Thursday, September 11, 2008

Report: Banks helped foreigners escape US taxes

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By Marcy Gordon

Senate report: Investment banks helped foreigners evade millions in US stock dividend taxes

Big Wall Street investment banks have designed and marketed schemes enabling non-U.S. taxpayers, including offshore hedge funds, to evade millions of dollars in taxes each year on U.S. stock dividends, Senate investigators have found.
Some banks have been crafting for more than 10 years transactions designed to enable their foreign clients to dodge U.S. taxes on dividends, while the Internal Revenue Service failed to act to prevent the abuse, two senators say.

A yearlong investigation by a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee, whose results are to be made public Thursday, found that the evasion of dividend taxes adds up to billions of dollars in revenue lost to the U.S. Treasury over the past decade.

IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman is scheduled to testify on the issue at a hearing Thursday by the investigative subcommittee. Executives of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank, and from several hedge funds also are expected to appear as witnesses.

The inquiry is part of a series of hearings by the Senate panel on offshore tax abuse, which is estimated to cost the United States $100 billion a year in lost tax revenue.

In July, the subcommittee accused banks in Switzerland and Liechtenstein of helping wealthy Americans commit large-scale tax evasion, and called for tougher laws to combat offshore tax havens around the world.

"Major financial institutions have devised complex financial structures to enable their offshore clients to dodge U.S. dividend taxes," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the subcommittee's chairman, said in a statement Wednesday. "We need legislation to take these abusive tax-avoidance gimmicks off the market, and we need to end the silence and inaction of the Treasury (Department) and IRS in the face of rampant dividend tax dodging."

The panel's senior Republican, Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, said it was "especially troubling that the IRS has failed to address many of these problems for so long."

Offshore hedge funds have frequently participated in the tax-evasion transactions, and their U.S. investment mangers often facilitate their participation, the Senate panel found.

The banks designed and marketed transactions, mainly involving stock swaps or loans, that were described as offering dividend or yield "enhancement" or "dividend uplift," according to the investigators.

They developed case histories involving six major investment banks: Citigroup Inc., Deutsche Bank, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., Morgan Stanley and UBS.

Foreigners who invest in the United States are exempt from many U.S. taxes. If they invest in a U.S. company that pays a dividend to shareholders, however, U.S. law requires foreign investors to pay taxes on the dividends they receive. Dividends sent abroad are meant to be taxed at a 30 percent rate in most countries and at 15 percent in countries that have a tax treaty with the United States.

Actually, the investigators say, many foreign shareholders never pay the dividend taxes they owe, in part because banks are helping them escape paying them.

"We believe we acted in good faith when we advised our clients and believe we acted appropriately under existing tax law," Merrill Lynch spokesman William Halldin said in an e-mailed statement Wednesday.

Spokesmen for Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Lehman, Morgan Stanley and UBS couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday night.

Special Comment on the GOP’s Trademarking of September 11

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Keith was visibly upset after the GOP ran their 9/11 “tribute” ad during last week’s convention. Tonight, that outrage manifested itself in yet another scathing Special Comment aimed at John McCain and the rest of the 9/11 exploiting GOPers.

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This is supposed to be a day of remembrance. Remembrance of the attack, remembrance of the national unity which followed it.

Most important of all, remembrance of the dead.

But 9/11 has become…… a brand name. A Republican campaign slogan. Propaganda of the lowest form.

9/11 has become… 9/11, with a trademark logo.

FLASHBACK: Keith’s 2006 Special Comment from Ground Zero.

Full transcript below the fold:

This is supposed to be a day of remembrance. Remembrance of the attack, remembrance of the national unity which followed it.

Most important of all, remembrance of the dead.

But 9/11 has become…… a brand name.

A Republican campaign slogan.

Propaganda of the lowest form.

9/11 has become… 9/11 **with a trademark logo.**

9/11 (**TM**) has sustained a president who long ago should have been dismissed, or impeached. It has kept him and his gang of financial and constitutional **crooks** in office without - literally - any visible means of support.

9/11 (**TM**) has made possible the greatest sleight-of-hand in our nation’s history.

The political party in office at the time of the attacks, at the local, state and national levels, the party which **uniformly** ignored the warnings — and the presidential administration already through twenty percent of its first term and no longer wet behind the ears — have not only thus far escaped any **blame** for the malfeasance and criminal neglect that allowed the attacks to occur, but that presidency and that party, have managed to make it seem as if the **other** political party would be solely and irredeemably responsible for any similar catastrophe in the future.

Thus, Senator McCain, were you able to accomplish a further inversion of reality at your party’s nominating convention last week.

There was the former Mayor of the City of New York — the one who took **no counter-terrorism measure** in his seven years in office between the first attack on the World Trade Center, and the second attack.

Nothing, except to insist — despite all advice and warning - that his Emergency Command Center be moved directly **into** the World Trade Center.

Yet there was this man, Sir - Rudolph Giuliani — quite succinctly dismissed as “A Noun, a Verb, and 9/11,” and repudiated even by Republican **voters** — transformed into the keynote speaker, Senator McCain — at **your** convention.

And his childish, squealing, braying, Tourette’s-like repetition of 9/11 (**TM**), was greeted not as conclusive evidence that he is consumed by massive guilt - hard-earned guilt, in fact - but rather as some kind of political tour-de-force, an endorsement of your Vice Presidential nominee, a rookie governor — a facile and slick con artist.

The blind endorsing the bland, to a chorus of 9/11 (**TM**), 9/11 (**TM**), 9/11 (**TM.**)

Your ringing mindless cheer of “We’ve Kept You Safe Since Then”…

While nobody asks “doesn’t **then** count?”

All of this, sadistically disrespecting the dead of New York, and Washington, and Shanksville…

**Endorsed**, Senator McCain…

**Exploited**, Senator McCain…

**Trademarked,** Senator McCain… by **you.**

And yet of course **the** exact moment in which Senator McCain’s Republicans showed the nation exactly how far they have fallen from the Better Angels of Mr. **Lincoln’s** Nature, came the **next** night.

The television networks were told that the Convention would pause, early in the evening, when **children** could still be watching, for a 9/11 **Tribute**, and they were encouraged to broadcast it.

What we got was not a tribute to the **dead** of 9/11, nor even a tribute to the responders, or the singularity of purpose we all felt.

The Republicans gave us sociological pornography… a virtual **snuff film**.

Years ago, responsible television networks, to the applause of the nation, and the relief of its mental health authorities, voluntarily stopped showing the most graphic of the images of the World Trade Center, except with the strongest of warnings.

And yet, the Republicans, at their convention, having virtually seized control of the cable news operations, showed… the worst of it.

This is **all** anyone with a conscience can show you of what the Republicans showed you.

The actual collapse of the smoking towers.

A fleeting image of what might have been a victim leaping to his death from a thousand feet up.

And something new.

From this angle, ground-level, perfectly framed, images — of the fireball created when the second plane hit the second tower.

It was terrifying.

After all its object **was**… to **terrify.**

Not to commemorate, not to call for unity, not to remember the dead.

But to terrify.

To open again the horrible wounds, to brand the skin of this nation with the message — as hateful as the terrorists’ own — that you must vote Republican or this will happen again and you will die…

And just in case that was **not** enough, to also dishonestly and profanely **conflate** 9/11 with the 1979 **Irahn** Hostage Crisis — to stoke the flames of paranoia about **another** Middle Eastern Nation.

This **was** a 9/11 Tribute.

Not to the dead, nor to the unity.

But a tribute to how valuable 9/11 has been as a political tool for the Republican Party.

9/11… (**TM.**)

Senator McCain, you had promised us a **clean** campaign.

You could be Snow-White the rest of the way, Sir, yet that manipulative videotape from **your** convention should tar you always in the minds of decent Americans.

And still, as this seventh 9/11…(**TM**)… approaches — that, Sir, is not the worst of your contributions to the utter politicizing of a day that should be sacrosanct to all of us.

Hard to believe, but the Senator has done worse with 9/11 and the evil behind it.

We heard it last week in Minnesota… we’ve heard it off and on since January…

But Senator McCain said it most **concisely** in June.

“Look,” he said. “I know the area, I’ve been there, I know wars, I know how to win wars, and I know how to improve our capabilities so that we will capture Osama bin Laden — or put it this way, bring him to justice. We will do it. I know how to do it.”

Senator McCain seems to be quite serious — that he and he alone — not the CIA, nor the U-S Military, nor the current President — can capture Bin Laden.

Thus we must take him at his word, that this is no mere ludicrous campaign boast.

We must assume Senator McCain truly believes he is capable of doing this, and has **been** capable of doing this, since last January.

“We will capture Osama bin Laden… we will do it. I know how to do it.”

Well then, Senator… you’d better go and **do it**… **hadn’t** you?

Because, Sir, if a man or woman in this nation, Democrat or Republican, had a clear and effective means of capturing or killing Osama Bin Laden…

If that person had been advertising his claim, Senator… for **eight** months…

But if that person not only refused to go to responsible authorities in government and **advise** them of this plan to catch Bin Laden, but further announced he would not even begin to **enact** this secret plan to corral the world’s most hated man… until the end of **next** January…

What would be **your** description of such an individual, Senator?




Senator McCain, if you have — if you have **had** — a means of capturing Osama Bin Laden, and you do not immediately **inform** some responsible authority of the full scope of that plan, you are to some degree great or small… **aiding and abetting** Osama Bin Laden.

If you could assist in **capturing** him now, Senator McCain, but you have chosen not to… you, Sir, have helped… Osama Bin Laden… stay **free.**

**Free** to inspire and supervise the terrorists.

**Free** to plan or execute attacks here.

**You**, Sir, are **blackmailing** some portion of the American electorate into voting for your party, by promising to help in the capture of Bin Laden… **only** if you are made president!

I’d rather win an election than catch Bin Laden!

No more cynical calculation has ever been made in this nation’s history, Sir.

If you **lose** the election, Senator, are you **not** going to tell the President-Elect?

Are you intending to keep this a **secret** until the next election and your party’s next nominee?

Senator, as you and your Republicans shed your phony, crocodile, opportunistic tears tomorrow on 9/11 **TM**, in front of the utterly disingenuous banner “Country First”….

The **fact** is, you have shown that it is **John McCain** first, and the country **last.**

The **fact** is, Sir, by **holding out** on your secret plan to catch Bin Laden…

By searing those images into our collective wounded American psyche at your nomination last week…

Terrorists are not what you, John McCain, **fight**.

Terrorists… are what you, John McCain, **use.**

Good night, and good luck.

High Court May Immunize Big Pharma

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By Terry J. Allen

The FDA’s new “preemption” doctrine jeopardizes consumers’ right to sue for drug-caused injuries

Struck by a blinding migraine, Vermont musician Diana Levine went to a clinic where she was injected with the anti-nausea drug Phenergan, produced by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. Within weeks, the hand that had fingered her guitar was black with gangrene. Doctors amputated below the wrist and, when that failed to stop the necrosis, removed her forearm.

Wyeth’s label had warned that hitting an artery could cause irreversible damage, but it did not specifically direct physicians to avoid delivering the drug with intravenous (IV) push injection — rather than free-flowing IV drip or intramuscular shot.

Levine sued in Vermont court, charging that, because Wyeth had known for decades that using IV push to inject Phenergan directly into a vein creates avoidable risk, it should have added specific instructions on its label barring the practice.

Wyeth argued that Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of Phenergan and its label immunized it from state-level lawsuits. The Vermont court disagreed and awarded Levine $6.8 million.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear Wyeth’s appeal on Nov. 3, the day before the presidential election, when few people will be paying attention. They should be.

If Wyeth’s legal defense wins, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said at a hearing in May, “Patients [who are] hurt by defective drugs … would no longer have the ability to seek compensation for their injuries.”

Levine is in her early 60s, has clear blue eyes and white hair that falls loosely around her unguarded face. She laughs easily and there is anger, but no bitterness, when she reflects that “all Wyeth needed to do was that simple label change. This loss of my arm, and the effect it had on my livelihood and my whole life didn’t need to happen.”

As for the FDA, she says, “I know there are good hearts there and [if Wyeth wins] I want to ask them: ‘How do you feel about not having us little people out here to tell you when something goes wrong, and a court system to help you hold drug companies accountable?’ “

Wyeth’s defense — and the fate of the kind of liability litigation that exposed the dangers of Vioxx — rides on whether the Supreme Court accepts the FDA’s new doctrine of “preemption.” The legal term means, in this instance, that a federal agency can write rules that preempt — or override — the right of a person to sue for damages in state courts. Some legal experts see the Bush administration’s embrace of preemption as part of a concerted, stealth strategy to impose, by bureaucratic fiat, the tort “reforms” that corporations failed to lobby though Congress.

“So far, seven federal agencies have issued over 51 potentially preemptive rules, often without any opportunity for public comment,” wrote Kathleen Flynn Peterson, former president of the American Association for Justice.

What is at stake, then, is tens of thousands of product-liability suits against drug makers; the right of many consumers to sue if they are harmed by FDA-approved drugs; and a strong financial incentive for drug companies to set high safety standards, follow drugs after approval, update labeling and issue recalls. And, of course, there is Levine’s compensation.

Consumers’ right to sue for drug-caused injuries dates back to 1852. But in 2006, the FDA quietly tucked a pro-preemption phrase into the preamble of an FDA-labeling law.

“Preemption had never been raised by drug companies before Levine,” says Richard Rubin, the small-town Vermont lawyer who won against Wyeth’s high-powered legal team, “because there had never been any preemption.”

The effect, of this “radical legal doctrine,” said Waxman at the May congressional hearing, is “you might have been injured by a defective product, but you can’t go and sue the manufacturer, who might have even known it was defective, because the FDA said it was not defective when they approved it. That to me is an absurd position.”

But drug companies get the logic, as do other corporations subject to consumer lawsuits. Showing uncharacteristic affection for federal regulation, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, General Electric, Microsoft and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco are supporting Wyeth before the Supreme Court.

Siding with Levine are 47 U.S. states attorneys general, 18 members of Congress and a panoply of public interest groups that have filed “friend-of-the-court” amicus briefs. They are joined by former FDA commissioners Donald Kennedy and David Kessler whose August amicus brief notes that traditionally, corporations, not the FDA, bear “ultimate responsibility” for drug safety: “[P]ro-preemption arguments … turn that understanding upside down, relieving manufacturers of front-line responsibility for the safety of their drugs, and handing that job to the FDA.”

But the FDA isn’t up to the job. The agency’s own Science Board found that “American lives are at risk” because the FDA “is not positioned to meet current or emerging regulatory responsibilities.”

A 2006 Government Accountability Office investigation found the FDA was incapable of ensuring drug safety. After initial approval — when many problems surface — the agency lacked the resources to gather independent data and the authority to compel drug companies to provide follow-up studies.

Add to that the conflicts of interest, cronyism and corporate influence that have flourished in Bush bureaucracies, from FEMA to the Justice Department to the FDA.

The architect of FDA’s preemption policy is Daniel Troy. Before becoming the agency’s chief counsel and primary liaison to the White House, Troy had represented industry, frequently suing the agency on behalf of drug and big tobacco companies. After leaving the FDA, he slipped into a top post at drug giant GlaxoSmithKline.

The revolving door also swung Randall Lutter into the post of FDA deputy commissioner for policy, where he defended the agency’s embrace of preemption before Congress. Lutter was a member of the ExxonMobil-funded, global warming-denying Annapolis Center. He was also resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank that takes oil and tobacco money and advocates vigorously for “tort reform.”

The Supreme Court’s acceptance of Levine falls into a pattern that suggests it is in sync with the Bush administration’s push to make preemption part of its legacy.

A March Supreme Court case surrounding Rezulin, the now-withdrawn diabetes drug linked to liver failure, could have voided the right to sue — even when a drug company commits fraud by concealing dangers from the FDA. But that case, Warner-Lambert Co. v. Kent, failed to make law because a tie vote resulted when Chief Justice John Roberts recused himself over ownership of Pfizer/Warner-Lambert stock. (Although Levine v. Wyeth will have industry-wide impact, few expect another recusal.)

In February, the court ruled 8-1 in Riegel v. Medtronic for the makers of a faulty catheter that ruptured during heart surgery. The FDA approval that immunized Medtronic from liability now protects the makers of most medical devices, including defibrillators and pacemakers, from liability suits.

Riegel is “a resounding victory for the preemption defense and for the business community,” cheered Alan Untereiner, a lawyer for the Product Liability Advisory Council.

Wyeth v. Levine could be the next step for preemption — extending it to all FDA-approved pharmaceuticals, and drastically restricting the right to a jury trial.

In Reigel, Justice Stephen Breyer provocatively asked which group you rather would trust: “An expert agency, on the one hand, or 12 people pulled randomly for a jury role? …What worries me is, what happens if the jury is wrong?”

But in the recent cases of Vioxx, Trasylol and Redux, it was not the jury that was wrong in finding for the dead and injured, it was the drug manufacturers that “withheld key information from the FDA…while continuing to market their unsafe drug to an unsuspecting public,” wrote the New England Journal of Medicine in a brief supporting Levine.

The new FDA stance, then, promises Americans “the worst of both worlds … an FDA incapable of protecting them, and no tort system to provide compensation if they are injured,” Georgetown University law professor David Vladeck wrote in the July Cornell Law Review.

Despite the preventable loss of Diana Levine’s arm, Phenergan’s label still doesn’t bar intravenous push. In 2006, six years after Levine’s amputation, Marie Caschetta, an 84-year-old woman in South Daytona, Fla., suffered a similar fate after a push IV injection of the FDA-approved drug.

So, as you follow the November election results, listen for news of Wyeth v. Levine — as if your right arm depended on it.

Bolivia: a Coup in the Making?

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Yesterday, in Bolivia, Minister of Government, Alfredo Rada, accused the right-wing autonomist leader Branko Marinkovic, and Santa Cruz prefect, Rubén Costas, of orchestrating a wave of violence as part of a “civic governors’ coup d’état.” Rada accused Marinkovic of having just returned from the United States where he allegedly received instructions for fomenting the coup attempt.

“Bolivia on the Brink,” is a phrase too often uttered by passing journalists unaccustomed to the country’s regular politics of the streets. But events of the last two weeks cannot be passed off as the ordinary business of protest. Rather, a right-wing coup attempt is in the offing in the five departments (states) governed by the right-wing opposition to President Evo Morales, of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party. The critical “media luna” departments of the eastern lowlands – Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, and Pando – have been joined in part by far-right elements in the government of the department of Chuquisaca. Thus far, these right-wing autonomists have not achieved critical support within the military, but the passivity of the Morales government in the face of ferocious racism, violence, and the takeover of state institutions and airports on an unprecedented scale, does not bode well for the future of Bolivia.

One indication of the seriousness of the situation is that Morales just announced that US ambassador Philip Goldberg is no longer welcome in Bolivia and will be asked officially to leave the country in the coming hours. Morales accused Goldberg of meeting with the oppositional prefects (governors) of the five departments in rebellion, to help coordinate what has become a full-scale destabilization campaign.

The campaign is being led by the Consejo Nacional Democrático (National Democratic Council, CONALDE), which brings together the prefectures and civic committees of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, Tarija, and Sucre, under the banner of “departmental autonomy.” These prefectures and civic committees in turn represent the agro-industrial, petroleum, and financial elite of these departments. While they are led by the bourgeoisie, the autonomists have won over substantial sectors of the popular classes by manipulating real democratic desires for decentralized “autonomous” self-governance, as opposed to alienating central state control. If the civic committees and prefects are the pretty face of autonomism, a growing network of proto-fascist youth groups linked to them are the clenched fist in the streets.

The immediate objective of the autonomist right is to destabilize the Morales government and to weaken left-indigenous forces throughout the country. One longer term goal is to reaffirm and consolidate private elite control over the natural gas and agricultural wealth of the country that is currently under threat due to widespread popular sentiment in favour of expropriation, nationalization, redistribution, and the establishment of social control over Bolivia’s riches. A related long-term objective of the autonomist right is to re-conquer state power at the national level.

The Post-Referendum Conjuncture

Evo Morales and Álvaro García Linera won the support of nearly 7 of every 10 Bolivians in a recent recall referendum. At the same time, however, right-wing prefects consolidated power in five of the country’s nine departments.

While the Morales and García Linera line since the referendum has been moderation and calls for negotiation and dialogue with the far-right, CONALDE has launched massive and coordinated direct actions: road blockades; racist attacks against unarmed pro-government rallies; gang-land terrorization of poor, mainly indigenous neighbourhoods in the eastern lowlands; armed assaults on military and police personnel guarding public institutions; occupations and shutdowns of airports; looting and burning of state offices; and the vandalizing of state-owned media outlets.

In so doing, the autonomist have established real power in most of the departments of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, and Pando, and urban areas of Chuquisca, particularly the departmental capital of Sucre. It is literally unsafe for the President and state representatives to visit these areas. Momentum is on the side of the right, and they are in no mood for negotiation.

Morales and his government have refused to declare a state of emergency and thus the right-wing advances and brutal acts of racist violence in over half of the country’s territory continue apace with impunity. “We are not going to declare a state of emergency,” stated Vice-Minister of Social Movements, Sacha Llorenti. “We are not going to succumb to the provocation.” Likewise, Foreign Affairs Minister, David Choquehuanca, said, “This is a government of dialogue…. The groups committing the violence, violating laws and human rights are small. We call on these violent groups to return to negotiations.”

But a state of emergency, in combination with the concerted mobilization and organization of popular left-indigenous forces throughout the country, might allow the government to reestablish constitutional order and to detain and bring to justice right-wing subversives bent on destroying a government which enjoys the support of 68 percent of the population. It would help to guarantee military and police protection of state property and basic rights for the civilian population in the face of racist terror. It would help to provide a means of defense against right-wing autonomists wielding guns and Molotov cocktails.

It might turn the tide against the colonial-era violence and public denigration of the indigenous poor in urban plazas of the major eastern lowland cities: whippings, beatings with clubs and two-by-fours, and punching, kicking, and swarming captured on private and state media alike. All of this is accompanied by disgusting racist epithets, and legitimated by the departmental prefectures and civic committees who say Morales’ “dictatorship” brought it all on.

Jorge Soruco, a human rights activist in the department of Beni, conveyed the exasperation of popular sectors loyal to the government living in the five departments in rebellion: “This is racist dementia, madness that we can’t allow. We are living in an era of insanity, where the people of the opposition… are confronting the people with situations of extreme violence.”

A Late-August Festival of Hate against the Indigenous of Santa Cruz

After registering astonishing levels of support in the referendum, the MAS government declared that it was going to bring forward for popular referendum the draft of a new constitution approved by the Constituent Assembly in Oruro several months ago.

In celebration, indigenous peasant and working-class supporters of the government set off on August 29 for a peaceful march to the Plaza 24 de Septiembre, in the centre of the city of Santa Cruz. A gathering of autonomists, organized in part by the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista (Cruceño Youth Union, UJC), were there to greet them.

According to the mainstream daily La Prensa, one UJC speaker at the autonomist rally declared: “We are not going to permit [the entrance of the masistas] into the Plaza. When we go to their communities, they treat us like dogs. We want independence. We don’t want this damned race in our territory.” Other chants and phrases used that day, according to the vociferously anti-Morales La Razón newspaper, included: “shitty collas,” (colla is a racial epithet used in Santa Cruz to refer to indigenous people from the western highlands), and, “Indians return to your lands.”

After the speeches, the racists when on a rampage against the unarmed trade unionists and peasants, as well as any visibly indigenous person in proximity of the plaza. Indigenous women wearing the traditional pollera, or gathered skirt, were particularly vulnerable to beatings and racist taunts. One autonomist youth leader, Amelia Dimitri, was captured in video footage and photographs whipping an indigenous woman wearing a pollera. This occurred immediately after Dimitri addressed the crowd of autonomist thugs in a rousing speech. She’s only the latest face of hatred on the autonomist right.

On national television, Bolivians watched as racist teenagers wielded clubs, whips, and two-by-fours against unarmed indigenous workers and peasants. Images of men and women with broken noses and shirts literally drenched in blood quickly made their way to You Tube, private and national state media, and the front pages of the local newspapers. These are the “democracy supporters” supported by imperialism against the “dictatorship” of Evo Morales.

But where were the cops? Where was the military? The MAS government refused to act, calling instead for negotiations.

And in the following weeks things intensified further, such that in the last two days Bolivia has been perched on a precipice, below which lies the defeat of left-indigenous power – on the rise since the wave of insurrections between 2000 and 2005 – and the conquest of power by imperialism and the rich and the white-mestizo elite who have long-ruled the country, and who retain control of economic power despite Morales’ electoral victory.

The Makings of a Coup

The latest phase of pressure tactics in the “media luna” departments began in earnest with the initiation of a road blockade on August 25 in the Chaco region of the department of Tarija, followed a week later by parallel road blockades in the departments of Beni and Santa Cruz. This latter period also saw the occupation by force of several public institutions in Santa Cruz, as well as an attempt by the proto-fascist UJC to take over the police barracks in the capital city of that department, also named Santa Cruz.

As many analysts have pointed out, the latest actions by the autonomist right are merely the consolidation of their power in the eastern lowlands, given that for most of this year it has been impossible for the President and other government officials to safely visit major cities in the eastern lowlands, due to airport occupations and violent acts perpetrated against state ministers.

Yesterday, at least 22 state entities were occupied and taken over by the youth wing of the Pro Santa Cruz Committee and their sister organizations in the departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Tarija, Pando, and Sucre. The right-wing occupiers have declared that they will transfer power of these state institutions to autonomous departmental authorities.

In Pando, for example, the prefect, Leopoldo Fernández, named a departmental director of the National Agrarian Institute (INRA). President of the Beni Civic Committee, Luis Alberto Melgar, and Vice-President of the Pando Civic Committee, Ricardo Shimokawa, announced that the occupations and mobilizations in their departments to date were just beginning.

Among the state institutions taken over across the country were the state television channel, Televisión Boliviana, and radio station, Patria Nueva. The airports of the eastern lowland cities of Trinidad, Guayaramerín, and Riberalta were also seized by autonomist forces. Two natural gas stations were seized, and 29 different road blockades were erected on the highways of these five departments.

Despite presidential authorization to protect state institutions, the National Police and Military Police lost control of these entities, as they were forcefully driven from their stations by violent mobilizations of the far-right.

University students, proto-fascist political youth gangs, functionaries of the departmental prefectures, and an array of other social sectors, including organized housewives (amas de casa), participated in the right-wing autonomist assaults on public institutions and confrontations with the coercive apparatuses of the state. These street actions are directly linked, however, with the finely-dressed men occupying the highest institutions of departmental power – the prefectures and the civic committees. And these men represent the agro-industrial, petroleum, and finance capitalists. Indeed, many autonomist politicians have millions of their own money invested in these sectors.

The Scope of Right-Wing Assault

Santa Cruz, where the confrontations between the National Police and the Military Police and the UJC were most intense, witnessed the takeover of the National Tax Services (SIN) offices, the National Agrarian Institute (INFRA), and the state telecommunications company (ENTEL).

The offices of Televisión Boliviana and Nueva Patria in Santa Cruz were initially broken into at night by young thugs who damaged equipment and lit parts of the offices on fire. Security of the premises was then reestablished by state forces for a period of time yesterday morning, until bands of the UJC effectively drove the police forces away with Molotov cocktails. The state then lost control entirely of their state media companies in the city.

Right-wing autonomist forces also launched violent attacks against various indigenous NGOs and human rights organizations, such as the Centro de Estudios Jurídicos y de Investigación Social (CEJIS). CEJIS on two earlier occasions this year was attacked with Molotov cocktails.

The El Trompillo and Viru Viru airports have been taken over by the state military to ensure they are not taken over by autonomist forces.

In Tarija, where road blockades have persisted for the last 16 days in the Chaco region, the right-wing autonomist forces took over government tax offices (SIN), the offices of the National Agrarian Institute (INRA), and the border state’s migration offices. Perhaps most importantly, they also managed to occupy the offices of the Superintendent of Hydrocarbons. Given that roughly 82 percent of natural gas production occurs in the department of Tarija, this is of major concern.

In the department of Beni, the Jorge Henrich airport was taken over, and its runways blockaded with transport trucks and piled debris. The offices of the Administration of Airports and Aerial Navigation (AASANA) were taken over. Likewise, the airport of Riberalta was shutdown. Also in Riberalta, the doors of the offices of Televisión Boliviana were damaged, while the mob didn’t manage to enter the premises. The Bolivian Postal Service (ECOBOL), ENTEL, and the Migration offices were also taken over in this city.

In the community of Guayaramerín, autonomist activists violently seized the offices of the National Customs office and the airport terminal.

Elsewhere, in the city of Villamontes, the Civic Committee took illegal control of a natural gas station, giving it the capacity to turn off supplies to the Yacuiba-Río Grande Gas Pipeline (GASYRG), the main natural gas source for Brazil.

In Sucre, the Unión Juvenil de la Chuquisaqueñidad (Youth Union of Chuquisaca, UJCh – Sucre is the capital of the department of Chuquisaca) and associated organizations, took over the tax offices and other state institutions. These protests were led in part by the notorious Roberto Lenin Sandóval, currently awaiting trial for his participation in the right-wing take over of state institutions several months ago, as well as for his role in racist attacks against indigenous peasants as part of the Chuquisaca Conscience movement.

However, unlike in the other four departments controlled by the right, Chuquisaca’s autonomist actions against the central government have been limited to the capital of Sucre, as the countryside is controlled by indigenous peasants overwhelmingly aligned with the Morales government.

The future of left-indigenous liberation struggle in Bolivia lies in the balance. If this right-wing tide is to be turned, there must be wide-scale direct actions by the vast majority of the country against the right-wing conspiracy. Such action would be greatly facilitated by a shift in the Morales government away from negotiation with a right that clearly is uninterested in dialogue. Let’s hope that the banishment of US Ambassador Goldberg from the country marks the first step in such a turn.

Bush Said to Give Orders Allowing Raids in Pakistan

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President Bush secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allow American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government, according to senior American officials.

The classified orders signal a watershed for the Bush administration after nearly seven years of trying to work with Pakistan to combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and after months of high-level stalemate about how to challenge the militants’ increasingly secure base in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

American officials say that they will notify Pakistan when they conduct limited ground attacks like the Special Operations raid last Wednesday in a Pakistani village near the Afghanistan border, but that they will not ask for its permission.

“The situation in the tribal areas is not tolerable,” said a senior American official who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the missions. “We have to be more assertive. Orders have been issued.”

The new orders reflect concern about safe havens for Al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistan, as well as an American view that Pakistan lacks the will and ability to combat militants. They also illustrate lingering distrust of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies and a belief that some American operations had been compromised once Pakistanis were advised of the details.

The Central Intelligence Agency has for several years fired missiles at militants inside Pakistan from remotely piloted Predator aircraft. But the new orders for the military’s Special Operations forces relax firm restrictions on conducting raids on the soil of an important ally without its permission.

Pakistan’s top army officer said Wednesday that his forces would not tolerate American incursions like the one that took place last week and that the army would defend the country’s sovereignty “at all costs.”

It is unclear precisely what legal authorities the United States has invoked to conduct even limited ground raids in a friendly country. A second senior American official said that the Pakistani government had privately assented to the general concept of limited ground assaults by Special Operations forces against significant militant targets, but that it did not approve each mission.

The official did not say which members of the government gave their approval.

Any new ground operations in Pakistan raise the prospect of American forces being killed or captured in the restive tribal areas — and a propaganda coup for Al Qaeda. Last week’s raid also presents a major test for Pakistan’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari, who supports more aggressive action by his army against the militants but cannot risk being viewed as an American lap dog, as was his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf.

The new orders were issued after months of debate inside the Bush administration about whether to authorize a ground campaign inside Pakistan. The debate, first reported by The New York Times in late June, at times pitted some officials at the State Department against parts of the Pentagon that advocated aggressive action against Qaeda and Taliban targets inside the tribal areas.

Details about last week’s commando operation have emerged that indicate the mission was more intrusive than had previously been known.

According to two American officials briefed on the raid, it involved more than two dozen members of the Navy Seals who spent several hours on the ground and killed about two dozen suspected Qaeda fighters in what now appeared to have been a planned attack against militants who had been conducting attacks against an American forward operating base across the border in Afghanistan.

Supported by an AC-130 gunship, the Special Operations forces were whisked away by helicopters after completing the mission.

Although the senior American official who provided the most detailed description of the new presidential order would discuss it only on condition of anonymity, his account was corroborated by three other senior American officials from several government agencies, all of whom made clear that they supported the more aggressive approach.

Pakistan’s government has asserted that last week’s raid achieved little except killing civilians and stoking anti-Americanism in the tribal areas.

“Unilateral action by the American forces does not help the war against terror because it only enrages public opinion,” said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, during a speech on Friday. “In this particular incident, nothing was gained by the action of the troops.”

As an alternative to American ground operations, some Pakistani officials have made clear that they prefer the C.I.A.’s Predator aircraft, operating from the skies, as a method of killing Qaeda operatives. The C.I.A. for the most part has coordinated with Pakistan’s government before and after it has launched missiles from the drone. On Monday, a Predator strike in North Waziristan killed several Arab Qaeda operatives.

A new American command structure was put in place this year to better coordinate missions by the C.I.A. and members of the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, made up of the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy Seals.

The move was intended to address frustration on the ground about different agencies operating under different marching orders. Under the arrangement, a senior C.I.A. official based at Bagram air base in Afghanistan was put in charge of coordinating C.I.A. and military activities in the border region.

Spokesmen for the White House, the Defense Department and the C.I.A. declined to comment on Wednesday about the new orders. Some senior Congressional officials have received briefings on the new authorities. A spokeswoman for Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who leads the Armed Services Committee, declined to comment.

American commanders in Afghanistan have complained bitterly that militants use sanctuaries in Pakistan to attack American troops in Afghanistan.

“I’m not convinced we’re winning it in Afghanistan,” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. “I am convinced we can.”

Toward that goal, Admiral Mullen said he had ordered a comprehensive military strategy to address the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The commando raid last week and an increasing number of recent missile strikes are part of a more aggressive overall American campaign in the border region aimed at intensifying attacks on Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the waning months of the Bush administration, with less than two months to go before November elections.

State Department officials, as well as some within the National Security Council, have expressed concern about any Special Operations missions that could be carried out without the approval of the American ambassador in Islamabad.

The months-long delay in approving ground missions created intense frustration inside the military’s Special Operations community, which believed that the Bush administration was holding back as the Qaeda safe haven inside Pakistan became more secure for militants.

The stepped-up campaign inside Pakistan comes at a time when American-Pakistani relations have been fraying, and when anger is increasing within American intelligence agencies about ties between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, known as the ISI, and militants in the tribal areas.

Analysts at the C.I.A. and other American spy and security agencies believe not only that the bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July by militants was aided by ISI operatives, but also that the highest levels of Pakistan’s security apparatus — including the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani — had knowledge of the plot.

“It’s very difficult to imagine he was not aware,” a senior American official said of General Kayani.

American intelligence agencies have said that senior Pakistani national security officials favor the use of militant groups to preserve Pakistan’s influence in the region, as a hedge against India and Afghanistan.

In fact, some American intelligence analysts believe that ISI operatives did not mind when their role in the July bombing in Kabul became known. “They didn’t cover their tracks very well,” a senior Defense Department official said, “and I think the embassy bombing was the ISI drawing a line in the sand.”

Less Than Half the World Believes Al Qaeda Was Behind 9/11 Attacks

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By Joshua Holland

A new international poll released this week by the Project on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) found that outside the U.S., many are skeptical that Al Qaeda was really responsible for the September 11th attacks.

16,000 people in 17 countries -- allies and adversaries; in Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East -- were asked the open ended question: "who do you think was behind the 9/11 attacks?"

On average, fewer than half of all respondents said Al Qaeda (although there was significant variation between countries and regions). 15 percent said the United States government itself was responsible for the attacks, 7 percent cited Israel and fully one in four said they just didn’t know.

Among our closest allies, very slim majorities believe Al Qaeda was the culprit. According to the study, "Fifty-six percent of Britons and Italians, 63 percent of French and 64 percent of Germans cite al Qaeda. However, significant portions of Britons (26%), French (23%), and Italians (21%) say they do not know who was behind 9/11. Remarkably, 23 percent of Germans cite the US government, as do 15 percent of Italians."

Whatever one thinks of "alternative" theories of who the perpetrators were that day, the results are an eye-opening indication of how profoundly the world’s confidence in the United States government has eroded during the Bush era. The researchers found little difference among respondents according to levels of education, or to the amount of exposure to the news media they had. Rather, they found a clear correlation with people’s attitudes towards the United States in general. "Those with a positive view of America’s influence in the world are more likely to cite al Qaeda (on average 59%) than those with a negative view (40%)," wrote the authors. "Those with a positive view of the United States are also less likely to blame the US government (7%) than those with a negative view (22%)."

Interestingly, Americans are also dubious, with more than a third of those polled by Scripps News Service in 2006 saying it was "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that "federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to stop them" because they "wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East." The poll didn’t, however, distinguish between those who believed the government actively participated in the events of that day or merely had foreknowledge that the attacks were imminent. (Another poll that year, by CBS News and the New York Times found that fewer than one in five Americans believed the government was being fully forthcoming about the attacks.)

In one sense, these findings should come as no surprise. America, like other countries, has been known to conduct "false-flag" operations before. And it’s used falsehoods to justify going to war. In the now-infamous "Gulf of Tonkin Incident" -- the incident that would be used to justify America’s involvement in that conflict -- a minor skirmish occurred between U.S. naval ships and two North Vietnamese coastal vessels. Two days later, the Johnson administration reported that there had been a second attack, which it claimed was evidence of "communist aggression" on the part of the North Vietnamese. But, as a National Security Agency report revealed in 2005 (PDF), the second incident -- the one that created a ’pattern’ of aggression -- was invented out of whole cloth. "It is not simply that there is a different story as to what happened; it is that no attack happened that night," reads the report.

In 1990, on the eve of the first Gulf War, Pentagon officials cited top-secret satellite images and said definitively that Saddam Hussein had amassed a huge army -- with 250,000 men and 1,500 tanks -- along the Saudi border in preparation for an invasion of that country. Jean Heller, a reporter with the St. Petersburg Times, purchased some Russian satellite images of the same piece of desert and found that in fact there was nothing there but sand. After the U.S.-led attack, a "senior [U.S. military] commander" told New York Newsday, "There was a great disinformation campaign surrounding this war."

Those incidents are in no way analogous to the attacks of 9/11. But in 1962, the Joint Chiefs of Staff proposed to defense secretary Robert McNamara that the CIA might launch a series of terror attacks within the United States, blame Cuba, and use the ensuing panic to justify military action against the defiant island-nation. (The plan, called "Operation Northwoods," which became public in 1997, was reportedly killed off by John F. Kennedy himself - it got that far up the food chain.)

Yet, whatever the historical context, there can be little doubt that the Bush administration’s penchant for secrecy and well-documented dishonesty fuels the debate over who perpetrated the attacks of 9/11. Earlier this year, an independent study conducted by the Center for Public Integrity documented 935 lies mouthed by senior administration officials to gin up support for the invasion of Iraq (one of which was Donald Rumsfeld repeating the long-disproved claim that Saddam had amassed a huge army on the Saudi border in 1990).

Just the fact that the administration blamed a group in Afghanistan for the attacks and then invaded a different country -- with some of the world’s richest oil reserves -- would have been enough to create suspicion around the world. And no satisfactory explanation has ever been given for why the Bush administration didn’t step up airline security in the face of repeated warnings -- some quite specific in terms of time and place -- from foreign governments and their intelligence agencies, warnings from allies like Israel’s Mossad to "enemies" like the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The credibility gap that’s developed around the world’s preeminent power is more than a matter of academic interest. Around the world, many of those who embraced us immediately after 9/11 and offered almost unconditional support for our policies now don’t believe a word coming out of our officials’ mouths, and that impacts U.S. foreign policy, and the stability of the whole international system, in ways both obvious and subtle.

A good, obvious example is in Pakistan, where most Americans believe we’re allied with the government and a majority of the Pakistani people against a small group of Al Qaeda extremists, who are undermining the U.S.-led battle against their terrorist brethren in Afghanistan (where we are allied with that government and most of that country’s people). American politicians expend much hot air accusing the Pakistani government of ’not doing enough to rein in extremists’ in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

But as Princeton scholar Zia Mian wrote in July, "most damaging of all for the United States is that people in Pakistan overwhelming see the United States as the problem." Mian cited a poll (PDF), conducted in May by the Pakistan Institute for Public Opinion, which found that "60% of Pakistanis believe the U.S. ’war on terror’ seeks to weaken the Muslim world, and 15% think its goal is to ’ensure US domination over Pakistan.’" About a third had a positive view of al-Qaeda, twice as many as the number that viewed the U.S. in a positive light. Mian touched on what is probably the key finding in the study -- and one that speaks to our officials’ utter lack of credibility when they say that they’re fighting "extremism" or "terrorists." The poll found that "44% of Pakistanis believe the United States is the greatest threat to their personal safety ... [while] the Pakistani Taliban, who ... by some estimates have up to 40,000 fighters, are seen as a threat by less than 10%. Al-Qaeda barely registers as a threat, slightly surpassing Pakistan’s own military and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI)."

With almost half of the population saying the U.S. is the greatest threat to their own personal safety, any Pakistani government will be left between a rock and a hard place. In that part of the planet, the real-world consequence of our government’s credibility gap is that the cooperation Washington seeks from Islamabad -- both internally and with neighboring Afghanistan -- can only result in destabilizing an already unstable political scene.

Around the world, the United States is at the nadir of its post-World War II influence. Among foreign governments and publics, in international institutions and commercial markets, our brand -- our ideologies -- haven’t had less power to sway people than they do today. We’ve never had less "soft power," hard power doesn’t come cheaply or without unintended consequences and there’s no guarantee that the Iron Fist can ever be put back into the Velvet Glove now that it’s been exposed.

The fact that fewer than half of the world’s citizens believe we were really attacked by Al Qaeda seven years ago is merely a reflection of far deeper problems that our foreign policy-makers are going to have to try to face in the coming years. That’s Bush’s foreign policy legacy.

All of which brings us to what historians will probably consider the great irony of the decline of the brief U.S.-led mono-polar order that existed between the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the second Gulf War: the neoconservative movement, which was so obsessed with the preservation of American power and the suppression of its rivals -- from its birth in the Nixon Administration, through Reagan’s "Dirty Wars" in Latin America and culminating in the 2003 invasion of Iraq -- ultimately oversaw the crash and burn of the World’s Only Superpower’s ability to influence world events.

Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer.

The Value of One, the Value of None

Go to Original
By Tom Engelhardt

An Anatomy of Collateral Damage in the Bush Era

In a little noted passage in her bestselling book, The Dark Side, Jane Mayer offers us a vision, just post-9/11, of the value of one. In October 2001, shaken by a nerve-gas false alarm at the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney, reports Mayer, went underground. He literally embunkered himself in "a secure, undisclosed location," which she describes as "one of several Cold War-era nuclear-hardened subterranean bunkers built during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, the nearest of which were located hundreds of feet below bedrock…" That bunker would be dubbed, perhaps only half-sardonically, "the Commander in Chief’s Suite."

Oh, and in that period, if Cheney had to be in transit, "he was chauffeured in an armored motorcade that varied its route to foil possible attackers." In the backseat of his car (just in case), adds Mayer, "rested a duffel bag stocked with a gas mask and a biochemical survival suit." And lest danger rear its head, "rarely did he travel without a medical doctor in tow."

When it came to leadership in troubled times, this wasn’t exactly a profile in courage. Perhaps it was closer to a profile in paranoia, or simply in fear, but whatever else it might have been, it was also a strange kind of statement of self-worth. Has any wartime president -- forget the vice-president -- including Abraham Lincoln when southern armies might have marched on Washington, or Franklin D. Roosevelt at the height of World War II, ever been so bizarrely overprotected in the nation’s capital? Has any administration ever placed such value on the preservation of the life of a single official?

On the other hand, the well-armored Vice President and his aide David Addington played a leading role, as Mayer documents in grim detail, in loosing a Global War on Terror that was also a global war of terror on lands thousands of miles distant. In this new war, "the gloves came off," "the shackles were removed" -- images much loved within the administration and, in the case of those "shackles," by George Tenet’s CIA. In the process, no price in human abasement or human life proved too high to pay -- as long as it was paid by someone else.

Recently, it was paid by up to 60 Afghan children.

The Value of None

If no level of protection was too much for this White House, then no protection was what it offered civilians who happened to be living in the ever expanding "war zones" of the planet. In the Middle East, in Somalia, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, the war to be fought -- in part from the air, sometimes via pilotless unmanned aerial vehicles or drones -- would, in crucial ways, be aimed at civilians (though this could never be admitted). "Collateral damage," the sterile, self-exculpating phrase the Pentagon chose to use for the anything-but-secondary death and destruction visited on civilians, would be the name of the game in the President’s chosen war almost from the moment the Vice President disappeared into his bunker.

In a world where death came suddenly in that vast swath of the planet the neoconservatives once called "the arc of instability" (before they made it one), civilians had few doctors on hand, no less full chemical body suits or gas masks, when disaster struck. Often they were asleep, or going about their daily business, when death made its appearance unannounced. Throughout these years, the stories of these deaths, when they appeared at all, normally were to be found on the inside pages of our newspapers in summary war reports. Regularly, they had "women and children" buried somewhere in them.

We have no idea just how many civilians have been blown away by the U.S. military (and allies) in these years, only that the "collateral damage" has been widespread and far more central to the President’s War on Terror than anyone here generally cares to acknowledge. Collateral damage has come in myriad ways -- from artillery fire in the initial invasion of Iraq; from repeated shootings of civilians in vehicles at checkpoints, and from troops (or even private mercenaries) blasting away from convoys; during raids on private homes; in village operations; and, significantly, from the air.

In Afghanistan, in particular, as the Taliban insurgency grew more quickly than U.S. and NATO troop strength, so did the use of air power. From 2004 to 2007, air strikes increased tenfold. Over the past year, civilian deaths from those air strikes have nearly tripled. According to Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon official and military analyst at Human Rights Watch, 317,000 pounds of bombs were dropped this June and 270,000 this July, equaling "the total tonnage dropped in 2006."

As with all figures relating to casualties, the actual counts you get on Afghan civilian dead are approximations and probably undercounts, especially since the war against the Taliban has been taking place largely in the backlands of one (or, if you count Pakistan, two) of the poorest, most remote regions on the planet. And yet we do know something. For instance, although the media have seldom attended to the subject, we know that one subset of innocent civilians has been slaughtered repeatedly. While, for instance, Americans spent days in October 2006 riveted to TV screens following the murders of five Amish girls by a madman in a one-room schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, and weeks following the mass slaughter of 32 college students by a mad boy at Virginia Tech in April 2007, between 2001 and this year, three Afghan and one Iraqi wedding parties were largely wiped out from the air by American planes, the latest only months ago, to hardly any news coverage at all.

The message of these slaughters -- an estimated 47 people, mostly from "the bride’s party," including the bride herself, died in the latest such "incident" -- is that if you live in areas where the Taliban exists, which is now much of the country, you’d better not gather.

Each of these events was marked by something else -- the uniformity of the U.S. response: initial claims that U.S. forces had been fired on first and that those killed were the enemy; a dismissal of the slaughters as the unavoidable "collateral damage" of wartime; and, above all, an unwillingness to genuinely apologize for, or take real responsibility for, having wiped out groups of celebrating locals.

And keep in mind that such disasters are just subsets of a far larger, barely covered story. In July alone, for example, the U.S. military and NATO officials launched investigations into three air strikes in Afghanistan in which 78 Afghan civilians (including that wedding party) were killed.

Since the Afghan War began in 2001, such "incidents" have occurred again and again. Not surprisingly, the Bush administration, in combination with the Pentagon, has devised a method for dealing with such happenings. After all, the Global War on Terror is premised on an unspoken belief that the lives of others -- civilians going about their business in distant lands -- are essentially of no importance when placed against American needs and desires. That, you might say, is the value of none.

Incident in Azizabad

Another gathering of Afghans recently ended with the slaughter of civilians on a startling scale. For once, it’s gotten far more than minimal coverage and hasn’t (yet) gone away. Remaining in the news, it has also opened a window into just how the U.S. military and the Bush administration have dealt with most incidents of "collateral damage" that made it into the news over these last years.

Here are the basic facts as best we know them. On the night of August 21st, a memorial service was held in Azizabad, a village in the Shindand District of Afghanistan’s Herat Province, for a tribal leader killed the previous year, who had been, villagers reported, anti-Taliban. Hundreds had attended, including "extended families from two tribes."

That night, a combined party of U.S. Special Forces and Afghan army troops attacked the village. They claimed they were "ambushed" and came under "intense fire." What we know is that they called in repeated air strikes. According to several investigations and the on-the-spot reporting of New York Times journalist Carlotta Gall, at least 90 civilians, including perhaps 15 women and up to 60 children, died that night. As many as 76 members of a single extended family were killed, along with its head, Reza Khan. His compound seems to have been specially targeted.

Khan, it turns out, was no Taliban "militant," but a "wealthy businessman with construction and security contracts with the nearby American base at Shindand airport." He reportedly had a private security company that worked for the U.S. military at the airport and also owned a cell phone business in the town of Herat. He had a card "issued by an American Special Forces officer that designated [him] as a ’coordinator for the U.S.S.F.’" Eight of the other men killed that night, according to Gall, worked as guards for a private American security firm. At least two dead men had served in the Afghan police and fought against the Taliban.

The incident in Azizabad may represent the single deadliest media-verified attack on civilians by U.S. forces since the invasion of 2001. Numerous buildings were damaged. Many bodies, including those of children, had to be dug out of the rubble. There may have been as many as 60 children among the dead. The U.S. military evidently attacked after being given false information by another tribal leader/businessman in the area with a grudge against Khan and his brother. As one tribal elder, who helped bury the dead, put it: "It is quite obvious, the Americans bombed the area due to wrong information. I am 100 percent confident that someone gave the information due to a tribal dispute. The Americans are foreigners and they do not understand. These people they killed were enemies of the Taliban."

Repeated U.S. air attacks resulting in civilian deaths have proven a disaster for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He promptly denounced the strikes against Azizabad, fired two Afghan commanders, including the top ranking officer in western Afghanistan, for "negligence and concealing facts," and ordered his own investigation of the incident. His team of investigators concluded that more than 90 Afghan civilians had indeed died. Along with the Afghan Council of Ministers, Karzai also demanded a "review" of "the presence of international forces and agreements with foreign allies, including NATO and the United States."

Ahmad Nader Nadery, commissioner of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, similarly reported that one of the group’s researchers had "found that 88 people had been killed, including 20 women." The U.N. mission in Afghanistan then dispatched its own investigative team from Herat to interview survivors. Its investigation "found convincing evidence, based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, and others, that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, 15 women and 15 men." (The 60 children were reportedly "3 months old to 16 years old, all killed as they slept.")

The American Response

Given the weight of evidence at Azizabad, the on-site investigations, the many graves, the destroyed houses, the specificity of survivor accounts, and so on, this might have seemed like a cut-and-dried case of mistaken intelligence followed by an errant assault with disastrous consequences. But accepting such a conclusion simply isn’t in the playbook of the U.S. military or the Bush administration.

Instead, in such cases what you regularly get is a predictable U.S. narrative about what happened made up of outlandish claims (or simply bald-faced lies), followed by a strategy of stonewalling, including a blame-the-victims approach in which civilian deaths are regularly dismissed as enemy-inspired "propaganda," followed -- if the pressure doesn’t ease up -- by the announcement of an "investigation" (whose results will rarely be released), followed by an expression of "regrets" or "sorrow" for the loss of life -- both weasel words that can be uttered without taking actual responsibility for what happened -- never to be followed by a genuine apology.

Now, let’s consider the American response to Azizabad.

The Numbers

Initially, the U.S. military flatly denied that any civilians had been killed in the village. In the operation, they claimed, exactly 30 Taliban "militants" had died. ("Insurgents engaged the soldiers from multiple points within the compound using small-arms and RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] fire. The joint forces responded with small-arms fire and an air strike killing 30 militants.")

Targeted, they said, had been a single compound holding a local Taliban commander, later identified as Mullah Sadiq, who was killed. (Sadiq would subsequently call Radio Liberty to indicate that he was still very much alive and deny that he had been in the village that night.) Quickly enough, however, military spokespeople began backing off. Brig. Gen. Richard Blanchette, a NATO spokesman, said that "investigators sent to the site immediately after the bombing" had, in fact, verified the deaths of three women and two children, who were suspected of being relatives of the dead Taliban commander.

After President Karzai’s angry denunciation, and the results of his team’s investigation was released, the U.S. military altered its account slightly, admitting that only 25 Taliban fighters had actually died as well as five Afghans identified as "noncombatants," including a woman and two children. The U.S. command, however, remained "very confident" that only 30 Afghans had been killed.

Later, after a military investigation had been launched, the U.S. command in Afghanistan issued a vague statement indicating that "[c]oalition forces are aware of allegations that the engagement in the Shindand district of Herat Province, Friday, may have resulted in civilian casualties apart from those already reported."

On August 28th, the U.S. military "investigation" released its results, confirming that only 30 Afghans had died.

On August 29th, however, Gen. David D. McKiernan, American commander of NATO forces, raised the number, suggesting that "up to 40" Afghans might have died, though still insisting that only five of them had been civilians, the rest being "men of military age."

These revised numbers were still being touted on September 2nd when, according to the Washington Post, "U.S. military officials flatly rejected" the Afghan and U.N. figures.

On September 4th, the Los Angeles Times reported that the U.S. military was now "acknowledging" 35 militants and seven civilians -- 42 Afghans -- had died in the attack.

This is where the American numbers remain today. Think of all this as a strange (and callous) kind of informal negotiation process under pressure. Over a span of two weeks, the Americans slowly gave way on those previously definitive figures, moving modestly closer to the ones offered by the Karzai and U.N. teams, without ever giving way on their version of what had happened.

The Investigations

The first investigation, according to U.S. military spokespeople, occurred the morning after the attack when investigators from the attacking force supposedly went house to house "assessing damage and casualties" and "taking photos." Combat photographers were said to have "documented the scene." According to New York Times reporter Gall, the U.S. military claimed its forces had made a "thorough sweep of this small western hamlet, a building-by-building search a few hours after the air strikes, and a return visit on Aug. 26, which villagers insist never occurred."

As claims of civilian deaths mounted and Karzai denounced the attacks, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, ordered an "investigation" into the episode. ("All allegations of civilian casualties are taken very seriously. Coalition forces make every effort to prevent the injury or loss of innocent lives. An investigation has been directed.")

On August 29th, the conclusions of the investigation, completed in near record time, were released. The casualty count -- only 30 Afghans, 25 of them Taliban militants -- had been definitively confirmed. A future "joint investigation" with the Afghan government was, however, proposed. On the 29th, General McKiernan suggested that the U.N., too, should be part of the joint investigation.

On September 3rd, the Afghans accepted the U.S. proposal for what was now a "tripartite investigation."

On September 7th, "emerging evidence" -- a grainy video taken on a cell phone by a doctor in Azizabad, "showing dozens of civilian bodies, including those of numerous children, prepared for burial" -- led Gen. McKiernan to ask that the U.S. investigation be reopened. The U.S. Central Command is now preparing to "send a senior team, headed by a general and including a legal affairs officer, to reinvestigate."

Normally, such investigations, whose results usually remain classified, are no more than sops, meant to quiet matters until attention dies away. In this case, the minimalist military investigation, which merely backed up the initial cover-up about the assault on Azizabad, was forced into the open and, as protest in Aghanistan widened, has now essentially been consigned to the trash heap of history.

The Words

Initially, according to the Washington Post, "a U.S. military spokeswoman dismissed as ’outrageous’ the Afghan government’s assertions that scores of civilians had been killed in the attack… A U.S. official in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Taliban has become adept at spreading false intelligence to draw U.S. strikes on civilians." In not-for-attribution comments, U.S. military officials would later suggest "that the villagers fabricated such evidence as grave sites."

Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, a spokeswoman for the U.S. military, insisted: "We’re confident that we struck the right compound."

On August 24th, as protests over the deaths at Azizabad mounted in Afghanistan, White House Spokesman Tony Fratto said at a press gaggle: "We regret the loss of life among the innocent Afghanis who we are committed to protect… Coalition forces take precautions to prevent the loss of civilians, unlike the Taliban and militants who target civilians and place civilians in harm’s way."

On August 25th, Fratto added: "We believe from what we’ve heard from officials at the Department of Defense that they believe it was a good strike… I should tell you, though, first of all, we obviously mourn the loss of any innocent civilians that may lose their lives in these attacks in -- whether they’re in Afghanistan or in Iraq, in any of these conflict areas." On that same day, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said: "We continue at this point to believe that this was a legitimate strike against the Taliban. Unfortunately there were some civilian casualties, although that figure is in dispute, I would say. But this is why it is being investigated."

On August 27th at a Pentagon press conference, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Conway said: "If the reports of the Afghan civilian casualties are accurate -- and sometimes that is a big ’if’ because I think we all understand the Taliban capabilities with regard to information operations -- but if that proves out, that will be truly an unfortunate incident. And we need to avoid that, certainly, at every cost…

"You know, air power is the premiere asymmetric advantage that we hold over both the Taliban and, for that matter, the al Qaeda in Iraq… And when we find that you’re up against hardened people in a hardened type of compound, before we throw our Marines or soldiers against that, we’re going to take advantage of our asymmetric advantage… You don’t always know what’s in that compound, unfortunately. And sometimes we think there’s been overt efforts on the part of the Taliban, in particular, to surround themselves with civilians so as to, at a minimum, reap an IO [information operations] advantage if civilians are killed."

On August 29th, Gen. McKiernan reiterated the American position, while expressing regrets for any loss of civilian life: "This was a legitimate insurgent target. We regret the loss of civilian life, but the numbers that we find on this target area are nowhere near the number reported in the media, and that we believe there was a very deliberate information operation orchestrated by the insurgency, by the Taliban." He also complained about the U.N. investigation, saying: "I am very disappointed in the United Nations because they have not talked to this headquarters before they made that release" and he suggested that President Karzai had been the victim of bad information.

On September 3rd, with pressure growing, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad put the disparities in numbers down to the "fog of war," while urging a new joint investigation: "I believe that there is a bit of a fog of war involved in some of these initial reports. Sometimes initial reports can be wrong. And the best way to deal with it is to have the kind of investigation that we have proposed, which is U.S., coalition, plus the Afghan government, plus the United Nations."

On the same day, Karzai’s office issued a statement indicating that President Bush had phoned the Afghan president: "The President of America has expressed his regret and sympathy for the occurrence of Shindand incident." They quoted him as saying, "I am a partner in your loss and that of the Afghan people."

On September 3rd, General McKiernan said: "Every death of a civilian in wartime is a terrible tragedy. Even one death is too many… I wish to again express my sincere condolences and apologies to the families whose loved ones were inadvertently killed in the cross fire with the insurgents in Azizabad." Though the Afghans seem to have largely died due to U.S. air strikes, not in a crossfire, this was as close to an apology as anyone related to the U.S. government or military has come.

On September 7th, as he was reopening the military investigation, Gen. McKiernan said: "The people of Afghanistan have our commitment to get to the truth."

Playing with Fire

Let me mention a small irony of history. The U.S. military claimed that its now discredited findings at Azizabad "were corroborated by an independent journalist embedded with the U.S. force." That man turned out to be none other than Oliver North, working for FOX News. North had not only gained notoriety as an official of, a defender of, and a shredder of papers for the Reagan administration in the Iran-Contra scandal, but had earlier fought in Vietnam. He actually appeared as a witness for the defense in the case of one of the Marines accused of carrying out a massacre of Vietnamese at Son Thang in February 1970.

As now, so in Vietnam, were "hearts and minds" being hunted both from the air and on the ground; so, too, civilians were repeatedly blown away there; and so, too, as in the case of the infamous My Lai massacre, cover stories were fabricated to explain how civilians -- Vietnamese peasants -- had died and those stories were publicized by the U.S. military, even though they bore little or no relation to what had actually happened.

Today, "hearts and minds" are being similarly hunted across large stretches of the planet, and people in surprising numbers continue to die while simply trying to lead their lives. This summer was, in fact, dotted with "incidents" that often barely reached the news, in which civilians died in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the tribal areas of Pakistan: At a checkpoint in Iraq’s Diyala Province, American soldiers killed Dr. Abdul-Salam al-Shimari, the chief internist at the Baaquba Public Hospital, while he was driving to work as other American soldiers in a convoy had gunned down the manager and two female employees of a bank branch at Baghdad International Airport on the Airport road. (The unarmed, dead Iraqis would then be declared armed "criminals" before protests forced the U.S. military to withdraw the charge.) Similarly, an Afghan woman and two children were killed recently at a German checkpoint in Kunduz Province, as were two Afghan civilians by an errant NATO bomb.

In the tribal areas of Pakistan, a U.S. assault by helicopter on a village killed 20 civilians, according to the outraged provincial governor; and Pakistanis, mainly the relatives of a man identified as a Taliban commander, including one of his several wives, "his sister-in-law, a sister, two nieces, eight grandchildren and a male relative," were killed by missiles from a U.S. Predator drone.

This sort of "collateral damage" is an ongoing modern nightmare, which, unlike dead Amish girls or school shootings, does not fascinate either our media or, evidently, Americans generally. It seems we largely don’t want to know about what happened, and generally speaking, that’s lucky because the media isn’t particularly interested in telling us. This is one reason the often absurd accounts sometimes offered by the U.S. military go relatively unchallenged -- as, fortunately, they did not in the case of the incident at Azizabad. Nonetheless, the Bush administration has been more than willing to accept "collateral damage" as an everyday matter in pursuing its Global War on Terror.

Of course, it matters what you value and what you dismiss as valueless. When you overvalue yourself and undervalue others, you naturally overestimate your own power and are remarkably blind to the potential power of others -- you underestimate them, that is. This might be said to be a reasonable summary of the short, bitter history of the Bush era.

In this way, not just Vice President Cheney but the President and his top officials have remained self-protectively embunkered throughout their years in office. The 60 or so children slaughtered in Azizabad, each of whom belonged to some family, don’t matter to them. But they do matter. And when you kill them, and so many others like them, you surely play with fire.

A 9/11 'What-If?'

Go to Original
By Peter Dyer

What if we had never gone to war? What if, after the shocking crimes of September 11, 2001, the United States had pursued a different course?

What if all the blood which has been spilled in the name of justice still flowed in living veins; all the American, Iraqi and other lives shattered were still whole; all the homes destroyed or lost still standing, still occupied by families who never harmed us?

We have spent monumental treasure and energy on two wars. What if, instead, we had invested a fraction of that in a determined, unrelenting effort to bring Osama bin Laden to justice in a fair and transparent trial in a court of law?

Of course, we’ll never know.

When we were confronted with the most heinous series of terrorist acts in our history Americans overwhelmingly lined up behind President Bush’s call for a "Global War on Terror."

We can only speculate on what might have been the result of a different course of action, guided by a fundamentally different vision.

For two reasons, though, such speculation would not be entirely baseless:

One week after the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan, the Taliban presented us with an opportunity to investigate the possibility of a peaceful, legal resolution to the crimes of 9/11.

On Oct. 14, 2001, Afghanistan’s deputy prime minister, Haji Abdul Kabir, announced that if the United States stopped the bombing and produced evidence of bin Laden’s guilt, "we would be ready to hand him over to a third country" for trial.

President Bush, determined to launch and pursue the “war on terror,” refused even to discuss, much less investigate this possibility.

A Different Course

Exactly 30 months after 9/11 there was another catastrophic terrorist attack in another country: Spain. On March 11, 2004, 191 people in Madrid were killed and over 1,800 injured when 10 backpack bombs exploded on four morning rush-hour commuter trains.

As with 9/11, “11-M” was the most devastating series of terrorist acts in Spanish history.

But Spain chose the path the U.S. rejected.

The Spanish government addressed the crimes of 11-M with the tools, techniques and resources of law enforcement. There was an investigation, arrests, a trial, and appeals.

This process is today essentially complete.

Spain has demonstrated an effective alternative to war as a means of addressing and resolving the bloody horrors of terrorism.

The Spanish example can thus help us make an educated guess at how things might have gone had the Bush administration not immediately and contemptuously rejected Kabir’s offer of Oct. 14, 2001.

And while such an endeavor can’t undo the past seven years, perhaps it can help us make a better choice next time our leaders tell us it’s time for another war.

Here’s how Spain did it.

Two days after the bombings, the police made their first arrests.

After a 25-month investigation, 29 people – 15 Moroccans, nine Spaniards, two Syrians, one Egyptian, one Algerian and one Lebanese – were indicted on April 11, 2006. The Madrid bombing trial opened on Feb. 15, 2007, and ended on July 2.

Four months later, on Oct. 31, 2007, the three-judge tribunal delivered the verdicts.

Three men were convicted of murder, attempted murder and committing terrorist acts. They were sentenced to thousands of years in prison each, although under Spanish law, none will serve longer than 40 years. There is no capital punishment in Spain.

Eighteen were found guilty of lesser offenses. Seven were acquitted. During the trial all charges were dropped against one of the defendants.

0n July 18 of this year, four of the sentences were overturned on appeal to the Supreme Court. Thus, in the
end, 17 out of the original 29 indicted have been convicted.

The Supreme Court also concluded that the real ringleaders of the crimes of 11-M were among seven suspects who, three weeks after the bombs exploded, blew themselves up in an apartment outside Madrid when a police assault began.

The U.S. experience and the Spanish experience are, of course, not identical. But there are arguably enough parallels to facilitate a comparison and enable some credible answers to the question: what if?


Each (9/11 and 11-M) was the worst terrorist attack in the history of the country, inflicting massive, unprecedented, public physical and emotional trauma.

In both countries the attacks were brought about primarily by foreign Islamic terrorists.

Although many more people were killed on 9/11, taking into account the relative population sizes, the numbers come much closer: the U.S. suffered roughly one death for every 95,000 Americans; Spain roughly one for every 225,000 Spaniards.

Several contrasts also come to mind.

One of the first is money: what was the budget for the Spanish legal process following 11-M and how does this figure compare to the price of the “war on terror”?

Unfortunately, expenditure figures for the 11-M trial are difficult to come by. But 2007 Spanish Ministry of Justice Budget figures are available.

The total 2007 budget for all Spanish Courts was, $1,865,239,200 (€1,295,305,000).

If we liberally assume that this gargantuan, drawn-out and complicated trial consumed 75 percent of the 2007 Spanish Courts budget and then triple that figure to include the costs of the police investigation and appeals, then round up generously we get a theoretical budget for the entire process of $6 billion: almost certainly much higher than the actual expenditure.

What about the “war on terror,” soon to begin its eighth year?

A recent U.S. Government (Congressional Research Service) estimate places the costs of the “war on terror” to the end of Fiscal Year 2009 (Sept. 30, 2009) at $857 billion, or 142 times an upper-end estimate of the cost of the Spanish trial.

The Spanish judicial process, from start to finish, is likely to have cost considerably less than seven-tenths of one percent of the price of the “war on terror.”

That is, in the unlikely event the “war on terror” ends by Sept. 30, 2009.

Human Costs

It’s important to remember that the Congressional Research Service figure does not include what is undoubtedly the largest portion of the total costs of the “war on terror”: the price of repairing the harm done to the people, economy and infrastructure of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Money was not the only price Spain paid for the investigation of the crimes of 11-M. A Spanish Special Forces Police Officer died along with the seven suspected terrorists during the April 3, 2004, assault on the apartment building in Leganes, a southern suburb of Madrid.

So, eight deaths were directly related to the investigation of the crimes of 11-M.

As tragic as this figure may be, compared to the deaths which the “war on terror” has wrought, it is small indeed.

The “war on terror” casualty figures are stunning by comparison. They include:

  • 86,724–94,622 documented Iraqi civilian deaths from violence as of June 9, 2008, according to Iraq Body Count. (Other estimates put the total Iraq death toll in the hundreds of thousands, possibly over 1 million.)
  • 4,464 “Coalition of the Willing” deaths, including 4,150 Americans, according to Iraq Coalition Casualty count, as of Aug. 31, 2008.
  • Thousands of Afghan civilian deaths and 939 Coalition deaths in Afghanistan, including 578 U.S. deaths, as of Sept. 1, 2008.

The Iraq Body Count’s Web site states: “Gaps in recording and reporting suggest that even our highest totals to date may be missing many civilian deaths from violence.”

The IBC figure is significantly lower than estimates based on studies by other organizations including the Iraqi Ministry of Health, Opinion Research Business, and The Lancet Medical Journal.

Another cost to the unfortunate people on the receiving end of the “war on terror” has been loss of home.

The scale of Iraqi refugee numbers is catastrophic: about five million have fled their homes. Around one million were displaced prior to 2003. As of the end of 2007 there were about 2.3 million Iraqi refugees living outside the country, according to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees.

In addition, within Iraq, as of March 2008 there were 2,778,000 internal refugees, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

The 2002 population of Iraq was 24 million. Since then, because of the “war on terror,” one out of every six Iraqis has lost his or her home.

Other costs the citizens of Iraq have borne due to the “war on terror” have yet to be fully quantified, and may never be. Among these are the damage which five-and-a-half years of war has done to the Iraqi economy, infrastructure, health care (including long-term health care to those injured in the war), education and the environment: all of it aggravated by the loss of manpower and talent embodied in the refugee crisis.

Other costs of the “war on terror” must include losses suffered by other members of the Coalition of the Willing (including Spain, which lost 11 soldiers before pulling their troops out of Iraq within three months of 11-M).

There are also enormous expenses incurred by countries hosting refugees, especially Jordan and Syria, and by international agencies such as the United Nations providing aid to refugees.

In short, the magnitude of the human and financial expenditure which the Bush administration has so far incurred and with which it has burdened others in the
effort to resolve the crimes of 9/11 is, for all practical purposes, incalculable and approaches the unimaginable.

It makes the loss of eight lives and the theoretical $6 billion involved in the Spanish resolution of the crimes of 11-M look like a relatively minor sacrifice.

Different Approaches

Why was the Spanish approach so fundamentally different from the American approach? Why did Spain turn to the courts as opposed to the military?

I asked Spaniards and a New Zealand journalist who recently lived and worked for two years in Spain for their perspectives.

One reason for the difference: Spain, sadly, has a much broader experience with terrorism than the U.S., primarily with the Basque Separatist Organization ETA. ETA has, over the course of 40 years, killed over 800 people.
Spanish diplomat Emilio Perez de Agreda pointed out that in Spain terrorism has always been a police matter, rather than military, even under dictator Francisco Franco.

It was natural that this tradition would determine the Spanish response to the Madrid railway bombings.

Much of the answer seems to be based, as well, in a general Spanish aversion to war. There is a long history of bloody armed conflict on Spanish soil going back to Napoleon’s 1808 invasion of Spain and continuing through the brutal Civil War of 1936-39.

Julio Valenzuela (not his real name), a professional from Valencia in his 40s, feels that first-hand experience with the horrors of war at home has helped foster the Spanish tradition of neutrality.

He points out that the last Spanish international war was with the U.S. in 1898, over a century ago.

Legality was a theme stressed by Mr. Agreda, who holds a degree in law. Just as the horrors of war caused Spain to turn away from war, so the long years of Franco’s ultra-conservative one-man rule (1936-1975) directly influenced the Spanish evolution into a highly progressive state with a healthy respect for the rule of law.

Unlike Desert Storm in 1991, in which Spain participated, the invasion of Iraq was not sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council. The overwhelming majority of the Spanish public viewed the war as illegal. Despite this, President Aznar committed Spanish troops to the Coalition of the Willing.

The Madrid commuter trains were attacked three days before the national election of March 14, 2004. The Socialist Party, which had campaigned on a promise to bring home Spanish troops from Iraq, won an upset victory. In less than three months, Spain had withdrawn from the “war on terror.”

As Agreda sees it, “The country has become so progressive there’s no way it could have reacted to 11-M similar to the U.S. reaction to 9/11” The culture would not allow it.

Speaking of the “war on terror,” as far as Spain is concerned, he said simply: “There is no war.”

Journalist Jeremy Rose agreed: after 11-M the Socialist government “could have gone nutty” with a rise in reactionary anti-immigration populism. Instead, “Spain went the other way at the very time you might have expected a backlash,” he said.

Another factor mentioned by both Agreda and Valenzuela was the long history of Spanish coexistence, cooperation and friendship with Arabs and Arab countries.

This goes back to 711 and the Moorish invasion and occupation of much of the Iberian peninsula.

There ensued long periods of peaceful cohabitation between Christians, Moslems and Jews, although as Rose pointed out, this coexistence was interrupted by periods of conflict and even ethnic cleansing: in particular, the Spanish Inquisition.

During the Franco years, when Spain was generally treated by the rest of Europe as a pariah state, Arab and Latin American countries were among Spain’s closest friends.

Despite, or perhaps because of the “war on terror,” Spain manifested a desire to maintain ties of friendship with the Islamic world. This was manifested by the formation of the Alliance of Civilizations, Rose said.

On Sept. 21, 2004, only six months after the Madrid bombings, President Zapatero and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cofounded the Alliance of Civilizations.

Backed by the United Nations, the mission of the Alliance is “to improve understanding and cooperative relations among nations and peoples across cultures and religions and, in the process, to help counter the forces that fuel polarization and extremism.”

Rating the Strategies

It is fair to ask how effective each approach, the Spanish and the American, has been.

Reading through reports of the 11-M trial verdicts and the reactions of victims and their relatives, it is clear some were unhappy.

Although the majority of suspects are now serving time, 12 were released. This perceived high rate of release was an injustice, according to some interested parties and to some international observers, as was perceived leniency in sentencing. For these people the trial has not brought proper closure.

A smaller group believes ETA was involved in the bombings and that the government purposely overlooked this for political advantage.

Others have voiced satisfaction and believe justice was done.

It is not unusual for criminal trials to end leaving victims and others with a sense of justice denied or only partially fulfilled. This was probably inevitable in a case of this size and complexity.

But most of the criticisms focus on perceived flaws in the investigation, trial and/or appeals process, while some accuse the government of bias.

The possibility that Spain might have done better through war does not appear to be a part of the Spanish public discourse.

“Probably most Spaniards think that if Spain had gone to war Spain would be less safe,” Agreda said.

The legal process is complete. As a society, Spain seems to have resolved the crimes of 11-M enough to be able to move on.

Valenzuela said: “PP (the Popular Party who were voted out of office after 11-M) is not talking anymore about it, and have sidelined the hardliners…I think in Spain most people consider it a past thing.”

How effective has the monumentally costly and seemingly unending “war on terror” been in addressing and resolving the crimes of 9/11?

After seven years, two wars, possibly hundreds of thousands of deaths, and costs approaching $1 trillion, Osama bin Laden is still at large.

However, on Aug. 6, in its first trial, the U.S. military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay convicted Salim Hamdan, bin Laden’s driver, on five counts of supporting terrorism. Hamdan, who has already spent five years in prison waiting for his trial, was acquitted of conspiring to aid the al-Qaeda effort to attack the United States.

Many allege Hamdan was denied basic rights by the U.S. government. The verdict will be appealed.

Here’s how Army Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, a former Guantanamo official who has since become critical of the legal process, viewed the choice of Hamdan for the tribunal’s first trial, as reported in the Associated Press:

"We can only trust that the next subjects ... will include cooks, tailors, and cobblers without whose support terrorist leaders would be left unfed, unclothed, and unshod, and therefore rendered incapable of planning or executing their attacks."

Recently the prestigious Rand Institute, hardly known for left-wing speculation, published a report partially funded by the U.S. Defense Department: How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qa’ida by Seth G. Jones and Martin C. Libicki.

In their report, Jones and Libicki directly address the question of the efficacy of the “war on terror.” Citing an increase in quantity of al-Qaeda terrorist attacks over a larger geographical area as well as the evolution of al-Qaeda organizational structure since 9/11, they conclude that the U.S. approach to ending terror has been unsuccessful.

The report calls for a fundamental shift in emphasis to police work and intelligence as the primary tools for countering terror. Jones and Libicki advocate the use of American military force only sparingly if at all.

Based on the experience of the previous seven years they conclude that direct American combat engagement in the Muslim world in the effort to end terrorism is actually more likely to encourage terrorism.

The foundation of the American experiment in democracy is 220 years of dedication to the rule of law. The calamities of 9/11 shook that foundation severely enough to rupture it.

Since then Spain, a country only a generation removed from dictatorship, has given the world a lesson in the very practical benefits of dedication to the rule of law in the most trying of circumstances.

It is likely another opportunity for war will present itself. When this happens perhaps Americans will take into account the tragic and criminal waste embodied in the “war on terror” as well as the promise of the living example provided by Spain and choose a wiser course.