Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mosaic News - 5/13/08: World News from the Middle East

Mosaic News - 5/12/08: World News from the Middle East

'The Bread You Possess Belongs to the Hungry'

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By St. Basil

They say: Whom do I wrong by keeping my property? What, tell me, is your property? Where did you find it and brought it to your life? Just like someone in the theatre, who had a seat and then stopped those who entered, judging that what lies common in front of everyone to use, was his own: rich men are of the same kind. They first took possession of the common property, and then they keep it as their own because they were the first to take it. If one had taken what is necessary to cover one’s needs and had left the rest to those who are in need, no one would be rich, no one would be poor, no one would be in need.

Isn’t it true, that you fell off the womb naked? Isn’t it true, that naked you shall return to the earth? Where is your present property from? If you think that it came to you by itself, you don’t believe in God, you don’t acknowledge the creator and you are not thankful to him who gave it to you. But if you agree and confess that you have it from God, tell us the reason why he gave it to you. ...

Who is the greedy person? It’s him who doesn’t content himself with what he has. And who strips? He who steals what belongs to the others. And you think that you are not greedy, and that you do not strip the others? What was granted to you, in order for you to take care of the others, you took it and you made it your own. What do you think?

He who strips the clothed is to be called a thief. How should we name him, who is able to dress the naked and doesn’t do it, does he deserve some other name? The bread that you possess belongs to the hungry. The clothes that you store in boxes, belong to the naked. The shoes rotting by you, belong to the bare-foot. The money that you hide belongs to anyone in need. You wrong as many people as you were able to help.” —St. Basil

Domestic spying far outpaces terrorism prosecutions

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By Richard B. Schmitt

As more Americans are watched, fewer cases are made. The trend concerns civil liberties groups as well as some lawmakers and legal experts.

WASHINGTON — The number of Americans being secretly wiretapped or having their financial and other records reviewed by the government has continued to increase as officials aggressively use powers approved after the Sept. 11 attacks. But the number of terrorism prosecutions ending up in court -- one measure of the effectiveness of such sleuthing -- has continued to decline, in some cases precipitously.

The trends, visible in new government data and a private analysis of Justice Department records, are worrisome to civil liberties groups and some legal scholars. They say it is further evidence that the government has compromised the privacy rights of ordinary citizens without much to show for it.

The emphasis on spy programs also is starting to give pause to some members of Congress who fear the government is investing too much in anti-terrorism programs at the expense of traditional crime-fighting. Other lawmakers are raising questions about how well the FBI is performing its counter-terrorism mission.

The Senate Intelligence Committee last week concluded that the bureau was far behind in making internal changes to keep the nation safe from terrorist threats. Lawmakers urged that the FBI set specific benchmarks to measure its progress and make more regular reports to Congress.

These concerns come as the Bush administration has been seeking to expand its ability to gather intelligence without prior court approval. It has asked Congress for amendments to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to make it clear that eavesdropping on foreign telecommunications signals routed through the U.S. does not require a warrant.

Law enforcement officials say the additional surveillance powers have been critically important in ways the public does not always see. Threats can be mitigated, they say, by deporting suspicious people or letting them know that authorities are watching them.

"The fact that the prosecutions are down doesn't mean that the utility of these investigations is down. It suggests that these investigations may be leading to other forms of prevention and protection," said Thomas Newcomb, a former Bush White House national security aide. He said there were half a dozen actions outside of the criminal courts that the government could take to snuff out potential threats, including using diplomatic or military channels.

Although legal experts say they would not necessarily expect the number of prosecutions to rise along with the stepped-up surveillance, there are few other good ways to measure how well the government is progressing in keeping the country safe.

"How does one measure the success? The short answer is we aren't in a great position to know," said Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor. With prosecutions declining, he said, the public is left with imperfect and possibly misleading ways to gauge progress in the Bush administration's war on terrorism -- such as the number of secret warrants the government issues or the number of agents it assigns to terrorism cases.

"These are the only tracks in the snow left by terrorism investigations, if there are no more counter-terrorism prosecutions," Richman said. "This is why, more than ever, there is a pressing need for congressional oversight, for accountability at the top of the [Justice] department, and for public confidence in the department."

Changing numbers

A recent study showed that the number of terrorism and national security cases initiated by the Justice Department in 2007 was more than 50% below 2002 levels. The nonprofit Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which obtained the data under the Freedom of Information Act, found that the number of cases brought declined 19% in the last year alone, dropping to 505 in 2007 from 624 in 2006.

By contrast, the Justice Department reported last month that the nation's spy court had granted 2,370 warrant requests by the department to search or eavesdrop on suspected terrorists and spies in the U.S. last year -- 9% more than in 2006. The number of such warrants approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has more than doubled since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The department also reported a sharp rise in the use of national security letters by the FBI -- from 9,254 in 2005 to 12,583 in 2006, the latest data available. The letters seek customer information from banks, Internet providers and phone companies. They have caused a stir because consumers do not have a right to know that their information is being disclosed and the letters are issued without court oversight.

The inspector general of the Justice Department has found numerous cases in which FBI agents failed to comply with rules and guidelines in issuing the letters, often gaining access to information they were not entitled to. The FBI has responded by taking a number of measures to tighten its internal procedures.

Civil liberties groups say the new data reveal a disturbing consequence of the government's post-Sept. 11 expanded surveillance capabilities.

"The number of Americans being investigated dwarfs any legitimate number of actual terrorism prosecutions, and that is extremely troubling -- for both the security and privacy of innocent Americans as well as for the squandering of resources on people who have not and never will be charged with any wrongdoing," said Lisa Graves, deputy director of the Center for National Security Studies, a Washington-based civil liberties group.

A mixed record

But Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman, said statistics on court-approved FISA applications and statistics on criminal prosecution were "apples and oranges."

"There are a variety of factors that may account for the increase in court-approved FISA applications since 9/11," he said. Boyd said he could not comment on those factors, but said, "It is important to remember that surveillance under FISA is authorized by an independent court and used carefully and judiciously to protect the country from national security threats."

Certainly, the government has pursued a number of high-profile terrorism cases of late. A U.S. sailor was convicted in March of providing support to terrorists by passing classified information regarding movements of a Navy battle group to operators of an Internet site suspected of terrorist leanings.

The record in court has been somewhat mixed, however. Federal prosecutors in Miami twice have failed to secure verdicts in the cases of six men accused of plotting to destroy Chicago's Sears Tower and several FBI offices. After two mistrials, the "Liberty City Seven" case is due in court in January.

Even some former government officials concede many intelligence investigations fail to yield evidence of a serious threat to the U.S. "Most of these threats ultimately turn out to be wrong, or maybe just the investigating makes them go away," said Washington lawyer Michael Woods, former head of the FBI national security law unit. "A lot more information is going to pass through government hands, and most of that is going to be about people who turn out to be innocent or irrelevant."

The Silver Lining of Economic Collapse

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By Ted Rall

Student Loans Crunch Starves Greedy Colleges

First came school vouchers, subsidizing private schools with public money. Now, as the economy contracts, the government faces mounting pressure to pour increasing amounts of our tax dollars into private colleges and universities as well.

The push comes from two fronts: a desire to make sure that student loans keep flowing in spite of the credit crunch, and to raise benefits for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are guaranteed an education under the GI Bill.

Student loans are a big segment of the banking industry, amounting to about $85 billion last year. Until recently, they were also hugely profitable. But the credit crunch has caused some lenders to pull out of the federal program. As a result, the pool of money for college loans available has fallen 13 percent.

Congress is considering various ways to make sure students can continue to borrow the money they need. The Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act of 2008 (ECASLA) would increase the amount lent directly by the government. Another Senate bill, supported by Bush, would let the government buy student loans from banks to free up capital for additional loans.

Other bills seek to make college more affordable for veterans, many of whom say they are getting screwed. “They were rather good at saying, ‘Join the Marines and get an education; you’ll have an opportunity to go to college,’” recalls Kevin Grafeld, 23, a part-time student from Long Island, New York. Despite serving five years in Iraq, he gets a mere $875 per month — not even enough to pay for the community college he attends as a part-time student. “I was 18 and a little naïve,” Grafeld told Newsday. A bill sponsored by Jim Webb of Virginia, a Democrat, would pay for tuition up to the cost of the most expensive public university in a veteran’s home state, plus room and board.

How much would these bills cost? It’s like Iraq: no one knows. Sponsors say the feds would actually come out ahead on ECASLA, earning a cool $450 million a year in interest and fees on the backs of college kids.

I have a better idea. Do nothing.

The economy may suck, but the last thing the nation’s colleges and universities need is more money. There are exceptions, but most are awash in cash.

It’s easy to see why: since 1980, tuition at private institutions has gone up at triple the rate of inflation, and twice the rate of people’s salaries. As Timothy Egan noted in The Times, “If the cost of milk had risen as fast as college since 1980…a gallon would be $15.”

Private schools, especially the elite, are getting an enviable return on their misbegotten windfall profits. Seventy-six colleges hold endowments over $1 billion. Harvard has $35 billion — more than the GDP of 100 of the world’s 179 nations.

Nationally, colleges got a 17.2 percent return on their investments in 2007–while spending a mere 4.6 percent of that tsunami of cash on their students.

Public schools are nearly as greedy. Over the last five years, they’ve hiked tuition 31 percent faster than inflation. According to the AP, it’s “the worst record on college prices of any five-year period covered by the survey dating back 30 years.”

Why do colleges raise tuition so much faster than the inflation rate? Because they can.

Since 1981, when President Reagan got rid of a financial aid system mostly based on grants (which don’t have to be repaid), easy credit on student loans has made it possible for any student to borrow as much as he or she needs — or, to put it another way, however much a college decides to charge. It’s simple supply and demand; with no downward pressure on tuition, the warlords of college have an overwhelming temptation to gouge.

And gouge they do.

No one seems to question the wisdom of lending tens of thousands of dollars at above-market compound interest rates to children whose employment history amounts to, at most, a year at Burger King. 17-year-old borrowers have no idea what they’re getting into; parents imagine (usually wrongly) that kids’ college degree will guarantee them high enough wages to pay it all off and then some.

The average college graduate comes out owing $24,200 in student loans. And that’s an average. Many owe more — much more — in a non-existent job market. Saddled with crushing monthly payments as high as a home mortgage in some areas, millions of young people are forced to move back home. According to a 2002 study for the student lender Nellie Mae, student loan debt forced 38 percent of college graduates to delay buying their first house, 14 percent to get married later, and 21 percent to wait until they’re older to have children.

Bankruptcy rates among young adults in their 20s are soaring, but default rates on student loans remain relatively low, under five percent. (Laws have been changed so that bankruptcy doesn’t relieve your obligation to repay student loans).

Students and taxpayers get poorer. Colleges get richer.

But what if the worst fears of the credit crunch worrywarts came to pass? What if the student loan system collapsed entirely?

For several years, few poor and middle-class kids would be able to afford college. To be sure, it would be a painful transition. Millions of kids would drop out, forced to defer their dreams. But it would be good in the long run — for the country and even for them.

College CEOs (let’s not call the heads of these mega-for-profit vampire capitalism firms mere “presidents”) who wanted their companies to survive would be forced to recognize the new market reality. They would streamline their operations and reduce wasteful spending so they could cut tuition and other expenses. As Harvard and other Ivy League schools have already begun to do, they’d dip into the hundreds of billions of dollars currently sitting idly and uselessly in endowment investment accounts. And tuition would drop.

The collapse of the student loan racket — banning them entirely would be ideal — could be one of the best results of the recession. But only if we let it happen.

Ted Rall is the author of the new book “Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?,” an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America’s next big foreign policy challenge.

The survivors' stories leave no doubt: Guantánamo makes us all less safe

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By George Monbiot

Official accounts reveal with chilling clarity that acts carried out in the name of the war on terror have backfired dreadfully

When we learned last week that Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi had blown himself up in Mosul in northern Iraq, the US government presented this as a vindication of its policies. Al-Ajmi was a former inmate of the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay. The Pentagon says his attack on Iraqi soldiers shows both that it was right to have detained him and that it is dangerous ever to release the camp's prisoners. On the contrary, it shows how dangerous it was to put them there in the first place.

Al-Ajmi, according to the Pentagon, was one of at least 30 former Guantánamo detainees who have "taken part in anti-coalition militant activities after leaving US detention". Given that the majority of the inmates appear to have been innocent of such crimes before they were detained, that's one hell of a recidivism rate. In reality, it turns out that "anti-coalition militant activities" include talking to the media about their captivity. The Pentagon lists the Tipton Three in its catalogue of recidivists, on the grounds that they collaborated with Michael Winterbottom's film The Road to Guantánamo. But it also names seven former prisoners, aside from al-Ajmi, who have fought with the Taliban or Chechen rebels, kidnapped foreigners or planted bombs after their release. One of two conclusions can be drawn from this evidence, and neither reflects well on the US government.

The first is that, as the Pentagon claims, these men "successfully lied to US officials, sometimes for over three years". The US government's intelligence gathering and questioning were ineffective, and people who would otherwise have been identified as terrorists or resistance fighters were allowed to walk free, despite years of intense and often brutal interrogation. Should this be surprising? Without a presumption of innocence, without charges, representation, trials, or due process of any kind, there is no reliable means of determining whether or not a man is guilty. The abuses at Guantánamo not only deny justice to the inmates, they also deny justice to the world.

Al-Ajmi, the authorities say, initially confessed in the prison camp to deserting the Kuwaiti army to join the jihad in Afghanistan. He admitted that he fought with Taliban forces against the Northern Alliance. He later retracted this confession, which had been made "under pressure and threats". When the Americans released him from Guantánamo, they handed him over to the Kuwaiti government for trial, but without the admissible evidence required to convict him. Among his defences was that neither he nor his interrogators had signed his supposed testimony. The Kuwaiti courts, without reliable evidence to the contrary, found him innocent.

All evidence obtained in Guantánamo, and in the CIA's other detention centres and secret prisons, is by definition unreliable, because it is extracted with the help of coercion and torture. Torture is notorious for producing false confessions, as people will say anything to make it stop. Both official accounts and the testimonies of former detainees show that a wide range of coercive techniques - devised or approved at the highest levels in Washington - have been used to make inmates tell the questioners what they want to hear.

In his book Torture Team, Philippe Sands describes the treatment of Mohammed al-Qahtani, held in Guantánamo and described by the authorities (like half a dozen other suspects) as "the 20th hijacker". By the time his interrogators started using "enhanced techniques" to extract information from him, al-Qahtani had been kept in isolation for three months in a cell permanently flooded with light. An official memo shows that he "was talking to nonexistent people, reporting hearing voices, [and] crouching in a corner of the cell covered with a sheet for hours on end". He was abused, exposed to extreme cold and deprived of sleep for a further 54 days of torture and questioning. What useful testimony could be extracted from a man in this state?

The other possibility is that the men who became involved in armed conflict after their release had not in fact been involved in any prior fighting, but were radicalised by their detention. In the video he made before blowing himself up, al-Ajmi maintained that he was motivated by his ill-treatment in Guantánamo. "Twelve thousand kilometres away from Mecca, I realised the reality of the Americans and what those infidels want," he said. He claimed he was beaten, drugged and "used for experiments" and that "the Americans delighted in insulting our prayer and Islam and they insulted the Qur'an and threw it in dirty places." Al-Ajmi's lawyer revealed that his arm had been broken by guards at the camp, who beat him up to stop him from praying.

The accounts of people released from Guantánamo describe treatment that would radicalise almost anyone. In his book Five Years of My Life, published a fortnight ago, Murat Kurnaz maintains that one of the guards greeted him on his arrival with these words. "Do you know what the Germans did to the Jews? That's exactly what we're going to do with you." There were certain similarities. "I knew a man from Morocco," Kurnaz writes, "who used to be a ship captain. He couldn't move one of his little fingers because of frostbite. The rest of his fingers were all right. They told him they would amputate the little finger. They brought him to the doctor, and when he came back, he had no fingers left. They had amputated everything but his thumbs." The young man - scarcely more than a boy - in the cage next to Kurnaz's had just had his legs amputated by American doctors after getting frostbite in a coalition prison in Afghanistan. The stumps were still bleeding and covered in pus. He received no further treatment or new dressings. Every time he tried to hoist himself up to sit on his pot by clinging to the wire, a guard would come and hit his hands with a billy-club. Like every other prisoner, he was routinely beaten by the camp's Immediate Reaction Force, and taken away to interrogation cells to be beaten up some more.

Fathers were clubbed in front of their sons, sons in front of their fathers. The prisoners were repeatedly forced into stress positions, deprived of sleep and threatened with execution. As a senior official at the US Defense Intelligence Agency says, "maybe the guy who goes into Guantánamo was a farmer who got swept along and did very little. He's going to come out a fully fledged jihadist."

In reading the histories of Guantánamo, and of the kidnappings, extrajudicial detention and torture the US government (helped by the United Kingdom) has pursued around the world, two things become clear. The first is that these practices do not supplement effective investigation and prosecution; they replace them. Instead of a process which generates evidence, assesses it and uses it to prosecute, the US has deployed a process that generates nonsense and is incapable of separating the guilty from the innocent. The second is that far from protecting innocent lives, this process is likely to deliver further atrocities. Even if you put the ethics of such treatment to one side, it is surely evident that it makes the world more dangerous.

Finding Obama guilty of insufficient devotion to Israel

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By Glenn Greenwald

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg conducted what he’s calling an "interview" with Barack Obama regarding Israel, but it sounded much more like an inquisition. Goldberg repeatedly demanded that Obama swear his devotion to Israel and affirm prevailing orthodoxies ("I’m curious to hear you talk about the Zionist idea. Do you believe that it has justice on its side?"; "Go to the kishke question, the gut question: the idea that if Jews know that you love them, then you can say whatever you want about Israel, but if we don’t know you –- Jim Baker, Zbigniew Brzezinski –- then everything is suspect. There seems to be in some quarters, in Florida and other places, a sense that you don’t feel Jewish worry the way a senator from New York would feel it"; "Do you think that Israel is a drag on America’s reputation overseas?"; "If you become President, will you denounce settlements publicly?"). Afterwards, Goldberg pronounced himself satisfied: "Obama expressed -- in twelve different ways -- his support for Israel to me."

Marty Peretz, after a telephone conversation with Obama devoted primarily to Israel, similarly clears Obama of any suspicions of disloyalty, approvingly noting that Obama "recognizes" that Israeli settlements of the West Bank are not "the core problem" for the conflict with the Palestinians (to Peretz, such settlements "are very much a side-issue"). Peretz further decrees that Obama’s "exhilarating experience with American Jews and with their bonds to the dream and realities of Israel" was evident in both Goldberg’s interview and in Obama’s call with Peretz.

Needless to say, Obama’s vows of devotion to Israel were not enough for the right-wing polemicists who endlessly play on the fears of American Jews and exploit Israel-related issues for political gain. GOP leaders in the House -- such as Minority Leader John Boehner -- issued highly inflammatory statements regarding Obama’s interview with Goldberg, condemning Obama for describing Israel as a "constant sore" when, in fact, Obama used that term to describe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- not Israel (that lie by Boehner and others was so severe that Goldberg, to his credit, embraced Andrew Sullivan’s description of Boehner’s statement as a "flat-out lie" and added that it was "mendacious, duplicitous, gross, and comically refutable").

But beyond the outright lying, right-wing condemnation of Obama’s desperately pro-Israel remarks is highly revealing. David Frum complained yesterday that while Obama embraced the notion that "the Zionist idea has justice on its side," he followed that up with a "disclaimer." What was the "disclaimer" that so upset Frum? This:

OBAMA: That does not mean that I would agree with every action of the state of Israel, because it’s a government and it has politicians, and as a politician myself I am deeply mindful that we are imperfect creatures and don’t always act with justice uppermost on our minds.
Hideous! We can’t have an American President who reserves the right to do something other than "agree with every action of the state of Israel." Frum generously declares that Obama is not anti-semitic, but finds him guilty of being "cavalier with Israel’s security" (this blogger pronounces Frum correct and adds this "condemnation" of Obama: "I do not believe that the man hates Israel, but he doesn’t love it either").

All of this is grounded in the unexamined premise that failure to love Israel with sufficient passion or to be sufficiently devoted to its interests ought to be disqualifying by itself -- presumably since, as everyone knows, the Founders intended the first obligation of the U.S. President to be to preserve Israel’s security, just as George Washington said in his farewell address:

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave.
As is typical for neoconservatives of Frum’s strain, he pretends that he is some sort of spokesman for "pro-Israel" voters generally, notwithstanding the fact that the vast majority of American Jews (and even large numbers of Israelis) reject Frum’s core political beliefs about the Middle East. Says Frum:
Obama’s declared position on Israel fails to reassure friends of Israel because it is so incongruous with the other things he says and thinks . . . He may consider himself Israel’s friend. But he will be a dangerous friend -- made all the more dangerous by the reluctance of many in the pro-Israel community to ask searching questions of this supremely evasive politician.
Frum’s conceit in thinking that he speaks for "friends of Israel" is manifest. A recent Gallup poll found that among American Jewish voters, Obama destroys McCain (61-32%), virtually the same margin by which they would favor Clinton over McCain (65-27%). The neoconservative views of Frum, a former Bush speechwriter, are representative only of a small minority of American Jews, just as they are representative only of a small minority of Americans generally. He doesn’t speak in any way for "friends of Israel," and virtually nothing that he and his comrades favor have been "good for Israel" in any meaningful sense.

But what’s most striking about the reaction is how explicit this strain of neocons has become about the fact that being "pro-Israel" is their overriding political concern. It also reveals, yet again, that there is no issue that permits less free debate than ones related to Israel.

Barack Obama runs around proclaiming his devotion to this other country; virtually wraps himself in its flag; vows to shun its enemies (who are not our enemies); is forced ritualistically to "express[] -- in twelve different ways -- his support for Israel" to the likes of Israel-centric war supporters like Jeffrey Goldberg and Marty Peretz; tells Palestinians to their faces that -- to use his words -- "if you’re waiting for America to distance itself from Israel, you are delusional"; affirms every one-sided piety applied to Israel-related issues; has compiled large numbers of prominent Jewish supporters for whom Israel is a top, if not the top, issue; and still . . . the dominant narrative among neocons and in the establishment media is that, deep down in his heart, he may be insufficiently devoted to Israel to be President of the United States. Has there ever been another country to which American politicians were required to pledge their uncritical, absolute loyalty the way they are, now, with Israel?

UPDATE: As I noted recently, Dwight Eisenhower, when he was running for re-election in 1956 and simultaneously trying to contain growing instability in the Middle East as a result of tensions between Israel and its neighbors, wrote a letter to an adviser as follows:

Of course, nothing in the region would be so difficult to solve except for the underlying cause of the unrest and dissension that exists there -- that is, the Arab-Israel quarrel. This quarrel seems to have no limit in either intensity or in scope. Everybody in the Moslem and Jewish worlds is affected by it. It is so intense that the second any action is taken against one Arab state, by an outsider, all the other Arab and Moslem states seem to regard it as a Jewish plot and react violently. All this complicates the situation enormously.

As we began to uncover evidence that something was building up in Israel, we demanded pledges from Ben-Gurion that he would keep the peace. We realized that he might think he could take advantage of this country because of the approaching election and because of the importance that so many politicians in the past have attached to our Jewish vote. I gave strict orders to the State Department that they should inform Israel that we would handle our affairs exactly as though we didn’t have a Jew in America. The welfare and best interests of our own country were to be the sole criteria on which we operated.

Back then, telling Israel that "the welfare and best interests of our own country were to be the sole criteria on which we operated" -- and that "we would handle our affairs exactly as though we didn’t have a Jew in America" -- was likely an uncontroversial sentiment. Today, if an American politician said anything remotely like that -- that when formulating foreign policy in the Middle East, American interests would take precedence over Israel’s -- how many seconds would elapse before the full-scale and permanent destruction of their political career was complete?

UPDATE II: As several commenters noted -- and as this 2003 Salon article by Michelle Goldberg and this 2003 Nation article by John Nichols document -- these "anti-Israel/anti-Jewish" slurs being hurled at Obama are quite reminiscent of similarly ugly slurs used to demonize Howard Dean. Dean’s "anti-Israel" crimes were grounded in the slightest semantic deviations from neocon language codes (i.e., arguing that we should be "even-handed" in the Middle East and that West Bank settlements must be removed to achieve peace). From those symbolic rhetorical "transgressions," Dean was successfully depicted as "hostile" to Israel and suspicious to Jewish voters (despite the fact that his campaign chairman was a former AIPAC Chairman, his wife is Jewish and his children were raised as Jews).

What is most striking is that most of the Prohibited Views are held by the majority of the American public, which believes (.pdf), for instance, that the U.S. should withhold aid to Israel if it resists American pressure to resolve the Palestinian dispute (65%) and that the U.S. should not favor either side in the conflict (73%). As Pew’s Andrew Kohut put it after surveying polling data: "average Americans see shades of gray in the Middle East conflict, and their sympathies notwithstanding, they favor a neutral role for the United States" (h/t M&W). Ample polling data from recent years supports similar conclusions about public opinion on these issues.

Yet no politician dares to express these majoritarian views. Right-wing neocons with clearly fringe views have succeeded in making the mainstream views -- the ones held by most Americans -- off-limits to mainstream political leaders, upon pain of being subjected to the sorts of toxic "anti-Israel" accusations of the kind now being baselessly directed at Obama.

UPDATE III: An email correspondent who is well-versed in all matters Israel writes to say that I’m being unduly harsh towards Goldberg (because he conducted a pro-Obama interview designed to elicit answers that would resolve these slurs) and towards Obama (because he actually made many arguments that deviated from standard AIPAC cant, albeit in a way that, as is Obama’s wont, was politically shrewd). Those interested can read his thoughtful email here.

Just to be clear: I don’t have any problem with Goldberg aggressively questioning Obama on Israel or any other topic of significance. But what Goldberg did struck me more as a ritualistic demand for fealty pledges than it did an actual "interview," but my email correspondent argues otherwise.

Hillary, Saipan, Sweatshops, Campaign Cash — and Abramoff

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By Byron York

The New York senator accepts contributions from a tycoon involved in the lobbying scandal.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has accepted campaign contributions from a Saipan garment-industry tycoon, sometimes described as a sweatshop operator, whose ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff have been part of the lobbying scandal investigation. Newly filed Federal Election Commission records show that the businessman, Willie Tan, last year gave $2,000 to Friends of Hillary, one of the senator's political action committees. Friends of Hillary also accepted $2,000 contributions from Raymond Tan and Siu Lin Tan, family members who are top executives in Willie Tan's businesses. All three contributions were received on September 30, 2005, according to FEC records. Another family member, Josie Tan, who listed her occupation as homemaker, made a $2,000 contribution received on October 2, 2005.

Together, the Tans contributed more to Friends of Hillary than the senator's PAC received, separately, from residents of the states of Hawaii, Mississippi, Nebraska, Vermont, Utah, Kansas, Wyoming, Alaska, Idaho, South Dakota, Montana, or North Dakota, according to the nonpartisan website

For years, Willie Tan, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, has played a central role in business and politics in the Northern Mariana Islands. His chief interest has been in protecting his garment factories, which pay sub-minimum wages, from U.S. labor laws. In 1992, Tan's businesses were cited as sweatshops by the Labor Department, and Tan was forced to give $9 million in back wages and damages to workers. As part of his effort to steer clear of further American regulation, Tan hired Jack Abramoff.

Last year, ABC News reported that Abramoff "arranged a lavish overseas trip to the island of Saipan for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay over the New Year's holiday in 1997." Correspondent Brian Ross reported that DeLay met with Willie Tan during the trip, and ABC played a surreptitiously recorded tape in which Tan said DeLay had promised to stop moves in Congress to reform the island's garment factories. National Journal reported that Tan also met with DeLay and Abramoff during DeLay's 2000 trip to England and Scotland. And the Washington Post reported that "the owners of textile companies in the Mariana Islands" — a group in which Tan was a major player — contributed $500,000 to the U.S. Family Network, a so-called "astroturf" lobbying organization linked to DeLay which received an even larger sum — in secret — from Russian oil interests.

Tan's name has appeared in the volumes of Abramoff e-mails released by congressional investigators. In a March 28, 2000, note, published on the website of liberal blogger Josh Marshall, Abramoff billed Tan $223,679 for expenses relating to the sports skyboxes that Abramoff used in his lobbying.

Some of Sen. Clinton's fellow Democrats have long crusaded against Tan's labor practices. "We have been trying for years to secure hearings to investigate reports of mistreatment of foreign workers in this U.S. territory," California Rep. George Miller said at a press conference after ABC aired its report on Willie Tan and DeLay. "Now we apparently know why our requests (for hearings) have been denied — a very cozy relationship between the Republican leadership of the House and the major garment industry tycoon in Saipan."

Last month, Sen. Clinton was one of 36 Democratic senators who called on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to appoint a special prosecutor in the Abramoff case. Among the reasons Clinton and her colleagues cited was the importance of the investigation into Abramoff's activities in the Northern Marianas.

A spokesman for Friends of Hillary, reached late yesterday, said he had no knowledge of the Tan contributions and would look into it.

The contributions are not Sen. Clinton's first contact with Tan, or with the Northern Marianas. In 1997, the Washington Post reported that Mrs. Clinton, then First Lady, made a brief visit to the island of Guam in September 1995. During her few hours there, she attended what the Post called "the biggest political fund-raising effort ever on this trade-wind caressed chunk of American territory 6,100 miles west of California." Among those in attendance, the paper reported, was Willie Tan. The Post said that U.S. officials were "concerned" about some of the donors who met with Mrs. Clinton, including Tan, whose "Saipan-based garment companies donated at least $17,500 to the DNC."

Three weeks after Mrs. Clinton's visit, the paper continued, "a Guam Democratic Party official arrived in Washington with more than $250,000 in campaign contributions. Within six months of that, [a group of] Guam businessmen had ponied up more than $132,000 for the Clinton-Gore reelection campaign and $510,000 in 'soft money' contributions to the Democratic National Committee, making the island, with its 140,000 residents, the biggest donor to the Democratic Party per capita of any territory in the United States." Later, the Post continued, "the contributions from Guam were signs of a significant and controversial change in the Clinton administration's policy toward the island."

Now, in the highly publicized Abramoff investigation, the attention is on Republicans (Tan contributed to the Bush-Cheney campaigns in 2000 and 2004). But last year's contributions show that Willie Tan has not forgotten Sen. Clinton.

A Generation Defined by War

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We are a generation defined by war. Shattering the idyllic innocence of our youth, September 11th fell upon us like a convulsion, bringing us face-to-face with the catastrophic consequences of American foreign policy. New terms were shoved down our throats, the media playing its part to inculcate them into our daily lives: terrorism, patriotism, red alert, liberation, and homeland security all became part of our vocabulary. Like deer caught in headlights, we struggled to come to terms with this overnight upheaval in our worldview.

"Muslims are terrorists," we were told. "They want to destroy us." Paralyzed and in shock, we asked, our voices full of trepidation, "We are Muslims. Do we want to destroy us?" We were told to keep quiet and b good citizens—not asking too many questions and submitting to authority. And so, the war generation came of age.

The years passed, thousands more Americans died, hundreds of thousands of the 'other' were bombed out of existence, and the perpetrators of September 11th were never found. "How does this story end?" you might be tempted to ask. And that's just it. It doesn't. Nearly seven years after the onset of the 'War on Terror,' the broken record of American imperialism continues to play. Only we've gotten so used to hearing it that many of us have learned to tune it out.

The idea of America as a hegemonic power, exerting its influence all over the world, dominating and conquering at any cost is nothing new. The genocide of millions of Native Americans and the enslavement of the black race bears witness to the blood-drenched nature of our past. The most horrifying of crimes were justified with the obscene claim that the oppressors were acting in the best interests of those they oppressed. Thus, the extermination of an entire people was 'manifest destiny' while the colonization of Africa was actually a 'civilizing mission.' One would like to think that we have made great strides towards overcoming this legacy, but as the events of the past few years demonstrate, that might be wishful thinking.

After it became clear that Iraq posed no threat to the United States, the Bush administration seized upon a new justification for the war: to liberate the Iraqi people. One would have expected that five years of bloody occupation would have demonstrated the fallacy of imperialism in the name of liberation. Yet, despite costs of over $500 billion and unimaginable loss of life, some continue to advocate a continued American presence in Iraq for as long as a hundred years. More disturbingly, the same faulty logic that was used to justify the war in the first place seems to be alive and well.

In a speech at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in March, Mr. Bush spoke almost messianically of a "call to offer freedom to others who have never known it." "You and I know that freedom has the power to transform lives," he says, almost as if lamenting the deprived state of the rest of the world. The rest of the world is thus defined not only by the absence of freedom but by the utter inability to even comprehend what freedom entails. To adapt from the words of that commercial we all grew up watching, not only does Mr. Bush have the Trix, he's the only one who even knows what Trix are. But not to worry: the president is more than happy to share his Trix with the less fortunate children of the world.

"Freedom is not America's gift to the world," Mr. Bush reminds his audience. "It is God's gift to humanity." Thus, by offering "freedom" to the rest of the world, Mr. Bush is only doing God's work. The import of such religiously charged rhetoric is surely not lost on the president's base of fundamentalist Christians. Of course, America's offer of freedom comes at the point of a gun; 'be free or die' could be the motto of the neo-imperialist worldview. "These murderers were not instruments of a heavenly power," the president is quick to reiterate. "They were instruments of evil." The implication is eerily soothing yet profound at the same time: unlike her enemies, America is an instrument of heavenly power.

In the twilight zone that has become our modern political landscape, it is at times difficult to determine who is copying off of whose paper—whether it is the "Islamofascists" who have appropriated the religious right's defense of violence in the name of God, or if it is the other way around. If the "War on Terror" was merely a thought experiment in the use of rhetoric and propaganda, one might avoid making much of it.

However in a world where those in power have both the means and motivation to impose their dangerous beliefs on the rest of the world, we must be concerned. It is one thing to believe that "freedom" should be spread and quite another to devote the entire resources of a nation to achieving this objective on a global scale. And of course, it is always the innocent who get caught in the crossfire.

Meanwhile, an entire religion is tarnished with the brush of terror and an entire people infantilized and condemned to an eternity of nothingness until they can be liberated by Mr. Bush's heavenly armies. The year is 2008 and this is America. When will this nightmare end?

As Mr. Bush's term nears its end, we find ourselves with little reason for optimism—some of the candidates shamelessly support our current course, while others have little to offer besides words and empty promises of 'hope.' And so, the broken record continues. The American people must wake up. If we are unable to stop this record, the least we can do is emerge from our shell of self-delusion and hear it playing.

Hamdan A. Yousuf, a graduate of the Pennsylvania State University, is a research assistant in cognitive neuroscience at Columbia University.

Dania S. Ahmed is a student in psychology at Barnard College.

Torture Policies Undermine 9/11 Case

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By Jason Leopold

The Pentagon’s decision to drop war-crimes charges against Mohammed al-Qahtani, the alleged “20th hijacker” in the 9/11 attacks, again underscores the consequences of the Bush administration’s descent into torture and other abusive treatment of “war on terror” detainees.

If al-Qahtani’s case had gone forward, the U.S. government would have been forced to reveal its own violations of the Geneva Convention, anti-torture statutes and the laws of war, according to lawyers representing al-Qahtani.

“All of the [incriminating] statements Mohammad al-Qahtani made or is alleged to have made were the result of torture or made under the threat of torture and that is in my view why the government decided to dismiss his case at this point,” said Vince Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York.

CCR has been representing Mohammed al-Qahtani since 2005 and has led the legal battle for the human rights of detainees incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the last six years.

The harsh treatment of al-Qahtani was catalogued in an 84-page log of his interrogation that was leaked in 2006. The so-called “torture log” shows that beginning in November 2002 and continuing well into January 2003, al-Qahtani was subjected to sleep deprivation, interrogated in 20-hour stretches, poked with IV’s, and left to urinate on himself.

On Dec. 11, 2002, interrogators began to apply what they called the “pride and ego down approach,” subjecting him to religious and sexual humiliation, making him bark like a dog, and calling him “a pig” as he was made to pick up piles of trash with his hands cuffed.

According to one entry for Dec. 13, 2002, the interrogators sought to “escalate the detainee’s emotions.”

“A mask was made from an MRE [meals ready to eat] box with a smiley face on it and placed on the detainee’s head for a few moments. A latex glove was inflated and labeled the ‘sissy slap’ glove. This glove was touched to the detainee’s face periodically after explaining the terminology to him.

“The mask was placed back on the detainee’s head. While wearing the mask, the team began dance instruction with the detainee. The detainee became agitated and began shouting. The mask was removed and detainee was allowed to sit. Detainee shouted and addressed lead [interrogator] as ‘the oldest Christian here’ and wanted to know why lead allowed the detainee to be treated this way.”

The log contains numerous entries describing al-Qahtani’s reaction to the interrogations, as he cried, shook, moaned, yelled, prayed, cried out for Allah, trembled uncontrollably and asserted his innocence.

Psychological Trauma

According to a report by CCR attorneys, “on one occasion described in the interrogation log, Mr. al-Qahtani was rushed to a military base hospital when his heart rate fell dangerously low during a period of extreme sleep deprivation, physical stress and psychological trauma.

“The military flew in a radiologist from the U.S. Naval Station in Puerto Rico to evaluate the computed tomography (‘CT’ or ‘CAT’) scan. After being permitted to sleep a full night, medical personnel cleared Mr. al-Qahtani for further interrogation the next day. During his transportation from the hospital, Mr. al-Qahtani was interrogated in the ambulance.”

Legal experts, who have followed the al-Qahtani case since his capture in December 2001, say a core problem for the Pentagon was that the evidence against al-Qahtani was derived substantially from admissions that he made while under harsh interrogation.

There was also circumstantial evidence related to al-Qahtani’s attempt to enter the United States before the 9/11 attacks. An immigration official turned him back and U.S. government officials claim that action forced the 9/11 hijackers to proceed with only 19 participants.

Last February, the Pentagon announced its intention to pursue the death penalty against al-Qahtani and five other men for their alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

But on May 9, the Pentagon dismissed the case against al-Qahtani without explanation – and without prejudice, meaning that the charges could be reinstated at a later date. Though the charges were dropped, he will remain detained indefinitely at Guantanamo.

Al-Qahtani is believed to be one of the first detainees subjected to harsh questioning after the Justice Department issued a legal opinion in August 2002 permitting U.S. government interrogators to sidestep the Geneva Convention and use cruel and humiliating techniques, from forced nudity to stress positions to waterboarding, to extract information.

The Geneva Convention bars abusive or demeaning treatment of captives. However, John Yoo, then a senior lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, concluded that the Geneva Convention did not apply to alleged members of al-Qaeda.

As reported previously, specific interrogation methods used against al-Qahtani were approved by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a December 2002 action memorandum.

Months of Torture

Gitanjali S. Gutierrez, an attorney with CCR and the lead attorney defending al-Qahtani, said in a sworn declaration that his client, imprisoned at Guantanamo, was subjected to months of torture based on verbal and written authorizations from Rumsfeld.

“Mr. al-Qahtani was subjected to a regime of aggressive interrogation techniques, known as the ‘First Special Interrogation Plan,’" Gutierrez said. “Those techniques were implemented under the supervision and guidance of Secretary Rumsfeld and the commander of Guantánamo, Major General Geoffrey Miller.

"These methods included, but were not limited to, 48 days of severe sleep deprivation and 20-hour interrogations, forced nudity, sexual humiliation, religious humiliation, physical force, prolonged stress positions and prolonged sensory over-stimulation, and threats with military dogs.”

Gutierrez’s claims about the type of interrogation al-Qahtani endured have since been borne out by the release of hundreds of pages of internal Pentagon documents, which described interrogation methods at Guantanamo, as well as by the findings of two independent reports on prisoner abuse.

Rumsfeld’s action memo was criticized by Alberto Mora, the former general counsel of the Navy.

“The interrogation techniques approved by the Secretary [of Defense] should not have been authorized because some (but not all) of them, whether applied singly or in combination, could produce effects reaching the level of torture, a degree of mistreatment not otherwise proscribed by the memo because it did not articulate any bright-line standard for prohibited detainee treatment, a necessary element in any such document,” Mora wrote in a 14-page letter to the Navy’s inspector general.

Additionally, a Dec. 20, 2005, Army Inspector General Report relating to the capture and interrogation of al-Qahtani included a sworn statement by Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt, who said Secretary Rumsfeld was “personally involved” in the interrogation of al-Qahtani and spoke “weekly” with Maj. Gen. Miller about the status of the interrogations between late 2002 and early 2003.

Last February, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) confirmed that it had launched a formal investigation to determine, among other issues, whether department attorneys provided the White House with poor legal advice when it said interrogators could use harsh interrogation methods against detainees.

CCR’s Warren said a trial of al-Qahtani would have forced the government to disclose how it obtained information from the defendant about alleged terrorist plans and the inner workings of al-Qaeda.

“We were pursuing the case that the government got evidence through torture,” Warren said. “The government would have to talk about how the information was obtained. That would never be able to survive in court because the torture log is clear that Mr. al-Qahtani provided information because he was being tortured.”

Warren said he wants the Pentagon to release al-Qahtani and have him sent to Saudi Arabia “where they have a system in place to maintain custody of any former Guantanamo detainee who presents a danger, as well as a strong rehabilitation program supervising those that are released.”

“It’s unlikely he would face torture or abuse on the magnitude Mr. al-Qahtani faced at Gitmo,” Warren said.

Some Detainees Are Drugged for Deportation

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By Amy Goldstein and Dana Priest

Immigrants sedated without medical reason.

The U.S. government has injected hundreds of foreigners it has deported with dangerous psychotropic drugs against their will to keep them sedated during the trip back to their home country, according to medical records, internal documents and interviews with people who have been drugged.

The government’s forced use of antipsychotic drugs, in people who have no history of mental illness, includes dozens of cases in which the "pre-flight cocktail," as a document calls it, had such a potent effect that federal guards needed a wheelchair to move the slumped deportee onto an airplane.

"Unsteady gait. Fell onto tarmac," says a medical note on the deportation of a 38-year-old woman to Costa Rica in late spring 2005. Another detainee was "dragged down the aisle in handcuffs, semi-comatose," according to an airline crew member’s written account. Repeatedly, documents describe immigration guards "taking down" a reluctant deportee to be tranquilized before heading to an airport.

In a Chicago holding cell early one evening in February 2006, five guards piled on top of a 49-year-old man who was angry he was going back to Ecuador, according to a nurse’s account in his deportation file. As they pinned him down so the nurse could punch a needle through his coveralls into his right buttock, one officer stood over him menacingly and taunted, "Nighty-night."

Such episodes are among more than 250 cases The Washington Post has identified in which the government has, without medical reason, given drugs meant to treat serious psychiatric disorders to people it has shipped out of the United States since 2003 - the year the Bush administration handed the job of deportation to the Department of Homeland Security’s new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE.

Involuntary chemical restraint of detainees, unless there is a medical justification, is a violation of some international human rights codes. The practice is banned by several countries where, confidential documents make clear, U.S. escorts have been unable to inject deportees with extra doses of drugs during layovers en route to faraway places.

Federal officials have seldom acknowledged publicly that they sedate people for deportation. The few times officials have spoken of the practice, they have understated it, portraying sedation as rare and "an act of last resort." Neither is true, records and interviews indicate.

Records show that the government has routinely ignored its own rules, which allow deportees to be sedated only if they have a mental illness requiring the drugs, or if they are so aggressive that they imperil themselves or people around them.

Stung by lawsuits over two sedation cases, the agency changed its policy in June to require a court order before drugging any deportee for behavioral rather than psychiatric reasons. In at least one instance identified by The Post, the agency appears not to have followed those rules.

In the five years since its creation, ICE has stepped up arrests and removals of foreigners who are in the country illegally, have been turned down for asylum or have been convicted of a crime in the past.

If the government wants a detainee to be sedated, a deportation officer asks for permission for a medical escort from the aviation medicine branch of the Division of Immigration Health Services (DIHS), the agency responsible for medical care for people in immigration custody. A mental health official in aviation medicine is supposed to assess the detainee’s medical records, although some deportees’ records contain no evidence of that happening. If the sedatives are approved, a U.S. public health nurse is assigned as the medical escort and given prescriptions for the drugs.

After injecting the sedatives, the nurse travels with the deportee and immigration guards to their destination, usually giving more doses along the way. To recruit medical escorts, the government has sought to glamorize this work. "Do you ever dream of escaping to exotic, exciting locations?" said an item in an agency newsletter. "Want to get away from the office but are strapped for cash? Make your dreams come true by signing up as a Medical Escort for DIHS!"

The nurses are required to fill out step-by-step medical logs for each trip. Hundreds of logs for the past five years, obtained by The Post, chronicle in vivid detail deviations from the government’s sedation rules.

An analysis by The Post of the known sedations during fiscal 2007, ending last October, found that 67 people who got medical escorts had no documented psychiatric reason. Of the 67, psychiatric drugs were given to 53, 48 of whom had no documented history of violence, though some had managed to thwart an earlier attempt to deport them. These figures do not include two detainees who immigration officials said were given sedatives for behavioral rather than psychiatric reasons before being deported on group charter flights, which are often used to return people to Mexico and Central America.

Even some people who had been violent in the past proved peaceful the day they were sent home. "Dt calm at this time," says the first entry, using shorthand for "detainee," in the log for the January 2007 deportation of Yousif Nageib to his native Sudan. In requesting drugs for his deportation, an immigration officer had noted that Nageib, 40, had once fled to Canada to avoid an assault charge and had helped instigate a detainee uprising while in custody. But on the morning of his departure, the log says, he "is handcuffed and states he will do what we say." Still, he was injected in his right buttock with a three-drug cocktail.

In one printout of Nageib’s medical log, next to the entry saying he was calm, is a handwritten asterisk. It was put there by Timothy T. Shack, then medical director of the immigration health division, as he reviewed last year’s sedation cases. Next to the asterisk, in his neat, looping handwriting, Shack placed a single word: "Problem."

When he landed in Lagos, Nigeria, Afolabi Ade was unable to talk.

"Every time I tried to force myself to speak, I couldn’t, because my tongue was . . . twisted. . . . I thought I was going to swallow it," Ade, 33, recalled in an interview. "I was nauseous. I was dizzy."

As he was being flown back to Africa, his American wife alerted his parents there that he was on his way. His father was waiting at the Lagos airport. It was the first time in three years that they had seen one another. Shocked by how woozy the young man was, his father decided not to take him home and frighten the rest of the family. Instead, he checked his son into a hotel.

Ade was in the hotel for four days before the effects of the drugs began to abate.

Part of a prominent Nigerian family, Ade asked The Post to identify him by only a portion of his name to protect their reputation. He had come to the United States as a college student in the mid-1990s. Five years later, he was in a car belonging to cousins when police found fraudulent checks in the trunk. He pleaded guilty.

After finishing his sentence, Ade was living in Atlanta, and was two semesters away from a telecommunications degree at DeVry University, when immigration officers came looking for him one day in January 2003. They wanted to deport him for the old crime. He called his probation officer to ask whether he could wait to surrender until he took his upcoming final exams. But when he went to the probation office, immigration officers were there to arrest him.

His records offer little explanation of why he was sedated. The one-page medical record in his file mentions one condition: chronic nasal allergy. The log of his trip does not mention mental illness; in the space to list current medical problems, a nurse wrote merely that Ade was anxious.

His drugging, however, fits a pattern that emerges from the cases analyzed by The Post: The largest group of people who were sedated had resisted attempts to deport them at least once before.

One summer day in 2003, deportation officers arrived at the rural Alabama jail where Ade was being held. Pack your bags, they told him. When they reached an immigration office in Atlanta, Ade recalled, half a dozen "big guys came to meet me and said I was there to be deported."

"I can’t be deported," he replied. "I have a wife I love very much." Besides, he told them, he was still appealing his immigration case. He shouldn’t have to leave, he protested, until the judge had ruled. That day, he was returned to Alabama. But he said that immigration officers warned him, "We’ll find a way to get you on a plane."

A few weeks later, the officers came back and again took him to a holding cell in Atlanta. He was, the medical log says, becoming "increasingly anxious and non-cooperative per flt. to Nigeria." At 1:30 p.m., the log says, "Dt taken down by four" guards.

Ade was being held down, he recalled, when he noticed a nurse "with a needle and a bottle with some kind of substance in it." He said he told the guards: "Okay, fine, fine. If it’s going to be like this, don’t inject me. I will go on my own free will."

The nurse went ahead, the log shows, injecting him in the left shoulder with two milligrams of a powerful drug, Haldol, used to treat psychosis, and one milligram of an anti-anxiety drug, Ativan. He was injected with two more rounds, as well as a third drug, in progressively larger doses, during the trip.

The effects of those injections are what alarmed Ade’s father after the plane landed in Lagos. Yet the medical log says Ade arrived "alert and oriented."

His family’s doctor, who visited him on each of the four days his father hid him in the hotel, had a different view. "He was groggy - somebody under the influence of drugs or drunkenness," recalled Olakunle Adigun, a general practitioner. He couldn’t figure out what sedatives his patient had been given, so he tried to detoxify him with saline infusions.

Ade’s pulse was dangerously low, and when he tried to walk around the hotel room, "he leaned on the wall," Adigun said. "He was talking, but a slurred kind of speech."

Internal government records show that most sedated deportees, such as Ade, received a cocktail of three drugs that included Haldol, also known as haloperidol, a medication normally used to treat schizophrenia and other acute psychotic states. Of the 53 deportees without a mental illness who were drugged in 2007, The Post’s analysis found, 50 were injected with Haldol, sometimes in large amounts.

They were also given Ativan, used to control anxiety, and all but three were given Cogentin, a medication that is supposed to lessen Haldol’s side effects of muscle spasms and rigidity. Two of the 53 deportees received Ativan alone. One person’s medications were not specified.

Haldol gained notoriety in the Soviet Union, where it was often given to political dissidents imprisoned in psychiatric hospitals. "In the history of oppression, using haloperidol is kind of like detaining people in Abu Ghraib," the infamous prison in Iraq, said Nigel Rodley, who teaches international human rights law at the University of Essex in Britain and is a former United Nations special investigator on torture.

For people who are not psychotic, said Philip Seeman, a University of Toronto specialist in psychiatry and pharmacology, "prescribing Haldol . . . is medically and ethically wrong." Seeman studied the drug in the 1960s and later discovered the brain receptors on which several antipsychotic drugs work.

The only circumstances in which small amounts of Haldol are appropriate for non-psychotic people, Seeman said, are when a person comes into a hospital emergency room violent and agitated from an overdose of a drug such as PCP, or when someone with severe dementia is delusional or combative. "You or I wouldn’t get it if we were emotionally upset," he said.

In addition, Seeman said, typical doses to help psychotic patients accustomed to the drug are perhaps five to 15 milligrams a day. Several deportees were given a total of 30 milligrams, which Seeman characterized as "really high," especially for people who have never taken the drug before.

Even when used for its intended patients, people with psychosis, Haldol has drawn warnings from the U.S. government. In September, the Food and Drug Administration issued an alert citing "a number of case reports of sudden death" and other reports of dangerous changes in heart rhythm. It is, important, the FDA warned, to inject Haldol only into muscles, not veins, and to avoid doses that are too high.

"Pharma non grata" is the way Emergency Medicine News magazine described the drug after the FDA alert.

Beyond the specific drugs used, Rodley said, is a deeper question: "What is the least intrusive means of restraint consistent with the human dignity of the person? . . . I’d be very surprised if the injection of disabling chemicals against somebody’s will that affect one’s psychological well-being . . . is likely to be the least intrusive means."

Asked to explain the reason for using Haldol and other psychotropic drugs with people who are not mentally ill, ICE responded, "The medications used by Aviation Medicine are widely used in psychiatry." Agency officials said that medical escorts administer "the lowest dose possible." Combining Haldol and Ativan "allows you [to] use less of each," they said, and produces a quicker and longer sedative effect.

In the years before Ade was drugged, there had been an internal debate within the U.S. government over whether sedating deportees against their will is legal, according to confidential legal memos obtained by The Post. There was agreement that mentally ill people could be forced to take psychotropic medicine on their way out of the country. At dispute were cases in which the detainees were not mentally ill but combative - known as "behavioral cases."

Near the end of the Clinton administration, Health and Human Services lawyers sent around a memo that warned, "[U]sing chemical restraints in cases in which medication is not clinically indicated . . . may put the government at risk of potential liability."

Another memo went further, concluding that it could be done only if a federal judge gave permission in advance. "[R]egarding detainees who are not mentally ill," the November 2000 document said, "involuntary medication of such persons for the sole purpose of subduing them during deportation, without a court order, is not supported by any legal authority and raises ethical issues, as well.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and after the Bush administration assumed a tough new stance on immigration in its campaign against terrorism, the Justice Department still sounded wary about drugging deportees. In March 2002, a Justice lawyer laid out two options. One choice, he wrote, was to "seek a court order . . . in every case where the alien’s medication is not therapeutically justified." The other choice was to create a regulation to grant immigration officials explicit permission to sedate deportees, perhaps including safeguards that would give people a warning that they might be medicated - and a chance to object.

Top immigration officials chose neither. Instead, in May 2003, just after ICE was created, they internally circulated a new policy: "[A]n ICE detainee with or without a diagnosed psychiatric condition who displays overt or threatening aggressive behavior . . . may be considered a combative detainee and can be sedated if appropriate under the circumstances."

Under that policy, scores of people have been sedated every year since then, usually with heavy psychotropic drugs.

Some countries forbid the practice. The medical files for several deportees recount disputes between U.S. officials, who wanted to inject a subject, and foreign officials, who would not allow it.

Immigration guards and a public health nurse ran into trouble in May 2004, during a stopover on a trip from Colorado to Guinea. The deportee had been given the three-drug cocktail at the airport gate before leaving Denver, the nurse wrote in the log. Three "booster doses" followed.

The last booster was given shortly before the plane landed in Belgium. "[N]o problem initially with Belgium security," the log says. "[T]hen approached and informed illegal to medicate detainee against their will in Belgium. Informed them pt wasn’t medicated in Belgium airspace for which they replied that he is medicated in Belgium." In the end, the security officers let the deportation go ahead.

Immigration guards and a nurse had more trouble during another deportation to Guinea in April 2006, as they escorted a 34-year-old man from Atlanta, with a stop in France.

He had been given 15 milligrams of Haldol, as well as the two other drugs, by the time the flight reached Paris at 9:45 a.m. According to a nurse’s report on the incident, the guards, nurse and deportee were met at the plane by French national police, who accompanied them to an airport police station to await the connecting flight to Africa later in the day.

Once at the station, one of the guards asked a French officer "where we could inject the detainee when needed." First, they were shown into a private area. But five minutes later, the nurse’s report says, "a superior French police officer approached and informed me that any type of involuntary injection was strictly forbidden in France, and that we would have to wait until we were in the aircraft if we were to inject our detainee."

Six hours later, the entourage returned to the boarding area for the flight to Guinea. "When we arrived at the plane, the detainee became very argumentative, refusing to enter plane until [the guards] produced paperwork showing a final deportation order," the nurse wrote. The immigration officers tried to coax him onto the plane. He refused.

"I asked the French police if the ramp on the gate would be an appropriate place to medicate," the nurse wrote. "The French police’s reply was that it was strictly forbidden." The plane’s captain came over to say that he would not allow the deportee onto the flight. The guards and the nurse flew him back to Atlanta.

Five weeks later they tried again, and this time, they reached Guinea. By the time they arrived, a nurse had given the deportee nine injections of Haldol totaling 55 milligrams - nearly four times as much as before.

One deportee who was sedated last year had convictions for armed robbery and assault. Another kept telling immigration officers, "I am God." But many of those injected with psychotropic drugs, records show, are neither violent nor mentally ill. They simply do not want to go home.

"[M]ild anxiety and agitation" is how a deportation log describes Remmy Semakula’s state on the afternoon he was taken from his cell in the Middlesex County jail in New Jersey to be deported to Uganda in early April 2007. According to a memo from his deportation officer, he had said earlier that he would "fight with the officers and obstruct the operation of the airline" if guards tried to force him to go home. Semakula, 42, said that he had not tried to thwart his deportation and had not known it was imminent because his immigration case still was before a federal judge. "I never fought violently or physically," he said. "They just grabbed me and injected me with a sleeping drug."

The first time immigration agents tried to deport Michel Shango, he slammed his head, hard, against the outside of the van that had come to pick him up at Atlanta’s city jail. Instead of being driven to the airport, then flown to the Democratic Republic of Congo, he was brought back to the jail so his wound could be tended to.

"I asked him why he feared being returned back to his country," an immigration officer wrote of the incident. Shango, now 42, replied that he had been a journalist and had written articles critical of the Congolese government. "Detainee stated . . . that he might as well die trying to avoid deportation," a second officer wrote, "because they will kill him as soon as he gets to the D.R. of the Congo."

Until early 1996, Shango worked in Congo, ghostwriting articles and supplying information to foreign correspondents about the repressive administration of President Mobutu Sese Seko, he said in telephone interviews from locations in Congo, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, where friends are now helping him hide. Eventually Shango was arrested, he and two of his lawyers said, but he escaped to Canada, then settled in North Carolina, where he started a limousine business with a cousin in Charlotte. He married an American, who at first offered to help him become a citizen. The marriage dissolved. He applied for political asylum. He was turned down.

He was remarried to a Congolese woman by the time immigration officers came to his house at 4:30 one morning in May 2006. As his wife and their three American-born children cried at the frightening scene, the officers led him away at gunpoint.

On Feb. 28, 2007, three months after the first deportation attempt was aborted because of the head-banging incident, seven guards arrived at the Atlanta jail to make a second attempt. Shango glanced at his watch and noted that it was 1:45 p.m. "They pushed me against the wall," he recalled. "They pulled my pants down." His medical log shows that he was given seven shots in his right buttock and right shoulder before he boarded the airplane.

The log says his only psychological problem was "anxiety disorder."

By the time Shango reached Congo, records show, he had been injected with 32.5 milligrams of Haldol and 7.5 milligrams of Ativan. As he was thrown into a prison after he got off the plane, and even as friends helped him escape, he was so disoriented, he said, that he did not fully know where he was. For two weeks, Shango said, "It was like I was dreaming. . . . I started crying, crying, crying all day long. . . . I was like crazy, because [of] the drugs, knocking me down."

Of all the detainees who have been forcibly drugged, only two have drawn much public attention. Neither, in the end, was deported. And compared with other deportees, neither got large doses of sedatives. But publicity about their cases sent shock waves through the immigration bureaucracy. Raymond Soeoth, a Christian minister from Indonesia, had tried and failed to win asylum in the United States. While in custody at an immigration compound near Los Angeles, his medical log notes, Soeoth, now 39, he said he would kill himself if deported - a statement his lawyers say he never made.

On Dec. 7, 2004, he was injected in the left buttock with five milligrams of Haldol and four milligrams of Cogentin before being taken to the airport. As it turned out, his deportation was canceled before takeoff because immigration officials had not alerted airline security in Singapore, a stopover point.

Amadou Diouf came to the United States from Senegal as a student in 1996 and got a degree in information systems from California State University at Northridge. He married a U.S. citizen and was trying to change his immigration status when, in March 2005, he was arrested and brought to the same compound as Soeoth.

Eleven months later, as he was still appealing his case and, according to his lawyers, had a court order blocking his deportation, immigration officers came for him and took him to the airport for the trip back to Senegal.

At first, records show, Diouf, now 32, was calm. He was already sitting in a window seat, 4A, when he demanded to speak to the plane’s captain. He "became more agitated, anxious and loud in his dialogue," according to the medical log. A nurse said he would be given "some calming medicine," but when Diouf saw the needle, he lunged. Guards "proceeded to take down the detainee to the ground" in the plane’s galley, and the nurse injected him with five milligrams of Haldol, two milligrams of Ativan and two milligrams of Cogentin.

At that point, the guards and nurse called off the trip. Diouf was returned to his cell. In early May 2007, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California was drafting a lawsuit on behalf of Soeoth and Diouf and told a local newspaper, the Los Angeles Daily Journal, about their sedations. Across the continent, inside the immigration health division’s headquarters in downtown Washington, the publicity’s effect was electric.

The next day, the chief of psychiatry for the division’s aviation medicine branch dispatched a memo. "I have stopped all planned non-psychiatric behavioral escorts, of which 10 are currently planned," he wrote, until government lawyers "have formalized policy in regards to this type of escort activity."

A month and a half later, the medical escort rules were changed. Except in psychiatric cases, according to a confidential June 21 memo from ICE, the health division "must have a court order to assist. . . . [ICE in] removal of problematic detainees." In January, the language was made even stronger: "DIHS may only involuntarily sedate an alien to facilitate removal where the government has obtained a court order. There are no exceptions to this policy."

The newest rules were issued less than three weeks before the government tentatively settled the lawsuit with Soeoth and Diouf, who are now out of custody. The government is no longer trying to deport Soeoth; Diouf is still fighting to remain in the country.

How well the government is following its new rules is unclear. Asked how many court orders the government has sought, immigration officials said that none "have been issued to involuntarily sedate an alien for removal purposes," but they declined to discuss whether any requests are pending.

In one known case in which government lawyers sought a court order, they withdrew the request after a congressman intervened. On Oct. 1, a federal judge in Texas was asked for permission to sedate Rrustem Neza. Immigration officers had canceled their first attempt to deport him to Albania because he created a scene at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, screaming, "I am not a terrorist."

One week after the government filed its motion, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), a former judge, wrote to the court, saying he had "grave concerns" about the government’s desire to medicate his constituent to deport him. "Mr. Neza fled Albania after telling a crowd in Tropoje the names of the men who were seen killing Azem Hajdari, who organized a student movement against the Communist Party. Mr. Neza’s cousins were fatally shot while fleeing with him," the congressman wrote. "[S]edating Mr. Neza amounts to a death sentence for an innocent man."

Last March, after Gohmert had spoken about Neza’s case with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and after he had introduced legislation to block Neza’s deportation, the issue was dropped.

In at least one instance since the rules were changed, the government apparently drugged a deportee without permission from a judge. Maher Ayoub, now 44, was sent back to Egypt last August. A month later, immigration officials told Congress that they had not yet asked for a court order in any case.

Ayoub had thwarted the first attempt to deport him, a few months earlier, by sitting in a van and demanding all the paperwork in his immigration file. He said he spent the next three months in segregation in an Elizabeth, N.J., detention center. The next time they tried to send him home, immigration officers were determined to make sure he would go quietly.

His record offers contradictory evidence about whether there was psychiatric justification for the drugs he got, though it seems to suggest that there was not. A one-page "patient summary" for Ayoub says "Med/Psych Alert Documents: None." His medical escort log labels him a mental health case and says he had a "depressed mood" and an "anxiety state."

A handwritten note in his escort file, from a psychiatrist who saw him at the Elizabeth center, first says Ayoub was not likely to endanger himself or anyone else - then, lower on the same page, says he might. On the next page of the file is another note, this one written two days before his flight, from the psychiatrist in charge of aviation medicine. It says that Ayoub’s case is a "behavioral escort," not a psychiatric one, and that the nurse "is only to give medications to the patient if he agrees to take them. He will only use involuntary treatment if the patient is at imminent risk of hurting himself or others."

That is not what happened.

"Detainee tearful and wringing hands," his medical log begins. An hour later, it says: "Detainee increasingly agitated and resisting clothing change. Detainee is now crying and screaming" at two guards. A nurse at the Elizabeth detention center slid two milligrams of the anti-anxiety drug, Ativan, into his left shoulder.

Immigration officials said his deportation was "consistent" with the June policy that allows medication only when a detainee "may be a risk to himself or others."

"I was feeling my head was leaving my body," Ayoub remembers. "I was losing control over my body." He was groggy but awake when he arrived with guards and the nurse at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and boarded the nonstop flight to Egypt.

Before the plane took off, he remembers, he called over a flight attendant and "asked them to tell the pilot I didn’t want to leave." The nurse stuck a needle into his right arm this time. That injection put him to sleep.


Staff researcher Julie Tate and database editor Sarah Cohen contributed to this report.

Oil and Politics

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By Richard Heinberg

On Tuesday, Senate Democrats introduced legislation that would halt a US arms sale to Saudi Arabia worth $1.4 billion. The implication is clear: no more war toys for the Saudis unless they agree to up their oil output.

The same day, the House approved a Senate plan to suspend oil deliveries to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in hopes of diverting that oil to the market, thus lowering the pump price a tiny amount.

A week earlier, a handful of senators proposed a bill threatening a trade dispute with members of OPEC if the organization doesn’t stop its "anti-competitive practices and illegal export quotas on oil."

It’s understandable that our elected leaders would want to do something about the meteoric rise of gasoline, diesel and heating oil prices that are now bankrupting independent truckers and forcing many folks in colder states to choose between being able to stay warm and being able to drive to work. Yet, efforts like the ones just mentioned are based on a profound misperception of why oil prices are rising.

The real problem is summed up in the phrase Peak Oil. Petroleum is a finite substance and we have reached the inevitable point at which it simply isn’t possible to increase the rate at which we extract it from the ground. Most oil-producing countries, including the US, have already seen their glory days and are now watching output from their wells gradually dwindle. Only a few nations are early in the production cycle and able to ramp up the rate of flow.

Here is a concise definition of Peak Oil from my colleague Chris Skrebowsi, the editor of Petroleum Review in London. He says: "Global oil production falls when loss of output from countries in decline exceeds gains in output from those that are expanding."

Well, how are we doing? Who’s winning: decliners or expanders?

According to last year’s scorecard, the decliners won. The same happened in 2006. And that’s with oil prices at record highs, presumably offering every incentive for nations that can produce more oil to do so.

Does this mean we are at the all-time peak of global oil flow rates now? Not necessarily. There are large new production projects coming on line this year and next, including one in Saudi Arabia that will add several hundred thousand barrels a day to that nation’s productive capacity.

However, on the other side of the balance there is some very bad news. Russia, the world’s leading oil-producing nation and the country that has been responsible for the lion’s share of the world’s production growth over the past decade, has gone into decline. Optimistic analysts hope Russia will be able to keep production more or less flat for a few years, but that may not be possible. The past few months have seen reductions in output. Other important exporting nations, such as Nigeria and Mexico, are also in trouble.

The timing of the global peak may still be unclear. But surely we can’t afford, as a matter of national policy, to assume that it will be decades in the future - given that all of the symptoms are staring us in the face now.

Some economists say that current high oil prices are largely due to the falling value of the dollar, or to speculation. Simple arithmetic tells us that dollar depreciation has added only ten or fifteen percent to oil’s cost over the past two to three years. As for speculation, one has to ask why investors are choosing to park their money in oil contracts. It must be because they see the fundamentals supporting rising prices. In a situation where demand is headed higher but supply isn’t, speculation is inevitable. So speculation is a symptom; it isn’t the cause of the problem.

Given all this, how much sense does it make to spend our time and effort blaming OPEC for not producing more, or to neglect saving some petroleum for the inevitable point in the future when our problem isn’t just high oil prices, but actual shortages of fuel for emergency vehicles and food delivery trucks?

If I were a Saudi or a Kuwaiti, I would be advising my government not to pump more oil. After all, these countries earn nearly all of their income from selling the stuff; once the oil’s gone, what can they do for an encore? No, it makes more sense for them to husband the resource, sell it for higher prices and invest in renewable energy sources at home in preparation for the day when nature’s patrimony is gone.

In fact, however, in recent years most OPEC countries have been pumping flat out; only the Saudis claim to have any spare production capacity to speak of. But isn’t it a good idea for some country somewhere to keep some capacity in reserve in case of a real emergency - a major pipeline outage, another hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, or a revolution in one of the other main producing countries? Should efforts at responsible resource management make these people our enemies?

The blame game makes for good sound bites on the floor of Congress. It plays well with folks back home who are struggling to find the money to fill up their SUVs but can’t find Saudi Arabia on a map. All they have been taught to know is that Arabs have lots of oil and they are bad people.

But think where this might lead: suppose we get tough with the Saudis and end up destabilizing the kingdom so that forces unfriendly to us take over. Then we will feel more or less forced to invade in order to maintain access to our national drug of choice. Where would it end? Does any of this help?

Rather than looking for villains, we should be exploring how we can adapt to having less oil next year, and even less the year after that. Rebuilding our oil-dependent transport, agricultural and manufacturing infrastructure is going to be a big job, and it’s going to take time. So the sooner we start, the better.

The real problem is that we use too much oil. It’s that simple and that difficult. If we truly want to reduce our vulnerability to high prices, the best way to do so is to reduce consumption.

One way or another, we will adapt. We will drive less, we will fly less and we will grow our food more locally with fewer inputs. But these changes will go far more smoothly if we plan for them, rather than being forced into them at the nozzle of an empty gas pump.

There is a cliche in action films: "We can do this the hard way, or we can do it the easy way." Blaming OPEC while doing nothing to rein in our domestic demand for petroleum only ensures that we will be adapting to Peak Oil the hard way.

Britain’s rich get richer even as recession begins to bite

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By Simon Whelan

The choice of headline to mark 20th aniversary of the Sunday Times Rich List will hardly have given the newspaper’s editor sleepness nights: “Rich Get Richer under New Labour.” The same headline would suffice for each of the past 10 years.

But this time the uninterupted growth of wealth amongst the already super-rich takes place amidst a period of extreme economic turbulence, during which the living standards of working people have fallen sharply. As Sunday Times journalist Philip Beresford’s opening gambit illustrates: “Even as the storm clouds gather, Britiain’s super-rich have never been richer.”

Not only are the super-rich utterly impervious to the extortionate recent rises in the cost of living, but their wealth grows whether economic conditions are favourable or not. While house prices in the UK have begun to fall, reports in the media detail how the rarified West London housing market of the international super-rich is insulated from such downward pressures and continues to climb—albeit at a slightly slower rate.

The accumulated wealth of those on the rich list has grown to £412.8 billion, an increase of almost £53 billion from last year. Growth has fallen by more than a quarter, from last year’s rate of 20 percent, to 14.7 percent. Of this year’s top 10, only three were born in Britain. Indian-born number one Lakshmi Mittal’s wealth grew by an astonishing 44 percent, mainly by virtue of swallowing up more international steel producing facilities through mergers. Such business manoevres usually result in consolidation and redundency notices for staff who find their jobs duplicated.

In his new book on international elites David Rothkopf observes, “The rise of nation states produced national ruling classes. It would be odd if the current integration of the world economy did not produce new global elites—business people and financiers who run global companies.”

Writing in his Observer column about Rothkopf’s new publication, Will Hutton noted how Prime Minister Gordon Brown has surrounded himself with former employees of Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. Jonathan Powell, former premier Tony Blair’s chief of staff, has joined Morgan Stanley and Blair himself receives a large stipend from Goldman Sachs.

The Sunday Times then addresses itself to the relatively tragic fate of British-based billionaires. Whilst the international super-rich are, in the words of the Sunday Times, “getting richer quicker,” by contrast British-born billionaires with substantial UK investments suffered from the economic slowdown far more than their international counterparts. Falls were expected in fortunes reliant upon British retail, property and investment. British-born Sir Philip Green, who owns BHS and TopShop, saw his wealth decline by 10 percent—losing £570 million in one year. Richard Branson lost £400 million off a previous £2.7 billion due in no small measure to the drop in Virgin Media’s share value. Vincent Tchenguiz, a British investor and property dealer, suffered a 76 percent fall in his wealth.

Rupert Murdoch’s flagship newspaper complains (in what will be seen as a warning by the Brown government) that “whereas we used to lead the field with the near-20 percent growth rates, our 14.7 percent increase this year seems positvely pedestrian.” Rich list lead writer Beresford points to contemporary increase of 22.6 percent in the wealth of the world’s super-rich and of a staggering 26.6 percent increase amongst Europe’s super-rich over the last year.

Beresford then complains about the new single payment of £30,000 annual tax levied on those deemed to be non-domicile (not resident) in Britain—irrespective of their actual wealth—despite this being little more than loose change for those on its list. The UK’s non-domicile rule in fact still allows the international super-rich to make London their home without paying taxes on earnings from abroad. And they pay very little or nothing on their British-based profits.

But Beresford is worried about bigger things to come. He notes that the storm clouds are gathering and worries that the super-rich have become a “convenient target,” writing, “In times of economic uncertainty, the gulf between rich and poor is rarely ignored by those looking for a convenient scapegoat.” By way of defence, the Sunday Times hails the money donated by a few of the super-rich to charity.

The degree of wealth disparity in the UK is astounding and Beresford is not the only commentator to note the increasing hostility towards the super-rich. A couple of days after the publication of the list, Dominic Lawson opened his weekly column in the Independent newspaper by stating, “If there is a bloody Bolshevik revolution in this country, I think I can guess the inflamatory pamphlet which will be waved by the people putting the wealthy up against the walls and shooting them. It will not be the Communist Manifesto. It will be the Sunday Times Rich List.”

Though decrying what he described as the “politics of envy,” Lawson states that “The 2008 edition, published just a couple of days ago, was more eye poppingly voyeuristic than ever: 110 pages of non-stop salivation over fortunes which the rest of us could only dream about.”

He then notes that the Archbishop of Cantebury, Rowan Williams, was interviewed only days prior to the rich list publication, telling BBC interviewer John Humphreys, “The more you have a disproportion between what people are earning and what they are worth, the more we have astronomical sums with no clear rationale behind them, the less credibility the whole thing has.”

Williams added that the enormous disparities between the super-rich and ordinary working people brings about “a degree of envy and cynicism ... that leads people to feel alienated from the rest of society.”

Lawson’s derision is not directed against inequality, but at those like Williams who presume to draw attention to the elephant in the room. The Archbishop’s sin is to make the obvious connection between the gargantuan wealth accumulated at the one pole of society with the increasing immiseration and insecurity at the other. Willliams, writes Lawson, “is one of those who believes that over the past decade under New Labour the least well off have got poorer as the rich got richer, and that the latter fact is in some way responsible for the former.”

Lawson spends the rest of his column arguing that inequality, regardless of repeated academic research findings, is not really growing. And besides, he pleads, any attempt to redistribute wealth through taxation is self-defeating.

But such statements—the mantra of Thatcher, Blair and Brown—ring increasingly hollow. In the UK millions of working people live a life of perpetual financial insecurity and crippling debts. They suffer the daily ignonimy of waiting nervously for the latest bank or mortgage statement, or looking on as petrol gauges and pay-as-you go utility meters tick over. Newpapers, even the upmarket broadsheets, are full of advice for readers about how to tighten their belts, how to reduce debt and avoid bankruptcy or how to save money on household shopping and utility bills.

While house prices rose and credit was readily available, the Labour government and a supportive media was able to dazzle sufficicent numbers of people with the illusion of rising living standards. No longer. Gordon Brown has constructed an economy built on unsustainable levels of debt. Not for nothing did Guardian economics editor Larry Elliott call his book on Blair and Brown’s economic policies Fantasy Island. That some commentators are now worried by the vulgar worshiping of money represented by the Sunday Times Rich List is out of fear of the social and political struggles that will inevitably be provoked by the onset of recession.