29 February 2008

Winter Soldier - March 13 to 16, Washington, DC

US: Vets Break Silence on War Crimes
By Aaron Glantz

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb 28 (IPS) - U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are planning to descend on Washington from Mar. 13-16 to testify about war crimes they committed or personally witnessed in those countries.

"The war in Iraq is not covered to its potential because of how dangerous it is for reporters to cover it," said Liam Madden, a former Marine and member of the group Iraq Veterans Against the War. "That's left a lot of misconceptions in the minds of the American public about what the true nature of military occupation looks like."

Iraq Veterans Against the War argues that well-publicised incidents of U.S. brutality like the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the massacre of an entire family of Iraqis in the town of Haditha are not the isolated incidents perpetrated by "a few bad apples", as many politicians and military leaders have claimed. They are part of a pattern, the group says, of "an increasingly bloody occupation".

"The problem that we face in Iraq is that policymakers in leadership have set a precedent of lawlessness where we don't abide by the rule of law, we don't respect international treaties, so when that atmosphere exists it lends itself to criminal activity," argues former U.S. Army Sergeant Logan Laituri, who served a tour in Iraq from 2004 to 2005 before being discharged as a conscientious objector.

Laituri told IPS that precedent of lawlessness makes itself felt in the rules of engagement handed down by commanders to soldiers on the front lines. When he was stationed in Samarra, for example, he said one of his fellow soldiers shot an unarmed man while he walked down the street.

"The problem is that that soldier was not committing a crime as you might call it because the rules of engagement were very clear that no one was supposed to be walking down the street," he said. "But I have a problem with that. You can't tell a family to leave everything they know so you can bomb the shit out of their house or their city. So while he definitely has protection under the law, I don't think that legitimates that type of violence."

Iraq Veterans Against the War is calling the gathering "Winter Soldier," after a quote from the U.S. revolutionary Thomas Paine, who wrote in 1776: "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

Organisers say video and photographic evidence will also be presented, and the testimony and panels will be broadcast live on Satellite TV and streaming video on ivaw.org.

Winter Soldier is modeled on a similar event held by Vietnam Veterans 37 years ago.

Read all of it here.

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Naked Truth?

From Harry Edwards / The Rag Blog

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Habeus Corpus and Barack Obama

Human Rights, Torture and the Presidency
By Naomi Wolf / February 28, 2008

I just flew back from Australia, where I was speaking about the erosions of our civil liberties. Believe me, the rest of the world is agog at our inaction as what makes us Americans is being set aflame; and they are more scared of what an unsheathed US could do to the rest of the world than we are.

They also get more news out in the rest of the world about these depredations than we do here in our media bubble.

For instance: As the Australian reported earlier this week, New South Wales Justice of the Peace Mamdouh Habib is suing the Australian federal government -- which under the Howard administration had colluded with the US in committing various abuses against detainees and due process -- for having allowed him to be arrested wrongly in Pakistan in 2001, kidnapped and sent illegally to Egypt. There this Justice of the Peace was illegally imprisoned and tortured for six months. After that the United States held him for FOUR YEARS in Guantanamo. His complaint notes that he is a law-abiding citizen who was swept up under false pretexts. "It turns out that Habib has incontrovertible proof of his good standing," the Australian noted. "[H]e is a fully accredited Justice of the Peace in NSW.

A search of the NSW Attorney General's Department website reveals that not only Habib, but his wife Maha Habib, is a JP." To become justice of the peace in New South Wales, the Australian added, "you have to be NOMINATED BY A MEMBER OF THE NSW PARLIAMENT and submit to a full character inquiry, including a criminal records check by NSW Police." (ALL CAPS mine)

Get that? A justice of the peace in a developed-world democracy. Had you heard of that?

Me neither.

This gave me chills because, once again, it is so scarily predictable: when I first started trying to alert people about the ramifications of the Military Commissions Act, and how it gives the US power to seize innocent people off the street simply by the President's naming them 'enemy combatants', I pointed out that nothing would prevent the US from rendering an EU minister off the streets of Belgium -- and flying him or her to a `black site' for torture -- if he or she opposed a US pipeline plan, or was prosecuting US war criminals such as Rumsfeld in the Hague. And that the clear lesson of Germany and other closing societies such as Argentina is that once those 'disappearances' begin, that is it; few are then brave enough to object -- and at that point objection is too weak to be effective anyway.

They rendered an Australian justice of the peace -- and that rendition did not even make the US news. So how can we be sure there is something so sacred about an American justice of the peace or even a judge? Say, an American judge who ruled against the Military Commissions?

This kind of leap to the next level of threat to us as citizens seems implausible to many people because they assume that there is an orderly and effective democratic response to this kind of eruption of lawlessness --- (oh gosh, actually it isn't lawlessness any more, now is it) -- or, I should say, to this kind of abrupt shift to a heightened level of state sadism; Well -- someone would bring charges!, one assumes. Or: someone would sue! Or: surely the ACLU would do something!

But seriously, I ask you to consider: What would indeed happen as a countermove if a US justice of the peace or a judge was rendered? The Bar Association would protest? Scary. Intimidating.

I raise this as an urgent matter in part because of a recent conference call I participated in with Hamid Khan, the head of the courageous movement of Pakistani lawyers and judges. In the call, which he made in spite of great danger to himself and probably to his family, there was a moment when he described the internecine warfare and factionalism of the opposition to Musharraf.

In his voice was the tired, frustrated sound I have heard so often in this country when groups on the left JUST CAN'T GET IT TOGETHER. No matter how urgent the need is. Whereas in Pakistan's case they were having trouble getting the anti-Musharraf forces to act together -- and there was so much at stake.

What became clear from that call is that we are fools to assume that if the government makes a dramatically violent move, which all the laws I have highlighted now make entirely possible, that anyone will know clearly what to do or how to implement what should be done in response. In Pakistan, it was clear, in spite of this powerful grassroots movement, no one had a clear Plan B when Musharraf declared a state of emergency and began rounding up the lawyers and arresting the judges. No one had an unquestioned leadership structure in place for the countermovement; no one had a subcontinent-sized phone tree or a nice big -- oh, nation-sized -- conference room in which to meet.

We need to consider this right now when we think about our own country: In a sudden sharp move on the part of the US government, even a `small' one such as this imagined scenario of the rendition of a handful of US judges, there is nothing a democracy is prepared effectively to do; that is the nature of democracy. There is no War Room for democracy; no one has an organizational chart detailing who would do what; no one would have a master strategy.

When people think about the many laws that invite this kind of overreaching now in the US -- the National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD 51), for instance, that would give the President control over all branches of government -- executive, legislative, and judicial -- in the event of an emergency -- they just assume that, gosh darn it, WE WON'T TAKE IT. And it may well be that we wouldn't want to take it and we would be willing in great numbers to run to the ramparts. But here is what I have to report to you, that the conference call made clear, and my Pakistani friend would confirm this: in a crackdown, even in the best-case scenario, NO ONE KNOWS WHERE THE RAMPARTS ARE.

Read all of it here

From David Hamilton / The Rag Blog

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The Lost Children of Hutto

In its March 3, 2008 issue, The New Yorker magazine has a major feature story on the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas – one of two facilities in the country used to detain immigrant families. Hutto has been the focus of a major concerted effort to bring national attention to the nature of the Hutto prison, to conditions at the facility and to bring a legal challenge against Hutto.

Barbara Hines and students in her immigration law clinic at the University of Texas at Austin have played a primary role in these efforts. Professor Hines, a noted immigration attorney, also worked in the seventies with The Rag, Austin’s influential underground newspaper whose spirit lives in The Rag Blog.

This feature, titled “The Lost Children,” is not currently accessible on line. We will run it in this space in a series of installments over the next few days.

Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog

Leave No Child Behind Bars
by Margaret Talbot

In the summer of 1995, an Iranian man named Majid Yourdkhani allowed a friend to photocopy pages from “The Sa­tanic Verses,” the Salman Rushdie novel, at the small print shop that he owned in Tehran. Government agents arrested the friend and came looking for Majid, who secretly crossed the border to Turkey and then flew to Canada. In his haste, Majid was forced to leave behind his wife, Masomeh; for months afterward, Iranian government agents phoned her and said things like “If you aren’t divorcing him, then you are supporting him, and we will therefore arrest you and torture you.”

That October, Masomeh also escaped from Iran and joined Majid in Toronto, where they lived for ten years. Majid worked in a pizza place, Masomeh in a coffee shop. She dressed and acted the way she liked— she is blond and pretty and partial to bright clothes and makeup, which she could never wear in public in Iran—and for a long time the Yourdkhanis felt they were safe from politics and the past.

Their son, Kevin, was bom in Toronto, in 1997, a Canadian citizen. He grew into a happy, affectionate kid, tall and sturdy with a shock of dark hair. He liked math and so­cial studies, developed asthma but dealt with it, and shared with his mom a taste for goofy comedies, such as the “Mr. Bean” movies. In December, 2005, how­ever, the Yourdkhanis learned that the . Canadian government had denied their application for political asylum, and Majid, Masomeh, and Kevin were deported to Iran

Upon their return, the Yourdkhanis say, Masomeh was imprisoned for a month, and Majid for six, and during that time he was beaten and tortured. After Majid was released, the family paid a smuggler twenty thousand dollars to procure false documents and arrange a se­ries of flights that would return them to Canada.

Then, on the last leg of the journey, the family ran into someone else’s bad luck. On February 4,2007, during a flight from Georgetown, Guyana, to Toronto, a passenger had a heart attack and died, and the plane was forced to make an unscheduled stop in Puerto Rico. American immigration officials there ascertained that the Yourdkhanis’ travel documents were fake.

The Yourdkhanis begged to be allowed to continue on to Canada, but they were told that if they wanted asylum they would have to apply for it in the United States. They did so, and, five days later, became part of one of the more peculiar, and contested, recent experiments in American immigration policy. They were locked inside a former medium-security prison in a desolate patch of rural Texas: the T. Don Hutto Residential Center.

Hutto is one of two immigrant-detention facilities in America that house families—the other is in Berks County, Pennsylvania—and is the only one owned and run by a private prison company. The detention of immigrants is the fastest-growing form of incarceration in this country, and, with the support of the Bush Administration, it is becoming a lucrative business.

At the end of 2006, some fourteen thousand people were in govern­ment custody for immigration-law violations, in a patchwork of detention arrangements, including space rented out by hundreds of local and state jails, and seven freestanding facilities run by private contractors. This number was up by seventy-nine per cent from the previous year, an increase that can be attributed, in large part, to the actions of Michael Chertoff, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, which runs the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division.

In 2005, Chertoff announced die end of “catch-and-release”—the longstanding practice of allowing immigrants caught without legal documents to remain free inside the country while they waited for an appearance in court. Since these illegal immigrants weren’t montored in anyway, the rate of no-shows was predictably high, and me practice inflamed anti-immigrant sentiment.

Private companies began making inroads into the detention business in the nineteen-eighties, when the idea was in vogue that almost any private operation was inherently more efficient than a government one. The largest firm, Corrections Corporation of America, or C.C.A., was founded in 1983. But poor management and a series of well-publicized troubles—including riots at and escapes from prisons run by C.C.A.— dampened the initial excitement.

In the nineties, C.C.A.’s bid to take over the entire prison system of Tennessee, where the company is based, railed; state legislators had grown skeptical. By the end of 2000, C.C.A.’s stock had hit an all-time low. When immigration detention started its precipitate climb following 9/11, private prison companies eagerly offered their empty beds, and the industry was revitalized.

One complication was that hundreds of children were among the immigrant detainees. Typically, lads had been sent to shelters, which allowed them to attend school, while parents were held at closed facilities. Nobody thought that it was good policy to separate parents from children— not immigration officials, not immigrant advocates, not Congress. In 2005, a report by the House Appropriations Committee expressed concern about “reports that chil­dren apprehended by D.H.S.”—the Department of Homeland Security—“even as young as nursing infants, are being separated from their parents and placed in shelters.”

The committee also declared that children should not be placed in government custody unless their welfare was in question, and added that the Department of Homeland Security should “release families or use alternatives to detention” whenever possible. The report recommended a new alternative to detention known as the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program — which allows people awaiting disposition of their immigration cases to be released into the community, provided that they are closely tracked by means such as electronic monitoring bracelets, curfews, and regular contact with a caseworker.

The government has since established pilot programs in twelve cities, and reports that more than ninety per cent of the people enrolled in them show up for their court dates. The immgration agency could have made a priority of putting families, especially asylum seek­ers, into such programs. Instead, it chose to house families in Hutto, which is owned and run by CCA. Families wouldbe kept together, but it would mean they were incarcerated together.

[To be continued.]


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UK - US Collaborate to Torture and Imprison

Ben Griffin: Former SAS, Banned Speech to Anti-War Rally

Ben Griffin speaks to World Against War rally before being gagged by UK Government

"As of 1940 hrs 29/02/08 I have been placed under an injunction preventing me from speaking publicly and publishing material gained as a result of my service in UKSF (SAS).

I will be continuing to collect evidence and opinion on British Involvement in extraordinary rendition, torture, secret detentions, extra judicial detention, use of evidence gained through torture, breaches of the Geneva Conventions, breaches of International Law and failure to abide by our obligations as per UN Convention Against Torture. I am carrying on regardless." Ben Griffin, Former UK Special forces trooper

Ben Griffin, the ex-SAS trooper who this week revealed the extensive British collaboration with US rendition and torture, was served with an injunction immediately after speaking at the London World Against War rally last night. The government is trying to gag Ben to prevent any more revelations about British involvement in the US policy of kidnapping people and sending them to secret centres for interrogation and torture.

Read all of it here.

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We Have Been Scaring Ourselves

Nah ... George W. Bush and his gang have been scaring us into believing that the terrorism threat is much greater than it really is, and making it dramatically worse by their actions in Iraq and other parts of the world. You've got two choices: (1) leave the blinders on, or (2) wake up and smell the shit your government has been piling outside your door and in your living room (via the MSM propaganda you're fed daily).

Richard Jehn / The Rag Blog

The Fading Jihadists
By David Ignatius
Thursday, February 28, 2008; Page A17

Politicians who talk about the terrorism threat -- and it's already clear that this will be a polarizing issue in the 2008 campaign -- should be required to read a new book by a former CIA officer named Marc Sageman. It stands what you think you know about terrorism on its head and helps you see the topic in a different light.

Sageman has a résumé that would suit a postmodern John le Carré. He was a case officer running spies in Pakistan and then became a forensic psychiatrist. What distinguishes his new book, "Leaderless Jihad," is that it peels away the emotional, reflexive responses to terrorism that have grown up since Sept. 11, 2001, and looks instead at scientific data Sageman has collected on more than 500 Islamic terrorists -- to understand who they are, why they attack and how to stop them.

The heart of Sageman's message is that we have been scaring ourselves into exaggerating the terrorism threat -- and then by our unwise actions in Iraq making the problem worse. He attacks head-on the central thesis of the Bush administration, echoed increasingly by Republican presidential candidate John McCain, that, as McCain's Web site puts it, the United States is facing "a dangerous, relentless enemy in the War against Islamic Extremists" spawned by al-Qaeda.

The numbers say otherwise, Sageman insists. The first wave of al-Qaeda leaders, who joined Osama bin Laden in the 1980s, is down to a few dozen people on the run in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. The second wave of terrorists, who trained in al-Qaeda's camps in Afghanistan during the 1990s, has also been devastated, with about 100 hiding out on the Pakistani frontier. These people are genuinely dangerous, says Sageman, and they must be captured or killed. But they do not pose an existential threat to America, much less a "clash of civilizations."

It's the third wave of terrorism that is growing, but what is it? By Sageman's account, it's a leaderless hodgepodge of thousands of what he calls "terrorist wannabes." Unlike the first two waves, whose members were well educated and intensely religious, the new jihadists are a weird species of the Internet culture. Outraged by video images of Americans killing Muslims in Iraq, they gather in password-protected chat rooms and dare each other to take action. Like young people across time and religious boundaries, they are bored and looking for thrills.

"It's more about hero worship than about religion," Sageman said in a presentation of his research last week at the New America Foundation, a liberal think tank here. Many of this third wave don't speak Arabic or read the Koran. Very few (13 percent of Sageman's sample) have attended radical madrassas. Nearly all join the movement because they know or are related to someone who's already in it. Those detained on terrorism charges are getting younger: In Sageman's 2003 sample, the average age was 26; among those arrested after 2006, it was down to about 20. They are disaffected, homicidal kids -- closer to urban gang members than to motivated Muslim fanatics.

Sageman's harshest judgment is that the United States is making the terrorism problem worse by its actions in Iraq. "Since 2003, the war in Iraq has without question fueled the process of radicalization worldwide, including the U.S. The data are crystal clear," he writes. We have taken a fire that would otherwise burn itself out and poured gasoline on it.

The third wave of terrorism is inherently self-limiting, Sageman continues. As soon as the amorphous groups gather and train, they make themselves vulnerable to arrest. "As the threat from al-Qaeda is self-limiting, so is its appeal, and global Islamist terrorism will probably disappear for internal reasons -- if the United States has the sense to allow it to continue on its course and fade away."

Sageman's policy advice is to "take the glory and thrill out of terrorism." Jettison the rhetoric about Muslim extremism -- these leaderless jihadists are barely Muslims. Stop holding news conferences to announce the latest triumphs in the "global war on terror," which only glamorize the struggle. And reduce the U.S. military footprint in Iraq, which fuels the Muslim world's sense of moral outrage.

I don't agree with all of Sageman's arguments, especially about the consequences of a quick drawdown in Iraq, but I think he is raising the questions the country needs to ponder this election year. If Sageman's data are right, we are not facing what President Bush called "the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century and the calling of our generation," but something that is more limited and manageable -- if we make good decisions.

The writer is co-host of PostGlobal, an online discussion of international issues. His e-mail address is davidignatius@washpost.com.


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28 February 2008

Today's Lesson

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Getting Back to Money That Stands for Something

Still Pretending
By James Kunstler

The maneuvers that the big banks are making nowadays, along with their enablers at the Federal Reserve and elsewhere in Washington, really amount to little more than the old Polish blanket joke -- in which (excuse my concision) the proverbial Polack wants to make his blanket longer, so he scissors twelve inches off the top and sews it onto the bottom. Only in this case, the banks are shearing x-billions of losses off the top of their blankets and re-attaching x-billions of new debt onto the bottom. This new debt, of course, goes to cover the old losses and only represents further losses-to-be-reported-later, since the banks are basically insolvent. Borrowing more money when you're broke doesn't make you less insolvent.

The banks can probably keep this gag running a little longer, but not without consequences. My guess is that it spins out of control in March sometime when some more hedge funds blow up and at least one big bank, perhaps Citi, rolls belly up like a harpooned whale. The game is really over, and all the playerz know it. The consequence of continuing to pretend the meta-fiasco of Ponzi endgame is fixable will be an even more shattering depression than the one we're already in for.

We are a much poorer nation than we thought we were and the reality is just too hard to face. Nobody from the most august banker (Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson) to the lowliest wanker (the WalMart inventory clerk who "bought" a house outside Phoenix with a no-money-down, payment-option, adjustable rate mortgage) can believe that this is happening. The candidates for president are pretty much assuming that vast financial resources will exist to be deployed against a range of problems. Everybody is going to be hugely disappointed.

When you introduce perversities into an economic system, they invariably end up expressing themselves as distortions. The economy that evolved the past two decades, driven by the perverse securitization of wishes and frauds, will now express itself in a stark cratering of American living standards. Incomes and jobs will vanish, massive quantities of stuff will collect dust on the WalMart shelves, the fragile infrastructures of daily life will go to shit, and there will be political hell to pay. Every attempt to avoid a straight-up workout of our massive losses, will represent another layer of perversity and more consequent destructive distortions.

Read all of it here.

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The Banking Crisis and the Iraq War

The Three Trillion Dollar War
By Peter Wilson / February 28, 2008

The Iraq war has cost the United States 50-60 times more than the Bush administration predicted and was a central cause of the sub-prime banking crisis threatening the world economy, according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.

The former World Bank vice-president yesterday said the war had, so far, cost the U.S. something like $3 trillion ($3.3 trillion) compared with the $50-60 billion predicted in 2003.

Australia also faced a real bill much greater than the $2.2 billion in military spending reported last week by Australian Defence Force chief Angus Houston, Professor Stiglitz said, pointing to higher oil prices and other indirect costs of the wars.

Professor Stiglitz told the Chatham House think tank in London that the Bush White House was currently estimating the cost of the war at about $500 billion, but that figure massively understated things such as the medical and welfare costs of U.S. military servicemen.

The war was now the second-most expensive in U.S. history after World War II and the second-longest after Vietnam, he said.

The spending on Iraq was a hidden cause of the current credit crunch because the U.S. central bank responded to the massive financial drain of the war by flooding the American economy with cheap credit.

"The regulators were looking the other way and money was being lent to anybody this side of a life-support system," he said.

That led to a housing bubble and a consumption boom, and the fallout was plunging the U.S. economy into recession and saddling the next president with the biggest budget deficit in history, he said.

Professor Stiglitz, an academic at the Columbia Business School and a former economic adviser to president Bill Clinton, said a further $500 billion was going to be spent on the fighting in the next two years and that could have been used more effectively to improve the security and quality of life of Americans and the rest of the world.

The money being spent on the war each week would be enough to wipe out illiteracy around the world, he said.

Just a few days' funding would be enough to provide health insurance for U.S. children who were not covered, he said.

The public had been encouraged by the White House to ignore the costs of the war because of the belief that the war would somehow pay for itself or be paid for by Iraqi oil or U.S. allies.

"When the Bush administration went to war in Iraq it obviously didn't focus very much on the cost. Larry Lindsey, the chief economic adviser, said the cost was going to be between $100 billion and $200 billion -- and for that slight moment of quasi-honesty he was fired.

"(Then defence secretary Donald) Rumsfeld responded and said 'baloney,” and the number the administration came up with was $50 to $60 billion. We have calculated that the cost was more like $3 trillion.

"Three trillion is a very conservative number, the true costs are likely to be much larger than that."

Five years after the war, the US was still spending about $50 billion every three months on direct military costs, he said.

Professor Stiglitz and another Clinton administration economist, Linda Bilmes, have produced a book, The Three Trillion Dollar War, pulling together their research on the true cost of the war, which does not include the cost to Iraq.

One of the greatest discrepancies is that the official figures do not include the long-term healthcare and social benefits for injured servicemen, who are surviving previously fatal attacks because of improved body armour.

"The ratio of injuries to fatalities in a normal war is 2:1. In this war they admitted to 7:1 but a true number is (something) like 15:1."

Some 100,000 servicemen have been diagnosed with serious psychological problems and the soldiers doing the most tours of duty have not yet returned.

Professor Stiglitz attributed to the Iraq war $5-10 of the almost $80-a-barrel increase in oil prices since the start of the war, adding that it would have been reasonable to attribute more than $35 of that rise to the war.

He said the British bill for its role in the war was about 20 times the pound stg. 1 billion ($2.1 billion) that former prime minister Tony Blair estimated before the war.

The British Government was yesterday ordered to release details of its planning for the war, when the country's Information Commissioner backed a Freedom of Information request for the minutes of two cabinet meetings in the days before the war.

Commissioner Richard Thomas said that because of the importance of the decision to go to war, the public interest in disclosing the minutes outweighed the public interest in withholding the information.


From Carlos Lowry / The Rag Blog

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Not a Failed State Yet? Just Give US a Minute

It’s Time To Demilitarize US Policy in Africa: No Arms! No Transfers! No Military Aid!
by Bruce Dixon / February 28th, 2008

It’s time to demilitarize US policy toward the African continent. Since the end of the Cold War in 1989, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have provided military aid, military training, military assistance and arms transfers to at least 50 out of 53 African nations, and fomented no less than fourteen wars. Bipartisan US policy until now has been about arming Africans, and keeping the continent hungry, sick, desperately poor and permanently at war with itself. Thanks to our policy of flooding the African continent with arms, the price of an AK-47 assault rifle is lower on the African continent than anyplace else on earth.

Of the nine countries where armed conflicts are now in progress, US-supplied arms and training are a factor in every one. In the Ethiopian civil war, in the invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia, in Chad, in Morocco and Western Sahara and Sudan, in the continuing Algerian civil war and of course in the Congo’s holocuast, which has accounted, conservatively, for six million dead since about 1996, the highest death toll of any conflict since World War 2. The US has equipped, trained and supplied every one of the national armies that have invaded and occupied parts of the Congo, from Kenya and Uganda to Rwanda, Burundi, Angola and even Namibia. US arms are also in the hands of non-government gangs and private armies that ravage and depopulate whole regions to facilitate the extraction of the coltan for our cell phones and computers, the titanium for our aircraft, and the uranium for our nukes.

America’s militarized foreign policy on the African continent does not benefit Africans. The inauguration of AFRICOM, the US military headquarters for the African continent, was met with universal condemnation and scorn by ordinary Africans across the continent, and their governments. Africans don’t want US arms, they don’t want US intervention, and they don’t want US bases.

African opposition to US military presence was the reason Bush did not set foot in the continent’s most populous country, Nigeria or in South Africa during his recent visit, and why he stayed only a matter of hours in Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi. Not one African country has dared the wrath of its people by requesting to host AFRICOM. But the ring of US bases, from Mombasa to Djibouti on the east to Angola and the Gulf of Guinea on the west, continues to grow. US forces regularly fly bombing missions over Somalia in support of the Ethiopian invasion.

America’s foreign policy elite, its multinational corporations, the Pentagon and its constellation of military suppliers and mercenary contractors know what they want. They want the coltan, the oil, the gold, and the diamonds. They want to privatize every state and social resource, down to the water supplies. They want to tie African agriculture to genetically engineered American crop varieties, and collect royalties for the use of these “patented” plants. They want to prevent African nations from spending their own wealth from their own resources on health and education infrastructure, on food subsidies, on growing jobs and healthy internal economies. And they want to keep Africa a war-torn hell on earth, because it’s good for business. If you’re not a “failed state” yet, they’ll make you one.

Read all of it here.

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Give Peace Symbol a Chance

Design and the Peace Sign

By Kate Ward / February 21, 2008

Fifty years ago, little known designer and activist Gerald Holtom revealed his logo for the newly formed Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. CND never applied for copyright on the symbol, preferring it spread freely so the anti-nuclear message could reach a larger audience. It evolved along the way to take on the wider meaning of peace.

Some might say that by forgoing copyright, the peace symbol surpassed all of its early potential. But if designers want to make the most impact, should they forge on without restrictions or consider designing for free?

Lack of restriction gives designers license to use the symbol to great effect. But all too often, the meaning becomes confused. We see it on products with values far removed from CND’s. Still, the core pacifist meaning is universally understood, and its message has never been more relevant. The nuclear debate still rages, and the Iraq War sparked some of the largest anti-war protests in history with the peace symbol very much in attendance.

The symbol communicates beyond linguistic and cultural divisions, at its best a beautifully simple expression of disgust for weapons of war and a demand for peace.
So forget your preconceptions and admit it: the world still needs peace.


Gallery of Peace Symbols

From Carlos Lowry / The Rag Blog

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A Long, Consistent and Suicidal Middle East Policy

Causes and Consequences of Our Foreign Policy in the Middle East: What It Means for Americans
By Karen Kwiatkowski

The following is the text of a speech given at Virginia Tech on February 12, 2008.

02/28/08 -- -- -I want to thank the Libertarians at Virginia Tech, the Political Science Club and the Institute for Humane Studies for the kind invitation to speak to you tonight.

I want to talk about the "Causes and Consequences of our Foreign Policy in the Middle East and What it Means for Americans." The original title of this speech was "Causes and Consequences of our Foreign Policy in the Middle East and What it Means for Libertarians." But I interchanged Americans for Libertarians. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy in Berlin, 1963, in times like these, when the American dream seems overwhelmed by what has become known as the American empire, perhaps we are all libertarians.

Let me start first with the consequences of our foreign policy in the Middle East, circa 2008.

* We are nearly five years past the moment where George W. Bush declared "Mission Accomplished."
* 400,000 to 1.2 million Iraqis are dead by our decisions and actions. Over two million are internally displaced, and over two million Iraqis have fled the country.
* 5,000 Americans are dead (soldiers and contractors) as a result, 30–50,000 physically injured, and over 100,000 mentally disturbed, receiving or awaiting treatment.
* Army and Marines are morally and physically bankrupt – and burdened by executive pressure for more forces in Afghanistan, Pakistan and trouble in Iran.
* A trillion dollars has been spent, another trillion to be spent before we are finished – and if McCain has his way, we will never be finished, and we will bleed ourselves for the duration of the 21st century.
* Beyond Iraq, we have Secretary of Defense Bob Gates alternately screaming in an empty room and crying in despair because NATO won’t pick up the slack of propping up our preferred government in Kabul.
* The one republic with nuclear weapons and a means to deploy them is led by an unstable dictator, threatened by his own subordinates, at odds with his very powerful and well-funded intelligence arm, and disliked by the majority of his citizens. And in case you were wondering, I am talking about Perez Musharraf.
* Jordan, once reliable and trustworthy, is feeling the heat of over two million unemployed and impoverished Iraqis swelling their refugee camps.
* Syria – who helped us with torture and renditions after 9-11 – has been both accused and attacked by her neighbor, our other nuclear-armed friend in the region.
* Lebanon suffered a silly war in the summer of 2006 – a war that was considered an embarrassing defeat for Israel, and a war that Washington, D.C. collaborated on and quietly cheered.
* Our steadfast friends, the House of Saud, don’t understand us anymore.
* We publicly threaten Iran for all kinds of reasons, even though Tehran is signatory to and compliant with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and even as we happily work with all kinds of Iranian-backed interests in southern Iraq.
* Four key undersea communication cables get cut in a week, isolating and seriously degrading much of the banking and communication traffic for our friends in the region, including in Dubai, which just bailed out some of our banks and credit card companies. Instead of decrying bad cable construction, and offering to send our own teams to help repair these cables in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, our government has said nothing. The entire region thinks we did it, either to send a message, test a military strategy, or to funnel information into a channel our vast intelligence bureaucracy can monitor.
* The price of oil, adjusted for inflation, is not yet at the level of the 1979 oil crisis. But it is within 10% of that. Given the drastic increase in global demand for oil today, relative to that in 1979, our foreign policy in the Middle East might be said to be harmful, but not disastrous. But you must consider two things – the amount of oil the United States imports from the Middle East is around 10–15% of all the oil we import – but interfering with the free market in this region costs the American taxpayer billions and billions every year in maintaining a large overseas military presence, military and economic aid to major and minor allies in the region, the costs of periodic off-the-book interventions, like Iraq, and the costs involved with protecting your countrymen from people who hate you enough to want to kill you and topple your tall buildings.

Such is the state of the Middle East, and such indeed are the consequences of our foreign policy.

It would be easy to blame the current situation in the Middle East on George W. Bush, or easier yet, Dick Cheney. But to do that would be to ignore our foreign policy over the past 80 years in that region.

It would also be easy to suggest that the situation in the Middle East is not the result of our intentions, but rather our poor judgment, our misunderstanding of Arab or Persian culture, our lack of sophistication, or even our own democratic system here at home where we shift diplomatic course with each shifting president, and elect Congresses that reflect the changing priorities of the American people, year by year.

It would be easy to say that most of these policies were pursued under the auspices of the Cold War, where we were forced to take sides around the world in order to stop a communist world revolution, to avoid world socialism.

It would be easy to say all of this. But none of that would be true.

Read the rest of this excellent analysis here.

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San Francisco Eight Update

Judge Moscone denies defense motion to dismiss…but

Judge Moscone denied defense motions to dismiss the conspiracy count against the remaining three San Francisco 8 defendants, Herman Bell, Jalil Muntaqim and Francisco Torres. While denying that issues about tolling and the statute of limitations are applicable in this case, he did say that the issue is not completely closed. The purpose of tolling statutes is to discourage defendants from fleeing a state to avoid prosecution by taking advantage of a statute of limitations. None of the three left the state to avoid prosecution. The statute of limitations on conspiracy is 3 years in California and was the basis of dismissing the conspiracy count against the other 5 defendants on February 7. Seven of the men remain charged with a 37 year old murder of a San Francisco police officer – Richard O’Neal was originally only charged with conspiracy and is no longer a defendant in this case. Moscone said that the motion to dismiss can be renewed at the conclusion of the preliminary hearing – scheduled to begin Monday, April 21.

According to Chuck Bourdon, Francisco Torres’ attorney, “the judgment was erroneously made” and that it relied on a case which is inapplicable to the issues presented. “The decision also ignores constitutional issues…and will be appealed to the California State Appellate Court immediately.”

According to today’s SF Chronicle, Gareth Lacey, spokesman for Attorney General Brown who green-lighted this prosecution, said “We have credible and strong new evidence.” Stuart Hanlon, Herman Bell’s attorney, said there is no new evidence in the case and much of the evidence - including the gun purportedly used in the shooting - has vanished. He asked the court, “so if this is true, where is it?” as it hasn’t been turned over to the defense as required by discovery laws.

Judge Moscone did ask prosecutors to give the defense a complete witness list two weeks before the preliminary hearing as well as making it possible for the defense team to have contact with Ruben Scott, who was one of the men captured in New Orleans in 1973, was tortured, and who is believed to be the main cooperating witness for the prosecution.

From Bob Meola / Movement for a Democratic Society

[+/-]

Our Revolutionary History : The Living Theatre

Julian Beck's Legacy Thrives : Radical Theater Alive and Living

[The Rag Blog begins a regular feature on the people and groups that have contributed to the rich history of our Movement. The Living Theatre lives and co-founder Judith Molina is currently vice chair of the Foundation for a Democratic Society, a support group for MDS and SDS. The text here is from the Living Theatre's own telling of its history. -- Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog]

Founded in 1947 as an imaginative alternative to the commercial theater by Judith Malina, the German-born student of Erwin Piscator, and Julian Beck, an abstract expressionist painter of the New York School, The Living Theatre has staged nearly a hundred productions performed in eight languages in 28 countries on five continents - a unique body of work that has influenced theater the world over.

During the 1950's and early 1960's in New York, The Living Theatre pioneered the unconventional staging of poetic drama - the plays of American writers like Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Paul Goodman, Kenneth Rexroth and John Ashbery, as well as European writers rarely produced in America, including Cocteau, Lorca, Brecht and Pirandello. Best remembered among these productions, which marked the start of the Off-Broadway movement, were Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights, Tonight We Improvise, Many Loves, The Connection and The Brig.

The difficulty of operating a unique, experimental enterprise within a cultural establishment ill-equipped to accept it led to the closing by the authorities of all The Living Theatre's New York venues: the Cherry Lane Theater (closed by the Fire Department in 1953), The Living Theatre Studio on Broadway at 100th Street (closed by the Buildings Department in 1956), The Living Theatre on 14th Street (closed by the I.R.S. in 1963) and The Living Theatre on Third Street (closed by the Buildings Department in 1993).

In the mid-1960's, the company began a new life as a nomadic touring ensemble. In Europe, they evolved into a collective, living and working together toward the creation of a new form of nonfictional acting based on the actor's political and physical commitment to using the theater as a medium for furthering social change. The landmark achievements of this period include Mysteries and Smaller Pieces, Antigone, Frankenstein and Paradise Now.

In the 1970's, The Living Theatre began to create The Legacy of Cain, a cycle of plays for non-traditional venues. From the prisons of Brazil to the gates of the Pittsburgh steel mills, and from the slums of Palermo to the schools of New York City, the company offered these plays, which include Six Public Acts, The Money Tower, Seven Meditations on Political Sado-Masochism, Turning the Earth and the Strike Support Oratorium free of charge to the broadest of all possible audiences.

The 1980's saw the group return to the theater, where they developed new participatory techniques that enable the audience to first rehearse with the company and then join them on stage as fellow performers. These plays include Prometheus at the Winter Palace, The Yellow Methuselah and The Archaeology of Sleep.

Following the death of Julian Beck in 1985, cofounder Judith Malina and the company’s new director, veteran Hanon Reznikov, who first encountered The Living Theatre while a student at Yale in 1968, opened a new performing space in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, producing a steady stream of innovative works including The Tablets, I and I, The Body of God, Humanity, Rules of Civility, Waste, Echoes of Justice, and The Zero Method. After the closing of the Third Street space in 1993, the company went on to create Anarchia, Utopia and Capital Changes in other New York City venues.

In 1999, with funds from the European Union, they renovated a 1650 Palazzo Spinola in Rocchetta Ligure, Italy and reopened it as the Centro Living Europa, a residence and working space for the company’s European programs. There they created Resistenza, a dramatization of the local inhabitants’ historical resistance to the German occupation of 1943-45. In recent years, the company has also been performing Resist Now!, a play for anti-globalization demonstrations both in Europe and the U.S. A month-long collaboration with local theater artists in Lebanon in 2001 resulted in the creation of a site-specific play about the abuse of political detainees in the notorious former prison at Khiam.

The Living has opened a new theatre at 21 Clinton Street, presenting The Brig. They continue also to present NO SIR!, a play for the street against military recruitment.

The Clinton Street theater is the company's first permanent home since the closing of The Living Theatre on Third Street at Avenue C in 1993. The decision to return to the Lower East Side (at 19-21 Clinton Street, between Houston and Stanton Streets) reflects the company's continuing faith in the neighborhood as a vibrant center where the needs of some of the city's poorer people confront the ideas of the experimenters in art and politics who have settled in the area.
The presence of newly arrived upscale shops and venues only underlines the political contradictions which bristle through the crowded, narrow streets.


Coming soon: Jim Retherford on the Theater of Revolution.

[+/-]

27 February 2008

Beam Me Up. Quick.

Kelly / The Onion / February 25, 2008

[+/-]

John Lewis Dumps Hillary

Civil rights leader switches to Obama
By Ben Evans / February 27, 2008

Civil rights leader John Lewis dropped his support for Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential bid Wednesday in favor of Barack Obama. Lewis, a Democratic congressman from Atlanta, is the most prominent black leader to defect from Clinton's campaign in the face of near-unanimous black support for Obama in recent voting.

He also is a superdelegate who gets a vote at this summer's national convention in Denver.

In a written statement, Lewis said Obama's campaign "represents the beginning of a new movement in American political history" and that he wants "to be on the side of the people."

"After taking some time for serious reflection on this issue, I have decided that when I cast my vote as a superdelegate at the Democratic convention, it is my duty ... to express the will of the people," the statement said.

Lewis' endorsement had been a coveted prize among the Democratic candidates thanks to his standing as one of the most prominent civil rights leaders of the 1960s.

"John Lewis is an American hero and a giant of the civil rights movement, and I am deeply honored to have his support," Obama said in a statement.

Clinton, questioned about Lewis during a satellite interview with Houston television station KTRK, said: "I understand he's been under tremendous pressure. He's been my friend. He will always be my friend. At the end of the day it's not about who is supporting us, it's about what we're presenting, what our positions are, what our experiences and qualifications are and I think that voters are going to decide."

Lewis first announced his Clinton endorsement in October and has appeared on her behalf on television and at events across the country, at one point accusing Obama supporters of trying to fan the flames of race against her. Clinton has frequently cited his support in trying to establish her credentials among minority voters, saying she saw her campaign as a continuation of his work.

But Lewis came under intense pressure to get behind Obama after his constituents supported the Illinois senator roughly 3-to-1 in Georgia's Feb. 5 primary, and about 90 percent of black voters statewide voted for Obama, according to exit polls. The support among black voters nationwide to Obama's candidacy mirrors Lewis' Georgia district.

His change of heart follows a similar move by Rep. David Scott, a black Democrat who represents a neighboring district. It also comes a week after the Rev. Markel Hutchins, a young Atlanta minister, announced he would challenge Lewis in the Democratic congressional primary this summer.

Hutchins, 30, has seized on Lewis' waffling in the presidential contest as evidence that the 68-year-old congressman is out of touch.

"Today's announcement by Representative Lewis was clearly prompted by political expediency," Hutchins said Wednesday. "It is time for a change. It is time to send somebody to Congress who is actually willing to represent the district."

Earlier this month, Lewis' office disputed media reports that he said he would switch candidates, or was at least reconsidering. But until Wednesday. Lewis refused to answer questions clarifying his position.

He said Wednesday afternoon he had called former President Clinton and Sen. Clinton but had not reached them.

Lewis' announcement comes on the same day as another superdelegate, Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, endorsed Obama, citing the presidential hopeful's record on trade.

The Obama campaign also said more than 1 million people have contributed to the campaign — a threshold crossed on Wednesday. Many donors have given $25 or $50, he said. The average donation is a little more than $100.

"We have funded this campaign at the grass-roots level," campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters on a conference call. "It's really built on the backs of the American people who are getting involved in this campaign. Most of the people giving us money are also volunteering."

Dorgan said Obama has supported key trade issues. "He and I feel the same way. We both believe in trade and plenty of it. We just insist it that it be fair to our country — the rules be fair."

NAFTA, the free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, is unpopular with blue-collar workers whose votes are critical in the Democratic primary Tuesday in Ohio.

Obama has won 11 straight primaries and caucuses since Super Tuesday, increased his advantage in the all-important delegate count and has attracted the support of his congressional colleagues. On Tuesday, he secured the endorsement of one-time presidential candidate Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut.


[+/-]

Nature Is the Timekeeper, Or There Goes the Neighbourhood

The Defining Moment: The Point Of No Return
by Rachel Olivieri / February 26th, 2008

If you woke up one morning only to discover that civilization has been on a roaring oil binge and in its catatonic consuming stupor had unceremoniously launched itself into the pit of despair, you’d want to know about that, right? It would be a leading news story on the front page of every prestigious newspaper like the NY Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, LA Times, etc., right? Yet, I couldn’t find a drop of ink that suggests that life as we know it has already ended and real estate on the North Pole will be available soon. But did you see the latest eye-popping candy on the front cover of Victoria’s Secret catalogue suggesting that if we “buy more we save more” printed on paper from a forest near you? No, you didn’t read the print, silly me.

Seriously, “Late summer 2007, an area of Arctic sea ice almost twice the size of Britain disappeared in a single week.” Overall, about 50% of the Arctic ice has thinned out over the last fifty industrial years as a result of fossil fuel driven economies. Last years shrinkage broke the record for ice melt and 2008 is on pace to obliterate that record.

No, let’s be casual, I mean its only a leading climatologist from Washington State University who recently proved that the tipping point has been breached, and, like it or not, the euphemism shop to till you drop, has the drop on an overly distracted civilization. And it’s not like the issue hasn’t been heating up since “Inconvenient Truth” aired world-wide and every other climatologist in the business not employed by Bush has alluded to the fact that carbon emissions trap heat, and well, hot planets melt ice. No ice, no Malibu, inland properties can speculate new coastlines and build piers or set-up post-industrial villas for the likes of Bush, Cheney and the Wall Street gang.

A recent airing of Exploration hosted by Michio Kaku featured world-renown environmentalist Lester Brown, whose recent release, Plan B, 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, details the folly of a fossil fuel-based industrial economy and its impact on climate, ecosystems, economy, food production, forest, and population. All of which seems rather important, in my view, to the quality of life. Hello Hillary, Hello Obama, Hello McCain? Is anybody home?

Now, if you’re wondering, who’s Lester Brown and why should I trust his data over the governments? Brown is the founder of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington D.C. and the World Watch Institute and has been tracking carbon emissions and global climate patterns for the past thirty years and has the ear, apparently, of most world leaders. Bush, whose personal climatologist exists in the mythical space between his ears, answers only to higher authorities unavailable to common folk.

Brown’s four overriding goals are to “stabilize climate, stabilize population, eradicate poverty, and restore the earth’s damaged ecosystems. Failure to reach any one of these goals will likely mean failure to reach the others as well.” Now there’s a days work. After setting the stage for massive climate change, Brown defines a way out. Albeit, not a family vacation but the notion of living within planetary means has a comforting ring to it. Don’t you think? Let’s consider some of his findings.

In a climate nutshell, for every one foot rise in sea level one hundred feet of land mass is swallowed by the sea due to the shallow slope of coast lines. When the Greenland ice sheet melts, and it is faster than expected, sea levels rise 23′. When the West Artic Ice sheet breaks up, sea levels rises another 16′ totaling 39′ of sea rise, a real boon to mapmakers. Most coastal cities worldwide will be under water displacing 600 million people — sea-rise refugees migrating inland — overwhelming inland infrastructures ill-prepared to house, feed, or employ them. Hurricane Katrina, disaster writ small, pales in comparison to the loss of hundreds of billions of dollars of property damage and hundreds of millions fleeing inland with little prospect for a life.

Read all of it here.

[+/-]

Andy Worthington on the Mess That's Afghanistan

Afghanistan: The Brutal and Unnecessary War the Media Aren't Telling You About
By Joshua Holland

27/02/08 "AlterNet" -- - They say journalists provide the first draft of history. With the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, that draft led to an almost universal consensus, at least among Americans, that the attack was a justifiable act of self-defense. The Afghanistan action is commonly viewed as a "clean" conflict as well -- a war prosecuted with minimal loss of life, and one that didn't bring the kind of international opprobrium onto the United States that the invasion of Iraq would lead to a year later.

Those views are also held by many Americans who are critical of the excesses of the Bush administration's "War on Terror." But there's a disconnect there. Everything that followed -- secret detentions, torture, the invasion of Iraq, the assault on domestic dissent -- flowed inevitably from the failure to challenge Bush's claim that an act of terror required a military response. The United States has a rich history of abandoning its purported liberal values during times of war, and it was our acceptance of Bush's war narrative that led to the abuses that have shattered America's moral standing before the world.

In his book, The Guantánamo Files, historian and journalist Andy Worthington offers a much-needed corrective to the draft of the Afghanistan conflict that most Americans saw on their nightly newscasts. Worthington is the first to detail the histories of all 774 prisoners who have passed through the Bush administration's "legal black hole" at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But his history starts in Afghanistan, and makes it abundantly clear that the road to Guantánamo -- not to mention Abu Ghraib -- began in places like Kandahar.

AlterNet recently asked Worthington what that road looked like at its point of origin.

Joshua Holland: I think most Americans believe that we went into Afghanistan to rout anti-American or anti-Western "jihadi," but your book captures the fact that the U.S. entered on one side of a long-standing civil war that had nothing to do with any sort of "clash of civilizations" between East and West. Can you give us some sense of what that conflict was about?

Andy Worthington: Sure, it's a very good question, actually. Briefly, the roots of the conflict lie in the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, when the United States, via Pakistani intermediaries, and the Saudis vied to fund the mujahideen -- Afghan warlords and their soldiers, backed up by a rather smaller number of Arab recruits.

At the end of the 1980s, when the Soviet Union withdrew, the country was plunged into a civil war, as the various warlords, pumped up with billions of dollars of U.S. and Saudi aid, fought each other to gain control of the country. Tens of thousands of civilians died, and crime and human rights abuses were rife.

Largely in response to this lawlessness, the Taliban -- initially a group of ultraorthodox religious students from the south of the country -- rose up to cleanse the country by creating a pure Islamic state. Their project, too, was soon derailed by brutality and by a religious fundamentalism that shocked the West, but it was the struggle between the Taliban and the warlords of the Northern Alliance that attracted thousands of foreign foot soldiers to Afghanistan in the 1990s, summoned by fatwas issued by radical sheikhs in their homelands, which required them to help the Taliban in their struggle against the Northern Alliance.

Osama Bin Laden, who had been living in Saudi Arabia and Sudan in the post-Soviet period, returned to Afghanistan in 1996 and became involved in funding military training camps and building up his plans for a global, anti-American jihad, but -- although there was some overlap between Al Qaeda and parts of the Taliban leadership -- the vast majority of the recruits, as I've indicated, were involved not in a grand "clash of civilizations" but in a provincial inter-Muslim civil war.

Holland: That's an important point. There's a common belief that a seamless integration existed between the Taliban and Bin Laden's group, and that integration justified our attacking Afghanistan, a nation-state, in "self-defense." But in reality, the Taliban was busy fighting this inter-Muslim civil war and had little or no role in Al Qaeda. Let's go a bit further: just how much overlap was there?

Worthington: According to a senior intelligence official interviewed by the journalist David Rose in 2004, the overlap was very small. Rose was told, "In 1996 it was nonexistent, and by 2001, no more than 50 people." Now this official was referring to an overlap of fairly high-level people in both organizations, and certain commentators have pointed out that Al Qaeda's "Arab Brigade" of around 500 soldiers contributed to the Taliban's military strength, but, to return to what we discussed before, this was in the context of an inter-Muslim civil war, and not a war against the United States.

There were certainly major divisions within the Taliban leadership regarding Bin Laden, and even Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, was apparently unimpressed by Bin Laden in the years after his return to Afghanistan. In 1998, Omar had even been planning to betray Bin Laden to the Saudis, but when Al Qaeda attacked the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the U.S. retaliated by launching cruise missile attacks on training camps in Afghanistan, Omar drew closer to Bin laden. Even so, the Taliban offered to hand over Bin laden after 9/11 if proof was offered of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

Holland: They were so close in 1998 -- the deal had been done, and two jets carrying Saudi Prince Turki and a group of Saudi commandos had actually landed in Afghanistan and were waiting to pick up Bin Laden when the deal soured.

Worthington: That's right. And another clear sign of the lies involved in the "seamless integration" you refer to happened on Oct. 7, 2001, the first night of "Operation Enduring Freedom," when the U.S. military announced that it had bombed 23 Al Qaeda training camps. As I mention in the book, of the dozens of training camps established in Afghanistan from the 1980s onwards, most were funded by Pakistan and wealthy donors in the Gulf countries. Some were run by Afghan warlords, others by Pakistani groups and others by militant groups from other countries. Although bin Laden had a few camps of his own, it was inappropriate to describe all the training camps in Afghanistan as "Al Qaeda camps."

Holland: OK, let me go back briefly to an earlier point. Supporters of Bush's global network of "black" prisons say that those who ended up in them were "unlawful combatants." And you said that a lot of people from around the Muslim world were drawn to serve as foot soldiers in Afghanistan's civil war, but in the book, you also make it clear that many were not even foot soldiers -- not combatants at all -- but religious students, aid workers and other adventurous young people, and many of them would later get caught up in the chaos that followed the invasion and ended up at Gitmo.

Worthington: Yes, that's right. I'd say that between 70 and 100 of the foreign -- non-Afghan -- detainees had traveled to Afghanistan to provide humanitarian aid to the Afghan people, to teach or study the Koran, as economic migrants, or even because they were curious about the "pure Islamic state" that, in some quarters, the Taliban was alleged to have established. A similar number were captured in Pakistan. Charity workers were captured near the border, where they had traveled to provide assistance at refugee camps, and others -- including missionaries, entrepreneurs, economic migrants, refugees and students -- were actually captured elsewhere in Pakistan, in towns and cities far from the "battlefields" of Afghanistan.

And then, of course, there are the Afghan detainees, who made up over a quarter of Guantánamo's total population. Many of these were unwilling conscripts, who were forced to serve the Taliban, and most of the rest were picked up either on the basis of false intelligence -- because the U.S. forces did not know who to trust -- or were handed over by their rivals, in business or in politics, who told false stories to the Americans.

Read the entire interview here.

[+/-]

Hell No, We Won't Blow 'Em Up

Generals to quit if US strikes Iran
February 26, 2008

Some senior U.S. military commanders are prepared to resign if President Bush orders a military strike against Iran, a new report says.

"There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran," The Sunday Times quoted Monday a source with close ties to British intelligence.

"There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible," the source added.

If proven true a revolt on such a scale would be unprecedented because "American generals usually stay and fight until they get fired," said a Pentagon source.

Robert Gates, the defense secretary, has repeatedly warned against striking Iran and is believed to represent the view of his senior commanders.

Iran has announced that in face of any aggression it will respond like a 'tsunami'.


From Roger Baker / The Rag Blog

[+/-]

26 February 2008

Which Criminals Are Wanted the World Over?

The Most Wanted List: International Terrorism
By Noam Chomsky

On February 13, Imad Moughniyeh, a senior commander of Hizbollah, was assassinated in Damascus. "The world is a better place without this man in it," State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said: "one way or the other he was brought to justice." Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell added that Moughniyeh has been "responsible for more deaths of Americans and Israelis than any other terrorist with the exception of Osama bin Laden."

Joy was unconstrained in Israel too, as "one of the U.S. and Israel's most wanted men" was brought to justice, the London Financial Times reported. Under the heading, "A militant wanted the world over," an accompanying story reported that he was "superseded on the most-wanted list by Osama bin Laden" after 9/11 and so ranked only second among "the most wanted militants in the world."

The terminology is accurate enough, according to the rules of Anglo-American discourse, which defines "the world" as the political class in Washington and London (and whoever happens to agree with them on specific matters). It is common, for example, to read that "the world" fully supported George Bush when he ordered the bombing of Afghanistan. That may be true of "the world," but hardly of the world, as revealed in an international Gallup Poll after the bombing was announced. Global support was slight. In Latin America, which has some experience with U.S. behavior, support ranged from 2% in Mexico to 16% in Panama, and that support was conditional upon the culprits being identified (they still weren't eight months later, the FBI reported), and civilian targets being spared (they were attacked at once). There was an overwhelming preference in the world for diplomatic/judicial measures, rejected out of hand by "the world."

Following the Terror Trail

In the present case, if "the world" were extended to the world, we might find some other candidates for the honor of most hated arch-criminal. It is instructive to ask why this might be true.

The Financial Times reports that most of the charges against Moughniyeh are unsubstantiated, but "one of the very few times when his involvement can be ascertained with certainty [is in] the hijacking of a TWA plane in 1985 in which a U.S. Navy diver was killed." This was one of two terrorist atrocities the led a poll of newspaper editors to select terrorism in the Middle East as the top story of 1985; the other was the hijacking of the passenger liner Achille Lauro, in which a crippled American, Leon Klinghoffer, was brutally murdered,. That reflects the judgment of "the world." It may be that the world saw matters somewhat differently.

The Achille Lauro hijacking was a retaliation for the bombing of Tunis ordered a week earlier by Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. His air force killed 75 Tunisians and Palestinians with smart bombs that tore them to shreds, among other atrocities, as vividly reported from the scene by the prominent Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk. Washington cooperated by failing to warn its ally Tunisia that the bombers were on the way, though the Sixth Fleet and U.S. intelligence could not have been unaware of the impending attack. Secretary of State George Shultz informed Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir that Washington "had considerable sympathy for the Israeli action," which he termed "a legitimate response" to "terrorist attacks," to general approbation. A few days later, the UN Security Council unanimously denounced the bombing as an "act of armed aggression" (with the U.S. abstaining). "Aggression" is, of course, a far more serious crime than international terrorism. But giving the United States and Israel the benefit of the doubt, let us keep to the lesser charge against their leadership.

A few days after, Peres went to Washington to consult with the leading international terrorist of the day, Ronald Reagan, who denounced "the evil scourge of terrorism," again with general acclaim by "the world."

The "terrorist attacks" that Shultz and Peres offered as the pretext for the bombing of Tunis were the killings of three Israelis in Larnaca, Cyprus. The killers, as Israel conceded, had nothing to do with Tunis, though they might have had Syrian connections. Tunis was a preferable target, however. It was defenseless, unlike Damascus. And there was an extra pleasure: more exiled Palestinians could be killed there.

The Larnaca killings, in turn, were regarded as retaliation by the perpetrators: They were a response to regular Israeli hijackings in international waters in which many victims were killed -- and many more kidnapped and sent to prisons in Israel, commonly to be held without charge for long periods. The most notorious of these has been the secret prison/torture chamber Facility 1391. A good deal can be learned about it from the Israeli and foreign press. Such regular Israeli crimes are, of course, known to editors of the national press in the U.S., and occasionally receive some casual mention.

Klinghoffer's murder was properly viewed with horror, and is very famous. It was the topic of an acclaimed opera and a made-for-TV movie, as well as much shocked commentary deploring the savagery of Palestinians -- "two-headed beasts" (Prime Minister Menachem Begin), "drugged roaches scurrying around in a bottle" (Chief of Staff Raful Eitan), "like grasshoppers compared to us," whose heads should be "smashed against the boulders and walls" (Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir). Or more commonly just "Araboushim," the slang counterpart of "kike" or "nigger."

Thus, after a particularly depraved display of settler-military terror and purposeful humiliation in the West Bank town of Halhul in December 1982, which disgusted even Israeli hawks, the well-known military/political analyst Yoram Peri wrote in dismay that one "task of the army today [is] to demolish the rights of innocent people just because they are Araboushim living in territories that God promised to us," a task that became far more urgent, and was carried out with far more brutality, when the Araboushim began to "raise their heads" a few years later.

We can easily assess the sincerity of the sentiments expressed about the Klinghoffer murder. It is only necessary to investigate the reaction to comparable U.S.-backed Israeli crimes. Take, for example, the murder in April 2002 of two crippled Palestinians, Kemal Zughayer and Jamal Rashid, by Israeli forces rampaging through the refugee camp of Jenin in the West Bank. Zughayer's crushed body and the remains of his wheelchair were found by British reporters, along with the remains of the white flag he was holding when he was shot dead while seeking to flee the Israeli tanks which then drove over him, ripping his face in two and severing his arms and legs. Jamal Rashid was crushed in his wheelchair when one of Israel's huge U.S.-supplied Caterpillar bulldozers demolished his home in Jenin with his family inside. The differential reaction, or rather non-reaction, has become so routine and so easy to explain that no further commentary is necessary.

Read all of it here.

From David Hamilton / The Rag Blog

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How Could Americans Let This Happen?

One word: revenge. We are a nation that collectively decided that revenge in the aftermath of September 11th was acceptable. And these two articles describe its logical conclusion. We should conclude that revenge is evil and can only yield further deep, dark evil.

Richard Jehn / The Rag Blog

Anything Goes: "Taxi to the Dark Side": How Did America Become a Country That Tortures?
By Cynthia Fuchs

They’re a very frail people and I was surprised it had taken that long for one of ‘em to die in our custody. —Pfc. Damien Corsetti, Military Intelligence, Bagram

If the FBI had felt that there was a case to answer for, they wouldn’t have taken me into Bagram where I was held, heard the sounds of a woman screaming next door, had me hogtied and threatened to send me to Egypt in order to get me to sign this. —Moazzam Begg, Now 2006 July 28

25/02/08 " PopMatters" -- -- In December 2002, a 22-year-old Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar was picked up and delivered to the Bagram Air Force Base prison. Five days later, he was dead. Sgt. Thomas Curtis, one of the Military Police at Bagram, remembers, “There was definitely a sense of concern because he was the second one. You wonder, was it something we did?”

As detailed in Alex Gibney’s devastating documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side, Dilawar’s demise was officially termed a homicide, like the first detainee to die at Bagram, Habibullah. Captured by a warlord and handed over to the U.S. just days before Dilawar, Habibullah as deemed “an important prisoner,” hooded, shackled, and isolated, periodically beaten for “noncompliance.” Autopsies showed that Dilawar and Habibullah suffered similar abuses, including deep bruises all over their bodies; according to the Army coroner, Dilawar suffered “massive tissue damage to his legs… his legs had been pulpified.” And yet, despite initial concerns among the guards and interrogators at Bagram over an investigation, instead, the officer in charge of interrogation at the prison, Captain Carolyn Wood, was awarded a Bronze Star for Valor and, following the Iraq invasion in 2003, she and her unit were sent to Abu Ghraib.

Methodically, relentlessly, Gibney’s Oscar-nominated film assembles stories, evidence, and testimony from witnesses and experts (its deliberate structure recalls that of Charles Ferguson’s No End in Sight, both films suggesting that, if the Bush Administration had not already put in place legal protections, more than one member might be subject to criminal charges). The many decisions and oversights that produced the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that would be used at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and other sites have several points of departure, each chilling in its own way. Not least among these is the pronouncement by Dick Cheney that motivates Taxi‘s title, made during an appearance on Meet the Press during the week after 9/11. Describing imminent changes in interrogation policies, the vice president asserted,

We have to work sort of the dark side, if you will, spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in. It’ll be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.

This working of the “dark side” would be both notorious and secret, planned and haphazard, illegal and, in some instances, calculated to toe a seeming legal line. Above all, the film argues, the work was instigated and often overseen by military officers and administration officials, who created a “fog of ambiguity, coupled with great pressure to bring results,” such that young, untrained soldiers were following orders that were not spelled out. Chief among these sources of confusion is the January 2002 torture memo” written by John Yoo, then deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, advising the suspension of the Geneva Conventions in cases deemed appropriate by the president. Taxi describes the memo as giving “legal cover for the CIA and Special Forces to embark on a secret program of previously forbidden interrogation techniques,” including the use of dogs, nudity, stress positions, sleep deprivation and waterboarding. This even as military lawyers disputed such methods, especially as the use of such “extreme acts” left soldiers vulnerable to criminal charges—though, as it has turned out, those who directed them have not been subject to prosecutions.

Read the rest here.

Confessions of a Gitmo Guard: A Nightmare World of Torture and Prison Guard Suicides
By Debbie Nathan

26/02/08 "Counterpunch" -- - A psychiatrist who has treated former military personnel at Guantánamo prison camp is telling a story of prisoner torture and guard suicide there, recounted to him by a National Guardsman who worked at Guantánamo just after it opened.

Dr. John R. Smith, 75, is a Oklahoma City psychiatrist who has done worked at military posts during the past few years. He is also a consultant for the University of Oklahoma's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Services, and is affiliated with the Veteran's Affairs Administration Hospital in Oklahoma City. The court-appointed psychiatric examination of Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Murrah Federal Building in 1995, was conducted by Smith. A few years ago, he became a contract physician, treating active duty members of the US military in need of psychotherapy.

Smith spoke on February 22, 2008, at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, held in Washington DC. His presentation dealt with the psychological impact on guards of working at Guantánamo . He focused on a chilling case history, of a patient he called "Mr. H."
Smith described Mr. H as a blue-collar Latino in his 40s who had done routine service in the National Guard for years before being called up to Kuwait. Then, shortly after 9/11, he was diverted from Kuwait to Guantánamo . The detention camp had just opened. Mr. H was deployed there to work as a guard.

Untrained for the job, Mr. H was taken aback by the detainees. They threw feces and urine on him, said Smith, and tried to get him to sneak letters out, telling him that if he didn't, "they would see to it that his family suffered the consequences." The prisoners also mocked Mr. H, that his being in the military made him "a traitor" to Latinos and other minorities. Mr. H was confused and terrified.

Meanwhile, according to Smith, "this good Catholic man with a family who had pretty much always followed the rules" was called on to participate in torture. One of his jobs was "to take detainees to certain places and see that they were handcuffed in difficult positions, usually naked, in anticipation of interrogation." Mr. H often watched the questioning. He saw prisoners pushed until they fell down, then cut. They responded to the torture with "defecation, vomiting, urinating," and "psychotic reactions: bizarre screaming and crying."

Smith noted that Mr. H said he was "required to handcuff and push to the ground detainees who were naked." The prisoners were also made to "remain on sharp stones on their knees." Detainees, Mr. H told Smith, would try to avoid interrogation by rubbing their knees until they bled in order be taken to the prison hospital.

According to Smith, Mr. H's comment about these events "was poignant and simple: 'It was wrong what we did.'" While still at Guantánamo , he responded to being a participant in torture "with guilt, crying and tears. But of course it was forbidden to talk with anyone about what he was experiencing." He "became more and more depressed." Apparently, so did other military personnel. Smith said Mr. H told him that in the first month he was at Guantánamo , two guards committed suicide.

Smith said that by the time he saw Mr. H, he "had become very ill. He was suicidal, terribly depressed, anxious," and "riddled with insomnia and horrible dreams and flashbacks." He had already seen two military therapists and not improved. But those therapists "were active duty and he didn't dare tell them" what had happened at Guantánamo . Smith was not active duty, and after two or three sessions Mr. H opened up. With medication and psychotherapy, he became less suicidal but was still too sick to do any more military service.

Three years later after treating Mr. H, Smith got three new patients who were guards at Guantánamo on later tours. They said conditions were much improved --"they loved it at Guantánamo and went swimming in the Caribbean." Still, one guard was having problems directly related to his work there. He "described having to cut down a detainee" who tried to hang himself after chewing through an artery in his own arm. There was blood everywhere. When the guard left Guantánamo , he was suffering from "anxiety attacks, panic attacks."

Smith said his presentation at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting was the first time he'd ever spoken publicly about his Guantánamo patients. He decided to talk, he said, because he is concerned that veterans are generally ineligible for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) disability benefits if the condition is not caused by combat. He considers the guards of Guantánamo "an overlooked group of victims." But in making that case, Smith stepped into a unique role. Heretofore, almost all accounts of torture at Guantánamo have come from non-governmental human rights groups or detainees and their defense lawyers. The FBI accounts in 2004 were contradictory. Smith, a prestigious physician, relayed accounts from inside the military.

Debbie Nathan is a New York City-based journalist who writes frequently for CounterPunch. She can be reached at naess2@gmail.com.


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Death Penalty is Dead Wrong

Death Penalty Awareness Week in Austin / February 25-29, 2008

This is an annual event with participation from CEDP chapters across the United States. The Austin CEDP will be organizing a week of activities including:

A People's Tribunal Against the Death Penalty
Tuesday, February 26 at 12 p.m.
UT Campus, West Mall Steps
We will present strong evidence against the continued use of the death penalty. Our verdict: the death penalty is dead wrong!

Is the Death Penalty on the Way Out?
A CEDP Presentation
Wednesday, February 27 at 7 p.m.
At UT, NOA Room 1.116.

From the Supreme Court moratorium due to a case about lethal injection, high profile cases like that of Kenneth Foster, Jr. in Texas, to abolition of the death penalty in New Jersey, support for the death penalty continues to slowly decline. Join the CEDP for a presentation that will describe these recent developments, as well as look at the CEDP's role in the struggle to end the death penalty.

Displays and tables on the West Mall Wednesday, Feb. 27 in the afternoon, and at Wheatsville Co-Op on Friday early evening.

Justice for Rodney Reed -- an innocent man on Texas' death row

Campaign to End the Death Penalty
494-0667 or cedpaustin@gmail.com

From Stephanie Collins / The Rag Blog

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Yes Surge, No Surge...

The Calm Before the Conflagration
by Chris Hedges / February 25, 2008

The United States is funding and in many cases arming the three ethnic factions in Iraq - the Kurds, the Shiites, and, the Sunni Arabs of $300 a month by the U.S. military. Iraq is Yugoslavia before the storm. It is a caldron of weapons, lawlessness, hate and criminality that is destined to implode. And the current U.S. policy, born of desperation and defeat, means that when Iraq goes up, the U.S. military will have to scurry like rats for cover.

The supporters of the war, from the Bush White House to Sen. John McCain, tout the surge as the magic solution. But the surge, which primarily deployed 30,000 troops in and around Baghdad, did little to thwart the sectarian violence. The decline in attacks began only when we bought off the Sunni Arabs. U.S. commanders in the bleak fall of 2006 had little choice. It was that or defeat. The steady rise in U.S. casualties, the massive car bombs that tore apart city squares in Baghdad and left hundreds dead, the brutal ethnic cleansing that was creating independent ethnic enclaves beyond our control throughout Iraq, the death squads that carried out mass executions and a central government that was as corrupt as it was impotent signaled catastrophic failure.

The United States cut a deal with its Sunni Arab enemies. It would pay the former insurgents. It would allow them to arm and form military units and give them control of their ethnic enclaves. The Sunni Arabs, in exchange, would halt attacks on U.S. troops. The Sunnis Arabs agreed.

The U.S. is currently spending hundreds of millions of dollars to pay the monthly salaries of some 600,000 armed fighters in the three rival ethnic camps in Iraq. These fighters-Shiite, Kurd and Sunni Arab-are not only antagonistic but deeply unreliable allies. The Sunni Arab militias have replaced central government officials, including police, and taken over local administration and security in the pockets of Iraq under their control. They have no loyalty outside of their own ethnic community. Once the money runs out, or once they feel strong enough to make a thrust for power, the civil war in Iraq will accelerate with deadly speed. The tactic of money-for-peace failed in Afghanistan. The U.S. doled out funds and weapons to tribal groups in Afghanistan to buy their loyalty, but when the payments and weapons shipments ceased, the tribal groups headed back into the embrace of the Taliban.

The Sunni Arab militias are known by a variety of names: the Iraqi Security Volunteers (ISVs), neighborhood watch groups, Concerned Local Citizens, Critical Infrastructure Security. The militias call themselves “sahwas” (”sahwa” being the Arabic word for awakening). There are now 80,000 militia fighters, nearly all Sunni Arabs, paid by the United States to control their squalid patches of Iraq. They are expected to reach 100,000. The Sunni Arab militias have more fighters under arms than the Shiite Mahdi and are about half the size of the feeble Iraqi army. The Sunni Awakening groups, which fly a yellow satin flag, are forming a political party.

The Sunni Arab militias, though they have ended attacks on U.S. forces, detest the Shiite-Kurdish government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and abhor the presence of U.S. troops on Iraqi soil. They take the money and the support with clenched teeth because with it they are able to build a renegade Sunni army, a third force inside Iraq, which they believe will make it possible to overthrow the central government. The Sunni Arabs, who make up about 40 percent of Iraq’s population, held most positions of power under Saddam Hussein. They dominated Iraq’s old officer corps. They made up its elite units, including the Republic Guard divisions and the Special Forces regiments. They controlled the intelligence agencies. There are several hundred thousand well-trained Sunni Arabs who lack only an organizational structure. We have now made the formation of this structure possible. These militias are the foundation for a deadlier insurgent force, one that will dwarf anything the United States faced in the past. The U.S. is arming, funding and equipping its own assassins.

There have been isolated clashes that point to a looming conflagration. A Shiite-dominated unit of the regular army in the late summer of 2007 attacked a strong Sunni Arab force west of Baghdad. U.S. troops thrust themselves between the two factions. The enraged Shiites, thwarted in their attack, kidnapped relatives of the commander of the Sunni Arab force, and American negotiators had to plead frantically for their release. There have been scattered incidents like this one throughout Iraq.

If the U.S. begins, as promised, to withdraw troops it will be harder to keep these antagonistic factions apart. The cease-fire by the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, extended a few days ago, could collapse. And if that happens, a civil war, unlike anything U.S. forces have experienced in Iraq, will begin. Such a conflagration, with the potential to draw in neighboring states and lead to the dismemberment of Iraq, would be the final chapter of the worst foreign policy blunder in American history.

[Chris Hedges, who graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, is the author of "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America."]

©2008 TruthDig.com

From David Hamilton / The Rag Blog


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