Monday, September 21, 2009

UN investigators make strong case for Gaza war crimes

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By Thalif Deen

A four-member United Nations fact-finding mission, which has just concluded an investigation into last year's brutal conflict in Gaza, makes a strong case for war crimes charges against Israel for its unrelenting 22-day military attacks on Palestinians, largely civilians, including women and children.

The charges stem mostly from serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

The UN team, lead by Justice Richard Goldstone, says there is also evidence that Palestinian armed groups, specifically Hamas, committed war crimes in their repeated mortar attacks on civilians on southern Israel.

But its strongest indictment is against the state of Israel which is accused of imposing a blockade on Gaza "amounting to collective punishment" carried out as part of a "systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip."

The number of Palestinians killed during the conflict is estimated at between 1,387 and 1,417, compared with four Israeli fatal casualties in southern Israel and nine soldiers killed during the fighting, four of whom died as a result of friendly fire.

During the ruthless military operation, code-named "Operation Cast Lead," the Israelis destroyed houses, factories, wells, schools, hospitals, police stations and other public buildings.

"Families are still living amid the rubble of their former homes after the attacks ended, as reconstruction has been impossible due to the continuing blockade [of Gaza by Israel]," says the 574-page report released Tuesday.

The study points out that Israeli acts that deprive Palestinians of their means of subsistence, employment, housing, water -- and also denying their freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country -- could lead a competent court to find that the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity, has been committed.

At a press conference Tuesday, Goldstone told reporters the Israeli government had not carried out any credible investigations into alleged violations.

He said the UN team has recommended that the 15-member Security Council require Israel to report to it, within the next six months, on investigations and prosecutions it should carry out with regard to the violations cited in the report.

The team has also recommended that the Security Council should set up its own body of independent experts to report to it on the progress of the Israeli investigations and prosecutions.

"If the expert's reports do not indicate within six months that good faith, independent proceedings are taking place, the Security Council should refer the situation in Gaza to the Prosecutor in the International Criminal Court (ICC)."

The team has also recommended that the same expert body report to the Security Council on proceedings undertaken by the relevant Gaza authorities with regard to the crimes committed by the Palestinian side.

If there is no good faith and independent proceedings, the Council should refer this as well to the ICC prosecutor.

Asked whether a highly partisan Security Council will agree to the proposals, Goldstone told reporters: "I would be disappointed if any permanent member of the Security Council [the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia] would object to such a resolution."

Nadia Hijab, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Palestine Studies, told IPS that the findings of the Goldstone report "will send shivers up many spines."

"It is going to be hard to ignore because of the seriousness of its accusations, the breadth of its coverage, and its even-handedness," she added.

Hijab said the UN team also appears to have found a way to give its recommendations some teeth, with its call on the Security Council to refer the situation to the ICC -- if Israel as well as Hamas do not undertake meaningful investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for war crimes that are independently monitored.

While the report is even-handed in assigning responsibility, she pointed out, Israel is clearly assigned far greater responsibility.

"This recognizes its role as a United Nations member state and signatory to international conventions as well as the enormity of the damage it inflicted," Hijab said.

For example, she said, the Goldstone team has recommended that the 192-member General Assembly set up an escrow fund so that Israel can compensate the Palestinians of Gaza.

"The R-word of reparations is bad news for Israel and could set a precedent for future claims," she added.

In addition, the report addresses the numerous human rights violations by Israel during its 42-year occupation, calling on it to end its siege of Gaza, lift restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, free Palestinian prisoners highlighting child prisoners and legislative council members, among others.

"We may be witnessing the beginning of the end of the era of impunity," said Hijab.

Donatella Rovera, who headed Amnesty International's own investigation into the conflict, said: "The responsibility now lies with the international community, notably the UN Security Council, as the UN's most powerful body, to take decisive action to ensure accountability for the perpetrators and justice for the victims."

She concurred with the recommendation that the Security Council refer the findings to the ICC prosecutor, if Israel and Hamas do not carry out credible investigations within a set, limited period.

The findings in the UN report are consistent with those of Amnesty International's own field investigation into the 22-day conflict.

Most of the Palestinians killed by Israeli forces were unarmed civilians, including some 300 children, AI said, in a statement released Tuesday.

Palestinian rocket attacks killed three Israeli civilians and six soldiers (four other soldiers were killed by their own side in friendly fire incidents).

"Israeli forces also carried out wanton and wholesale destruction in Gaza, leaving entire neighborhoods in ruin, and used Palestinians as human shields," the London-based organization said.

Besides Goldstone, a former prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals of the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the UN team comprised Christine Chinkin, professor of international law at the London School of Economics and Political Science; Hina Jilani, advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and a member of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur; and Colonel Desmond Travers, a former officer in Ireland's Defense Forces and a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for International Criminal Investigations.

Globalization Goes Bankrupt

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By Chris Hedges

The rage of the disposed is fracturing the country, dividing it into camps that are unmoored from the political mainstream. Movements are building on the ends of the political spectrum that have lost faith in the mechanisms of democratic change. You can’t blame them. But unless we on the left move quickly, this rage will be captured by a virulent and racist right wing, one that seeks a disturbing proto-fascism.
Every day counts. Every deferral of protest hurts. We should, if we have the time and the ability, make our way to Pittsburgh for the meeting of the G-20 this week rather than do what the power elite is hoping we will do—stay home. Complacency comes at a horrible price.
“The leaders of the G-20 are meeting to try and salvage their power and money after everything that has gone wrong,” said Benedicto Martinez Orozco, co-president of the Mexican Frente Autentico del Trabajo (FAT), who is in Pittsburgh for the protests. “This is what this meeting is about.”
The draconian security measures put in place to silence dissent in Pittsburgh are disproportionate to any actual security concern. They are a response not to a real threat, but to the fear gripping the established centers of power. The power elite grasps, even if we do not, the massive fraud and theft being undertaken to save a criminal class on Wall Street and international speculators of the kinds who were executed in other periods of human history. They know the awful cost this plundering of state treasuries will impose on workers, who will become a permanent underclass. And they also know that once this is clear to the rest of us, rebellion will no longer be a foreign concept.
The delegates to the G-20, the gathering of the world’s wealthiest nations, will consequently be protected by a National Guard combat battalion, recently returned from Iraq. The battalion will shut down the area around the city center, man checkpoints and patrol the streets in combat gear. Pittsburgh has augmented the city’s police force of 1,000 with an additional 3,000 officers. Helicopters have begun to buzz gatherings in city parks, buses driven to Pittsburgh to provide food to protesters have been impounded, activists have been detained, and permits to camp in the city parks have been denied. Web sites belonging to resistance groups have been hacked and trashed, and many groups suspect that they have been infiltrated and that their phones and e-mail accounts are being monitored.
Larry Holmes, an organizer from New York City, stood outside a tent encampment on land owned by the Monumental Baptist Church in the city’s Hill District. He is one of the leaders of the Bail Out the People Movement. Holmes, a longtime labor activist, on Sunday led a march on the convention center by unemployed people calling for jobs. He will coordinate more protests during the week.
“It is de facto martial law,” he said, “and the real effort to subvert the work of those protesting has yet to begin. But voting only gets you so far. There are often not many choices in an election. When you build democratic movements around the war or unemployment you get a more authentic expression of democracy. It is more organic. It makes a difference. History has taught us this.”
Our global economy, like our political system, has been hijacked by a tiny oligarchy, composed mostly of wealthy white men who serve corporations. They have pledged or raised a staggering $18 trillion, looted largely from state treasuries, to prop up banks and other financial institutions that engaged in suicidal acts of speculation and ruined the world economy. They have formulated trade deals so corporations can speculate across borders with currency, food and natural resources even as, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, 1.02 billion people on the planet struggle with hunger. Globalization has obliterated the ability of many poor countries to protect food staples such as corn, rice, beans and wheat with subsidies or taxes on imported staples. The abolishment of these protections has permitted the giant mechanized farms to wipe out tens of millions of small farmers—2 million in Mexico alone—bankrupting many and driving them off their land. Those who could once feed themselves can no longer find enough food, and the wealthiest governments use institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization like pit bulls to establish economic supremacy. There is little that most governments seem able to do to fight back.
But the game is up. The utopian dreams of globalization have been exposed as a sham. Force is all the elite have left. We are living through one of civilization’s great seismic reversals. The ideology of globalization, like all utopias that are sold as inevitable and irreversible, has become a farce. The power elite, perplexed and confused, cling to the disastrous principles of globalization and its outdated language to mask the political and economic vacuum before us. The absurd idea that the marketplace alone should determine economic and political constructs caused the crisis. It led the G-20 to sacrifice other areas of human importance—from working conditions, to taxation, to child labor, to hunger, to health and pollution—on the altar of free trade. It left the world’s poor worse off and the United States with the largest deficits in human history. Globalization has become an excuse to ignore the mess. It has left a mediocre elite desperately trying to save a system that cannot be saved and, more important, trying to save itself. “Speculation,” then-President Jacques Chirac of France once warned, “is the AIDS of our economies.” We have reached the terminal stage.
“Each of Globalization’s strengths has somehow turned out to have an opposing meaning,” John Ralston Saul wrote in “The Collapse of Globalism.” “The lowering of national residency requirements for corporations has morphed into a tool for massive tax evasion. The idea of a global economic system mysteriously made local poverty seem unreal, even normal. The decline of the middle class—the very basis of democracy—seemed to be just one of those things that happen, unfortunate but inevitable. That the working class and the lower middle class, even parts of the middle class, could only survive with more than one job per person seemed to be expected punishment for not keeping up. The contrast between unprecedented bonuses for mere managers at the top and the four-job families below them seemed inevitable in a globalized world. For two decades an elite consensus insisted that unsustainable third-world debts could not be put aside in a sort of bad debt reserve without betraying Globalism’s essential principles and moral obligations, which included an unwavering respect for the sanctity of international contracts. It took the same people about two weeks to abandon sanctity and propose bad debt banks for their own far larger debts in 2009.”
The institutions that once provided alternative sources of power, including the press, government, agencies of religion, universities and labor unions, have proved morally bankrupt. They no longer provide a space for voices of moral autonomy. No one will save us now but ourselves.
“The best thing that happened to the Establishment is the election of a black president,” Holmes said. “It will contain people for a given period of time, but time is running out. Suppose something else happens? Suppose another straw breaks? What happens when there is a credit card crisis or a collapse in commercial real estate? The financial system is very, very fragile. The legs are being kicked out from underneath it.”
“Obama is in trouble,” Holmes went on. “The economic crisis is a structural crisis. The recovery is only a recovery for Wall Street. It can’t be sustained, and Obama will be blamed for it. He is doing everything Wall Street demands. But this will be a dead end. It is a prescription for disaster, not only for Obama but the Democratic Party. It is only groups like ours that provide hope. If labor unions will get off their ass and stop focusing on narrow legislation for their members, if they will go back to being social unions that embrace broad causes, we have a chance of effecting change. If this does not happen it will be a right-wing disaster.”

The Economy Is A Lie, Too

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By Paul Craig Roberts

Americans cannot get any truth out of their government about anything, the economy included. Americans are being driven into the ground economically, with one million school children now homeless, while Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke announces that the recession is over.
The spin that masquerades as news is becoming more delusional. Consumer spending is 70% of the US economy. It is the driving force, and it has been shut down. Except for the super rich, there has been no growth in consumer incomes in the 21st century. Statistician John Williams of reports that real household income has never recovered its pre-2001 peak.
The US economy has been kept going by substituting growth in consumer debt for growth in consumer income. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan encouraged consumer debt with low interest rates. The low interest rates pushed up home prices, enabling Americans to refinance their homes and spend the equity. Credit cards were maxed out in expectations of rising real estate and equity values to pay the accumulated debt. The binge was halted when the real estate and equity bubbles burst.
As consumers no longer can expand their indebtedness and their incomes are not rising, there is no basis for a growing consumer economy. Indeed, statistics indicate that consumers are paying down debt in their efforts to survive financially. In an economy in which the consumer is the driving force, that is bad news.
The banks, now investment banks thanks to greed-driven deregulation that repealed the learned lessons of the past, were even more reckless than consumers and took speculative leverage to new heights. At the urging of Larry Summers and Goldman Sachs’ CEO Henry Paulson, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Bush administration went along with removing restrictions on debt leverage.
When the bubble burst, the extraordinary leverage threatened the financial system with collapse. The US Treasury and the Federal Reserve stepped forward with no one knows how many trillions of dollars to “save the financial system,” which, of course, meant to save the greed-driven financial institutions that had caused the economic crisis that dispossessed ordinary Americans of half of their life savings.
The consumer has been chastened, but not the banks. Refreshed with the TARP $700 billion and the Federal Reserve’s expanded balance sheet, banks are again behaving like hedge funds. Leveraged speculation is producing another bubble with the current stock market rally, which is not a sign of economic recovery but is the final savaging of Americans’ wealth by a few investment banks and their Washington friends. Goldman Sachs, rolling in profits, announced six figure bonuses to employees.
The rest of America is suffering terribly.
The unemployment rate, as reported, is a fiction and has been since the Clinton administration. The unemployment rate does not include jobless Americans who have been unemployed for more than a year and have given up on finding work. The reported 10% unemployment rate is understated by the millions of Americans who are suffering long-term unemployment and are no longer counted as unemployed. As each month passes, unemployed Americans drop off the unemployment role due to nothing except the passing of time.
The inflation rate, especially “core inflation,” is another fiction. “Core inflation” does not include food and energy, two of Americans’ biggest budget items. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) assumes, ever since the Boskin Commission during the Clinton administration, that if prices of items go up consumers substitute cheaper items. This is certainly the case, but this way of measuring inflation means that the CPI is no longer comparable to past years, because the basket of goods in the index is variable.
The Boskin Commission’s CPI, by lowering the measured rate of inflation, raises the real GDP growth rate. The result of the statistical manipulation is an understated inflation rate, thus eroding the real value of Social Security income, and an overstated growth rate. Statistical manipulation cloaks a declining standard of living.
In bygone days of American prosperity, American incomes rose with productivity. It was the real growth in American incomes that propelled the US economy.
In today’s America, the only incomes that rise are in the financial sector that risks the country’s future on excessive leverage and in the corporate world that substitutes foreign for American labor. Under the compensation rules and emphasis on shareholder earnings that hold sway in the US today, corporate executives maximize earnings and their compensation by minimizing the employment of Americans.
Try to find some acknowledgement of this in the “mainstream media,” or among economists, who suck up to the offshoring corporations for grants.
The worst part of the decline is yet to come. Bank failures and home foreclosures are yet to peak. The commercial real estate bust is yet to hit. The dollar crisis is building.
When it hits, interest rates will rise dramatically as the US struggles to finance its massive budget and trade deficits while the rest of the world tries to escape a depreciating dollar.
Since the spring of this year, the value of the US dollar has collapsed against every currency except those pegged to it. The Swiss franc has risen 14% against the dollar. Every hard currency from the Canadian dollar to the Euro and UK pound has risen at least 13 % against the US dollar since April 2009. The Japanese yen is not far behind, and the Brazilian real has risen 25% against the almighty US dollar. Even the Russian ruble has risen 13% against the US dollar.
What sort of recovery is it when the safest investment is to bet against the US dollar?
The American household of my day, in which the husband worked and the wife provided household services and raised the children, scarcely exists today. Most, if not all, members of a household have to work in order to pay the bills. However, the jobs are disappearing, even the part-time ones.
If measured according to the methodology used when I was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, the unemployment rate today in the US is above 20%. Moreover, there is no obvious way of reducing it. There are no factories, with work forces temporarily laid off by high interest rates, waiting for a lower interest rate policy to call their workforces back into production.
The work has been moved abroad. In the bygone days of American prosperity, CEOs were inculcated with the view that they had equal responsibilities to customers, employees, and shareholders. This view has been exterminated. Pushed by Wall Street and the threat of takeovers promising “enhanced shareholder value,” and incentivized by “performance pay,” CEOs use every means to substitute cheaper foreign employees for Americans .
Despite 20% unemployment and
cum laude engineering graduates who cannot find jobs or even job interviews, Congress continues to support 65,000 annual H-1B work visas for foreigners.
In the midst of the highest unemployment since the Great Depression what kind of a fool do you need to be to think that there is a shortage of qualified US workers?

CIA Torturers Running Scared

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By Ray McGovern

For the CIA supervisors and operatives responsible for torture, the chickens are coming home to roost; that is, if President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder mean it when they say no one is above the law – and if they don’t fall victim to brazen intimidation.

Unable to prevent Holder from starting an investigation of torture and other war crimes that implicate CIA officials past and present, those same CIA officials, together with what those in the intelligence trade call “agents of influence” in the media, are pulling out all the stops to quash the Justice Department’s preliminary investigation.

In what should be seen as a bizarre twist, seven CIA directors — including three who are themselves implicated in planning and conducting torture and assassination — have asked the President to call off Holder.

Please, tell me how could the whole thing be more transparent?

The most vulnerable of the Gang of Seven, George Tenet, is not the brightest star in the heavens, but even he was able to figure out years ago that he and his accomplices might end up having to pay a heavy price for violating international and U.S. criminal law.

In his memoir, At the Center of the Storm, Tenet notes that what the CIA needed were “the right authorities” and policy determination to do the bidding of President George W. Bush:

“Sure, it was a risky proposition when you looked at it from a policy maker’s point of view. We were asking for and we would be given as many authorities as CIA had ever had. Things could blow up. People, me among them, could end up spending some of the worst days of our lives justifying before congressional overseers our new freedom to act.” (p. 178)

Tenet and his masters assumed, correctly, that given the mood of the times and the lack of spine among lawmakers, congressional “overseers” would relax into their accustomed role as congressional overlookers.

Unfortunately for him, Tenet seems to have confined his concern at the time to the invertebrates in Congress, not anticipating a rejuvenated Justice Department that might take its role in enforcing the law seriously.

Tenet proudly quotes his former counterterrorism chief, Cofer Black (now a senior official at Blackwater): “As Cofer Black later told Congress, ‘The gloves came off that day.’” That day was Sept. 17, 2001, when “the president approved our recommendations and provided us broad authorities to engage al-Qa’ida.” (p. 208)

Presumably, it was not lost on Tenet that no lawmaker dared ask exactly what Cofer Black meant when he said “the gloves came off.” Had they thought to ask Richard Clarke, former director of the counterterrorist operation at the White House, he could have told them what he wrote in his book, Against All Enemies.

Clarke describes a meeting in which he took part with President George W. Bush in the White House bunker just minutes after Bush’s TV address to the nation on the evening of 9/11.

When the subject of international law was raised, Clarke writes that the president responded vehemently: “I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.” [p. 24]

It only took Bush six days to grant the CIA the “broad authorities” the agency had recommended.

It then took White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, Vice President Dick Cheney’s lawyer David Addington, and William J. Haynes II, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s lawyer, four more months to advise the president formally that, by fiat, he could ignore the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war.

This gang of lawyers so advised at the turn of 2001-2002, beating down objections by William Howard Taft IV, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s lawyer. Bush chose to follow the dubious advice of imaginative lawyers in his and Dick Cheney’s employ; namely, that 9/11 ushered in a “new paradigm” rendering the Geneva protections “quaint” and “obsolete.”

Prosecutorial Warning

Addington and Gonzales did take care to warn the president, by memorandum of Jan. 25, 2002, of the risk of criminal prosecution under 18 U.S.C. 2441, the War Crimes Act of 1996. Their memo said:

“That statute, enacted in 1996, prohibits the commission of a ‘war crime’ by or against a U.S. person, including U.S. officials. ‘War crime’…is defined to include any grave breach of the GPW [Geneva] or any violation of Article 3 thereof (such as outrages against personal dignity)…Punishments for violations of Section 2441 include the death penalty….

“…it is difficult to predict the motives of prosecutors or independent counsels who may in the future decide to pursue unwarranted charges based on Section 2441. Your determination [that Geneva does not apply] would create a reasonable basis in law that Section 2441 does not apply, which would provide a solid defense to any future prosecution.”

With that kind of pre-ordered reassurance, President Bush issued a two-page executive directive in which he states, “I accept the legal conclusion of the Department of Justice and determine that common Article 3 of Geneva does not apply to either al Qaeda or Taliban detainees…”

This is the smoking gun on Bush’s key role in the subsequent torture of “war on terror” prisoners. The Senate Armed Services Committee issued a report last December stating that that Feb. 7 memorandum “opened the door” to abusive interrogation practices.

Unhappily for Bush and those who carried out his instructions, on June 29, 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Geneva DOES apply to al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees.

One senior Bush administration official is reported to have gone quite pale at the time, when Justice Anthony M. Kennedy raised the ante, warning that "violations of Common Article 3 are considered 'war crimes,' punishable as federal offenses."

What about U.S. criminal law? Despite the almost laughable attempts by lawyers like Addington and John Yoo to get around the War Crimes Act by advising that only the kind of pain accompanying major organ failure or death can be considered torture, those involved are now in a cold sweat — the more so, since those dubious opinions have now been publicly released.

Evidence of Torture

In releasing the sordid, torture-approving memoranda written by Justice Department lawyers and a critical “Special Review” by the CIA’s own horse’s-mouth Inspector General, Obama and Holder had to face down very strong pressure from those with the most to lose — former CIA directors and the functionaries (some of them in senior CIA positions to this very day) who were responsible for seeing to it that “the gloves came off.”

Now, out in the public domain is all the evidence needed to show that war crimes were committed — “authorized” as legal by Justice Department Mafia-type lawyers recruited for that express purpose — but war crimes nonetheless.

Torture, kidnapping, illegal detention — not to mention blatant violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) outlawing eavesdropping on Americans without a court warrant.

The stakes are incredibly high. No wonder the CIA and its “agents of influence” (see Saturday’s lead story in the Washington Post) are going all out.

According to the story, seven former CIA directors wrote a letter to Obama on Sept. 18 asking him to “reverse Attorney General Holder’s August 24 decision to re-open the criminal investigation of CIA interrogations that took place following the attacks of September 11.”

This is the saddest commentary on CIA covert action operatives’ disdain for the law since their predecessors loudly applauded former Director Richard Helms for lying to Congress about the CIA role in the overthrow of Salvador Allende on 9/11/73.

The largest CIA cafeteria was bulging with welcoming supporters of Helms, when the court got finished with him. They then took up a collection on the spot to pay the fine the court had imposed after he was allowed to plead nolo contendere.

Among the most transparent parts of the letter from the Gang of Seven is their corporate worry that “there is no reason to expect that the re-opened criminal investigation will remain narrowly focused.”

Their worry is all too real. Evidence already on the public record shows that the first three listed – Michael Hayden, Porter Goss and George Tenet – could readily be indicted for crimes under U.S. and international law, including:

--Illegal eavesdropping by the National Security Agency (Hayden was NSA director when he ordered his employees to violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires warrants from a special court before wiretaps are undertaken.)

--assassination planning without notification to Congress (Goss, whose uncommonly abrupt departure in May 2006 was never looked into by the Fawning Corporate Media [FCM]); and Tenet (who turned out to be right about at least one thing — that “things could blow up.”)

The other “distinguished signatories” were:

John Deutch, arrogant to the point of criminality, Deutch disregarded the most elementary rules governing protection of classified information, and had to be given a last-minute pardon by President Bill Clinton.

R. James Woolsey, the man who outdid himself in trying to tie Saddam Hussein to 9/11, and in pushing into the limelight spurious intelligence from the fabricator known as “Curveball.” (Remember those fictitious biological weapons labs for which Colin Powell displayed “artist renderings” to the U.N. on Feb. 5, 2003?)

William Webster, known mostly at Langley for his handsome face and his devotion to his late-afternoon matches with socialite tennis partners. (Folks like Webster should recognize that, once they have reached what my lawyer father used to call “the age of statutory senility,” they should be more careful regarding what they let themselves be dragged into.)

James R. Schlesinger, “Big Jim” launched his brief stint as CIA director by warning us CIA employees that his instructions were “to ensure that you guys do not screw Richard Nixon.” To give substance to this assertion, he told us that the White House had said he was to report to political henchman Bob Haldeman — not Henry Kissinger, the national security advisor. More recently, Schlesinger led one of the see-no-evil Defense Department “investigations” of the abuses of Abu Ghraib.

Quite a group, this Gang of Seven.

Their letter also is condescending toward President Obama: “As President you have the authority to make decisions restricting substantive interrogation… But the administration must be mindful that public disclosure about past intelligence operations can only help al-Qaeda elude US intelligence and plan future operations.”

The seven then proceed to repeat the canard alleging that such collection “have saved lives and helped protect America from further attacks.”

It reads as though Dick Cheney did their first draft. Actually, that would not be all that surprising, given his record of doing quite a lot of CIA’s drafting for eight long years.

Hold firm Holder.

Judge strikes down SEC settlement with Bank Of America over bonuses

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By Andre Damon

A US Federal Judge rejected a settlement last week between Bank of America and the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding allegations that the bank lied to its shareholders about bonuses paid to Merrill Lynch executives following the two organizations' merger at the height of the 2008 financial crisis.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) alleges that Bank of America executives failed to report that top employees at Merrill Lynch were paid $3.6 billion in bonuses shortly before Merrill was acquired by Bank of America. The proposed settlement would have Bank of America pay the US government $33 million in damages with no admission of wrongdoing.

The settlement was struck down by Jed S. Rakoff, a New York US District Court judge, who found that the settlement "does not comport with the most elementary notions of justice and morality."

The judge's sharp rebuke represents an acknowledgment that the agreement worked out between the SEC and Bank of America is a means of letting Bank of America's executives get off scot-free after illegitimately paying their cronies billions of dollars. Bonuses at Merrill Lynch were over 20 times larger than those paid to AIG, and were equivalent to over a third of the TARP money the company received.

Rackoff noted that "The parties were proposing that the management of Bank of America—having allegedly hidden from the Bank's shareholders that as much as $5.8 billion of their money would be given as bonuses to the executives of Merrill who had run that company nearly into bankruptcy—would now settle the legal consequences of their lying by paying the S.E.C. $33 million more of their shareholders' money."

The judge said he struck down the settlement because it would have let "victims of the violation pay an additional penalty for their own victimization," since it is not executives, but shareholders, who would pay the fine.

The SEC alleges that Bank of America "materially lied" to its shareholders in a November 3 proxy statement soliciting shareholder approval of the company's $50-billion takeover of Merrill Lynch. The proxy statement claimed that Merrill would not pay year-end bonuses prior to the completion of the merger, but in reality, Bank of America had already agreed to let Merrill executives take in up to $5.2 billion in additional year-end bonuses and other compensation.

In December 2008, Merrill Lynch executives awarded themselves $3.6 billion in compensation unusually early, despite the fact that their company was on the brink of collapse and had received $10 billion in federal bailout money. On January 1, 2009, the company was officially acquired by Bank of America in a process that had been in negotiation for months. Fifteen days later, Bank of America released an earnings statement showing huge losses at Merrill Lynch in the fourth quarter, prompting Bank of America to ask for additional bailout funds.

In the face of the SEC's claims, Bank of America said that the bonuses were disclosed, but in a separate filing that was not given to shareholders. The Securities and Exchange commission had declined to pursue the Bank of America executives, nominally because the misleading documents were constructed by lawyers, not the bank's executives. Rackoff denounced this argument as spurious, saying "why are the penalties not then sought from the lawyers?"

The deal is further evidence that Mary L. Schapiro, President Barack Obama's new appointee for the Securities and Exchange Commission, under whose watch the settlement was proposed in April, is running the organization no differently from her predecessors. Instead of prosecuting executives' flagrant illegality and wrongdoing, her agency supported a settlement that would merely have penalized shareholders, or more precisely, the US government itself. As the ruling notes, "To say, as the bank now does, that the $33 million does not come directly from US funds is simply to ignore the overall economics of the Bank's situation."

Rackoff observes that "the parties’ submissions, when carefully read, leave the distinct impression that the proposed Consent Judgment was a contrivance designed to provide the SEC with the facade of enforcement and the management of the Bank with a quick resolution of an embarrassing inquiry."

The ruling adds, "undoubtedly, the decision to spend this money was made even easier by the fact that the US Government provided Bank of America with a $40 billion or so ‘bail out’, of which $20 billion came after the merger...what impediment could there be to paying a mere $33 million... to get rid of a lawsuit saying that the bonuses had been concealed from the shareholders approving the merger?"

This is only one of several investigations into Merrill's staggering losses and bonus payments in 2008. Andrew Cuomo, New York state’s attorney general, is planning to file a complaint against Bank of America executives within the next two weeks, according to a source cited by the Wall Street Journal.

Rackoff's ruling presents a scathing indictment of relations between banks and their supposed regulators. In the aftermath of the greatest financial crisis in postwar history, the Securities and Exchange Commission wanted to do nothing but hush up the matter of fraudulently-derived executive compensation at Bank of America and Merrill. This is in line with the entire policy of the Obama administration, which stands opposed to any reduction in of Wall Street bonuses or any curbs on the fraudulent practices that led up to the crisis.

US assassination in Somalia

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By Brian Smith

United States commandos from the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command launched a helicopter raid last week in Somalia, close to the border with Kenya, and killed a key Islamist suspect.

Some reports state that four helicopter gunships, others say it was six, took off shortly after noon from a US Navy warship offshore. Less than an hour later the helicopters strafed a small group of four-wheel drives carrying Islamist militants linked to al Shabaab, which Washington accuses of being Al Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia.

The attack took place as the convoy sped towards the coastal town of Barawe, about 150 miles south of the capital, Mogadishu, deep in territory controlled by al Shabaab.

The primary target was Kenyan-born Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who was on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “most wanted” list and who has been hunted by Washington since 2002.

“Our security intelligence reports confirm that Nabhan was killed,” stated Somali official Abdi Fitah Shawey.

Several trucks, including a Land Cruiser carrying Nabhan and other senior militants, were hit by commandos firing machineguns and automatic weapons. Two of the helicopters landed and there was a brief fire fight in which nine militants were killed, according to al Shabaab. Troops jumped from the helicopters, inspected the wreckage and seized the body of Nabhan and at least one other militant, along with two other injured militants, before flying off.

Senior US officials, on condition of anonymity, confirmed that President Obama had signed off on the operation.

Security sources in Kenya believe that US commanders would have received specific and urgent intelligence that Nabhan was on the move, and a US adviser concurred: “This approach was, ‘Let’s do it very quickly, very swiftly and confirm he’s gone,’” he said.

The overwhelming firepower used is demonstrated by the comments of US sources. “These young fighters do not have the same skills as their colleagues in Afghanistan or elsewhere when it comes to foreign air strikes,” a government source told Reuters. “They are in confusion now.”

Some locals reported that troops involved in the operation in Barawe had French flags on their uniforms, which France denied. France, like the US, has a large military base in neighbouring Djibouti.

Nabhan was linked by Washington to the 2002 truck bombing of an Israeli-run hotel in Kenya in which 15 people died, and was also alleged to have been involved in an attempt to bring down an airplane, carrying mostly Israeli tourists, with a rocket-propelled grenade as it was taking off from Kenya’s Mombasa airport later the same day.

The Kenyan authorities, who work closely with Washington, also regard Nabhan as a suspect in the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 that killed 229 people. The US accused Nabhan of running Al Qaeda training camps in Somalia for local and foreign fighters.

Al Shabaab has vowed to retaliate.

Rashid Abdi, a Somalia analyst at the International Crisis Group, commented, “A backlash in Somalia is bound to happen, but what is more worrying is what kind of retaliation we might see against Western targets in the Horn of Africa region.”

The Obama administration claims there is a growing Al Qaeda influence in the Horn of Africa, using this supposed link to justify providing greater military and economic support for the puppet Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) against insurgents such as al Shabaab, who along with allied Islamist militias now control the bulk of the country.

During her Africa tour last month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Somali president Sheikh Sharif Ahmed and promised him support to combat al Shabaab, in addition to the 40 tons of arms and ammunition sent to Sharif’s government in June.

The US military claims that Somalia is set to become the new base for Al Qaeda leaders to spread mayhem in Africa, to justify the build-up of US warships and Special Forces in a geo-politically strategic and oil-rich area of the globe. But there is little evidence of Al Qaeda involvement in Somalia, where the insurgency is largely home grown and is the result of decades of US intervention.

The primary destabilising force in the Horn of Africa in general and Somalia in particular is the US. The explosive spread of militarism is rooted in the deepening crisis of US capitalism. As the economic foundations of the United States claim to global hegemony weaken, Washington is driven to ever greater reliance on its residual military superiority. Somalia provides a case study in the immense destruction and human suffering produced by this policy.

US ships permanently patrol the Gulf of Aden off the Horn of Africa, one of the world’s major sea lanes allowing access to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. The US seeks to dominate the resources, trade and seaways of the region at the expense of all its imperialist rivals. China’s presence, whose interests in the region increased in recent years, has complicated the picture. The US, which has a long-established base in the former French colony of Djibouti, does not intend to allow China to challenge its control of this strategic chokepoint in world trade.

US actions in Somalia over several decades have left the country a chaotic, lawless hellhole, where about 1 million people are internally displaced and around 3 million rely on food aid. The lack of a functioning government acceptable to the population has forced many to turn to the Islamists for some semblance of stability and order, however brutal. The US administration has scant regard for the suffering it has unleashed and regards Somalia as merely another theatre in its phoney “war on terror.”

Nabhan’s execution by US forces will further weaken the credibility of the TFG and exacerbate factional infighting. Sharif, a “moderate” Islamist, was elected in January in an attempt to forge a coalition between secular and Islamist political factions, but is regarded as a traitor by his former comrades in the Union of Islamic Courts, and with suspicion by his former foes.

The US has carried out a series of missile raids aimed at killing senior Islamists in recent years. In May 2008, US warplanes killed the leader of al-Shabaab Aden Hashi Ayro, in an attack in Dusamareb in central Somalia.

They also attempted but failed to kill Nabhan and another Islamist, Hassan Turki, in March last year when missiles were fired at Dobley in southern Somalia in a pre-dawn attack, killing at least three women and three children and wounding scores more. Witnesses said that at least three missiles struck the town, north of the Kenyan border.

In June 2007 the US navy launched missile strikes on the port of Baar Gaal and surrounding areas in Puntland in the north of Somalia in pursuit of three suspects involved in the 1998 Kenyan and Tanzanian embassy bombings, destroying farms and flattening hilltops. They made the unlikely claim that only militant Islamists were killed, including eight foreign militants who were said to be from the US, Britain, Eritrea, Sweden and Yemen.

In January 2007 the US launched two air strikes, one on Hayi, 30 miles from Afmadow near the Kenyan border which killed 31 civilians, including two newlyweds, and the other on a remote island 155 miles away, which involved a US Air Force AC-130 gunship launched from the US base in Djibouti. Both were attempts to kill Islamists allegedly linked to the embassy bombings.

The highly targeted nature of this latest attack demonstrates a change in US military intervention in Somalia, believes Peter Pham, senior fellow and director of the Africa Project at the National Committee on American Foreign Policy in New York. “This marks an evolution in US operational and intelligence capabilities,” he said.

Somalia can be seen as a model for US strategy in the region and its development since the US military was driven out of Somalia in 1993 following the “Black Hawk down” incident that claimed the lives of 19 US troops. Since then, the US military has avoided exposing large numbers of their own troops to danger, in a pattern set by the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia with local forces providing the ground troops whilst US Special Forces directed them.

The various missile attacks have followed a similar pattern, with local intelligence identifying targets and calling in air or naval support to provide heavy fire power when necessary. The death of Nabhan, along with the arming of a stooge government, indicates that Obama intends to continue in the same way.

Right-Wing Hatemongering Fueled by Christianity?

Go to Original
By Frank Schaeffer

Former president Jimmy Carter went on the record to point out that he believes that racism is at the heart of the great deal of the extreme animosity being leveled at President Obama (NBC News September 15). Carter identified himself as a Southerner with an insider's understanding. There's something he didn't mention however: the special culpability of his own religion -- Evangelical Christianity -- for the anti-Obama hyperventilating and furious reaction to our first black president. And that reaction has less to do with race and more to do with the ugliest side of religion.

The fact is that if you're going to blame one group above all others for the willful ignorance and continuing ugliness of the response to President Obama the best candidate would be the evangelical/fundamentalist community. The angry part of the South Carter spoke of is racist because it's dominated by a certain type of "Christian" culture.

Since Carter is also an evangelical Christian (as well as a Southerner) he would have done well to use his evangelical insider status to point to not just racism but to scream bloody murder about a bigger problem today: the hijacking of Christianity as the source of the hate and anger directed against all things "other" by a vocal (and health care lobby-organized and funded) angry minority of voters who are poisoning the American body.

American Christianity Is At The Heart Of Our Worst Problems

Are the New Atheists leading us to enlightenment? The problem with the recent New Atheist attacks on Christianity is that they mirror the hostility of the evangelical/fundamentalist subculture toward the secular society that it so disdains. The real answer to the question; "Can Christianity be saved from the Christians?" is not going to be found coming from people like Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris et al. Instead that answer may be found in the life and work of Christians such as former president Jimmy Carter, President Obama, the late writer John Updike, and other public figures from Desmond Tutu to Nelson Mandela who's faith can be taken seriously because of the moral authority given them by their achievements outside the realm of theology.

The people running around calling Obama is "Hitler", the so-called "birthers" and all the rest can't be understood outside of the context of the hermetically sealed world-hating gated community known as Evangelical Christianity. As a former Evangelical and son of an Evangelical Religious Right leader, let me share a little of the insider perspective that I wish Carter had brought to the subject.

What Defines American Evangelicals These Days?

The key to understanding the Evangelicals is to understand the popularity of the Left Behind series of books about the "return of Christ" (and the whole host of other End Times "ministries" from the ever weirder Jack-the-Rapture-is-coming!-Van-Impe to the smoother but no less bizarre pages of Christianity Today magazine). This isn't some new or sudden interest in prophecy, but evidence of the deepening inferiority complex suffered by the evangelical/fundamentalist community.

Left Behind

The words "left behind" are ironically what the books are about, but not in the way their authors intended. The evangelical/fundamentalists, from their crudest egocentric celebrities to their "intellectuals" touring college campuses trying to make evangelicalism respectable, have indeed been left behind by modernity. They won't change their literalistic anti-science, anti-education, anti-everything superstitions, so now they nurse a deep grievance against "the world."

This has led to a profound fear of the "other." Jenkins and LaHaye (the Left Behind authors) provide the ultimate revenge fantasy for the culturally left behind against the "elite." The Left Behind franchise holds out hope for the self-disenfranchised that at last soon everyone will know "we" were right and "they" were wrong. They'll know because Spaceship Jesus will come back and whisk "us" away, leaving everyone else to ponder just how very lost they are because they refused to say the words, "I accept Jesus as my personal savior" and join our side while there was still time!

The bestselling status of the Left Behind novels proves that, not unlike Islamist terrorists who behead their enemies, many evangelical/ fundamentalist readers relish the prospect of God doing lots of messy killing for them as they watch in comfort from on high. They want revenge on all people not like them--forever.

Generations Of Indoctrination

We are several generations into the progeny of leaders such as James Dobson and his radio show Focus On The Family. These offspring extol the virtues of corporal punishment, patriarchy, applying biblical law to public governance and so forth. Millions of evangelicals have been raised in homes where they've been isolated from the wider culture, home schooled and/or sent to "Christian schools" where they have been indoctrinated to believe that the Federal Government is the enemy of all true believers, that the "End" is near, that secular society is their enemy as is art, learning and culture.

They now form a Fifth Column of the deliberately intellectually disenfranchised. They know they are out of the loop and hate the rest of us for their own self-imposed isolation. I'm afraid they will soon turn to violence.

Here Are The Alternatives To Change the Theologically-Induced Hate Landscape:

A) all sane Americans must become atheists or agnostics,


B) those of us who are Christians must rescue Christianity from the willfully ignorant evangelicals and fundamentalists.

I favor the second alternative. First, having been raised in an evangelical/fundamentalist home I've long since moved beyond my background when it comes to my politics and my theology. That proves something; people can change their minds! I did.

But I believe more strongly than ever that we human beings are spiritual beings with or without the permission of those who take a purely rationalist approach to human existence. The better -- and I think only realistic option -- is to regard religion as an evolving process of human consciousness and work to reform rather than eliminate it

In my soon-to-be published book Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (Or Atheism) I have very deliberately started a radical conversation through which I hope many of us can carve out a position that embraces religion while absolutely rejecting the type of insanity that has become synonymous with the word "Christian" in contemporary America.
Two "Threads" In Religion

As I argue in my new book the choice between the absolutist secular fundamentalism of the New Atheism and the authoritarianism of James Dobson's-type of "Christianity" is no choice at all. The better alternative is to understand that there are two main threads running all through almost all religions including Christianity:
1) an open, inclusive and questioning thread


2) a closed and exclusionary thread.

The more open thread is not some modern phenomenon developed by "liberal thinking." As I explain in Patience With God this "thread" can be found in the earliest Christianity and Judaism.

If you look around and see good results from Christianity, say from the invention of modern hospitals, which have their roots in religious groups or the music of JS Bach, you're looking at the fruits of the best of the open tradition and thread. When you see a group of scared racist white people like Joe Wilson in Washington DC screaming "liar" or "Obama is a socialist" or "Obama wasn't born in America" you're seeing the madness of the other thread: fundamentalism that wants absolute certainty about everything, and forces its followers to live in a narrower and narrower field of existence.


Christianity is worth saving from the Christians for two reasons. First, because as moral and spiritual beings religion should feed our souls rather then strip out our humanity. Second, because whether we like it or not, religion is here to stay. Better to shape it rather than to simply denounce it.

I may be an idealist but I believe that if others will step forward and add to what I have tried to begin with my new book together we can give good answers to both the extremes of the New Atheists and to the hate of the Evangelical fundamentalists. Join me to build a better vision. We might actually be able to change the conversation in America about religion.

Is that important? Yes, like it or not religion will not go away. It motivates the worst in the American psyche and some of the best too. It is Joe Wilson's religion of hate but it also motivated Martin Luther King Jr.

Perhaps a generation from now the image of a typical Christian won't be a hate-monger like James Dobson but rather a lover of peace such as Bishop Desmond Tutu, or a literary giant like John Updike, and yes, a President Obama.

The only real answer to the hijacking of Christianity by the Religious Right, the longevity of religion-based racism, and the backward and inward looking movement we now call "American Christianity" is not to talk everyone out a having faith but rather to fight for the humane and ancient thread found within the Christian tradition. Blaming everything on race is too easy.

If you get the chance to read Patience With God please let me know what you think of it. I'm asking one big question in the book: Can Christianity be rescued from the Christians? You tell me.

CIA Directors conclude CIA shouldn't be investigated for murder

DOJ officials rush to assure everyone that Holder's investigation is severely limited; even that's not enough.

Go to Original
By Glenn Greenwald

In a truly shocking development being treated as major news, seven former CIA Directors -- including all three who served under George W. Bush -- jointly concluded that the CIA should not be criminally investigated for torture deaths, and they have written a letter to President Obama (.pdf) expressing that view. Do leaders of organizations in general ever believe that their organizations and its members should be criminally investigated and possibly prosecuted for acts carried out on behalf of that organization, and do CIA Directors specifically ever believe that about the CIA? Has a CIA Director ever advocated that CIA agents be criminally investigated for illegal intelligence activities?
But what's most notable about this letter is that it is not addressed to the individual charged with making decisions about whether an individual should be prosecuted: namely, the Attorney General of the U.S. Instead, it is addressed to the President himself, and they "urge [him] to exercise [his] authority to reverse Attorney General's August 24 decision to re-open the criminal investigation of CIA interrogations." What so-called "authority" are they talking about?
The way our criminal justice system works is that the President has the authority to set generalized policy priorities for the DOJ (e.g., spend more resources on drug and terrorism offenses but less on pornography and gambling), but decisions about whether specific individuals will or will not be prosecuted are supposed to be immunized entirely from White House influence, and are the province of independent Justice Department prosecutors (led by the Attorney General). That's what it means to have an apoliticized justice system: the President doesn't order specific people to be prosecuted or shielded from prosecution. Only Justice Department officials, assessing purely legal factors, make those determinations.
In fact, the entire U.S. Attorneys scandal was grounded in exactly this concern: that Karl Rove and the Bush White House were directing that certain prosecutors be fired either for criminally investigating specific Republicans or refusing to prosecute specific Democrats. Decisions about specific prosecutions aren't for the White House to make. No DOJ official with the most minimal integrity would allow the President to block specific criminal investigations as these CIA Directors urge.
Richard Nixon tried that and it led to the Saturday Night Massacre, when he ordered his Attorney General and (when the AG refused) Deputy Attorney General to fire Archibald Cox, the Watergate Special Prosector, after Cox had refused to accept White House limitations on his investigation. Both the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General resigned rather than let Nixon interfere with their independence in making decisions about prosecutions. Similarly, it has been reported that public decrees earlier this year from White House political advisers (led by Rahm Emanuel) that there would be no CIA torture investigations infuriated DOJ officials because that's not the White House's decision to make. It was the DOJ's anger over this Emanuel-led usurpation of its responsibilities that led Obama to make publicly clear that decisions about prosecutions are the DOJ's to make, not his.
What these CIA Directors are urging would be completely improper. In fact, one could plausibly argue that where (as here) the DOJ determines that serious crimes might have been committed and an investigation needed, it would constitute obstruction of justice for the President to intervene by quashing any possibility of prosecution. As former aide to Condoleezza Rice, Philip Zelikow, put it in April of this year: "I really don't think the President should have opinions on who should or should not be prosecuted -- full stop."
But we have a political culture which believes, literally, that the CIA must operate above and beyond the law (recall Joe Klein's argument against torture prosecutions: CIA agents "behave extra-legally for the greater good of the nation"). Even though the American people have enacted numerous laws through their Congress which explicitly criminalize certain behavior on the part of the intelligence community (torture, warrantless eavesdropping, failing to brief Congress), there is a widespread belief that we can and must allow the CIA to commit crimes with impunity. The CIA's personal spokesman at The Washington Post, David Ignatius, argues outright that the CIA should not be prosecuted for crimes because we want to ensure they are willing to act illegally in the future.
The CIA is one of the leading weapons the political establishment uses to disregard the law -- to commit crimes -- when they want to, and that's the elite prerogative at stake here, one of the prime powers they are fighting to preserve by arguing against prosecutions (that, and a desperation that nobody "look backwards" at what they did). So if improper presidential interference in the prosecutorial process is how that gets accomplished, so be it. By definition, opponents of torture prosecutions are not people concerned with adhering to what the Beltway calls legal niceties (i.e., the rule of law), and so it shouldn't be surprising that they want the President to obstruct specific prosecutions that he opposes for political reasons.
What makes all of this sturm und drang over Holder's decision so remarkable is how severely limited the DOJ's investigation is. I've written before about how it is designed to ensure nothing more than Abu Ghraib justice -- at most, some isolated CIA interrogators might be investigated, but not the White House and DOJ architects of the torture regime itself. But -- apparently in response to the CIA Directors' letter -- DOJ officials ran (anonymously, of course) to The Washington Post yesterday to assure everyone that the scope of the DOJ investigation is even far more limited than previously thought:
The Justice Department's review of detainee abuse by the CIA will focus on a very small number of cases, including at least one in which an Afghan prisoner died at a secret facility, according to two sources briefed on the matter. . . .
Among the cases under review will be the death seven years ago of a young Afghan man, who was beaten and chained to a concrete floor without blankets, according to the sources. The man died in the cold night at a secret CIA facility north of Kabul, known as the Salt Pit. . . .
Although earlier reports indicated that [prosecutor John] Durham would look into 10 cases, a source said recently the number is much smaller. . . . A senior official who took part in the review confirmed that of two dozen referrals, the Salt Pit episode was one of two or three cases close to being considered for criminal indictment. . . .
Two other detainee cases were among those that drew significant law enforcement attention: the death by suffocation of Iraqi Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush in November 2003, after which an Army officer was convicted; and the death the same month of Manadel al-Jamadi at Abu Ghraib prison, in the custody of the CIA, where he was placed after being beaten by Navy SEALs.
The only thing Holder wants investigated -- what has provoked all of this intense Beltway uproar -- is "two or three cases" where detainees were killed. Contrary to how this has been debated, what Holder has ordered is not a "torture investigation." To the contrary, he said explicitly that those who tortured in good faith compliance with Yoo's torture memos will be immunized. It isn't torture techniques which are being considered for prosecution. All Holder has ordered are basically just garden-variety murder investigations, where two or three helpless detainees were sadistically beaten to death or suffocated while in American custody. At least according to the DOJ sources who ran to the Post yesterday in light of the CIA Directors' letter: that's all that's being investigated.
But even that is too much for our political class. Apparently, not only should executive branch officials and their agencies be allowed to institute a torture regime, spy on Americans illegally, and commit war crimes , but they should also be allowed literally to get away with murder. After all, if they aren't allowed to do that, they'll be deterred from doing it again in the future -- if they're investigated, they might feel compelled to think about "the law" as a limit on what they can do -- and we wouldn't want that.
* * * * *
An email problem yesterday entirely of my own making resulted in my not receiving any emails sent to me over the last 24 hours, so if you sent one to me during that period, please re-send it if you want me to see it.
UPDATE: In other breaking news, Erik Prince announces that he believes criminal prosecutions of Blackwater are unwarranted; Wall Street CEOs -- past and present -- conclude that an investigation of fraud and abuse among investment banks would serve no real purpose; Alberto Gonzales reveals his opposition to any proceedings against DOJ lawyers who acted in bad faith; police unions announce that the problem of brutality is overstated and there's no need for added oversight; medical doctors agree that malpractice lawsuits need to be limited; and a poll of felons currently in prison reveal that 99% of them believe that the country would have been better off if it had just let bygones be bygones and decided not to proceed with prosecutions in their particular case.

Missile Defense: The Other Story

New missile defense architecture, expanded role for NATO

Go to Original
By Bruce Gagnon

We are witnessing a flurry of emails and articles proclaiming victory after President Obama's announcement that he was going to scrap George W. Bush's plans to deploy missile defense interceptors in Poland and a Star Wars radar in the Czech Republic. There is no doubt that our peace activist friends in those two countries do indeed have reason to celebrate after their hard and determined work to stop those deployments. We also need to recognize and thank the many people around the world who acted in solidarity with them during these past couple years of intensive campaigning.

But now that we've had a day to rejoice, the time has come for more reflection on what the Obama administration intends to do next. I've quickly learned during these eight months of watching Obama in action that when he gives something with one hand it is wise to watch what his other hand is taking away.

In his September 17 speech Obama stated that his new missile defense architecture for Europe would be more "comprehensive than the previous [Bush] program" and would be "enhanced" by NATO involvement.

Secretary of War Robert Gates was left to explain the details of the new missile defense "architecture" that would replace the now rejected deployment plan for Poland and the Czech Republic.

Gates stated that he was the one who had proposed three years ago to deploy the missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. He concluded that the original plan was no longer the best military "architecture" for the current "threat" from Iran. Thus instead of missile defense interceptors that would target offending missiles in their mid-course of flight, and that had a series of bad test results, the Pentagon now wanted to deploy in northern and southern Europe missile defense systems that had a proven testing record and were more appropriate for the kind of threat now expected from Iran.

The intelligence community now assesses that the threat from Iran's short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, such as the Shahab-3, is developing more rapidly than previously projected," Gates said. "This poses an increased and more immediate threat to our forces on the European continent, as well as to our allies."

Gates continued, "We now have proven capabilities to intercept these [short range] ballistic missiles with land and sea-based interceptors supported by much improved sensors. This allows us to deploy a distributed sensor network rather than a single-fixed site, like the kind slated for the Czech Republic."

US Navy Aegis destroyers, outfitted with Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) missile defense interceptors, would "provide flexibility to move interceptors from one region to another," Gates said. In years to come the SM-3 will be upgraded and be deployed throughout Europe as land-based systems as well. Since 2007 the SM-3 has had eight successful tests, including the February of 2008 shoot-down of a falling military satellite with an SM-3 missile from an Aegis ship in what many saw as proof that these systems also had "anti-satellite" weapons capability.

You can watch brief video clips of Gates here and Obama here from yesterday, or look below at one of my earlier posts for the videos.

The Russians first reaction was positive, as would be expected, since they were deeply concerned that the Poland and Czech deployments could be used by the US as the shield in a first-strike attack. But their concerns have not completely disappeared.

The Washington Post reported today that Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, former chief of the Russian military's main research institute for nuclear strategy, cautioned that the reconfigured U.S. system could still pose a threat to Russia. "Everything depends on the scale of such a system," he told the Interfax news agency. "If it comprises a multitude of facilities, including a space echelon, it may threaten the Russian potential of nuclear deterrence."

As described by Gates and his top generals, Obama's new missile defense plan will unfold in three stages. By 2011, the Pentagon will deploy Navy Aegis ships equipped with SM-3 interceptors in the eastern Mediterranean.

A second phase in about 2015 will field an upgraded, land-based SM-3 in allied countries, and discussions are underway with Poland and the Czech Republic on basing the missiles in their territory, Gates said. In 2018, the third phase will deploy a larger and more capable missile, which will allow the system to protect Europe and the United States against short- and intermediate-range rockets and, eventually, intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Bloomberg News reports that, “This shift clearly benefits Lockheed Martin and Raytheon and is negative” for Boeing. “The move away from fixed missile-defense sites in Eastern Europe is a continuation of the more flexible, tactical missile-defense shield that Secretary Gates advocated," said Rob Stallard, an analyst at Macquarie Capital Inc. in New York.

The Pentagon’s 2010 budget seeks 250 Standard Missile-3 interceptors. It also seeks to increase to 27 from 21 the number of warships equipped to launch the Standard Missile-3s and requests $1.6 billion to develop software and hardware to upgrade ships and to develop a ground-based model.

The Pentagon is also now promising Poland that Patriot missiles will still be deployed in that country as previously planned.

So in the end I see this as an adjustment in strategy due to technology as much as anything. The flexible, more mobile, short range missile defense systems are proving ready to go while the former Bush proposal for Poland and Czech Republic included technologies that are not yet proven.

Obama can appear to be stepping back from an immediate confrontation with Russia but in fact he is following the lead of the Pentagon who for some time has been saying that they must move to expand the more promising Navy Aegis-based missile defense system. This program has already been dramatically growing in the Asian-Pacific region and will now be slated for expanded European operations.

Meet the Afghan Army

Is It a Figment of Washington's Imagination?

Go to Original
By Ann Jones

The big Afghanistan debate in Washington is not over whether more troops are needed, but just who they should be: Americans or Afghans -- Us or Them. Having just spent time in Afghanistan seeing how things stand, I wouldn't bet on Them.
Frankly, I wouldn't bet on Us either. In eight years, American troops have worn out their welcome. Their very presence now incites opposition, but that's another story. It's Them -- the Afghans -- I want to talk about.
Afghans are Afghans. They have their own history, their own culture, their own habitual ways of thinking and behaving, all complicated by a modern experience of decades of war, displacement, abject poverty, and incessant meddling by foreign governments near and far -- of which the United States has been the most powerful and persistent. Afghans do not think or act like Americans. Yet Americans in power refuse to grasp that inconvenient point.
In the heat of this summer, I went out to the training fields near Kabul where Afghan army recruits are put through their paces, and it was quickly evident just what's getting lost in translation. Our trainers, soldiers from the Illinois National Guard, were masterful. Professional and highly skilled, they were dedicated to carrying out their mission -- and doing the job well. They were also big, strong, camouflaged, combat-booted, supersized American men, their bodies swollen by flack jackets and lashed with knives, handguns, and god only knows what else. Any American could be proud of their commitment to tough duty.
The Afghans were puny by comparison: Hundreds of little Davids to the overstuffed American Goliaths training them. Keep in mind: Afghan recruits come from a world of desperate poverty. They are almost uniformly malnourished and underweight. Many are no bigger than I am (5'4" and thin) -- and some probably not much stronger. Like me, many sag under the weight of a standard-issue flack jacket.
Their American trainers spoke of "upper body strength deficiency" and prescribed pushups because their trainees buckle under the backpacks filled with 50 pounds of equipment and ammo they are expected to carry. All this material must seem absurd to men whose fathers and brothers, wearing only the old cotton shirts and baggy pants of everyday life and carrying battered Russian Kalashnikov rifles, defeated the Red Army two decades ago. American trainers marvel that, freed from heavy equipment and uniforms, Afghan soldiers can run through the mountains all day -- as the Taliban guerrillas in fact do with great effect -- but the U.S. military is determined to train them for another style of war.
Still, the new recruits turn out for training in the blistering heat in this stony desert landscape wearing, beneath their heavy uniforms, the smart red, green, and black warm-up outfits intended to encourage them to engage in off-duty exercise. American trainers recognize that recruits regularly wear all their gear at once for fear somebody will steal anything left behind in the barracks, but they take this overdressing as a sign of how much Afghans love the military. My own reading, based on my observations of Afghan life during the years I've spent in that country, is this: It's a sign of how little they trust one another, or the Americans who gave them the snazzy suits. I think it also indicates the obvious: that these impoverished men in a country without work have joined the Afghan National Army for what they can get out of it (and keep or sell) -- and that doesn't include democracy or glory.
In the current policy debate about the Afghan War in Washington, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin wants the Afghans to defend their country. Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the committee, agrees but says they need even more help from even more Americans. The common ground -- the sacred territory President Obama gropes for -- is that, whatever else happens, the U.S. must speed up the training of "the Afghan security forces."
American military planners and policymakers already proceed as if, with sufficient training, Afghans can be transformed into scale-model, wind-up American Marines. That is not going to happen. Not now. Not ever. No matter how many of our leaders concur that it must happen -- and ever faster.
"Basic Warrior Training"
So who are these security forces? They include the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP). International forces and private contractors have been training Afghan recruits for both of them since 2001. In fact, the determination of Western military planners to create a national army and police force has been so great that some seem to have suppressed for years the reports of Canadian soldiers who witnessed members of the Afghan security forces engaging in a fairly common pastime, sodomizing young boys.
Current training and mentoring is provided by the U.S., Great Britain, France, Canada, Romania, Poland, Mongolia, New Zealand, and Australia, as well as by the private for-profit contractors MPRI, KBR (formerly a division of Halliburton), Pulau, Paravant, and RONCO.
Almost eight years and counting since the "mentoring" process began, officers at the Kabul Military Training Center report that the army now numbers between 88,000 and 92,000 soldiers, depending on who you talk to; and the basic training course financed and led by Americans, called "Basic Warrior Training," is turning out 28,800 new soldiers every year, according to a Kabul Military Training Center "fact sheet." The current projected "end strength" for the ANA, to be reached in December 2011, is 134,000 men; but Afghan officers told me they're planning for a force of 200,000, while the Western press often cites 240,000 as the final figure.
The number 400,000 is often mentioned as the supposed end-strength quota for the combined security forces -- an army of 240,000 soldiers and a police force with 160,000 men. Yet Afghan National Police officials also speak of a far more inflated figure, 250,000, and they claim that 149,000 men have already been trained. Police training has always proven problematic, however, in part because, from the start, the European allies fundamentally disagreed with the Bush administration about what the role of the Afghan police should be. Germany initiated the training of what it saw as an unarmed force that would direct traffic, deter crime, and keep civic order for the benefit of the civilian population. The U.S. took over in 2003, handed the task off to a private for-profit military contractor, DynCorp, and proceeded to produce a heavily armed, undisciplined, and thoroughly venal paramilitary force despised by Kabulis and feared by Afghan civilians in the countryside.
Contradicting that widespread public view, an Afghan commanding officer of the ANP assured me that today the police are trained as police, not as a paramilitary auxiliary of the ANA. "But policing is different in Afghanistan," he said, because the police operate in active war zones.
Washington sends mixed messages on this subject. It farms out responsibility for the ANP to a private contractor that hires as mentors retired American law enforcement officers -- a Kentucky state trooper, a Texas county lawman, a North Carolina cop, and so on. Yet Washington policymakers continue to couple the police with the army as "the Afghan security forces" -- the most basic police rank is "soldier" -- in a merger that must influence what DynCorp puts in its training syllabus. At the Afghan National Police training camp outside Kabul, I watched a squad of trainees learn (reluctantly) how to respond to a full-scale ambush. Though they were armed only with red rubber Kalashnikovs, the exercise looked to me much like the military maneuvers I'd witnessed at the army training camp.
Like army training, police training, too, was accelerated months ago to insure "security" during the run-up to the presidential election. With that goal in mind, DynCorp mentors shrunk the basic police training course from eight weeks to three, after which the police were dispatched to villages all across the country, including areas controlled by the Taliban. After the election, the surviving short-course police "soldiers" were to be brought back to Kabul for the rest of the basic training program. There's no word yet on how many returned.
You have to wonder about the wisdom of rushing out this half-baked product. How would you feel if the police in your community were turned loose, heavily armed, after three weeks of training? And how would you feel if you were given a three-week training course with a rubber gun and then dispatched, with a real one, to defend your country?
Training security forces is not cheap. So far, the estimated cost of training and mentoring the police since 2001 is at least $10 billion. Any reliable figure on the cost of training and mentoring the Afghan army since 2001 is as invisible as the army itself. But the U.S. currently spends some $4 billion a month on military operations in Afghanistan.
The Invisible Men
What is there to show for all this remarkably expensive training? Although in Washington they may talk about the 90,000 soldiers in the Afghan National Army, no one has reported actually seeing such an army anywhere in Afghanistan. When 4,000 U.S. Marines were sent into Helmand Province in July to take on the Taliban in what is considered one of its strongholds, accompanying them were only about 600 Afghan security forces, some of whom were police. Why, you might ask, didn't the ANA, 90,000 strong after eight years of training and mentoring, handle Helmand on its own? No explanation has been offered. American and NATO officers often complain that Afghan army units are simply not ready to "operate independently," but no one ever speaks to the simple question: Where are they?
My educated guess is that such an army simply does not exist. It may well be true that Afghan men have gone through some version of "Basic Warrior Training" 90,000 times or more. When I was teaching in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2006, I knew men who repeatedly went through ANA training to get the promised Kalashnikov and the pay. Then they went home for a while and often returned some weeks later to enlist again under a different name.
In a country where 40% of men are unemployed, joining the ANA for 10 weeks is the best game in town. It relieves the poverty of many families every time the man of the family goes back to basic training, but it's a needlessly complicated way to unintentionally deliver such minimal humanitarian aid. Some of these circulating soldiers are aging former mujahidin -- the Islamist fundamentalists the U.S. once paid to fight the Soviets -- and many are undoubtedly Taliban.
American trainers have taken careful note of the fact that, when ANA soldiers were given leave after basic training to return home with their pay, they generally didn't come back. To foil paycheck scams and decrease soaring rates of desertion, they recently devised a money-transfer system that allows the soldiers to send pay home without ever leaving their base. That sounds like a good idea, but like many expensive American solutions to Afghan problems, it misses the point. It's not just the money the soldier wants to transfer home, it's himself as well.
Earlier this year, the U.S. training program became slightly more compelling with the introduction of a U.S.-made weapon, the M-16 rifle, which was phased in over four months as a replacement for the venerable Kalashnikov. Even U.S. trainers admit that, in Afghanistan, the Kalashnikov is actually the superior weapon. Light and accurate, it requires no cleaning even in the dust of the high desert, and every man and boy already knows it well. The strange and sensitive M-16, on the other hand, may be more accurate at slightly greater distances, but only if a soldier can keep it clean, while managing to adjust and readjust its notoriously sensitive sights. The struggling soldiers of the ANA may not ace that test, but now that the U.S. military has generously passed on its old M-16s to Afghans, it can buy new ones at taxpayer expense, a prospect certain to gladden the heart of any arms manufacturer. (Incidentally, thanks must go to the Illinois National Guard for risking their lives to make possible such handsome corporate profits.)
As for the police, U.S.-funded training offers a similar revolving door. In Afghanistan, however, it is far more dangerous to be a policeman than a soldier. While soldiers on patrol can slip away, policemen stuck at their posts are killed almost every day. Assigned in small numbers to staff small-town police stations or highway checkpoints, they are sitting ducks for Taliban fighters. As representatives of the now thoroughly discredited government of President Hamid Karzai, the hapless police make handy symbolic targets. British commanders in Helmand province estimated that 60% of Afghan police are on drugs -- and little wonder why.
In the Pashtun provinces of southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban is strong, recruiting men for the Afghan National Police is a "problem," as an ANP commander told me. Consequently, non-Pashtun police trainees of Hazara, Tajik, Uzbek, or other ethnic backgrounds are dispatched to maintain order in Pashtun territory. They might as well paint targets on their foreheads. The police who accompanied the U.S. Marines into Helmand Province reportedly refused to leave their heavily armed mentors to take up suicidal posts in provincial villages. Some police and army soldiers, when asked by reporters, claimed to be "visiting" Helmand province only for "vacation."
Training Day
In many districts, the police recently supplemented their low pay and demonstrated allegiance to local warlords by stuffing ballot boxes for President Karzai in the presidential election. Consider that but one more indication -- like the defection of those great Islamist fundamentalist mujahidin allies the U.S. sponsored in the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s who are now fighting with the Taliban -- that no amount of American training, mentoring, or cash will determine who or what Afghans will fight for, if indeed they fight at all.
Afghans are world famous fighters, in part because they have a knack for gravitating to the winning side, and they're ready to change sides with alacrity until they get it right. Recognizing that Afghans back a winner, U.S. military strategists are now banking on a counterinsurgency strategy that seeks to "clear, hold, and build" -- that is, to stick around long enough to win the Afghans over. But it's way too late for that to work. These days, U.S. troops sticking around look ever more like a foreign occupying army and, to the Taliban, like targets.
Recently Karen DeYoung noted in the Washington Post that the Taliban now regularly use very sophisticated military techniques -- "as if the insurgents had attended something akin to the U.S. Army's Ranger school, which teaches soldiers how to fight in small groups in austere environments." Of course, some of them have attended training sessions which teach them to fight in "austere environments," probably time and time again. If you were a Talib, wouldn't you scout the training being offered to Afghans on the other side? And wouldn't you do it more than once if you could get well paid every time?
Such training is bound to come in handy -- as it may have for the Talib policeman who, just last week, bumped off eight other comrades at his police post in Kunduz Province in northern Afghanistan and turned it over to the Taliban. On the other hand, such training can be deadly to American trainers. Take the case of the American trainer who was shot and wounded that same week by one of his trainees. Reportedly, a dispute arose because the trainer was drinking water "in front of locals," while the trainees were fasting for the Muslim holy month of Ramazan.
There is, by the way, plenty of evidence that Taliban fighters get along just fine, fighting fiercely and well without the training lavished on the ANA and the ANP. Why is it that Afghan Taliban fighters seem so bold and effective, while the Afghan National Police are so dismally corrupt and the Afghan National Army a washout?
When I visited bases and training grounds in July, I heard some American trainers describe their Afghan trainees in the same racist terms once applied to African slaves in the U.S.: lazy, irresponsible, stupid, childish, and so on. That's how Afghan resistance, avoidance, and sabotage look to American eyes. The Taliban fight for something they believe -- that their country should be freed from foreign occupation. "Our" Afghans try to get by.
Yet one amazing thing happens to ANA trainees who stick it out for the whole 10 weeks of basic training. Their slight bodies begin to fill out a little. They gain more energy and better spirits -- all because for the first time in their lives they have enough nutritious food to eat.
Better nutrition notwithstanding -- Senator Levin, Senator McCain -- "our" Afghans are never going to fight for an American cause, with or without American troops, the way we imagine they should. They're never going to fight with the energy of the Taliban for a national government that we installed against Afghan wishes, then more recently set up to steal another election, and now seem about to ratify in office, despite incontrovertible evidence of flagrant fraud. Why should they? Even if the U.S. could win their minds, their hearts are not in it.
One small warning: Don't take the insecurity of the Afghan security forces as an argument for sending yet more American troops to Afghanistan. Aggressive Americans (now numbering 68,000) are likely to be even less successful than reluctant Afghan forces. Afghans want peace, but the kharaji (foreign) troops (100,000, if you include U.S. allies in NATO) bring death and destruction wherever they go. Think instead about what you might have won -- and could still win -- had you spent all those military billions on food. Or maybe agriculture. Or health care. Or a civilian job corps. Is it too late for that now?