, 2-5). Clarke thereby implied that Cheney was in the PEOC several minutes prior to 9:15.

In an ABC News program on the first anniversary of 9/11, Cheney’s White House photographer David Bohrer reported that, shortly after 9:00, some Secret Service agents came into Cheney’s office and said, “Sir, you have to come with us.” During this same program, Rice said: “As I was trying to find all of the principals, the Secret Service came in and said, ‘You have to leave now for the bunker. The Vice President’s already there. There may be a plane headed for the White House.’” ABC’s Charles Gibson then said: “In the bunker, the Vice President is joined by Rice and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta” (“9/11: Interviews by Peter Jennings,” ABC News, September 11, 2002).

The 9/11 Commission’s Late-Arrival Claim

The 9/11 Commission agreed that the vice president was hustled down to the PEOC after word was received that a plane was headed towards the White House. It claimed, however, that this word was not received until 9:33. But even then, according to the Commission, the Secret Service agents immediately received another message, telling them that the aircraft had turned away, so “[n]o move was made to evacuate the Vice President at this time.” It was not until “just before 9:36” that the Secret Service ordered Cheney to go below (9/11CR 39). But even after he entered the underground corridor at 9:37, Cheney did not immediately go to the PEOC. Rather:

Once inside, Vice President Cheney and the agents paused in an area of the tunnel that had a secure phone, a bench, and television. The Vice President asked to speak to the President, but it took time for the call to be connected. He learned in the tunnel that the Pentagon had been hit, and he saw television coverage of the smoke coming from the building. (9/11CR 40)

Next, after Lynne Cheney “joined her husband in the tunnel,” the Commission claimed, “Mrs. Cheney and the Vice President moved from the tunnel to the shelter conference room” after the call ended, which was not until after 9:55. As for Rice, the Commission added, she “entered the conference room shortly after the Vice President” (9/11CR 40).

The contradiction could not be clearer. According to the Commission, Cheney, far from entering the PEOC before 9:20, as Mineta and others said, did not arrive there until about 9:58, 20 minutes after the 9:38 strike on the Pentagon, about which he had learned in the corridor.

Cheney’s Account on Meet the Press

The 9/11 Commission’s account even contradicted that given by Cheney himself in a well-known interview. Speaking to Tim Russert on NBC’s Meet the Press only five days after 9/11, Cheney said: “[A]fter I talked to the president, . . . I went down into . . . the Presidential Emergency Operations Center. . . . [W]hen I arrived there within a short order, we had word the Pentagon’s been hit.” Cheney himself, therefore, indicated that he had entered the PEOC prior to the (9:38) strike on the Pentagon, not 20 minutes after it, as the Commission would later claim.

Dealing with the Contradictions

How did the 9/11 Commission deal with the fact that its claim about the time of Cheney’s arrival in the PEOC had been contradicted by Bohrer, Clarke, Mineta, Rice, several news reports, and even Cheney himself? It simply omitted any mention of these contradictory reports.

Of these omissions, the most important was the Commission’s failure to mention Norman Mineta’s testimony, even though it was given to the Commission in an open hearing---as can be seen by reading the transcript of that session (May 23, 2003). This portion of Mineta’s testimony was also deleted from the official version of the video record of the 9/11 Commission hearings in the 9/11 Commission archives. (It can, however, be viewed on the Internet.)

During an interview for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 2006, Hamilton was asked what “Mineta told the Commission about where Dick Cheney was prior to 10 AM.” Hamilton replied: “I do not recall” (“9/11: Truth, Lies and Conspiracy: Interview: Lee Hamilton,” CBC News, 21 August 2006). It was surprising that Hamilton could not recall, because he had been the one doing the questioning when Mineta told the story of the young man’s conversation with Cheney. Hamilton, moreover, had begun his questioning by saying to Mineta: “You were there [in the PEOC] for a good part of the day. I think you were there with the Vice President.” And Mineta’s exchange with Timothy Roemer, during which it was established that Mineta had arrived at about 9:20, came immediately after Hamilton’s interrogation. And yet Hamilton, not being able to recall any of this, simply said, “we think that Vice President Cheney entered the bunker shortly before 10 o’clock.”

Obliterating Mineta’s Problematic Testimony

To see possible motives for the 9/11 Commission’s efforts to obliterate Mineta’s story from the public record, we need to look at the conversation he reported to the Commission. He said:

During the time that the airplane was coming in to the Pentagon, there was a young man who would come in and say to the Vice President, “The plane is 50 miles out.” “The plane is 30 miles out.” And when it got down to “the plane is 10 miles out,” the young man also said to the Vice President, “Do the orders still stand?” And the Vice President turned and whipped his neck around and said, “Of course the orders still stand. Have you heard anything to the contrary?”

Mineta’s story had dangerous implications with regard to the strike on the Pentagon, which occurred at 9:38. According to the 9/11 Commission, the military did not know that an aircraft was approaching the Pentagon until 9:36, so that it “had at most one or two minutes to react to the unidentified plane approaching Washington” (9/11CR 34). That claim was essential for explaining, among other things, why the Pentagon had not been evacuated before it was struck---a fact that resulted in 125 deaths. A spokesperson for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, when asked why this evacuation had not occurred, said: “The Pentagon was simply not aware that this aircraft was coming our way” (Newsday, Sept. 23, 2001). Mineta’s testimony implied, by contrast, that Cheney and others knew that an aircraft was approaching Washington about 12 minutes before that strike.

Even more problematic was the question of the nature of “the orders.” Mineta assumed, he said, that they were orders to have the plane shot down. But the aircraft was not shot down. Also, the expected orders, especially on a day when two hijacked airliners had already crashed into buildings in New York, would have been to shoot down any nonmilitary aircraft entering the “prohibited” airspace over Washington, in which “civilian flying is prohibited at all times” (“Pilots Notified of Restricted Airspace; Violators Face Military Action,” FAA Press Release, September 28, 2001). If those orders had been given, there would have been no reason to ask if they still stood. The question made sense only if the orders were to do something unusual---not to shoot the aircraft down. It appeared, accordingly, that Mineta had inadvertently reported Cheney’s confirmation of stand-down orders.

That Mineta’s report was regarded as dangerous is suggested by the fact that the 9/11 Commission, besides deleting Mineta’s testimony and delaying Cheney’s entrance to the bunker by approximately 45 minutes, also replaced Mineta’s story with a new story about an incoming aircraft. According to The 9/11 Commission Report, here is what really happened:

At 10:02, the communicators in the shelter began receiving reports from the Secret Service of an inbound aircraft. . . . At some time between 10:10 and 10:15, a military aide told the Vice President and others that the aircraft was 80 miles out. Vice President Cheney was asked for authority to engage the aircraft. . . . The Vice President authorized fighter aircraft to engage the inbound plane. . . . The military aide returned a few minutes later, probably between 10:12 and 10:18, and said the aircraft was 60 miles out. He again asked for authorization to engage. The Vice President again said yes. (9/11CR 41)

The 9/11 Commission thereby presented the incoming aircraft story as one that ended with an order for a shoot down, not a stand down. And by having it occur after 10:10, the Commission not only disassociated it from the Pentagon strike but also ruled out the possibility that Cheney’s shootdown authorization might have led to the downing of United Flight 93 (which crashed, according to the Commission, at 10:03).

Given the fact that the 9/11 Commission’s account of Cheney’s descent to the bunker contradicted the testimony of not only Norman Mineta but also many other witnesses, including Cheney himself, Congress and the press need to launch investigations to determine what really happened.

The Bush Team's Geneva Hypocrisy

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By Jason Leopold

Newly released U.S. government documents, detailing how Bush administration officials punched legalistic holes in the Geneva Convention’s protections of war captives, stand in stark contrast to the outrage some of the same officials expressed in the first week of the Iraq War when Iraqi TV interviewed several captured American soldiers.

Then, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, President George W. Bush and other administration officials orchestrated a chorus of outrage, citing those TV scenes as proof of the Iraq’s government contempt for international law in general and the Geneva Convention in particular.

“It is a blatant violation of the Geneva Convention to humiliate and abuse prisoners of war or to harm them in any way. As President Bush said yesterday, those who harm POWs will be found and punished as war criminals,” Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said on March 24, 2003.

That same day, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the BBC that “the Geneva Convention is very clear on the rules for treating prisoners. They’re not supposed to be tortured or abused, they’re not supposed to be intimidated, they’re not supposed to be made public displays of humiliation or insult, and we’re going to be in a position to hold those Iraqi officials who are mistreating our prisoners accountable, and they’ve got to stop.”

At a March 25, 2003, press briefing about progress in the U.S.-led invasion, Secretary Rumfeld said, “This war is an act of self defense, to be sure, but it is also an act of humanity. … In recent days, the world has witnessed further evidence of their [Iraqi] brutality and their disregard for the laws of war. Their treatment of coalition POWs is a violation of the Geneva Conventions.”

The U.S. news media also assisted in this one-sided indictment by uncritically reporting the administration’s complaints while staying silent on the fact that just days earlier, American TV had run scenes of captured Iraqi soldiers, some forced to kneel down at gunpoint to be patted down by U.S. soldiers.

This behavior of the U.S. news media during the early phase of the Iraq War fit with its lack of skepticism in the months leading up to the March 19, 2003, invasion as Bush administration officials spoon-fed the press false intelligence alleging secret Iraqi WMD stockpiles and covert links to al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

So, perhaps it should have come as no surprise when the U.S. news media treated the TV footage of American POWs as further evidence that Iraq was run by a lawless regime with no respect for the rules of war. [For a contemporaneous account of the POW issue, see’s “International Law a la Carte.”]

Stunning Hypocrisy

In retrospect – now with much more of the documentary record available – the disparity between the administration’s outrage toward the Iraqis for showing the video and the abuse inflicted by the U.S. government on captives from the Iraq and Afghan wars is stunning.

Declassified documents reveal that the Bush administration concocted legal theories to justify sidestepping the Geneva Convention when it came to prisoners incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay, at secret CIA prisons and at various locations in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib where shocking photos were leaked of sexual and physical abuse in 2004.

Indeed, while U.S. government officials were preaching to Iraqis about the rules of war, the Bush administration was seven months into a secret interrogation program that authorized CIA interrogators to question Afghan and al-Qaeda detainees using brutal methods.

The techniques included painful “stress positions,” forced nudity in cold conditions and the simulated drowning of waterboarding, practices that human rights organizations say violated Geneva and anti-torture laws.

The Bush administration also ordered the CIA to engage in “extraordinary renditions,” which involved kidnapping terror suspects and shipping them to countries that are known to practice torture.

If held to the same standards that the Bush administration demanded of the Iraqi military, U.S. officials implicated in these policies would be guilty of violating the Geneva Convention, said Claire Tixeire, a "human rights fellow" with the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and an attorney.

“They clearly knew that the laws of war were supposed to apply to prisoners apprehended by the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq, but they found every legal loophole to find ways it didn’t apply to the U.S. side,” Tixeire said in an interview.

Tixeire, whose organization is defending some of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, said that while U.S. officials may have had a point in accusing the Iraqi military of violating the Geneva Convention over the TV interviews, the way the U.S. treated Iraqi captives was much worse.

“It’s clear to me these actions came down from the very top,” Tixeire said. “Denying prisoners of war humane treatment is a grave breach of the Geneva Convention. It’s a war crime. They put U.S. troops at risk for being treated inhumanely if they were captured.”

When asked recently about the past statements about Iraqi violations of the Geneva Convention, representatives for Clarke, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld said the now-former officials would not comment for this story.

Anti-Torture Laws

The actions of the Bush administration also flouted the 1984 "Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment," which was approved by 145 nations, including the United States. It declares that:

"No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

Moreover, the convention says individuals who resort to torture cannot defend their actions by saying they were acting on orders from superiors and it mandates that torturers be prosecuted wherever they are found.

The United States signed the Convention Against Torture in 1988 under President Ronald Reagan, who hailed it as “a significant step” in preventing torture, which he called “an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.”

In a May 20, 1988, message to the U.S. Senate, Reagan noted that “the core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called ‘universal jurisdiction.’”

According to that provision, “each state party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.”

It was this Convention, ratified by the Senate in 1994, that Bush administration officials sought to bypass with legal memos, many drafted by John Yoo of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

The administration memos argued that the Geneva Convention did not apply to detainees in the “war on terror” and that President Bush’s commander-in-chief powers allowed him to ignore laws in the interest of protecting the nation.

The record now shows that during the same week in March 2003 – when Rumsfeld was publicly berating Iraq for violating the Geneva Convention by broadcasting footage of American POW’s – he was engaged in drafting a top-secret plan that would give military interrogators at Guantanamo wide latitude to use harsher techniques to obtain information from prisoners.

Rumsfeld signed off on the plan on April 2, 2003, according to documents declassified and turned over to the American Civil Liberties Union last month in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

Though some of the more extreme techniques were dropped as the list was winnowed down to 24 from 35, the final set of interrogation methods Rumsfeld approved still included tactics for isolating and demeaning a detainee, known as "pride and ego down."

Such degrading tactics would appear to contravene the Geneva Convention, which bars abusive or demeaning treatment of captives.

Reports of Abuse

Weeks after the Iraq invasion, human rights groups started receiving information about the abuse of dozens of Iraqi prisoners at Camp Cropper, Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib, and the deaths of two prisoners, one of whom died of a crushed larynx, and the other with a hard blow to the head.

Amnesty International sent a letter to the head of the U.S. occupation, Paul Bremer, on June 26, 2003, raising concerns about abuses during house searches, treatment during arrest and detention, people being forced to lie face down on the ground; use of hoods or blind folds, exposure to sun and heat for hours, limited amount of water supplied, and lack of proper washing and toilet facilities.

One month later, Amnesty International released a report, "Iraq: memorandum on concerns relating to law and order," warning of allegations of torture and abuse in U.S. prisons, including Abu Ghraib.

"Regrettably, testimonies from recently released detainees held at Camp Cropper and Abu Ghraib Prison do not suggest that conditions of detention have improved," the report said.

There are "a number of reports of cases of detainees who have died in custody, mostly as a result of shooting by members of the Coalition forces." A Saudi national "alleged that he was subjected to beatings and electric shocks."

Photographs backing up these allegations would surface a year later in two investigative news reports, one by Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker and the other by "60 Minutes II," which detailed the systematic abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Months before the worldwide condemnation of the treatment of the Abu Ghraib prisoners, Rumsfeld sent Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller was sent to Baghdad from Guantanamo Bay to “hit back at the [Iraqi] insurgents...through unorthodox means,” according to a May 10, 2004, front-page story in the Washington Post.

"He came up there and told me he was going to ’Gitmoize’ the detention operation," turning it into a hub of interrogation, said Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, then commander of the military prison system in Iraq, according to the Post.

Hersh wrote in The New Yorker’s May 24, 2004, issue that “the roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year [2003] by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focused on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. …

“The solution, endorsed by Rumsfeld and carried out by Stephen Cambone, was to get tough with those Iraqis in the Army prison system who were suspected of being insurgents. … Rumsfeld and Cambone went a step further, [bringing] unconventional methods to Abu Ghraib. … The male prisoners could be treated roughly, and exposed to sexual humiliation.”

Tarnished Image

Amrit Singh, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project and the co-author of Administration of Torture, added that Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials by “holding up the Geneva Convention and saying it did not apply to some prisoners have tarnished the image of the U.S. throughout the world.”

Even after the programs governing interrogations were exposed, Rumsfeld made sure that a loophole in a new Defense Department policy issued in November 2005, which barred torture and called for the "humane" treatment of detainees, gave him and his deputy the authority to override it.

"Intelligence interrogations will be conducted in accordance with applicable law, this directive and implementing plans, policies, orders, directives, and doctrine developed by DoD components and approved by USD (I), unless otherwise authorized, in writing, by the secretary of defense or deputy secretary of defense," the policy says. "USD (I)" refers to the undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

Rumsfeld resigned in November 2006.