Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mosaic News - 5/21/08: World News from the Middle East

Bush's 'War Crimes' & Misdemeanors

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By Robert Parry

Facing a tough reelection fight in 2004, George W. Bush expressed outrage over leaked photos showing U.S. military police at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison abusing detainees, who were paraded naked before female guards, threatened by attack dogs, chained in "stress positions" and forced to wear ladies underpants on their heads.

President Bush assured the American people that he "shared a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were treated." Other administration officials pinned the blame on a "few bad apples" and dismissed the prison guards’ claim that they were told to "soften up" the detainees for interrogation.

Now, a report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General reveals that months before those abuses at Abu Ghraib, nearly identical tactics were used against "war on terror" detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at CIA prisons – and that FBI complaints about the tactics went up the chain of command back to Washington.

FBI agents at Guantanamo even opened a file that they labeled "war crimes" to document the systematic violations of the Geneva Conventions and laws against torture that they witnessed – before being told by superiors to close the file.

According to the Inspector General’s report, the FBI protests reached the White House but went unheeded. Instead, the prisoner abuses spread to Iraq where the Abu Ghraib prison was "Gitmo-ized" with the same harsh and bizarre tactics applied to Iraqi detainees.

So, the new Inspector General’s report adds to the growing body of evidence that – in the months before Election 2004 – Bush only feigned shock about what was being done to detainees in American custody.

The evidence is now overwhelming that Bush knew of – and approved of – those violations of the rules of war and basic human decency, that the "war crimes" catalogued by the FBI agents could be traced to him.

In April 2008, ABC News reported, citing unnamed sources, that during the early days of the "war on terror," senior Bush aides met in what was called the Principals Committee to calibrate the level of harsh techniques that would be used against detainees.

At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

"The high-level discussions about these ’enhanced interrogation techniques’ were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed – down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic," ABC News reported, adding:

"These top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al-Qaeda suspects – whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding, sources told ABC News."

Asked about his subordinates setting these interrogation rules, Bush told ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz that "yes, I’m aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved." [ABC News, April 11, 2008]

Moral Leader?

Yet, in 2004, by dismissing the grotesque scenes at Abu Ghraib as an aberration, Bush portrayed himself as a moral leader who was furious that some low-level American soldiers would misbehave in such a fashion.

After the photos became public, Army Sgt. Sam Provance was the only uniformed military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib to support the guards’ claim that the prisoner abuse was part of the "alternative interrogation techniques" that had made their way from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib.

Provance, however, was punished for his candor and pushed out of the U.S. military. The Bush administration then went ahead and pinned the blame on the MPs. [See’s "The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib."]

Eventually, 11 enlisted soldiers were convicted in courts martial. Cpl. Charles Graner Jr. received the harshest sentence – 10 years in prison – while Lynndie England, a 22-year-old single mother who was photographed holding an Iraqi on a leash and pointing at a detainee’s penis, was sentenced to three years in prison.

Protected from the scandal’s fallout, Bush was rewarded with a second term in the White House. Later, he began to treat the Abu Ghraib case like some freak accident that the media had blown out of proportion.

At a press conference on May 25, 2006, Bush complained, "We’ve been paying for that for a long period of time."

However, it’s now clear the President didn’t pay much of a personal price at all. The more complete record now available indicates that Bush was a knowledgeable participant in the sadistic treatment of detainees, not an innocent bystander.

Indeed, on Feb. 7, 2002, Bush signed the key memo that cleared the way for the abuses, asserting that the Geneva Conventions’ prohibitions against the degrading treatment of prisoners did not apply to "unlawful combatants," including al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the militant Islamists who had ruled Afghanistan at the time of the 9/11 attacks.

Many casual readers missed the import of Bush’s phrasing, which stressed that captives would be treated "humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva."

The operative phrase in the memo turned out to be "to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity." In the Bush administration’s view, that was a loophole you could drive a truck full of abusive tactics through. [For more on Bush’s theories of presidential power, see our book, Neck Deep.]

Fresh Evidence

The Inspector General’s report, released May 20, 2008, also provides fresh evidence that senior Bush aides signed off on the harsh treatment of detainees.

In spring 2002, when FBI agents objected to the treatment of badly wounded al-Qaeda captive Abu Zubaydah – what one agent called "borderline torture" – they were assured by CIA personnel "that the procedures being used on Zubaydah had been approved ’at the highest levels,’" the Inspector General’s report said.

But one of the FBI agents, called "Thomas" in the report, still passed on his concerns to his superior, FBI Counterterrorism Assistant Director Pasquale D’Amuro, who soon pulled the FBI agents out of the interrogation.

D’Amuro, in turn, took the issue of Zubaydah’s interrogation to FBI Director Robert Mueller; Michael Chertoff, then Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; and other senior department officials, the report said.

During a meeting with his superiors in summer 2002, D’Amuro said he learned that the CIA had obtained a legal opinion from the Justice Department opening the door for the harsh interrogations.

That was an apparent reference to memos written by John Yoo of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, claiming that the President’s commander-in-chief authority gave Bush the right to ignore laws if he deemed that necessary to protect the nation.

"After his meeting at Chertoff’s office, [D’Amuro] met with Director Mueller and recommended that the FBI not get involved in interviews in which aggressive interrogation techniques were being used," the Inspector General’s report said.

"He stated that his exact words to Mueller were ’we don’t do that,’ and that someday the FBI would be called to testify and he wanted to be able to say that the FBI did not participate in this type of activity.

"D’Amuro said that the Director agreed with his recommendation that the FBI should not participate in interviews in which these techniques were used."

D’Amuro said he objected to the harsh techniques because they were less effective in gleaning reliable information; complicated later prosecutions; violated moral standards; and "helped al-Qaeda in spreading negative views of the United States."

Up the Ladder

These FBI concerns made there way up the ladder to Bush’s National Security Council.

Mueller’s chief of staff Daniel Levin said he attended a meeting at the NSC at which CIA techniques were discussed and an attorney from the Office of Legal Counsel [OLC] defended their legality.

"Levin stated that in connection with this meeting, or immediately after it, FBI Director Mueller decided that FBI agents would not participate in interrogations involving techniques the FBI did not normally use in the United States, even though OLC had determined such techniques were legal," the Inspector General’s report said.

FBI agents also crossed swords with Pentagon interrogators over similar abusive techniques instituted at Guantanamo, especially the harsh questioning of suspected 20th hijacker Mohammed al-Qahtani between Nov. 23, 2002, and Jan. 15, 2003.

During this period, military interrogators tied al-Qahtani to a dog leash and made him perform dog tricks; repeatedly poured water over his head; put him in painful stress positions; questioned him for periods of 20 hours straight; stripped him naked in front of a woman; held him down while a female interrogator straddled him; called his mother and sister whores; accused him of homosexual tendencies; made him dance with a male interrogator; ordered him to pray to an idol shrine; and subjected him to extreme temperatures.

At one point in December 2002, al-Qahtani was taken to a hospital suffering from low blood pressure and low body core temperature, what one FBI agent termed hypothermia.

The FBI’s objections to al-Qahtani’s interrogation also were brought to the attention of senior officials in Washington, according to the Inspector General’s report.

David Nahmias, a counsel in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, told the IG that he was "fairly confident" that department officials raised the al-Qahtani issue at a meeting of the Principals Committee.

Nahmias also said he believed Attorney General Ashcroft spoke with someone at the NSC, mostly likely NSC adviser Rice, about the FBI concerns regarding al-Qahtani.

"When asked if anything ever happened as a result of these meetings, Nahmias said that DOJ officials were continually frustrated by their inability to get any changes or make progress with regard to the al-Qahtani matter," the report said.

Ashcroft, who resigned in November 2004 shortly after Bush won a second term, declined to be interviewed by the Inspector General.

Lack of Action

But the reason for a lack of action on the FBI complaints is now more obvious.

The FBI’s evidence of "war crimes" went up the chain of command, all the way to the White House, the NSC and the Principals Committee – precisely where the abusive policies had been developed in the first place.

Before senior FBI officials grasped this high-level support for the mistreatment of detainees, some FBI agents were instructed to compile the evidence for a "war crimes" file at Guantanamo.

"At some point in 2003, however," the Inspector General’s report said, the FBI agents at Guantanamo "received instructions not to maintain a separate ’war crimes’ file, … that investigating detainee allegations of abuse was not the FBI’s mission."

When the ugly reality of how the United States was treating detainees finally surfaced in spring 2004 with the Abu Ghraib photos, Bush and his top aides pretended that they were innocent parties as shocked as everyone else.

By laying the blame off on a "few bad apples," Bush managed to get through the November 2004 election relatively unscathed.

And now that the truth is finally coming to the surface, it appears to be too late for him to be held accountable for "war crimes" and other abuses of his presidential powers.

Some members of the Democratic-controlled Congress have expressed outrage over the latest disclosures and want hearings.

But – if recent history suggests anything – it is that the Bush administration will brush aside congressional inquiries, and the Democrats, who long ago took impeachment off the table, will surrender once again.

New Fears on Long-Term Global Oil Supplies

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By Graham Bowley and David Jolly

Worries that world oil demand will outstrip global supplies intensified on Thursday, sending ripples through the global economy as oil prices leaped above $135, a new record high.

The price spike occurred overnight, and by Thursday morning oil had fallen back slightly to $132.87, down 30 cents from its close on Wednesday.

Also see:
Kelpie Wilson | Peak Oil and Politicians

But the leap capped a rally that has seen oil rise nearly $5 a barrel in two days, underscoring the dire implications of the current price run-up for businesses across the globe.

Ford Motor Company, the American auto manufacturer, said on Thursday it would cut vehicle production for the rest of this year and fall short of reaching profitability in 2009, a long-held company goal. In a statement, a top Ford executive said rising gasoline prices "are having a tremendous impact on our sales, our manufacturing operations and our profitability."

Meanwhile, Europe’s biggest airline, Air France-KLM, warned of a profound reshaping of the world airline industry caused by what it called the "explosion" in the price of oil. And American Airlines said on Wednesday that it would slash flights and begin charging passengers to check bags, part of a company effort to cut costs in the face of skyrocketing fuel prices.

Gas prices are nearing $4 a gallon in the United States, partially as a result of a 39 percent rise in oil futures prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange since the beginning of the year. Oil prices have more than quadrupled since 2003.

Thursday’s price gains came after a series of unsettling reports about supplies. The International Energy Agency warned about difficulties in expanding production.

On Wednesday, weaker-than-expected weekly inventory data in the United States stoked fresh worries over oil supplies in the world’s biggest economy, sending oil prices up $4.19 a barrel on the day.

The latest supply worries arose after reports Thursday that the International Energy Agency, based in Paris, was considering reducing its assessment of the long-term world supply of crude oil after a study of depletion rates at the world’s 400 biggest fields.

"Clearly this is the issue we have had for a while of an increased deficit in consumption versus production," said John Kilduff, energy analyst at MF Global in New York. "That’s produced this creep up in the rise in oil prices. The market gets hit on a daily basis."

The energy agency has long forecast a slow but steady increase in production that would keep pace with demand. Output was projected to reach 116 million barrels a day in 2030, from 87 million barrels a day now.

"We are conducting a major study," Fatih Birol, the agency’s chief economist, said in an interview Thursday, "and we are going to revise our oil supply prospects."

"We don’t know the results yet," he added, which will be conducted "project by project and field by field."

"But there are difficulties in expanding production," he said, and the World Energy Outlook 2008 ? which will be published in November ? will take that into account. The IEA has expressed concerns for some time that the growth of new supplies may not keep pace with demand as oil companies struggle to find new sources of oil.

There are considerable signs of speculative froth in the market.

Michael Masters, a portfolio manager at Masters Capital Management, testified Tuesday to a Senate committee that while the most common explanation given for rising oil prices is the increased demand for oil from China.

But he cited data showing that the increase in demand from index speculators over the past five years is almost equal to the increase in demand from China.

Separately Thursday, Air France-KLM warned of a profound reshaping of the global airline industry caused by what it called the "explosion" in the price of oil.

The data on Wednesday, from the Energy Department, showed that commercial inventories of crude oil in the United States fell more than five million barrels last week; analysts had expected a modest increase. Gasoline inventories also fell last week.

The fall in inventories added to worries about oil supplies in the United States ahead of the busy summer driving season when demand usually rises, analysts said.

The massive earthquake last week in China has also been weighing on markets, Kilduff said. It has deepened the fears about global supply because the Chinese authorities are now diverting energy supplies for their own needs.

"China has reacted by holding supplies off the international market," he said. "We also saw them make a major purchase on the world market."

He said a number of China’s coal plants had been temporarily shut down, which meant the country would start to increase its demand for diesel.

He said that the latest reports meant he would likely raise his forecast for the future oil price. "We are going to raise that. Clearly now the medium term favors a price of above $140," he said.

With crude oil prices passing $130 a barrel, a rise of more than 100 percent in a year, the business model airlines adopted a decade ago has been thrown into question. The International Air Transport Association said May 2 that growth in international traffic was slowing, and that "the fortunes of the industry have taken a major turn for the worse."

"Things are moving very quickly," Jean-Cyril Spinetta, the chief executive of Air France-KLM, told reporters Thursday before the company announced its first quarterly loss in five years.

Media: An Economy That Needs Reinventing

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By Jean-Marc Vittori

A prestigious evening newspaper endures one strike after another. A former telephone service administration launches into satellite television. An ordinary citizen destabilizes the President of the Republic by revealing his irritation at the Agriculture Salon over the Internet. Thus does the new media world emerge: in which former landmarks disappear one after the other, where everyone is looking for its new brand names, where uncertainty has never been so great. The economy of which needs to be reinvented.

Before, everything was simple - or nearly so.

A media outlet was fed by two pipelines. The first brought the money paid by the consumer. The reader bought "France-Soir." The television viewer paid his share at Canal+. The Internet user footed his AOL subscription. The second pipeline was plugged into the advertiser, who bought advertising to promote his products or image. Europe 1 and TF1 are connected to this sole financing source. Most newspapers and magazines are "bifacial," simultaneously sold to readers and advertisers. And that has been the case for a very long time: in 1909, a year after the creation of "Les Echos," a third of its front page vaunted "true Benedictine liqueur." A television channel like Canal+ also rounds out its revenues with advertising. To tell the truth, a third pipeline exists, plugged into the taxman. Public money finances the press a little through assistance (reduced value added tax, discounted freight rates, social and fiscal deductions for journalists). It broadly finances the public audiovisual sector - today the entirety of FIP radio and tomorrow: television channel France 2 - according to the President of the Republic.

This age-old economic structure is about to be swept away. One the one hand, the consumer pays less and less for the news. Free newspapers, once confined to ads, today include real daily newspapers such as "20 Minutes" or "Metro." Above all, the Internet is wrecking the previous state of affairs. There's no longer any need to buy a newspaper to know the results, whether Michelin's quarterly earnings or those of the Cholet-Roanne basketball game. A few clicks suffice. Basic news is becoming a "commodity," a raw material with a price close to zero. Logically, what economists call the consumers' "agreement to pay" is declining.

On the other hand, the advertiser is doing ever more soul-searching. "I waste half of the money I spend on advertising; the problem is I don't know which half." That remark - attributed to John Wanamaker, an American retail magnate at the beginning of the Twentieth Century - is losing its relevance. With the Internet and "data mining," the management of gigantic electronic data bases, specialists measure advertising's impact with growing precision. Advertisers balk at paying rates elaborated from limited tools such as audience measures. They will attempt to pay commissions calculated as a function of their messages' effectiveness. And they will switch their spending in favor of the most effective media. The leader of a big American company very involved in this sector estimates that global Internet advertising could double in five years, from 40 to 80 billion dollars. Simultaneously, the annual 500 billion dollars spent on all advertising could drop by 15 to 20 percent.

But the shock doesn't stop there. The media planet is undergoing two other disruptions. The first is the passage from scarcity to abundance. Thirty years ago, France counted three television channels and barely more radio stations. First, there was regulatory change in the 1980s when "free" radio stations were authorized and then the launch of Canal+. Then came technical change with satellites, the signal compression that allowed an increase in the number of channels (TNT) and, above all, the Internet. The number of channels exploded and with it, the race for consumers and advertisers. On top of that, new tools appeared. While there were only three big innovations during the 20th century (the large scale production and distribution of the written press at the beginning of the century, radio and television starting in the 1930s, the Internet in the 1990s), today, changes are unremitting: computer, BlackBerry, iPod, cell phones receiving television, e-papers etc. Without even mentioning the tools that allow the consumer to compose his own à la carte menu (podcast, video on demand, community video sites etc.). As always, competition makes prices fall. And the media, which are not "the little engine that could," are all, or almost all, declining. TF1's audience has sunk below 30 percent of the total. Newspaper sales are suffering continuous erosion ...

The second shock is the reduction in market entry cost. The creation of a web site costs a few thousand Euros, that of a newspaper or television channel, a thousand times more. And its distribution is automatically global from the outset, while traditional media have to invest a lot of money to broaden their geographic coverage. Consequently, new actors can appear more easily. There also, competition intensifies.

Consumers and advertisers who want to pay less, ever more numerous and varied competitors ... In the face of these revolutions, uncertainty has become radical. One infallible sign: LBO investment funds have been virtually unwilling to consider cases within the sector for the last two to three years. Since they borrow so much money to finance their purchases, they need to have practically guaranteed turnover to repay their loans. In fact, it's the news production "business model" that must be reinvented. There will always be a need for people to find, verify, prioritize, and put news into perspective - journalists. But where will the money come from? For now, no one knows. In the United States, some experts are even talking about financing.... by patrons.

We can, of course, cite a few leads. The English weekly, "The Economist," is in great shape because it offers the opposite of basic news, with brilliant journalists paid on the scale of investment bankers. The daily newspaper "L'Agefi," once published in large format, has outsourced its printing to ... its customers. Its readers now receive a PDF file on their computer that they can print themselves. In the United States, the magnate Rupert Murdoch who bought the daily "Wall Street Journal," wants multimedia journalists who simultaneously work for the paper, the Net and television. A number of media are also taking the wrecking ball to their organization, going from a pyramidal organigram to an hourglass structure with hired hands and experts. In the next ten years, the economy of the media will change even more than it has during the last century.

River of Resistance

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By Michael Schwartz

How the American Imperial Dream Foundered in Iraq

On February 15, 2003, ordinary citizens around the world poured into the streets to protest George W. Bush’s onrushing invasion of Iraq. Demonstrations took place in large cities and small towns globally, including a small but spirited protest at the McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Up to 30 million people, who sensed impending catastrophe, participated in what Rebecca Solnit, that apostle of popular hope, has called "the biggest and most widespread collective protest the world has ever seen."

The first glancing assessment of history branded this remarkable planetary protest a record-breaking failure, since the Bush administration, less than one month later, ordered U.S. troops across the Kuwaiti border and on to Baghdad.

And it has since largely been forgotten, or perhaps better put, obliterated from official and media memory. Yet popular protest is more like a river than a storm; it keeps flowing into new areas, carrying pieces of its earlier life into other realms. We rarely know its consequences until many years afterward, when, if we’re lucky, we finally sort out its meandering path. Speaking for the protesters back in May 2003, only a month after U.S. troops entered the Iraqi capital, Solnit offered the following:

"We will likely never know, but it seems that the Bush administration decided against the ‘Shock and Awe’ saturation bombing of Baghdad because we made it clear that the cost in world opinion and civil unrest would be too high. We millions may have saved a few thousand or a few tens of thousand of lives. The global debate about the war delayed it for months, months that perhaps gave many Iraqis time to lay in stores, evacuate, brace for the onslaught."

Whatever history ultimately concludes about that unexpected moment of protest, once the war began, other forms of resistance arose -- mainly in Iraq itself -- that were equally unexpected. And their effects on the larger goals of Bush administration planners can be more easily traced. Think of it this way: In a land the size of California with but 26 million people, a ragtag collection of Baathists, fundamentalists, former military men, union organizers, democratic secularists, local tribal leaders, and politically active clerics -- often at each others throats (quite literally) -- nonetheless managed to thwart the plans of the self-proclaimed New Rome, the "hyperpower" and "global sheriff" of Planet Earth. And that, even in the first glancing assessment of history, may indeed prove historic.

The New American Century Goes Missing in Action

It’s hard now even to recall the original vision George W. Bush and his top officials had of how the conquest of Iraq would unfold as an episode in the President’s Global War on Terror. In their minds, the invasion was sure to yield a quick victory, to be followed by the creation of a client state that would house crucial "enduring" U.S. military bases from which Washington would project power throughout what they liked to term "the Greater Middle East."

In addition, Iraq was quickly going to become a free-market paradise, replete with privatized oil flowing at record rates onto the world market. Like falling dominos, Syria and Iran, cowed by such a demonstration of American might, would follow suit, either from additional military thrusts or because their regimes -- and those of up to 60 countries worldwide -- would appreciate the futility of resisting Washington’s demands. Eventually, the "unipolar moment" of U.S. global hegemony that the collapse of the Soviet Union had initiated would be extended into a "New American Century" (along with a generational Pax Republicana at home).

This vision is now, of course, long gone, largely thanks to unexpected and tenacious resistance of every sort within Iraq. This resistance consisted of far more than the initial Sunni insurgency that tied down what Donald Rumsfeld pridefully labeled "the greatest military force on the face of the earth." It is already none too rash a statement to suggest that, at all levels of society, usually at great sacrifice, the Iraqi people frustrated the imperial designs of a superpower.

Consider, for example, the myriad ways in which the Iraqi Sunnis resisted the occupation of their country from almost the moment the Bush administration’s intention to fully dismantle Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime became clear. The largely Sunni city of Falluja, like most other communities around the country, spontaneously formed a new government based on local clerical and tribal structures. Like many of these cities, it avoided the worst of the post-invasion looting by encouraging the formation of local militias to police the community. Ironically, the orgy of looting that took place in Baghdad was, at least in part, a consequence of the U.S. military presence, which delayed the creation of such militias there. Eventually, however, sectarian militias brought a modicum of order even to Baghdad.

In Falluja and elsewhere, these same militias soon became effective instruments for reducing, and -- for a time -- eliminating, the presence of the U.S. military. For the better part of a year, faced with IEDs and ambushes from insurgents, the U.S. military declared Falluja a "no go" zone, withdrew to bases outside the city, and discontinued violent incursions into hostile neighborhoods. This retreat was matched in many other cities and towns. The absence of patrols by occupation forces saved tens of thousands of "suspected insurgents" from the often deadly violence of home invasions, and their relatives from wrecked homes and detained family members.

Even the most successful of U.S. military adventures in that period, the second battle of Falluja in November 2004, could also be seen, from quite a different perspective, as a successful act of resistance. Because the United States was required to mass a significant proportion of its combat brigades for the offensive (even transferring British troops from the south to perform logistical duties), most other cities were left alone. Many of these cities used this respite from the U.S. military to establish, or consolidate, autonomous governments or quasi-governments and defensive militias, making it all the more difficult for the occupation to control them.

Falluja itself was, of course, destroyed, with 70% of its buildings turned to rubble, and tens of thousands of its residents permanently displaced -- an extreme sacrifice that had the unexpected effect of taking pressure off other Iraqi cities for a while. In fact, the ferocity of the resistance in the predominantly Sunni areas of Iraq forced the American military to wait almost four years before renewing their initial 2004 efforts to pacify the well-organized Sadrist-led resistance in the predominantly Shia areas of the country.

The Rebellion of the Oil Workers

In another arena entirely, consider the Bush administration’s dreams of harnessing Iraqi oil production to its foreign policy ambitions. The immediate goals, as American planners saw it, were to double prewar output and begin the process of transferring control of production from state ownership to foreign companies. Three major energy initiatives designed to accomplish these goals have so far been frustrated by resistance from virtually every segment of Iraqi society. Iraq’s well-organized oil workers played a key role in this by using their ability to bring production to a virtual stand-still in order to abort the transfer -- only a few months after the U.S. toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime -- of the operation of the southern oil port of Basra to the management of then-Halliburton subsidiary KBR.

This and other early acts of labor defiance turned back the initial assault on the Iraqi government-controlled system of oil production. Such acts also laid a foundation for successful efforts to prevent the passage of oil policies shaped in Washington that were designed to transfer control of energy exploration and production to foreign companies. In these efforts, the oil workers were joined by both Sunni and Shia resistance groups, local governments, and finally the new national parliament.

This same sort of resistance extended to the whole roster of neoliberal reforms sponsored by the U.S.-controlled Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). From the beginning of the occupation, for instance, there were protests against mass unemployment caused by the dismantling of the Baathist state and the shuttering of state-owned factories. Much of the armed resistance was a response to the occupation’s early violent suppression of these protests.

Even more significant were local efforts to replace the government services discontinued by the CPA. The same local quasi-governments that had nurtured the militias sought to sustain or replace Baathist social programs, often by siphoning off oil destined for export onto the black-market to pay for local services, and hoarding local resources such as electrical generation. The result would be the creation of virtual city-states wherever U.S. troops were not present, leading to the inability of the occupation to "pacify" any substantial portion of the country.

The Sadrist movement and the Mahdi Army militia of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was probably the most successful -- and most anti-occupation -- of the Shia political parties-cum-militias that systematically sought to develop quasi-government organizations. They tried to meet, however minimally, some of the basic needs of their communities, supplying food baskets, housing services, and serving a host of other functions previously promised by the Baathist government, but forsworn by the U.S. occupation and the Iraqi government that the United States installed when "handing over" sovereignty in June 2004.

The American occupationaires expected that their plans for the rapid privatization and transformation of the state-driven economy would indeed generate resistance, but they were convinced that this would subside quickly once the new economy kicked into gear. Instead, as the occupation wore on, demands for relief grew more strident and insistent, while the country itself, in chaos and near collapse, became visible evidence of the failure of the Bush administration’s "free market" policies.

An Iraqi Agenda for Withdrawal

Occupation officials faced the same dilemma in the political realm. The original goal of the Bush administration was a stable, pro-Washington government, stripped of its economic and political dominance over Iraqi society, but a bastion of resistance to Iranian regional power. This vision, like its military and economic cousins, has long since disappeared under the weight of Iraqi resistance.

Take, for example, the two high profile Iraqi elections, celebrated in the mainstream American media as a unique Bush administration accomplishment in the otherwise relentlessly autocratic Middle East. Inside Iraq, however, they had quite a different look. It is important to remember that the United States initially planned to sustain its direct rule -- the Coalition Provisional Authority -- until the country was fully pacified and its economic reforms completed. When the CPA became a hated symbol of an unwanted occupation, planning shifted to the idea of installing an appointed Iraqi government, based on community meetings that only supporters of the occupation could attend. Full-scale elections would be postponed until winners fully supportive of the Bush agenda were assured. An outpouring of protest from the predominantly Shia areas of the country, led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, forced CPA administrators to move on to an election-based strategy.

The first election in January 2005 delivered a sizeable parliamentary majority voted in on platforms calling for strict timetables for a full U.S. military withdrawal from the country. American representatives then forcefully pressured the newly installed cabinet to abandon this position.

The second parliamentary election in December 2005 followed a similar pattern. This time, the backroom bargaining was only partially effective. The newly installed prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, reneged on his campaign promises by publicly supporting an ongoing American military presence, which caused deep fissures in the ruling coalition. After a year of unproductive negotiations, the 30 Sadrists in parliament, originally a key part of Maliki’s ruling coalition, withdrew from both that coalition and the cabinet in protest over the prime minister’s refusal to set a date for the end of the occupation. Subsequent parliamentary demands for a date certain for withdrawal were ignored by both the government and U.S. officials. While Maliki continued in office without a parliamentary majority, the controversy contributed to the soaring popularity of the Sadrists and waning support for the other Shiite governing parties.

By early 2008, with provincial elections looming in November, there was little doubt that the Sadrists would sweep to power in many predominantly Shia provinces, most critically Basra, Iraq’s second largest city and southern oil hub. To prevent this debacle, Iraqi government troops, supported and advised by the U.S. military, sought to expel the Sadrists from key areas of Basra.

This use of military force to prevent electoral defeat was only one of many indications that the Iraqi government was feeling the pressure of public opinion. Another was the reluctance of Prime Minister Maliki to maintain an antagonistic stance toward Iran. Despite fervent Bush administration efforts, his government has promoted social, religious, and economic relationships between Iraqis and Iranians. These included facilitating visits to the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf by hundreds of thousands of Iranian Shia pilgrims, as well as supporting extensive oil transactions between Basra and Iranian firms, including distribution and refining services that promised to integrate the two energy economies. A formal military relationship between the two countries was vetoed by U.S. authorities, but this did not reverse the tide of cooperation.

The River of Resistance

As the occupation wore on, the Bush administration found itself swimming against a tide of resistance of a previously unimaginable sort, and ever further from its goals. Today, cities and towns around the country are largely under the sway of Shia or Sunni militias which, even when trained or paid by the occupation, remain militantly opposed to the U.S. presence. Moreover, though the prostrate Iraqi economy has been formally privatized, these local militias -- and the political leaders they worked with -- continue to raise demands for vast government-funded reconstruction and economic development programs.

The formal political leadership of Iraq, locked inside the heavily fortified, U.S.-controlled Green Zone in Baghdad, remains publicly compliant when it comes to Bush administration plans to transform Iraq into a Middle Eastern outpost -- including the continued presence of American troops on a series of mega-bases in the heart of the country. The rest of the government bureaucracy and the bulk of Iraq’s grass roots are increasingly insistent on an early American departure date and a full-scale reversal of the economic policies first introduced by the occupation.

In Washington, for Democratic as well as Republican politicians, the outpost idea remains at the heart of the policy agenda for Iraq in this election year, along with a neoliberal economy featuring a modernized oil sector in which multinational firms are to use state-of-the-art technology to maximize the country’s lagging oil production.

Iraqi resistance of every kind and on every level has, however, prevented this vision from becoming reality. Because of the Iraqis, the glorious sounding Global War on Terror has been transformed into an endless, hopeless actual war.

But the Iraqis have paid a terrible price for resisting. The invasion and the social and economic policies that accompanied it have destroyed Iraq, leaving its people essentially destitute. In the first five years of this endless war, Iraqis have suffered more for resisting than if they had accepted and endured American military and economic dominance. Whether consciously or not, they have sacrificed themselves to halt Washington’s projected military and economic march through the oil-rich Middle East on the path to a new American Century that now will never be.

It is past time for the rest of the world to shoulder at least a small share of the burden of resistance. Just as the worldwide protests before the war were among the upstream sources of the Iraqi resistance-to-come, so now others, especially Americans, should resist the very idea that Iraq could ever become the headquarters for a permanent United States presence that would, in the words of Bush speechwriter David Frum, "put America more wholly in charge of the region than any power since the Ottomans, or maybe even the Romans." Unlike the Iraqis, after all, the citizens of the United States are uniquely positioned to bury this imperial dream for all time.

More on the real reason behind high oil prices

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By F. William Engdahl

As detailed in an earlier article, a conservative calculation is that at least 60% of today’s $128 per barrel price of crude oil comes from unregulated futures speculation by hedge funds, banks and financial groups using the London ICE Futures and New York NYMEX futures exchanges and uncontrolled inter-bank or Over-The-Counter trading to avoid scrutiny. US margin rules of the government’s Commodity Futures Trading Commission allow speculators to buy a crude oil futures contract on the Nymex, by having to pay only 6% of the value of the contract. At today’s price of $128 per barrel, that means a futures trader only has to put up about $8 for every barrel. He borrows the other $120. This extreme "leverage" of 16 to 1 helps drive prices to wildly unrealistic levels and offset bank losses in sub-prime and other disasters at the expense of the overall population.

The hoax of Peak Oil—namely the argument that the oil production has hit the point where more than half all reserves have been used and the world is on the downslope of oil at cheap price and abundant quantity—has enabled this costly fraud to continue since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 with the help of key banks, oil traders and big oil majors. Washington is trying to shift blame, as always, to Arab OPEC producers. The problem is not a lack of crude oil supply. In fact the world is in over-supply now. Yet the price climbs relentlessly higher. Why? The answer lies in what are clearly deliberate US government policies that permit the unbridled oil price manipulations.

World Oil Demand Flat, Prices Boom…

The chief market strategist for one of the world’s leading oil industry banks, David Kelly, of J.P. Morgan Funds, recently admitted something telling to the Washington Post, "One of the things I think is very important to realize is that the growth in the world oil consumption is not that strong."

One of the stories used to support the oil futures speculators is the allegation that China’s oil import thirst is exploding out of control, driving shortages in the supply-demand equilibrium. The facts do not support the China demand thesis however.

The US Government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) in its most recent monthly Short Term Energy Outlook report, concluded that US oil demand is expected to decline by 190,000 b/d in 2008. That is mainly owing to the deepening economic recession. Chinese consumption, the EIA says, far from exploding, is expected to rise this year by only 400,000 barrels a day. That is hardly the "surging oil demand" blamed on China in the media. Last year China imported 3.2 million barrels per day, and its estimated usage was around 7 million b/d total. The US, by contrast, consumes around 20.7 million b/d.

That means the key oil consuming nation, the USA, is experiencing a significant drop in demand. China, which consumes only a third of the oil the US does, will see a minor rise in import demand compared with the total daily world oil output of some 84 million barrels, less than half of a percent of the total demand.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has its 2008 global oil demand growth forecast unchanged at 1.2 mm bpd, as slowing economic growth in the industrialised world is offset by slightly growing consumption in developing nations. OPEC predicts global oil demand in 2008 will average 87 million bpd -- largely unchanged from its previous estimate. Demand from China, the Middle East, India, and Latin America -- is forecast to be stronger but the EU and North American demand will be lower.

So the world’s largest oil consumer faces a sharp decline in consumption, a decline that will worsen as the housing and related economic effects of the US securitization crisis in finance de-leverages. The price in normal open or transparent markets would presumably be falling not rising. No supply crisis justifies the way the world’s oil is being priced today.

Big new oil fields coming online

Not only is there no supply crisis to justify such a price bubble. There are several giant new oil fields due to begin production over the course of 2008 to further add to supply.

The world’s single largest oil producer, Saudi Arabia is finalizing plans to boost drilling activity by a third and increase investments by 40 %. Saudi Aramco’s plan, which runs from 2009 to 2013, is expected to be approved by the company’s board and the Oil Ministry this month. The Kingdom is in the midst of a $ 50 billion oil production expansion plan to meet growing demand in Asia and other emerging markets. The Kingdom is expected to boost its pumping capacity to a total of 12.5 mm bpd by next year, up about 11 % from current capacity of 11.3 mm bpd.

In April this year Saudi Arabia’s Khursaniyah oilfield began pumping and will soon add another 500,000 bpd to world oil supply of high grade Arabian Light crude. As well, another Saudi expansion project, the Khurais oilfield development, is the largest of Saudi Aramco projects that will boost the production capacity of Saudi oilfields from 11.3 million bpd to 12.5 million bpd by 2009. Khurais is planned to add another 1.2 million bpd of high-quality Arabian light crude to Saudi Arabia’s export capacity.

Brazil’s Petrobras is in the early phase of exploiting what it estimates are newly confirmed oil reserves offshore in its Tupi field that could be as great or greater than the North Sea. Petrobras, says the new ultra-deep Tupi field could hold as much as 8 billion barrels of recoverable light crude. When online in a few years it is expected to put Brazil among the world’s "top 10" oil producers, between those of Nigeria and those of Venezuela.

In the United States, aside from rumors that the big oil companies have been deliberately sitting on vast new reserves in Alaska for fear that the prices of recent years would plunge on over-supply, the US Geological Survey (USGS) recently issued a report that confirmed major new oil reserves in an area called the Bakken, which stretches across North Dakota, Montana and south-eastern Saskatchewan. The USGS estimates up to 3.65 billion barrels of oil in the Bakken.

These are just several confirmations of large new oil reserves to be exploited. Iraq, where the Anglo-American Big Four oil majors are salivating to get their hands on the unexplored fields, is believed to hold oil reserves second only to Saudi Arabia. Much of the world has yet to be explored for oil. At prices above $60 a barrel huge new potentials become economic. The major problem faced by Big Oil is not finding replacement oil but keeping the lid on world oil finds in order to maintain present exorbitant prices. Here they have some help from Wall Street banks and the two major oil trade exchanges—NYMEX and London-Atlanta’s ICE and ICE Futures.

Then why do prices still rise?

There is growing evidence that the recent speculative bubble in oil which has gone asymptotic since January is about to pop.

Late last month in Dallas Texas, according to one participant, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists held its annual conference where all the major oil executives and geologists were present. According to one participant, knowledgeable oil industry CEOs reached the consensus that "oil prices will likely soon drop dramatically and the long-term price increases will be in natural gas."

Just a few days earlier, Lehman Brothers, a Wall Street investment bank had said that the current oil price bubble was coming to an end. Michael Waldron, the bank’s chief oil strategist, was quoted in Britain’s Daily Telegraph on Apr. 24 saying, "Oil supply is outpacing demand growth. Inventories have been building since the beginning of the year."

In the US, stockpiles of oil climbed by almost 12 million barrels in April according to the May 7 EIA monthly report on inventory, up by nearly 33 million barrels since January. At the same time, MasterCard’s May 7 US gasoline report showed that gas demand has fallen by 5.8%. And refiners are reducing their refining rates dramatically to adjust to the falling gasoline demand. They are now running at 85% of capacity, down from 89% a year ago, in a season when production is normally 95%. The refiners today are clearly trying to draw down gasoline inventories to bid gasoline prices up. ’It’s the economy, stupid,’ to paraphrase Bill Clinton’s infamous 1992 election quip to daddy Bush. It’s called economic recession.

The May 8 report from Oil Movements, a British company that tracks oil shipments worldwide, shows that oil in transit on the high seas is also quite strong. Almost every category of shipment is running higher than it was a year ago. The report notes that, "In the West, a big share of any oil stock building done this year has happened offshore, out of sight." Some industry insiders say the global oil industry from the activities and stocks of the Big Four to the true state of tanker and storage and liftings, is the most secretive industry in the world with the possible exception of the narcotics trade.

Goldman Sachs again in the middle

The oil price today, unlike twenty years ago, is determined behind closed doors in the trading rooms of giant financial institutions like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank or UBS. The key exchange in the game is the London ICE Futures Exchange (formerly the International Petroleum Exchange). ICE Futures is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Atlanta Georgia International Commodities Exchange. ICE in Atlanta was founded in part by Goldman Sachs which also happens to run the world’s most widely used commodity price index, the GSCI, which is over-weighted to oil prices.

As I noted in my earlier article, (’Perhaps 60% of today’s oil price is pure speculation’), ICE was focus of a recent congressional investigation. It was named both in the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations’ June 27, 2006, Staff Report and in the House Committee on Energy & Commerce’s hearing in December 2007 which looked into unregulated trading in energy futures. Both studies concluded that energy prices’ climb to $128 and perhaps beyond is driven by billions of dollars’ worth of oil and natural gas futures contracts being placed on the ICE. Through a convenient regulation exception granted by the Bush Administration in January 2006, the ICE Futures trading of US energy futures is not regulated by the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, even though the ICE Futures US oil contracts are traded in ICE affiliates in the USA. And at Enron’s request, the CFTC exempted the Over-the-Counter oil futures trades in 2000.

So it is no surprise to see in a May 6 report from Reuters that Goldman Sachs announces oil could in fact be on the verge of another "super spike," possibly taking oil as high as $200 a barrel within the next six to 24 months. That headline, "$200 a barrel!" became the major news story on oil for the next two days. How many gullible lemmings followed behind with their money bets?

Arjun Murti, Goldman Sachs’ energy strategist, blamed what he called "blistering" (sic) demand from China and the Middle East, combined with his assertion that the Middle East is nearing its maximum ability to produce more oil. Peak Oil mythology again helps Wall Street. The degree of unfounded hype reminds of the kind of self-serving Wall Street hype in 1999-2000 around stocks or Enron.

In 2001 just before the crash in the NASDAQ, some Wall Street firms were pushing sale to the gullible public of stocks that their companies were quietly dumping. Or they were pushing dubious stocks for companies where their affiliated banks had a financial interest. In short as later came out in Congressional investigations, companies with a vested interest in a certain financial outcome used the media to line their pockets and that of their companies, leaving the public investor holding the bag. It would be interesting for Congress to subpoena the records of the futures positions of Goldman Sachs and a handful of other major energy futures players to see if they are invested to gain from a further rise in oil to $200 or not.

Margin rules feed the frenzy

Another added turbo-charger to present speculation in oil prices is the margin rule governing what percent of cash a buyer of a futures contract in oil has to put up to bet on a rising oil price (or falling for that matter). The current NYMEX regulation allows a speculator to put up only 6% of the total value of his oil futures contract. That means a risk-taking hedge fund or bank can buy oil futures with a leverage of 16 to 1.

We are hit with an endless series of plausible arguments for the high price of oil: A "terrorism risk premium;" "blistering" rise in demand of China and India; unrest in the Nigerian oil region; oil pipelines’ blown up in Iraq; possible war with Iran…And above all the hype about Peak Oil. Oil speculator T. Boone Pickens has reportedly raked in a huge profit on oil futures and argues, conveniently that the world is on the cusp of Peak Oil. So does the Houston investment banker and friend of Dick Cheney, Matt Simmons.

As the June 2006 US Senate report, The Role of Market Speculation in Rising Oil and Gas Prices, noted, "There’s a few hedge fund managers out there who are masters at knowing how to exploit the peak oil theories and hot buttons of supply and demand, and by making bold predictions of shocking price advancements to come, they only add more fuel to the bullish fire in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy."

Will a Democratic Congress act to change the carefully crafted opaque oil futures markets in an election year and risk bursting the bubble? On May 12 House Energy & Commerce Committee stated it will look at this issue into June. The world will be watching.

Homeland Security's Emerging Immigration Police State

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By Joshua Holland

Forced drugging. Abuse. Death. That's what workplace-based immigration enforcement without deeper reform looks like.

Last week, hundreds of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, flanked by helicopters, a trail of SUVs and a convoy of buses, descended on the tiny town of Postville, Iowa. They set up a perimeter around the 60-acre kosher meat-processing plant operated by the global giant Agriprocessors, Inc. and conducted the largest workplace raid in U.S. history. Around 400 people were arrested - most from Mexico, Eastern Europe and Guatemala - representing 40 percent of the plant's workers and 17 percent of the town's population. Warrants for another 300 were issued.

Some would call it a victory for law and order. But a closer look at the showy example of "getting tough on illegals" offers some insight into what immigration restrictionists are really asking for when they call for more immigration enforcement.

During a similar sweep last year, ICE generated some bad publicity when reporters found that a number of young children had been left unattended when their parents were arrested. So 56 of those arrested last week - mostly mothers of small kids - were released on "humanitarian grounds." Nonetheless, a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of dozens of the Postville detainees "noted that a number of immigrant workers' children have been stranded with baby sitters and other caretakers as a result of the raid."

The suit charges that some of the detained workers are victims of crimes by Agriprocessors, Inc., which may entitle them to a visa, and accuses the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of arbitrary and indefinite detention and violating the workers' constitutional rights.

According to the Associated Press, an attorney who interviewed some of those swept up in the raid said that the company itself "obtained false identification for immigrant workers." But in the overwhelming majority of these raids - 98 percent, according to the Washington Post - the only people to pay any penalty are poor people trying to earn a substandard wage working in America's growing unregulated economy.

Meanwhile, ICE charged many of the detained with "identity theft" for those faked papers, effectively giving immigration hard-liners what Congress hasn't granted them through the legislative process: serious criminal charges for what have always been misdemeanor immigration violations at most.

In this case, as in many others like it, many of the workers appear to have been seriously exploited. The AP reported that the plant's management "improperly withheld money from employees' paychecks for 'immigration fees,' didn't allow workers to use the restroom during 10-hour shifts, physically abused workers and didn't compensate them for overtime work."

According to MSNBC, workers at the plant were routinely started at $5 per hour for their first three or four months on the job and then raised to $6, still well below Iowa's minimum wage of $7.25.

Iowa Labor Commissioner David Neil confirmed to the Des Moines Register that Agriprocessors was being investigated by the state on suspicion of wage violations, paying people off the books and hiring underage workers. A copy of the federal warrant obtained by the Register described an incident in which "a supervisor covered the eyes of an employee with duct tape and struck him with a meat hook."

It's unclear what the raids' impact will be on the ongoing investigations into the company's workplace violations. With hundreds of workers - and potential witnesses - carted away, Jill Cashen, a spokesperson for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), asked: "how can justice ever be served on these exploitation issues?"

Agriprocessor's management must have been pleased with the timing of the raid. Not only did it put at least a crimp in the ongoing investigations of serious allegations of abuse by the company, it also derailed an effort by UFCW to organize the plants' workers and give them a shot at bargaining with management for better working conditions.

There have been widespread reports of ICE raids coming during sensitive phases of union organizing drives. After rumors of an imminent raid emerged last month, UFCW's Mark Lauritsen wrote ICE officials urging them to follow their own guidelines by suspending "any potentially existing enforcement efforts and refus[ing] to be involved in this labor dispute." Lauritsen told the Des Moines Register that employers at other firms where UFCW had been organizing called in ICE raids themselves to intimidate employees before a union vote, and more generally, to associate union organizing with actions by La Migra in the minds of immigrant workers at other plants.

According to The Washington Post, Agirprocessors, Inc. argued in April that it could ignore a vote by workers at its Brooklyn distribution center to unionize because there were illegal immigrants at the facility who were not entitled to federal labor protections.

Sholom Rubashkin, whose family owns the company and who is described as a "top official" at the Postville plant, is a major Republican political donor, supporting the kind of politicos who champion these kinds of immigration crackdowns.

But Rubashkin is unlikely to be troubled by the action. After the raid gave his firm at least temporary relief from U.S. labor laws and pesky union organizers, the plant opened up the next morning ready for business - it lost less than a single day's revenues. If recent history is any guide, Agriprocessors, Inc. won't even be fined. Despite the fact that 80 percent of its workforce was undocumented, the company is claiming that it had no knowledge of the violations. Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, released a statement noting that in 2007, DHS "fined only 17 employers for hiring undocumented workers." He added: "At least 7 million immigrants in the U.S. are employed illegally by a total of 6 million U.S. businesses, and DHS can find only 17 companies to fine?"

Enthusiasts of these kinds of crackdowns argue that they'll shrink the labor pool and help American workers. But the hundreds who continue working in the Postville plant today remain unprotected and are much further away from the kind of union representation that might have led to some decent pay, some dignity. And it's hard to imagine an experience that could give Agriprocessors more incentive to keep hiring "illegals."

That's what makes the approach so fruitless. Cesar Jochol, a native of Guatemala who runs a small market in Postville, told the Post, "You take away a hundred people. A couple hundred more will come tomorrow."

That's what workplace-based immigration enforcement without deeper reform looks like.

Postsville and the Politics of Distraction

The Postville raid came at an opportune time not only for the plant's owners, but also for the Bush administration. The same week, a series of high-profile media reports by 60 Minutes and the Washington Post - as well as the New York Times - began focusing public attention on America's nightmarish system of immigration "detention centers."

Two weeks earlier, as the New York Times' Nina Bernstein reported, a group of former detainees had sued Michael Chertoff for putting "hundreds of thousands of people a year in substandard and inconsistent conditions while the government decides whether to deport them, leaving them subject to inadequate medical care and abuse."

Activists charged that the Bush administration staged the raid to draw attention from those stories, a strategy it is well known to employ when critical attention threatens its policies.

It's impossible to know whether that was the case, but clearly DHS and the administration would prefer to have eyes trained on images of ICE agents "enforcing the law" than on the investigation into America's detention practices conducted by the Washington Post and 60 Minutes.

The investigation uncovered "life, death and often shabby medical care within an unseen network of special prisons for foreign detainees across the country," as health care was routinely denied to immigrants being held by ICE. "The medical neglect they endure," wrote Dana Priest and Amy Goldstein in The Post, "is part of the hidden human cost of increasingly strict policies in the post-Sept. 11 United States and a lack of preparation for the impact of those policies."

The reporters - the same team that uncovered the shabby care that veterans face at Walter Reed Medical Center - unearthed internal documents showing that ICE officials have "a tendency to conceal the truth by withholding complete medical records or by offering misleading public explanations." The documents they found revealed a pattern of what can only be called grievous human rights violations. (The U.N. has condemned the United States' immigrant detention system, saying that it "denies migrants basic due process and human rights, and violates international law.")

Among the cases intentionally covered up by ICE officials was that of Francisco Castaneda, who arrived in the United States as a refugee from El Salvador when he was 10 years old. Before his mother could get legal papers for her son, she died of cancer. Castaneda had lived in the United States for 24 years when he was detained by ICE.

When he was taken into custody, Castaneda had a bleeding lesion on his penis, which medical personnel suspected to be cancer. They requested a biopsy, "but the Division of Immigration Health Services headquarters in Washington denied the procedure for 10 months." During that time, Castaneda was given ibuprofen to deal with the growing lesion. "I am in a considerable amount of pain and I am in desperate need of medical attention," he wrote in June of 2006. After pressure from the ACLU, the agency finally scheduled a biopsy for February of 2007, but Castaneda was suddenly released just "days before the surgery, sparing the agency the cost." Shortly thereafter, Castaneda's penis was amputated. Despite undergoing chemotherapy, he died a year later.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a federal judge ruled that Castaneda's treatment was "beyond cruel and unusual" punishment. Timothy T. Shack, head of health care for ICE, said, "In my opinion, the care provided to this detainee was ... timely and appropriate."

The Post also told the story of Joseph Dantica, a Baptist minister from Haiti who fled the country after receiving death threats from a local gang. Dantica, 81 years old, entered the United States with a valid visa and applied for asylum. ICE detained him along with his son, pending the resolution of their cases. Sickly and speaking through a voice box, Dantica complained of ill health, but ICE officials said he was "faking his symptoms." The minister was denied visits by family members, who begged ICE officials to give him the medicine he required. He died five days after landing in Miami, in an infamous immigration prison in Florida.

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post featured stories in recent weeks about dozens of deaths in ICE custody. The Times' Nina Bernstein told the story of Boubacar Bah, "a 52-year-old tailor from Guinea who had overstayed a tourist visa" and subsequently died in ICE custody. His relatives "never saw the internal records labeled 'proprietary information - not for distribution' by the Corrections Corporation of America, which runs the New Jersey detention center for the federal government," Bernstein wrote. "The documents detail how he was treated by guards and government employees: shackled and pinned to the floor of the medical unit as he moaned and vomited, then left in a disciplinary cell for more than 13 hours, despite repeated notations that he was unresponsive and intermittently foaming at the mouth."

The Post's investigative team also found that 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." Involuntary drugging of "detainees, unless there is a medical justification, is a violation of some international human rights codes," the Post noted.

Taken together, these and other reports paint a picture of a system that treats immigrants to the United States - and not just "illegal" immigrants - as subhuman. That's what enforcement absent real reform looks like.

Where Are Those Iranian Weapons in Iraq?

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By Gareth Porter

Washington - The U.S. military command in Iraq continues to talk about an alleged pipeline of Iranian weapons to Iraqi Shiites opposing the U.S. occupation, implying that they have become dependent on Iran for indirect-fire weapons and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).

But U.S. officials have failed thus far to provide evidence that would support that claim, and a long-delayed U.S. military report on Iranian arms is unlikely to offer any data on what proportion of the weapons in the hands of Shiite fighters are from Iran and what proportion comes from purchases on the open market.

When Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner was asked that question at a briefing May 8, he did not answer it directly. Instead Bergner reverted to a standard U.S. military line that these groups "could not do what they're doing without the support of foreign support [sic]." Then he defined "foreign support" to include training and funding as well as weapons, implicitly conceding that he did not have much of a case based on weapons alone.

Bergner's refusal to address that question reflects a fundamental problem with the U.S. claims about Iranian weapons in Iraq: if there are indeed any Iranian rockets and mortars, and RPGs in the Mahdi Army's arsenal of stand-off weapons, they represent an insignificant part of it.

Reports by the U.S. command in Iraq over the past 15 months cited only a handful of Iranian weapons out of hundreds counted in caches found in Shiite areas. Nearly 700 mortars and rockets were reported by specific caliber size, along with a handful of RPGs, in nearly two dozen caches. Of that total, only four rockets were reported as being of Iranian origin, and another 15 were listed as possibly being Iranian.

Although those reports do not represent all the Mahdi Army caches found, they provide further evidence of the relative importance of Iranian rockets, mortars and RPGs in the Mahdi Army arsenal. That is because U.S. military officials are so eager to publicise any discovery of an Iranian-made weapon system that they would exploit any opportunity available to do so.

The U.S. command has gone so far as to claim that it had found "four Iranian hand grenades" - but they were in a cache of weapons found in an al Qaeda area.

Based on weapons caches discovered over the past 15 months, the Mahdi Army has relied overwhelmingly on four types of heavy weapons: 60mm and 120mm mortars, 107mm rocket, and 57mm anti-tank missile.

Those are essentially the same mortars and rockets that have turned up in al Qaeda and Sunni insurgent weapons caches, suggesting that both groups have obtained their heavier weapons from the international arms market. In fact, 60mm and 120mm mortars were used by Sunni guerrillas in the very early months of the war against U.S. occupation troops.

A U.S. explosives expert, Maj. Marty Weber, confirmed in April 2007 that most 107mm rockets found in Iraq were Chinese-made. He claimed that Iran had repainted Chinese 60mm and 107mm rockets them and sold them on the "open market".

However, Chinese, Yugoslav and Pakistani 107mm rockets have also been the weapon of choice of Taliban guerrillas in Afghanistan, according to U.S. military officers there.

The U.S. military has refrained from making any charges against Iran over the 107mm rockets found in Iraq, perhaps because it would support the conclusion that the Mahdi Army was buying weapons on the international market rather than obtaining them from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

U.S. officials tried to capitalise on the increased mortar and rocket attacks on the Green Zone and U.S. military headquarters last year to argue that they were the result of a rising tide of Iranian supply of such stand-off weapons - particularly 240mm rockets - to what the U.S. command calls "special groups" of Shiite militiamen.

One U.S. official, who insisted on being identified only as a "senior official", told this writer in mid-September 2007 that rockets and mortars provided by Iran since the beginning of that year - and especially 240 mm rockets - were doing much greater damage because of their greater accuracy and power compared with the older Katyusha rockets - mostly from Iraqi stocks - that had been employed in attacking U.S. bases and the Green Zone in previous years.

But evidence from the U.S. command itself contradicts that dramatic narrative of a bold, new Iranian intervention in the war. A Multi-National Force - Iraq press release dated Jun. 1, 2007 reported that a cache of weapons had been found in an area from which Mahdi Army troops had fired rockets at the Green Zone. It did not claim any Iranian rockets or mortars in the cache but only 20 107mm rocket warheads, three fully assembled 107mm rockets and one 60mm mortar.

No 240mm rocket has been reported found in a Mahdi Army weapons cache over the past year, but a single warhead for a 240mm rocket was reported to have been found in Basra Apr. 19. No official claim has been made that it was manufactured in Iran, however.

After a rocket fired at Camp Victory on Sep. 11, 2007 killed one and wounded 11 others, U.S. officials told the news media that the command spokesman, Gen. Bergner, would display fragments of a 240mm rocket - complete with Iranian markings - at his next press briefing in order to "show the link between the Iranian weapons and the damage they are doing".

But Bergner admitted to the media that there were no discernible Iranian markings on the fragment, and that a number of countries manufacture 240mm rockets. He was able to assert only that ordnance experts "assess it is of [sic] consistent with the rockets of Iranian origin we have seen used in other attacks."

That was a very weak claim, because Bergner had not provided any evidence to the media that previous attacks had involved Iranian 240mm rockets either.

When the military headquarters at Camp Victory was hit by rocket fire last Oct. 12, officials admitted that it was 107mm rockets, not 240mm rockets that had been used.

Gen. David Petraeus insisted last October that there is "absolutely no question" that Iran is providing RPG-29 rocket-propelled grenade launchers to Iraqi Shiite groups. But RPG-29s are manufactured by Russia, not Iran. Syria was known to have purchased large quantities of the RPG-29 in 1999-2000. Both the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and the Beirut-based defence monthly Defense 21 have confirmed that the RPG-29s used by Hezbollah in 2006 were Russian-made weapons obtained via Syria.

In weapons caches reported from Shiite locations, not a single RPG-29 has been identified. Of the 160 RPG launchers reported in Mahdi Army caches, along with 800 RPG missiles, none were identified as Iranian, although some were identified as being Soviet-made. Only 11 were reported to be RPG-7s - a type of launcher that is made by Russia and China as well as Iran and used by 40 countries around the world.

FBI agents created “war crimes file” documenting US torture

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By Joe Kay

FBI agents who witnessed the torture of detainees at the US prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba created what they called a “war crimes” file documenting what they had seen, according to a report released Tuesday by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

The file, initiated in 2002, was ordered shut down by higher-ups in 2003 and agents were told to stop keeping records of the illegal acts that they had seen. Nonetheless, the use of the term “war crimes” by the US government’s main domestic intelligence arm, an agency with its own long record of political repression, is an extraordinary confirmation of charges that have long been leveled by opponents of the Bush administration and the criminal practices it has carried out in the so-called “global war on terror.”

According to the OIG report, FBI agents objected to the use by the CIA and the US military of techniques that one FBI official called “borderline torture.” Some agents raised concerns within the agency, but these concerns were ignored or squelched by the White House.

The report is on the role of the FBI in observing or participating in abusive practices, and is based on a survey of several hundred FBI agents. It seeks to absolve the bureau and its agents of responsibility for the abuse.

Although it deliberately ignores the question of accountability, the 437-page report by Inspector General Glenn Fine makes clear once again that the policy of torture was approved at the highest levels.

Among the techniques used by the military and the CIA to which the FBI agents objected were: sleep deprivation; prolonged “short-shackling,” or the shackling of the hands and feet together; the use of dogs to terrorize detainees; humiliation, including tying a detainee to a leash and forcing him to perform tricks; and sexual humiliation, including enforced nudity and touching.

The military and CIA used these methods against prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere. Many of these same torture techniques would become notorious when they were depicted in photographs involving prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. Their replication makes it clear that the crimes in Abu Ghraib were not an aberration perpetrated by rouge prison guards, but rather a deliberate and planned implementation of methods designed to “break” detainees.

The FBI agents objected to the methods largely on the grounds that they would not provide “actionable intelligence.” They were also worried that the use of torture could undermine future trials and might cast the FBI and the US government in a bad light if they were publicly revealed.

According to the report, some FBI personnel began complaining to their supervisors as early as 2002. These complaints were reported to at least one meeting of the National Security Council at the White House in 2003. However, there was no change in policy and the torture continued.

Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft reportedly questioned some of the methods, including to then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. However, Ashcroft refused to be interviewed by Fine, citing the confidentiality of the discussions.

It is hardly surprising that the FBI agents’ concerns were ignored, since the impetus behind the use of torture came from the White House itself. Beginning with the capture of alleged Al Qaeda members Mohammed Al-Qahtani in December 2001 and Abu Zubaydah in March 2002, top administration officials saw an opportunity to shred international law and employ torture more openly on the pretext of the “war on terror.” Administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, were closely involved in directing the details of the interrogations.

A report by ABC news last month found that top Bush administration officials participated in discussion about torture techniques that were so detailed that “some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed—down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.”

In part as a response to concerns within the CIA and military over legal accountability, the Justice Department itself issued at least two legal opinions in 2002 and 2003 that provided a pseudo-legal rationale for torture.

The focus of the OIG report is on military-controlled facilities between 2001 and 2004. The report has very limited information on the torture of prisoners at the hands of the CIA, as the CIA refused to cooperate with the investigation. According to the report, “we were unable to obtain highly classified information about CIA-controlled facilities, what occurred there, and what legal authorities governed their operations.”

The CIA also refused to allow the OIG to interview Abu Zubaydah. The White House has acknowledged that it used waterboarding on Zubaydah, among other methods. The CIA claimed that the inspector general had no pressing need to interview Zubaydah, and that he might provide false allegations against CIA agents.

The report’s section on the interrogation of Zubaydah seeks to exonerate FBI Special Agent Gibson, who has been accused of participating in the torture. An email written by an acquaintance of Gibson charged that Gibson “spoke openly and with much enthusiasm about the torturing of captured al-Qaeda terrorists [including Zubaydah], undisclosed locations and the brutal interrogation techniques by both CIA and FBI which Agent [Gibson] was involved.”

The interrogation of Zubaydah was initially in the hands of the FBI but was quickly taken over by the CIA. Much of the details in the report about the treatment of Zubaydah are redacted. It does note, however, “Gibson stated that the CIA personnel assured him that the procedures being used on Zubaydah had been approved ‘at the highest levels’ and that Gibson would not get in trouble” for participating.

The report cites an email from Spike Bowman, head of the national security law unit at the FBI, declaring in July 2003: “Beyond any doubt, what they are doing (and I don’t know the extent of it) would be unlawful were these enemy prisoners of war,” referring to the treatment of Zubaydah.

Another section of the report deals with a facility in Iraq, the name and location of which is redacted along with large portions of the section. It notes that an FBI Agent, referred to as Ryan, worked at the facility in the spring and summer of 2004 and reported that “a military interrogator told him that detainees at the facility were confined in ‘inhumane conditions’ and were subjected to abusive interrogation techniques, including food, water, and sleep deprivation and ‘water interrogation.’”

“Water interrogation” is apparently a reference to “waterboarding,” which would indicate that this particular torture technique was more widely employed than the Bush administration has acknowledged.

A substantial section of the report is devoted to disputes between FBI agents and the military over the treatment of Mohammed Al-Qahtani at Guantánamo Bay in 2002. The report found that these disputes were ultimately resolved in favor of the more aggressive methods employed by the military, which was operating under the close supervision of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The brutal interrogation methods used on Al-Qahtani have been reported already—including the use of dogs, tying him to a chain and forcing him to perform dog tricks, and sexual humiliation.

The report details, however, the close interest of the military—including General Geoffrey Miller, who was then in charge of Guantánamo Bay and was later sent by Rumsfeld to Iraq—in the interrogation of Al-Qahtani. Citing an FBI agent, the report states that Miller used such terms as “relentless” and “sustained attack” to describe the way that he wanted Al-Qahtani to be treated.

The fact that several FBI agents protested strongly against the treatment of prisoners held by the military and CIA is an indication of how blatantly illegal this treatment was. They were clearly seen by some agents as “war crimes” for which the authors could ultimately be prosecuted.

In implementing this policy, the Bush administration systematically violated the most basic tenants of international and domestic law, including anti-torture statutes and the Geneva Conventions.

This policy has been known for years. Leading figures from both political parties were briefed on it from the very beginning. What is most remarkable is that not a single individual responsible for its implementation has been held accountable.

The full report by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General can be found here.

US Congress proposes allowing antitrust suits against OPEC

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By Naomi Spencer

In a demagogic display before the travel-heavy Memorial Day holiday, the US House of Representatives adopted legislation Tuesday that would allow an antitrust prosecution of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). On Wednesday, the Senate called in top oil executives for theatrical grilling on price increases as oil surpassed $133 per barrel and gasoline at the pump averaged $3.79 per gallon for the week.

The so-called “No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act” (NOPEC) would amend current law on cartels under the Sherman Antitrust Act to allow the Justice Department to prosecute sovereign nations for acting collectively to set prices. The Sherman Act is the oldest federal law dealing with price-setting by market monopolies and industrial cartels. The bill passed late Tuesday by a vote of 324 to 84, with the White House threatening to veto.

US politicians, including President Bush during his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, have asserted that the price of oil is spiking primarily because OPEC countries are deliberately under-producing. However, the Saudi government and other OPEC members have insisted that world supply is adequate. Reuters news agency reported industry estimates Wednesday that OPEC’s oil output in May had risen by 700,000 barrels per day over April.

Specifically, the bill calls for making punishable by under US law “any foreign state or instrumentality thereof to act collectively or in combination with any other foreign state ... when such action has a direct, substantial, and reasonably foreseeable effect on the market, supply, price, or distribution of petroleum in the United States” by limiting supply or setting prices. OPEC members would be denied sovereign immunity from the jurisdiction of US courts, making US law extra-territorial.

The legislation would establish a “Petroleum Industry Antitrust Task Force” in the Justice Department to pursue enforcement of the antitrust stipulations of the bill.

The bill’s supporters, most prominently the Democrats, are repeating last year’s performance, when a nearly identical bill was approved by both the House and Senate. The antitrust measure was later stripped from the text of the legislation by a Senate committee, after Bush threatened a veto.

The entire procedure is an exercise in nationalist posturing. The NOPEC Act contains no measures to curb the super-profits of the oil companies or the wild speculation of Wall Street on commodities. Instead, the political establishment, nervous in the face of rising inflation, is attempting to deflect public dissatisfaction at high oil prices away from US firms and policies toward the ruling elite’s agenda in the Middle East, especially as regards Iran and Saudi Arabia.

OPEC members would not be without means to retaliate, in the event the bill is enacted. Were a country to be sued in the US court system and informed that under the Sherman Act its assets were to be seized, the country could pull investment from the US. More likely, the weight of OPEC members’ production and trade relations would be brought to bear as a deterrent against Justice Department prosecution.

Some OPEC countries have already indicated that they may stop pegging their currencies to the dollar, a move that could be accelerated in the face of threatened US sanctions. In an interview with Reuters Tuesday, OPEC Secretary-general Abdullah al-Badri insisted that high oil costs were not due to price or output manipulations, but rather to financial speculation and the decline in the value of the dollar. The weakening US currency has driven investors from dollar-denominated assets into commodities markets, including oil, metal ores, and grains over the past few months, fueling speculation and inflation.

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, multi-millionaire executives of oil giants BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Shell, and Exxon Mobil denied that speculation and corporate gouging were jacking up oil prices and resulting in record-breaking profits. While expressing their displeasure at the House bill, the executives one after another insisted that exporting countries were largely to blame for rising gasoline prices. “The fundamental laws of supply and demand are at work,” Shell chairman John Hofmeister told the committee.

The major oil companies have raked in hundreds of billions of dollars in profits over the past year. Shell turned more than $9 billion in profit for the first quarter of 2008 alone, and BP made $7.6 billion. A substantial portion of the recent profits are attributable to rising oil and retail gasoline prices. As the World Socialist Web Site noted after Shell and BP’s first quarter earnings were announced, “These figures include earnings attributed to the rise in oil prices. If this rise is factored out (as is done in the so-called current cost of supplies figures), Shell’s profits were $7.8 billion and BP’s were $6.6 billion. That is, at least $2 billion in profit for the two companies can be attributed solely to the recent rise in oil prices.” (See “As gas prices and oil profits soar, Bush promotes giveaways to corporations”)

On Wednesday Chevron vice-chairman Peter Robertson called for increased government handouts to oil companies for “research” in alternative energy sources and investment in new refineries. In April, oil executives called on Congress to award companies $18 billion in federal subsidies.

Other executives repeated the argument and yet again demanded the opening up of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and untapped off-shore regions to oil drilling. “Americans need companies that can effectively compete for access to new resources,” Robertson said. “Punitive measures that weakened us in the face of international competition are the wrong measures.”

These “punitive measures,” according to ConocoPhillips vice president John Lowe, include bans on drilling, taxation, and environmental regulations on refinery pollution.

For their part, Senators on the committee limited their opposition to the corporate profiteering to irrational, moralizing rebukes and nationalist appeals. Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, a staunch supporter of fellow Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, laid his complaints on with particularly heavy strokes. “It strikes me that this is the right situation for a president to step in, for a president of the United States to step in,” he said. “The president of the United States goes to Saudi Arabia and begs the sheiks, ‘Please release more oil, you are killing the American economy.’ They told him to take a hike. They sent him home empty-handed.”

To the executives, Durbin said, “I think the president should be calling you all before his little meeting place, the White House, and talking about what you are doing to the American economy. Does it trouble any of you when you see what you are doing to us, the profits that you are taking the costs the you are imposing on working families, small businesses, truckers, farmers?”

According to a business brief on Wednesday’s New York Times website, Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (Democrat, Vermont) “demanded that the executives tell him the amount of their pay packages and then ridiculed those who said they did not know exactly how much they made.” Yet, epitomizing the handwringing over appearances—and essential lack of opposition to the profiteering—Leahy told the executives, “The people we represent are hurting, while your companies are profiting. We need to get some balance.”

Proposed Coal Plant Pits Economy vs. Navajo Belief

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By Felicia Fonseca and Paul Foy

Burnham, New Mexico - In a corner of the Navajo Nation burdened by old and heavily polluting coal-fired power plants, it matters little to many tribal elders that another facility promises to be the most efficient and cleanest of all.

With two plants already a dozen miles away, the last thing they want is another one even closer, a 1,500-megawatt project barely two miles in another direction.

"We want the smoke to stop," said 76-year-old Alice Gilmore in Navajo, raising a hand toward the belching plants.

Others say the $3 billion Desert Rock Energy Facility could invigorate the lagging economy of the Navajo Nation, which stretches across parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Backers say it would bring $52 million a year in revenues to the tribal government and provide up to 400 jobs on a reservation where unemployment hovers around 50 percent.

The plan - the largest-ever economic development partnership for the Navajos - has prompted fierce debate pitting that economic windfall against environmental concerns and traditional culture on the 27,000-square-mile reservation, rich with natural gas, uranium and low-sulfur coal.

Some Navajos believe they are inseparable from Mother Earth and Father Sky - stewards of the land who must live in harmony with the natural world. There are no Navajo words to describe the complexities of power plants; to many elders, they are big stoves that produce electricity, the emissions wild spirits capable of harm.

"You treat your mother with great respect and love," said Harry Walters, a historian and cultural anthropologist at Dine College in Tsaile, Ariz. "You don't give your mother bad food, you don't take your mother to a place where there is bad air, you don't let her drink dirty water."

Gilmore grew up tending goats on a homestead on the reservation, and recalls waist-high grass teeming with tiny ground lizards before the coal burning started 44 years ago. While the land is bare now, it would be obliterated by an advancing strip mine that would be tapped for the new plant.

"Sometimes she cries for it when she's alone, for the land and the destruction," says her daughter, Bonnie Wethington.

Walters said tribal leaders need only consider the legacy of uranium mining booms in the 1950s and 1970s, which brought cancer, lung disease and death to the Navajos - to know that Mother Earth will retaliate for coal digging and burning.

Others, however, see a gift in their land's fortune of low-sulfur but high-ash and medium-BTU coal. By various estimates the coal reserve would last a century or more of stepped-up burning.

"The creator blessed us with this land, where there is an abundance of

Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr., a staunch supporter of the project, says critics should "stop picking on the little Navajo" when countries like India and China are commissioning a new coal plant practically every week.

The debate over Desert Rock comes at a time when leaders in Congress and a number of states have begun questioning coal burning, and the volume of greenhouse gases it churns out.

The project's backers, a private equity group, are trying to build ahead of a possible regulation by Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency or states to limit carbon dioxide emissions, produced in abundance by coal burning that takes most of the blame for heating up the planet.

The Navajo Nation picked Houston-based Sithe Global Power, which is 80 percent owned by New York-based Blackstone Group (nyse: BX - news - people ), to build what amounts to a "merchant" plant for hire or sale. Blackstone executives say customers won't be hard to find - Phoenix or Las Vegas is the most likely consumer - among hard-pressed utilities in the booming Southwest.

Because of industry-wide improvements in pollutant-capturing technology over the years, Desert Rock's emissions would be as little as a fifth of the reservation's Four Corners Power Plant to the north. Four Corners, a 2,000-megawatt plant co-owned and operated by Arizona Public Service, routinely ranks No. 1 on dirty-power lists compiled by watchdog groups from emissions reports to the EPA.

But Desert Rock would hardly be a pollution slouch, despite new emissions technology.

Every year, according to figures compiled by the EPA, the station would pump out 6,644 tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which are components of acid rain; 5,529 tons of carbon monoxide; 570 tons of lung-busting particulate matter and 166 tons of smog-forming volatile organic compounds, plus trace amounts of lead and mercury.

The EPA has yet to approve an air-quality permit, which Sithe Global first applied for in 2004. Sithe and the Navajo Nation's Dine Power Authority sued March 18 over the agency's delay, claiming the tribe is losing $5 million in tax revenue for every month the permit is held up. The Bureau of Indian Affairs already has signed off on a lease.

Nathan Plagens, vice president of Sithe subsidiary Desert Rock Energy Co., believes the risk of more stringent carbon regulation will "work itself out" in a way that won't derail Desert Rock. But he said the project is stalled because it's seen as politically incorrect.

"It's all about politics. We've met all of the requirements, done all of the work, and yet we're still waiting," said Christopher Deschene, an attorney for the Dine Power Authority, the tribe's partner in the project. "This is our backyard. We can handle this."

The EPA says it was initially delayed by climate-modeling uncertainties for a region that includes several national parks, and then by nearly 1,000 mostly negative comments posted on the agency's Web site. Air-permit technicians say they have a duty to answer each of the comments.

Added to the debate is a recent analysis of government temperature data that shows the interior American West is heating up at twice the global rate.

"We think we're doing our job as best we can - the good technical work that we are required to do," said Colleen McKaughan, a Southwest region deputy air-division director for the EPA. She declined to provide a timeline for action.

Environmental groups have vowed to keep fighting any EPA permit.

"There no such thing as clean coal," said Theodore Spencer, a climate policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Coal power is pretty much the dirtiest power there is, and that plant would do nothing to address global warming emissions."