Sunday, April 27, 2008

Ron Paul Campaign Dominates Convention

Ron Paul Campaign Dominates Convention

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Call 2008 the year of the great tumult, the year of the outsiders, the young, the tech-savvy who are changing American politics.

Although most of the attention, money and passion lie with the long saga of the Democratic presidential contest, Nevada’s state Republican convention here offered evidence of the ground shifting across the spectrum, with an actual earthquake Friday night serving as an apt symbol.

Rep. Ron Paul, a Republican with a libertarian’s heart, followed his second-place finish in Nevada’s January presidential caucus by out-organizing the state’s Republican establishment. In the process, the Paulites embarrassed the campaign of Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president.

They seemed to make up more than half of the 1,300 or so state delegates to the convention. They won a key procedural vote on the rules, and their boisterous presence created significant delays, causing the convention chairman, Bob Beers, a state senator from Las Vegas, to recess the convention without selecting delegates to the national convention. The state convention is to resume at a later date.

Paul supporters occasionally shouted down the chairman, then rocked the convention with noise when Paul, their diminutive doctor icon, appeared to rally them.

The passion of the libertarians showed the sense of unrest of some grass roots Republicans following the party’s 2006 defeat and worrisome signs of another this year.

A surge in Democratic registrations has dealt Nevada Republicans a 50,000 voter deficit, while nationally, the GOP faces the biggest party identification gap to Democrats ever recorded by the Gallup polling organization.

Although it is largely papered over by the GOP establishment’s unifying behind McCain, party regulars are debating the future of the party, and especially whether to return to the small-government principles of the late Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential candidate.

Republican conventions are usually well-organized, rather staid affairs for bashing Democrats and rallying around the presidential nominee, in this case, McCain.

Not so this time, as many of the more than 1,300 delegates were Paul supporters who viewed themselves as insurgents taking on the establishment.

As Kelly Edinger, a delegate from Washoe County, put it: “On one side you’ve got a candidate with principles, on the other, Tammany Hall,” referring to the corrupt New York City political machine of the 19th and 20th centuries. It was a wildly exaggerated accusation, but a reflection of insurgent attitudes.

The convention was filled with first-timers, including Shawn Moshos, a member of the carpenters union and a 34-year-old lifelong Republican energized for the first time this year. The southwest Las Vegas resident is head of marches, activism and special projects for a Ron Paul Meetup group, which is an online tool for organizing offline.

“It’s a little like going to church,” he said of Paul’s Las Vegas supporters. They meet socially and enjoy talking about shared libertarian principles.

Jon Martin is a young management consultant who lives in Las Vegas also at his first political convention. “Paul has ignited a fire,” he said.

Although McCain is the presumed nominee, Paul continues to rack up big vote totals in primaries, including 126,000 votes, or nearly 16 percent, in Pennsylvania.

In his speech, Paul called for an end to the IRS and the protection of constitutional liberties. He never mentioned McCain.

Martin is the type of libertarian voter who should concern Republicans. He said McCain is a “warmonger.”

Martin, who is hoarding precious metals for a predicted economic calamity, also showed the sometimes confusing ideological space these people occupy. He said he would vote for the radical leftist Ralph Nader if Paul isn’t a general election candidate.

Jeff Greenspan, Paul’s southwest director, said the Paul convention plan had been in the works for months. They dominated county conventions. And, in Reno on Saturday, they communicated strategy on the convention floor by mass cell phone text messaging, which no doubt kept them a step ahead of party leadership.

Robert Uithoven, a party strategist and adviser to McCain, acknowledged “there are divisions in the Republican Party. It’s April. I hope they’ll come over, and I believe they will.”

Uithoven said Paul supporters were able to gain a strong foothold at the convention because McCain’s lean campaign team had racked up victories by relying on free media rather than paid staff or volunteers. The campaign is adding staff and getting organized, Uithoven said.

As he noted, the division among Republicans is nothing compared to the battle going on between the Democrats, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama.

Indeed, the minor skirmish among Republicans wasn’t the most telling incident of the day. That came from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Dean Heller, who both sketched out the attacks Republicans will launch on Democrats from now until November.

Romney said Clinton and Obama are “more concerned with what the ACLU lawyers think than protecting the American people.”

“I know Americans are going to chose a great patriot, a man who’s been tested and proven,” he concluded, which was a thinly veiled way of saying Obama is untested, unproven and has suspect associations.

Heller, a one-time moderate who has become a rock-ribbed conservative since joining Congress in 2007, threw the crowd some red meat. “If you cannot score above a 40 when you’re bowling, you probably are not physically fit to be president,” he quipped, referring to Obama’s failed attempt in rural Pennsylvania.

Playing off Clinton’s ad about being ready to answer the call at 3 a.m. in the White House and her fibbing about landing amidst sniper fire in Bosnia during the ’90s, Heller said, “If you cannot remember if you’ve been under sniper fire, you shouldn’t be answering the phone at 3 o’clock in the morning.”

Then he returned to Obama: “If you think our closets are full of guns, and if you think we go to church every Sunday because we’re bitter, well, I’ll let you answer that.”

Paul notwithstanding, that’s the campaign to come.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Global food crisis grips Latin America

Global food crisis grips Latin America

By Giancarlo Marinho Costa
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The Brazilian government Wednesday announced the temporary suspension of rice exports, as the commodity’s price hit a record high of $25 per hundredweight on the futures markets.

Brasilia said that the export ban was aimed at preventing internal shortages. The move followed similar actions by major rice producers in Asia, such as India and Vietnam, in the face of the worldwide food crisis.

Similarly, Argentina has suspended the sale of its wheat to its principal importer, Brazil, in an attempt to curb inflation in food prices by assuring adequate domestic supplies. The cost of this measure has been passed on to the Brazilian people, who have seen bread prices rise by more than 20 percent in the past 12 months.

Brazil never imported as much wheat as today, with the amount set to pass 70 percent of supplies, which according to some sources is already considered the biggest crisis in this sector in the last two decades.

The crisis is also affecting Venezuela, which projects an annual inflation rate of 28 percent. The rise in food prices has been aggravated by the impasse with Colombia, after the Colombian government—in a joint action with the United States—carried out the assassination of the No. 2 leader of the FARC guerrilla movement, Raul Reyes, together with 17 others last month in Ecuador, leading the government of President Hugo Chavez to close its borders with the neighboring country.

Foodstuffs such as meat, milk and sugar are in short supply in the markets, and the Venezuelan people are forced to form lines around the block to buy food.

In other countries in South America, such as Peru, the population is taking to the streets to protest the rise in food prices and has also demanded a renegotiation of the free trade agreement concluded between Lima and Washington.

The agreement, which has been blamed for a rise in unemployment, is generating popular dissatisfaction. The unrest has thrown into crisis the government of President Alan Garcia, which has raised consumer taxes and responded to the protests of the Peruvians with increased repression.

Also in Bolivia, South America’s poorest country, the inflation rate for the year is expected to reach or surpass 24 percent. President Evo Morales has prohibited the export of corn, rice, meat and vegetable oils. One of the factors affecting internal food production has been the heavy rainfall at the beginning of the year (another consequence of climate change). Next month, Bolivians go to the polls to decide on a referendum that would grant “autonomy” to the country’s wealthiest states, a process that would further deepen Bolivia’s economic crisis.

In Latin America’s poorest country, Haiti, currently under the domination of United Nations troops (the so-called “blue helmets”) led by Brazil in partnership with Washington, there have been dozens of violent demonstrations and the sacking of markets, in which several people have been killed.

In the capital of Port-au-Prince, dozens were wounded in an attempt to storm the presidential palace during the upheavals triggered by the rise in the price of rice, which doubled in the space of barely a week.

In addition to Latin America, food shortages and soaring prices have sparked unrest throughout Africa and in the Middle East. In Egypt, the price of chicken has risen by 140 percent and bread by 40 percent. In Yemen, wheat prices have doubled, along with those of rice and vegetable oil. In Cameroon, more than 100 people were killed in protests over the food crisis—the price of cooking oil increased there by 140 percent in one month.

While soaring food prices—driven by financial speculation in commodities, the increasing diversion of grains for bio-fuel production and other factors—have affected every country in the world, clearly the impact has been greatest in the most oppressed countries, where people are forced to spend the bulk of their incomes on food and are faced with the threat of starvation.

In Brazil, with the explosive growth of the crisis, one hears less and less from the government about social programs such as “Fome Zero” (zero hunger) touted by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as the solution to hunger. Rather, Lula has adopted as his principal platform the defense of bio-fuel production, seeking to turn the country into a monoculture of sugarcane and steadily reducing the production of cereals for consumption, resulting in the steady increase in their prices.

This crisis did not emerge overnight, but has been maturing over the course of years, and it will persist. The inevitable result will be a widening and intensifying growth of the class struggle.

American Axle workers hold protest amidst heavy police presence

American Axle workers hold protest amidst heavy police presence

By Shannon Jones
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Striking American Axle workers held a picket outside the company’s headquarters Thursday afternoon ahead of a scheduled stockholders meeting.

The UAW local at the striking plants in Detroit called the protest, which drew about five hundred American Axle workers and supporters. The demonstration followed the cancellation by the UAW of a strike support rally set for last Friday in downtown Detroit.

Workers briefly blocked the entrance to American Axle headquarters before dozens of heavily armed police cleared the street. The crowd regrouped on the sidewalk in front of the headquarters before dispersing after about one hour. There were no reports of arrests. The police presence, however, was extremely heavy, in an evident attempt to intimidate the workers.

About 3,600 American Axle workers in Michigan and western New York have been on strike since late February. They are resisting demands by the auto parts supplier for wage cuts of up to 50 percent and a reduction in benefits.

Those participating in the protest evinced the determination of the working class not to surrender its hard won gains. However, local level UAW officials who attended the rally offered no policy to fight the attacks by American Axle other than hurling insults at CEO Richard Dauch. Workers continue to express frustration over the fact that they get no information from either the local or the international union about the content of negotiations. Reports in the media demonstrate that even prior to the strike the UAW had agreed to substantial concessions to the auto parts manufacturer.

The decision by the UAW to call off last week’s scheduled rally has evidently emboldened American Axle to take an even harder line. In a press statement Tuesday the company demanded concessions equivalent to those granted by the UAW to other parts suppliers and restated its threat to shut down production at the striking plants. “If the International UAW is not willing to consider a US market labor agreement...AAM will be forced to plan for the potential closure of some, or all of these uncompetitive facilities,” the statement declared.

WSWS supporters distributed a leaflet at the rally titled, “Appeal to working class, not corporate shareholders, to back American Axle strike.”

The statement called on American Axle workers to make a direct appeal to workers in the auto industry to carry out a struggle against the concessions accepted by the UAW.

The WSWS interviewed workers who attended the rally. Scott, a worker with 14 years seniority, told the WSWS that the turnout was “only a small percentage of what we could have gotten. We needed this demonstration to boost up morale, but I know that the shareholders don’t care; they are with Dauch.”

“They brought in the two-tier contract on us in 2004 and look at what is happening to the Big Three workers. They have it now. If we accept more concessions the same thing will happen to other workers. We have to take a stand against this.”

Scott spoke about his previous experience in the auto parts industry. “I used to work for ITT Automotive. They went out of business in 1994. GM came in and said they were unprofitable. But what was happening was they were shifting production to other plants; we were paying for all the other plants they were building. They shut us down and moved all their operations to Ohio.

Scott said that workers saw signs that GM was preparing to resume operations at plants idled by the strike. “What is making it bad is that GM is getting parts from other plants. I heard that Dana is retooling to make our axles. The truck plant in Arlington, Texas, is going back up. They say they are getting parts from an undisclosed source.”

“Sometimes I look at it and I think the union is selling us out,” Scott added. “They are walking this line and they are teetering, tottering. I heard they even accepted the $14 before the strike. The only gripe was the buydown.”

Latanya Richardson, an American Axle worker with 13 years, told the WSWS, “What happens to us will have a major impact on what happens overall. Next they will go after others.”

Like many workers we spoke to, Latanya was angered by the decision of the UAW to call off the strike support rally set for last week. “It was a smack in the face. We were told we were close to something - then they cancelled it. I think it was to limit the exposure to us.”

She was also unhappy about the lack of information from the UAW. “We should know what we are getting into. The cost of living is getting worse. A lot of us are sole providers; we have a lot to lose. We want to maintain what we have established over the years. No one is getting rich. It just allows us to be comfortable.

“It is definite that they want to eliminate the middle class. They want to pay poverty wages for the working class.”

Alex Clements said there was growing frustration and tension among American Axle workers. “People are getting upset. We go back in there, and we won’t be able to buy the products we make.

“They cancelled the rally for no reason, they said they were close to an agreement—and then they said there was no agreement. I think it was a ploy or a trick.”

Alex felt that strike pay should be increased, given that the UAW had close to $750 million in its strike fund. “What are they saving it for? An emergency? This is an emergency.”

A worker from Chrysler Sterling Heights Assembly came to show his support for the American Axle workers. He noted the provocative police presence outside the American Axle corporate headquarters. “I think they are trying to incite something.”

He said that many workers had been prepared to attend the strike support rally in Detroit the previous week. “They cancelled that day’s rally and they would have had people from all over the country there.”

Latoya, who has worked at AAM for 10 years, said she would not accept having her standard of living cut in half, which would happen if the UAW accepted the cuts proposed by American Axle. “I am not willing to settle for just having a job,” she said. “We need jobs with decent wages.”

How the Pentagon manipulated the media to promote the Iraq war

How the Pentagon manipulated the media to promote the Iraq war

By David Walsh
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On April 20, the New York Times published a lengthy article by investigative reporter David Barstow detailing the US Defense Department’s extensive and ongoing program of manipulating news coverage of the Iraq war. The article provides a glimpse into the intimate connections between the government, military and mass media and the means by which they have attempted to package and sell a neo-colonial war to the US population.

Barstow writes that the record indicates a “symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.” Essentially, the US mass media has allowed itself to become little more than a propaganda instrument of American militarism.

According to the April 20 piece, more than 75 retired officers have been coached by government and military officials to ‘spin’ the news about Iraq—or simply lie—on countless network and cable channel news programs and talk shows over the course of the past five years or more. Fox News has led the way in presenting these individuals to the public, but NBC, CNN, CBS and ABC have followed suit.

The military analysts have not simply propagandized for ideological reasons; in many cases, they work for defense contractors and are “in the business of helping companies win military contracts.”

The existence of such a program, worthy of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, will come as no surprise to anyone who has observed the increasing resort to anti-democratic and illegal methods by the White House and the Pentagon.

The military analysts’ program was put in place prior to the invasion of Iraq. Indeed, as the Times makes clear, “even before Sept.11,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke had “built a system within the Pentagon to recruit ‘key influentials,’” who might be called on to “generate support” for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s policies.

By early 2002, as detailed planning for an Iraq invasion was under way, the Bush administration encountered an “obstacle”—US public opinion. “Many Americans, polls showed, were uneasy about invading a country with no clear connection to the Sept. 11 attacks. Pentagon and White House officials believed the military analysts could play a crucial role in helping overcome this resistance.”

Clarke and her team set about recruiting the analysts, all of whom were personally approved by Rumsfeld (and with whom he met as a group at least 18 times). “In the fall and winter leading up to the invasion,” writes Barstow, “the Pentagon armed its analysts with talking points portraying Iraq as an urgent threat. The basic case became a familiar mantra: Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, was developing nuclear weapons, and might one day slip some to Al Qaeda; an invasion would be a relatively quick and inexpensive ‘war of liberation.’”

The analysts then obediently repeated the administration’s line all over the broadcast media. As one of Clarke’s lieutenants told the Times, on certain days, “We were able to click on every single station and every one of our folks were up there delivering our message. You’d look at them and say, ‘This is working.’”

The analysts were instructed not to indicate they had been briefed and prepared by the Defense Department.

The increasingly disastrous character of the war, along with revelations of torture and abuse at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, provided further opportunities for the military experts to be trotted out before the public. In September 2003, for instance, as the insurgency was beginning to have an impact and the administration was attempting to justify Bush’s request for $87 billion in war financing, a group of analysts—four from Fox, one each from CBS and ABC—were invited to tour Iraq and promised a look at “the real situation on the ground.”

Needless to say, on their return, they offered glowing reports about the situation. Paul E. Vallely, a retired army general who specialized in psychological warfare, told Fox News, about the conditions in Iraq, “You can’t believe the progress.” He predicted the insurgency would be washed up within months.

Barstow makes the point that the trip also “represented a business opportunity: direct access to the most senior and military leaders in Iraq and Kuwait,” some of whom had decision-making power over how the billions of US dollars were to be spent.

Media treatment of the horrific conditions at Guantánamo was another source of major concern at the Pentagon. Groups of analysts visited the base six times from June 2005 to counter “the growing perception” of the internment camp “as an international symbol of inhumane treatment.” The collection of retired officers carried out their assignment. “The analysts went on TV and radio, decrying Amnesty International, criticizing calls to close the facility and asserting that all detainees were treated humanely.”

The Pentagon analyst program is apparently illegal under US statutes. A provision of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 forbids the Voice of America from disseminating information about the US and its policies domestically. The Foreign Relations Act of 1972 amended that act to include a ban on disseminating within the US any “information about the United States, its people, and its policies” prepared for distribution abroad. The so-called Zorinsky Amendment (named after Nebraska Democratic Senator Edward Zorinsky) of 1985 forbids US Information Agency funds to “be used to influence public opinion in the United States.”

The article concentrates on the television appearances of the military analysts, and this was undoubtedly where they had their greatest impact. Barstow is too modest, however, about the role played by the print media and the New York Times in particular. He notes merely that members of the group “often published op-ed articles or were quoted in magazines, web sites and newspapers. At least nine of them have written op-ed articles for the Times.”

Editor & Publisher points out that a number of the analysts were regularly cited in the press and that one of their number, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, was quoted often in 2002 and 2003 in support of the attack on Iraq and wrote op-eds for the Washington Post.

Thomas McInerney, “one of the prominent cabal members,” writes Editor & Publisher, “shows up in several Times articles since 2002—as late as 2006 he is quoted as still believing Saddam had WMD and simply hid them in Syria and elsewhere.”

In an online question-and-answer session April 21, Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor, responded to a question about the Times op-ed pieces written by Pentagon analysts. Rosenthal refers to only one of the pieces by name, “Rebels, Guns and Money” (November 10, 2004), authored by retired army Gen. James A. Marks. He claims blandly that the column “discussed the tactics, strategies and techniques involved in urban warfare, looking ahead to an impending military assault on the city of Falluja. General Marks did not take a stand on how the war was going in Iraq.”

This is serious misrepresentation of Marks’ repellent propaganda piece. First of all, Rosenthal claims that the assault was “impending” on November 10. In fact, the attack by US marines began November 8, and by November 10 it was already clear that a major war crime was underway. The Times does not care to reveal that it published an article celebrating the destruction of a major city while it was taking place.

Marks’ article begins triumphantly, “The Marine and Army forces now entering Falluja, Iraq have prepared for this fight for some time, and not just since the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime last spring.” It strongly touts the US forces’ prowess at “urban fighting.” The piece is meant to prepare the American public for the devastation and loss of life in Fallujah.

“We will use precision weapons where there is a high probability of killing innocent Iraqis, but for the most part we will use conventional artillery, mortars and rockets. Buildings will crumple—the train station demolished on Monday will not be the last [so much for Rosenthal’s “impending”]—because we will destroy them and so will the insurgents. Dust will be everywhere, small fires and smoke will obscure the vision of our troops and the enemy.

“But it will not be as out of control as it may seem; the destruction will have a purpose... Our goal is to bring democracy and liberty to Iraq, and that won’t happen if we destroy whole cities and towns. Fortunately, our soldiers have extensive training in urban operations down to the platoon and company level.”

Marks concludes by asking rhetorically when American troops would come home, and continues: “One of the most difficult aspects of counter-insurgency operations is deciding when to declare victory and head on home, and it is far too early to even begin thinking about that. But with each American and Iraqi soldier that steps into Falluja this week, we are that much closer to the end.”

The retired general, as part of the Pentagon propaganda campaign, was making the case on the pages of the New York Times for mass murder.

In any event, the Times did not especially need the intervention of outside “experts.” It had a sufficient number of internal advocates for the Iraq war and for US domination of the Middle East in columnist Thomas Friedman and reporters like Judith Miller and Michael Gordon.

During the buildup to the war, Miller’s articles on Iraqi WMD served as a transmission belt for government misinformation and lies. The pieces, it later emerged, were largely based on information provided by Iraqi exile leader and convicted embezzler Ahmad Chalabi. The whole operation was directed by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney and the civilian leadership in the Pentagon.

The response of the US media to the revelation of the Pentagon campaign to manage the war news has been largely to ignore it. The television networks, the guiltiest parties in Barstow’s piece, have either stonewalled inquiries or played the innocent victim.

CBS News and Fox wouldn’t make any comment at all. NBC News issued a brief and evasive statement, claiming it had policies in place “to assure that the people who appear on our air have been appropriately vetted and that nothing in their profile would lead to even a perception of a conflict of interest.” CNN officials said they were unaware that Gen. Marks, one of its main analysts, was, according to Barstow, “deeply involved in the business of seeking government contracts, including contracts related to Iraq.”

The network executives knew precisely what was going on with their military analysts and approved the program. They were as interested as the government and the military in spreading false information to justify an invasion and occupation. As the complicity of the Democrats in Congress has underscored, the need to control Middle East oil reserves is the consensus policy of the American ruling elite.

The moral and intellectual deterioration of the American media has reached an advanced stage. The US has become a society dominated by massive social differentiation. The top officials at the media conglomerates are enormously sensitive to the need to conceal social reality in America as well as the consequences of US foreign policy.

In 1922, at a time when America was a rising political and industrial power, the liberal journalist and political commentator Walter Lippmann could write confidently that “on the whole, the quality of the news about modern society is an index of its social organization. The better the institutions, the more all interests concerned are formally represented, the more issues are disentangled, the more objective criteria are introduced, the more perfectly an affair can be presented as news.”

Following from Lippmann, the opposite holds true as well. ‘The worse the institutions ... ’

US-backed crackdown in Basra paves way for opening up Iraq’s oil and gas

US-backed crackdown in Basra paves way for opening up Iraq’s oil and gas

By James Cogan
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The Iraqi government is following up its US-backed campaign of terror against the Shiite Sadrist movement and its Madhi Army militia in Basra with moves to open up the country’s oil and gas resources for exploitation by transnational conglomerates.

On April 16, Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani announced that four undeveloped oil fields in southern Iraq will be tendered to international companies in coming months—three in Basra province. The massive Akkaz natural gas field in the western province of Anbar and an untapped oil field near the northern city of Kirkuk are to be offered up as well. Earlier this month, the Oil Ministry published the names of the first 35 companies—out of 120 that applied for licenses to operate in the Iraqi oil industry—that will be permitted to make bids.

The Akkaz gas field, which is believed to hold seven trillion cubic feet of natural gas, will be developed from start-up production of 50 million cubic feet per day to as much as 500 million cubic feet per day. The long-term plan is to extend an existing pipeline to Syria into Turkey, and sell gas on the lucrative European Union markets. The supply of Iraqi gas to the EU was one of the main agenda items during a two-day visit to Brussels by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in mid-April.

The aim of the southern oil projects is to increase Iraqi production by at least 500,000 barrels to close to three million barrels per day. Longer term, the opening up of dozens of other untapped fields is anticipated to enable production to be pushed to between six million and 10 million barrels per day. Iraq has estimated oil reserves of 115 billion barrels, though one analyst, Fadhil Chalabi of the London-based Centre for Global Energy Studies, puts the figure at more than 300 billion barrels—the largest reserves in the world.

The list of companies highlights the predatory motives behind the 2003 invasion and the subsequent international support for the occupation. It includes US giants ExxonMobil, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Occidental Petroleum, Hess, Marathon and Anadarko, Britain’s BP, BG and Premier, and Australian firms BHP-Billiton and Woodside. These are the three countries that deployed troops. Royal Dutch Shell, France’s Total, Germany’s BASF, and a number of Japanese, Russian and Chinese firms have also gained the right to tender.

The operations against the Madhi Army in Basra have been used to tackle a number of obstacles to large-scale corporate involvement in the oil industry. The Sadrists, who oppose foreign exploitation of Iraq’s oil industry from the standpoint of Iraqi nationalism, have effectively been driven underground in the city and hundreds of their loyalists killed. In addition, the US, British and Iraqi government forces have targeted the Basra-based Fadhila party, which holds the provincial governorship and dominates trade unions in the oilfields and ports.

Over the past several years, government representatives in Baghdad have repeatedly accused Fadhila of using its control of the Basra administration and the state-owned southern oil company to operate a highly organised and profitable oil smuggling racket. According to an unconfirmed April 10 report in the British-based Times, Fadhila governor Mohammed Al-Waili has been placed under house arrest by Iraqi troops. There are no media reports, but it is highly likely that a purge of Fadhila appointees is taking place, especially within the oil industry.

In the wake of the Basra offensive, security in the oilfields and pipelines has been taken out of the hands of a Fadhila-controlled force and delegated to Iraqi army and police units loyal to the two Shiite parties that dominate the central government—the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and Maliki’s own Da’wa. The weakened position of Fadhila is reflected in signals this week that the party wanted talks on rejoining the Maliki government and the dominant Shiite parliamentary faction—the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). With the incorporation of Fadhila and the physical suppression of the Sadrists, the UIA expects to take control of the Basra government in the upcoming October provincial elections.

The deployment of government forces into the oilfields also seeks to intimidate members of the Basra Oil Union, who have taken strike action several times in opposition to the US occupation. The union opposes privatisation of the oil industry. Government troops have occupied the port of Umm Qasr, from which much of the country’s oil is shipped. The New York Times foreshadowed the move onto the docks in a March 13 article that denounced “a militia-controlled union that will load and unload ships only eight hours a day—rather than the 24 hours a day typical of modern ports”.

Transnational companies will initially enter the Iraqi oil and gas industry on the basis of two-year “technical support agreements”, for which they will be paid a flat fee and have no rights over reserves or any share in profits. Sharp differences among the various sectarian and ethnic-based factions in the Iraqi parliament have prevented the passage of a proposed oil law that would legalise foreign control of oil resources.

Concerted efforts are underway to remove that obstacle, however. US Vice President Dick Cheney held meetings with representatives of the main Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs during his visit to the country last month. He reportedly demanded a crackdown on the Sadrists and pressed for an agreement on the terms of the oil law.

On April 16, the Maliki government and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), which controls the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, announced that a deal had been reached. Legislation based on a February 2007 draft, already approved by Maliki’s cabinet, will reportedly be presented to parliament soon. The KRG will have the right to enter into contracts with foreign firms for oil and gas projects within its territory—a key Kurdish demand.

A central feature of the 2007 draft was that it legitimised “production sharing agreements” (PSAs)—a one-sided form of contract that allows companies developing oil fields to use initial revenues to recoup all their costs and gives them a proportion of subsequent profits. The KRG has signed as many as 20 PSAs for oil and gas operations in northern Iraq.

The quid pro quo from the Kurdish elite is to shelve their ambitions to incorporate the city of Kirkuk and its surrounding oil fields into their autonomous territory. A UN mission is currently preparing a report on whether it is feasible to hold a referendum in Kirkuk on joining the KRG. The UN team is expected to recommend that four largely Kurdish areas be included in the autonomous Kurdish region, but not Kirkuk.

Under the Iraqi constitution, a referendum on the future status of Kirkuk was meant to have taken place by December 2007. It was postponed in the face of vehement opposition by ethnic Arabs and Turkomen in the city and threats of Turkish intervention. The Turkish government opposes any expansion of the Kurdish region on the grounds that it could encourage separatist agitation among Turkey’s own large Kurdish minority. In February, Turkish troops carried out an eight-day incursion into the KRG to hunt down members of the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The operation was a clear message to the Iraqi Kurds to back off on the issue of Kirkuk.

The largest Sunni parliamentary bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front (IAF), has indicated that it too wants to rejoin the government, suggesting that it is prepared to accept the oil law. The plan to develop gas fields in Anbar province, which has an overwhelming Sunni population and is currently governed by parties belonging to the IAF, provides a definite incentive to do so.

The repression of opposition in Basra to meet US demands and accommodate big oil underscores the venal character of the Iraqi government and its various factions. The Iraqi elite are concerned with securing their own privileged position within the framework of US occupation, regardless of the consequences for the mass of the population.

Letters Give CIA Torture Tactics a Legal Ration

Letters Give CIA Tactics a Legal Rationale

By Mark Mazzetti

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Washington - The Justice Department has told Congress that American intelligence operatives attempting to thwart terrorist attacks can legally use interrogation methods that might otherwise be prohibited under international law.

The legal interpretation, outlined in recent letters, sheds new light on the still-secret rules for interrogations by the Central Intelligence Agency. It shows that the administration is arguing that the boundaries for interrogations should be subject to some latitude, even under an executive order issued last summer that President Bush said meant that the C.I.A. would comply with international strictures against harsh treatment of detainees.

While the Geneva Conventions prohibit "outrages upon personal dignity," a letter sent by the Justice Department to Congress on March 5 makes clear that the administration has not drawn a precise line in deciding which interrogation methods would violate that standard, and is reserving the right to make case-by-case judgments.

"The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act," said Brian A. Benczkowski, a deputy assistant attorney general, in the letter, which had not previously been made public.

Mr. Bush issued the executive order last summer to comply with restrictions imposed by the Supreme Court and Congress. The order spelled out new standards for interrogation techniques, requiring that they comply with international standards for humane treatment, but it did not identify any approved techniques.

It has been clear that the order preserved at least some of the latitude that Mr. Bush has permitted the C.I.A. in using harsher interrogation techniques than those permitted by the military or other agencies. But the new documents provide more details about how the administration intends to determine whether a specific technique would be legal, depending on the circumstances involved.

The letters from the Justice Department to Congress were provided by the staff of Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who is a member of the Intelligence Committee and had sought more information from the department.

Some legal experts critical of the Justice Department interpretation said the department seemed to be arguing that the prospect of thwarting a terror attack could be used to justify interrogation methods that would otherwise be illegal.

"What they are saying is that if my intent is to defend the United States rather than to humiliate you, than I have not committed an offense," said Scott L. Silliman, who teaches national security law at Duke University.

But a senior Justice Department official strongly challenged this interpretation on Friday, saying that the purpose of the interrogation would be just one among many factors weighed in determining whether a specific procedure could be used.

"I certainly don't want to suggest that if there's a good purpose you can head off and humiliate and degrade someone," said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was describing some legal judgments that remain classified.

"The fact that you are doing something for a legitimate security purpose would be relevant, but there are things that a reasonable observer would deem to be outrageous," he said.

At the same time, the official said, "there are certainly things that can be insulting that would not raise to the level of an outrage on personal dignity."

The humiliating and degrading treatment of prisoners is prohibited by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

Determining the legal boundaries for interrogating terrorism suspects has been a struggle for the Bush administration. Some of those captured in the first two years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were subjected to particularly severe methods, including waterboarding, which induces a feeling of drowning.

But the rules for interrogations became more restrictive beginning in 2004, when the Justice Department rescinded a number of classified legal opinions, including a memorandum written in August 2002 that argued that nothing short of the pain associated with organ failure constituted illegal torture. The executive order that Mr. Bush issued in July 2007 was a further restriction, in response to a Supreme Court ruling in 2006 that holding that all prisoners in American captivity must be treated in accordance with Common Article 3.

Mr. Benczkowski's letters were in response to questions from Mr. Wyden, whose committee had received classified briefings about the executive order.

That order specifies some conduct that it says would be prohibited in any interrogation, including forcing an individual to perform sexual acts, or threatening an individual with sexual mutilation. But it does not say which techniques could still be permitted.

Legislation that was approved this year by the House and the Senate would have imposed further on C.I.A. interrogations, by requiring that they conform to rules spelled out in the Army handbook for military interrogations that bans coercive procedures. But Mr. Bush vetoed that bill, saying that the use of harsh interrogation methods had been effective in preventing terrorist attacks.

The legal reasoning included in the latest Justice Department letters is less expansive than what department lawyers offered as recently as 2005 in defending the use of aggressive techniques. But they show that the Bush administration lawyers are citing the sometimes vague language of the Geneva Conventions to support the idea that interrogators should not be bound by ironclad rules.

In one letter written Sept. 27, 2007, Mr. Benczkowski argued that "to rise to the level of an outrage" and thus be prohibited under the Geneva Conventions, conduct "must be so deplorable that the reasonable observer would recognize it as something that should be universally condemned."

Mr. Wyden said he was concerned that, under the new rules, the Bush administration had put Geneva Convention restrictions on a "sliding scale."

If the United States used subjective standards in applying its interrogation rules, he said, then potential enemies might adopt different standards of treatment for American detainees based on an officer's rank or other factors.

"The cumulative effect in my interpretation is to put American troops at risk," Mr. Wyden said.

Winners and losers in land of starving billionaires

Winners and losers in land of starving billionaires

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Each day, Edwin Makotore's wife and children hit the streets to earn cash so he can pay for the privilege of working.

The 38-year-old father-of-two is the only one in the family with a full-time job, but by the time he has met the soaring cost of travelling to work in a small Harare supermarket, paid out of wages wildly out of step with the 165,000% inflation rate, Makotore is out of pocket.

But with only one-in-five adults in employment, a job is a far more precious commodity than money in Zimbabwe, and Makotore is not going to let it go.

"My wife gives me the money to go to work each day," he said. "We can't afford to send the children to school so they go with her to the streets. She sells some small things, fruit, things like that.

"One day things will get better and then it will be good to have a job. Everyone will want one. It's like an investment; I pay to keep my job because I will make money out of it one day. Until then someone makes money out of me."

For now, Makotore is a loser in an economy which is shrinking faster than in any other country. But there are some who are doing well out of hyperinflation.

The winners include those whose mortgages were reduced to less than a single, near-worthless banknote in a matter of months. Among the losers are the elderly, the value of their pensions slashed to nothing.

But the real beneficiaries can be found in Borrowdale Brooke. This upmarket suburb in the north of Harare is a mass of construction sites and newly completed palatial homes. Besides President Robert Mugabe's own palace, built by the Chinese with a hint of the forbidden city about it, ruling Zanu-PF apparatchiks and generals have set themselves up in homes that none could afford on their official salaries.

Some have become extravagantly rich by manipulating the vast gap between the official and black-market exchange rates to plunder Zimbabwe's dwindling hard currency, and buy brand new Mercedes Benz cars for £25 while the country's manufacturing sector collapses for want of money to produce crucial exports.

The new rich include men such as the Zanu-PF member of parliament and party powerbroker Philip Chiyanga, who also happens to be one of Mugabe's cousins. Chiyanga owns a sprawling 30-room mansion in Borrowdale Brooke with three helicopter pads and has been seen driving a Hummer.

The mansions have grown as Zimbabwe's economy has shrunk by about half over the past decade of crisis. Export earnings have dropped from about £2.3bn a year to around £750m.

The manufacturing sector has halved in size and revenue from the tourist industry, once another big earner, has fallen by 75% over the same period. Many visitors now see Victoria Falls from the Zambian side and those who do cross in to Zimbabwe do not stay as long as they used to.

Over the past week the black-market exchange rate for the Zimbabwe dollar has plummeted against sterling, from about Z$90m to the pound to Z$190m. The largest bank note in the country is worth about 25p. No wonder Zimbabweans call themselves starving billionaires.

The currency has been driven down recently by Zimbabwe's central bank, which has been turning to the black market in a desperate search for US dollars to pay the bills, not least for electricity from Mozambique.

John Robertson, a highly regarded Zimbabwean economist, said the government had also been plundering hard currency accounts held by businesses to pay off the huge costs of its election campaign, contributing to the spiral of collapse.

"From January, with the election campaign, the government started importing tractors and cars and television sets and all manner of things to give away. That had to be paid for and it was paid for from the foreign currency accounts," he said.

Any business that exports is obliged to hand over more than 35% of the hard currency it brings back into the country to the government in exchange for Zimbabwe dollars. The rest is held by the central bank and is theoretically available to pay for imports necessary to the business.

But many are finding that they have to wait for up to four months for the money, and some do not receive it at all.

"It got worse and worse," said Robertson. "Businesses have incurred debts and they are not paying them. The suppliers, mostly in South Africa, found they can no longer trust people in Zimbabwe to pay, so they've stopped supplying."

That has left some manufacturers unable to produce and export, another blow to the country's hard currency earnings. Even entirely locally produced commodities such as cotton and tobacco, once big money earners for Zimbabwe, have been hit because they require imported pesticides, fertiliser and fumigants.

Last year the government introduced drastic price cuts and controls to try and curb raging inflation, but the measures proved a miserable failure. Retailers were ordered to slash prices. Buyers surged into the shops to pick up electronic goods and luxury items at a fraction of their value - but when the shelves were empty, products were not restocked.

For a select few all of this is an opportunity. They deal in the official exchange rate of Z$30,000 to the US dollar - meaning they can buy hard currency at one three thousandth of what it costs on the street. Such rates are only available to Zimbabwe's super elite.

"Only senior people can get that, but those that do make a fortune," Robertson said. "They buy dollars at the official exchange rate and then go off and buy a Mercedes in South Africa for what is in reality just a few dollars. They import it, sell it and make a killing.

"These are the same people who are running a lot of the food imports. They take a billion [Zimbabwe] dollars, change it to rand at the official rate and buy in South Africa for next to nothing."

Some economists trace the start of the economic downturn back to the mass printing of money to payoff war veterans who were threatening Mugabe a decade ago. But Robertson says the most significant blow to the economy was the redistribution of white-owned farms without maintaining productivity.

"Those 4,500 farms were Zimbabwe's biggest industry," he said. "They accounted for 17% of GDP in their own right but more than 50% when you take into account the other industries they were supporting.

"They employed large numbers of people, they accounted for half the export earnings. The farmers were also the biggest users of other industries such as insurance and engineering."

There is no chance that the land redistribution will be reversed. It has overwhelming support among black Zimbabweans as a policy, if not how it has been handled.

The redistributed farms are now run on feudal lines with Zanu-PF acting as overlord and anyone wanting to stay on the land required to pay suitable political and, in some cases financial, homage. Those who dissent, and that includes overt support for the opposition, are thrown off.

What industry remains is subjected to the "indigenisation law". This requires foreign and white-owned public companies to sell or give half of their shares to black Zimbabweans. In the view of some, it is just another form of plunder.

As a result many of the jobs once considered the least desirable are now amongst the most sought after. There was a time when being a domestic worker was considered close to the bottom of the pile. It was poorly paid and often required women to be away from their families.

But today it is a prized role, as it comes with free accommodation, water, electricity and, crucially, no travel costs.

Robertson wonders how long Zimbabwe's economy can keep going.

"Everything seems so untenable and so absurd you can't believe there are people out there trying to keep it on the road. They're breathing life into a dead horse. You have to admire it I suppose," he said.

The current level of inflation means the income of most Zimbabweans is way out of line with the cost of living

The black-market exchange rate for Zimbabwe dollars to the pound. Last week the rate was Z$90m to the £1

The amount needed to buy a US dollar under the official exchange rate, only available to the elite

The cost of a Mercedes Benz bought using hard currency from reserves exchanged at the official rate

The amount Zimbabwe earned from exports last year, which was about a third of the amount a decade ago

The proportion of hard currency from export sales that businesses have to hand over to the government

No Middle East Peace Without Tough Love

No Middle East Peace Without Tough Love

By Henry Siegman

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We now have word that Tony Blair, envoy of the Middle East Quartet (the UN, the EU, Russia and the United States), and German Chancellor Angela Merkel intend to organize yet another peace conference, this time in Berlin in June. It is hard to believe that after the long string of failed peace initiatives, stretching back at least to the Madrid conference of 1991, statesmen and stateswomen are recycling these failures without seemingly having a clue as to why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is even more hopeless today than before these peace exercises first got underway.

The scandal of the international community's impotence in resolving one of history's longest bloodlettings is that it knows what the problem is but does not have the courage to speak the truth, much less deal with it. The next peace conference in Germany (or in Moscow, where the Russians want to hold it) will suffer from the same gutlessness that has marked all previous efforts. It will deal with everything except the problem primarily responsible for this
conflict's multi-generational impasse.

That problem is that for all of the sins attributable to the Palestinians - and they are legion, including inept and corrupt leadership, failed institution-building and the murderous violence of the rejectionist groups-there is no prospect for a viable, sovereign Palestinian state primarily because Israel's various governments, from 1967 until today, have never intended allowing such a state to come into being.

It is one thing if Israeli governments had insisted on delaying a Palestinian state until certain Israeli security concerns were dealt with. But no government that is serious about a two-state solution to the conflict would have pursued without let-up the theft and fragmentation of Palestinian lands that even a child understands makes Palestinian statehood impossible.

Given the overwhelming disproportion of power between the occupier and the occupied, it is hardly surprising that Israeli governments and their military and security establishments found it difficult to resist the acquisition of Palestinian land. What is astounding is that the international community, pretending to believe Israel's claim that it is the victim and its occupied subjects the aggressors, has allowed this devastating dispossession to continue and the law of the jungle to prevail.

As long as Israel knows that by delaying the peace process it buys time to create facts on the ground that will prove irreversible, and that the international community will continue to indulge Israel's pretense that its desire for a two-state solution is being frustrated by the Palestinians, no new peace initiative can succeed, and the dispossession of the Palestinian people will indeed become irreversible.

There can be no greater delusion on the part of Western countries weighed down by guilt about the Holocaust than the belief that
accommodating such an outcome would be an act of friendship to the Jewish people. The abandonment of the Palestinians now is surely not an atonement for the abandonment of European Jewry seventy years ago, nor will it serve the security of the State of Israel and its people.

John Vinocur of the New York Times recently suggested that the virtually unqualified declarations of support for Israel by Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are "at a minimum an attempt to seek Israeli moderation by means of public assurances with this tacit subtext: these days, the European Union is not, or is no longer, its reflexive antagonist." But the expectation that uncritical Western support of Israel would lead to greater Israeli moderation and greater willingness to take risks for peace is blatantly contradicted by the conflict's history.

Time and again, this history has shown that the less opposition Israel encounters from its friends in the West for its dispossession of the Palestinians, the more uncompromising its behavior. Indeed, Olmert's reaction to Sarkozy's and Merkel's expressions of eternal solidarity and friendship have had exactly that result: Olmert approved massive new construction in East Jerusalem- authorizing housing projects that were frozen for years by previous governments because of their destructive impact on the possibility of a peace agreement-as well as continued expansion of Israel's settlements. And Olmert's defense minister, Ehud Barak, declared shortly after Merkel's departure that he will remove only a token number of the more than 500 checkpoints and roadblocks that Israel has repeatedly promised, and just as repeatedly failed, to dismantle.

That announcement shattered whatever hope Palestinians may have had for recovery of their economy as a consequence of the seven billion dollars in new aid promised by the international donor community in Paris last December. In these circumstances, the donor countries, not to speak of the private sector, will not pour good money after bad, as they so often have in the past.

So what is required of statesmen is not more peace conferences or clever adjustments to previous peace formulations, but the moral and political courage to end their collaboration with the massive hoax the
peace process has been turned into. Of course, Palestinian violence must be condemned and stopped, particularly when it targets civilians. But is it not utterly disingenuous to pretend that Israel's occupation-maintained by IDF-manned checkpoints and barricades, helicopter gunships, jet fighter planes, targeted assassinations and military incursions, not to speak of the massive theft of Palestinian lands-is not itself an exercise in continuous and unrelenting violence against more than 3 million Palestinian civilians? If Israel were to renounce violence, could the occupation last even one day?

Israel's designs on the West Bank are not much different than the designs of the Arab forces that attacked the Jewish state in 1948 - the nullification of the international community's partition resolution of 1947. Short of addressing the problem by its right name-something that is of an entirely different order than hollow statements that "settlements do not advance peace"-and taking effective collective action to end a colonial enterprise that disgraces what began as a
noble Jewish national liberation struggle, further peace conferences, no matter how well intentioned, make their participants accessories to one of the longest and cruelest deceptions in the annals of international diplomacy.

Henry Siegman, director of the US/Middle East Project in New York, is research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Program, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Siegman is a former national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America.

Yes, It Is Apartheid

Yes, It Is Apartheid

By Yossi Sarid

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he anchorwoman was clearly shocked: I don't have time now to respond to what you have said, she told the former U.S. president, allowing Jimmy Carter to make a narrow escape from her clutches. Then she added that she did not want to imagine what would happen to him if he bumped into her colleague from the security affairs desk in Channel 2's dark alley. And the pundit sitting there, sunk in deep thought as always, nodded his heavy head, confirming: He's lucky, the bastard, that we didn't gang up on him and cut him to shreds.

That's how it is here: The rulers set the tone, and the media begins to gripe: Not only did Carter's mission not help, it did damage. He alone was the reason Gilad Shalit was not ransomed out of captivity during the holiday. That's what happens when an enemy of the human race, the twin of the Twin Towers' bin Laden, sticks his nose where it does not belong.

Let's let old Carter be, so he may let sleeping warriors lie; he will not be back. The contents of his words, however, should not be ignored. "Apartheid," he said, "apartheid" - a dark, scary word coined by Afrikaners and meaning segregation, racial segregation.

What does he want from us, that evil man: What do we have to do with apartheid? Does a separation fence constitute separation? Do separate roads for Jewish settlers and Palestinians really separate? Are Palestinian enclaves between Jewish settlements Bantustans?

There is no hint of similarity between South Africa and Israel, and only a sick mind could draw such shadowy connections between them. Roadblocks and inspections at every turn; licenses and permits for every little matter; the arbitrary seizure of land; special privileges in water use; cheap, hard labor; forming and uniting families by bureaucratic whim - none of these are apartheid, in any way. They are an incontrovertible security necessity, period.

The white Afrikaners, too, had reasons for their segregation policy; they, too, felt threatened - a great evil was at their door, and they were frightened, out to defend themselves. Unfortunately, however, all good reasons for apartheid are bad reasons; apartheid always has a reason, and it never has a justification. And what acts like apartheid, is run like apartheid and harasses like apartheid, is not a duck - it is apartheid. Nor does it even solve the problem of fear: Today, everyone knows that all apartheid will inevitably reach its sorry end.

One essential difference remains between South Africa and Israel: There a small minority dominated a large majority, and here we have almost a tie. But the tiebreaker is already darkening on the horizon. Then the Zionist project will come to an end if we don't choose to leave the slave house before being visited by a fatal demographic plague.

It is entirely clear why the word apartheid terrifies us so. What should frighten us, however, is not the description of reality, but reality itself. Even Ehud Olmert has understood at last that continuing the present situation is the end of the Jewish democratic state, as he recently said.

The Palestinians are unfortunate because they have not produced a Nelson Mandela; the Israelis are unfortunate because they have not produced an F.W. de Klerk.

“Farewell Israel”: Myth and Reality

"Farewell Israel": Myth and Reality

By Alan Hart

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With his political documentary FAREWELL ISRAEL, Bush, Iran and The Revolt of Islam, American director Joel Gilbert has launched what could be described as Zionism's propaganda weapon of last resort.

The film is described by its promoters as "An historic journey, from the birth of Islam, through its 1,200 year reign over the civilised world, to the last 300 years of Islamic decline, overtaken and dominated by the West - then humiliated by a Jewish state… In this groundbreaking film, the total rejection of Israel by Muslim states since its inception in 1948 comes to light as a religious duty for Believers." (My emphasis added).

According to the same promotional script: "The Iranian agenda for acquiring strategic weapons to eliminate Israel comes clearly into focus. Today, at the direction of Iran, Islamists are preparing for a fateful war for Islam - and Israel is the number one target and obstacle in the path of Islamic revival for Muslims."

For the sake of discussion, let's suppose that sometime in the foreseable future Iran does have nuclear weapons. Would it then go for a nuclear first strike against Israel? The answer, I assert, is no. Never! So what really is all the Zionist and American neo-con fuss about?

Perhaps without realising that he has let a great, big cat out of the bag, Joel Gilbert has provided the answer. He says (my empasis added): "Even without attacking Israel, the mere capabilty of Iranian missiles to lay waste to Tel Aviv would create a 'strategic umbrella,' preventing Israel from using its superior strategic assets in a conventional war. With Israeli missiles neutralised, Muslim countries could overwhelm Israel with their superior numbers, conventional armor and short range missiles."

And that's the real point. Israel's military leaders and their political yes-men don't believe, and never have believed, that Iran, if it possessed nuclear weapons, would unleash them in a first strike against the Zionist state. The real problem for its leaders is that the moment Israel ceased to be the only nuclear-armed power in the region, would be the moment it lost its ability to impose its will on the region. And actually the world.

I don't doubt that Joel Gilbert is "one of the few Western scholars of historic Islamic-Jewish relations", but that has not prevented him from closing his mind to the reality of events and the truth of history. The statement that Muslim states have totally rejected Israel from its birth in 1948 is nothing but a manifestation of Zionist propaganda nonsense. As documented in THE IRON WALL, Israel and the Arab World by Professor Avi Shlaim, one of the two leading Israeli "revisionist" (which means honest) historians of our time, de-classified Israeli state papers and the diaries of departed leaders leave no room to doubt that it was Israel, not the Arab states, which never missed an opportunity to close the door to peace.

And still today the impotent but pragmatic regimes of the Arab and wider Muslim world are prepared, with the consent of the overwhelming majority of their citizens, to make peace with an Israel inside its pre-1967 borders. It's true that Zionism is not interested in a genuine two-state solution because it's mission was and is to take for keeping the maximum amount of Arab land with the minimum number of Arabs on it; but that doesn't change the fact that most Arabs and other Muslims would, even now, accept an Israel withdrawn from all the territory it grabbed in the 1967 war.

The main message of FAREWELL ISRAEL, Bush, Iran and the Revolt of Islam is addressed in particular to the present and the next occupant of the White House. It, the message, is something like this: "Don't push Israel to do things it doesn't want to do because it's facing the real danger of annihilation, and that being so, it's prepared to tell the world to go to hell if necessary." (If necessary means in the event of the major powers led by America requiring Israel to be serious about peace on terms virtually all Palestinians and most other Arabs and Muslims everywhere could accept).

From reading between the lines of what Zionists and other supporters of Israel right or wrong have been saying and writing for the past year and more, it's clear that at least some of them do believe that the day is coming when an America administration will conclude that the Zionist state is more of a liability than an asset, and will be prepared to apply all necessary pressure in an effort to cause it to make peace on terms the overwhelming majority of Palestinians and other Arabs and most Muslims everywhere could accept.

And that's the context in which I suggest that Joel Gilbert's documentary could be described as a Zionist propaganda weapon of last resort. Its purpose is to explain in advance why Israel might one day tell an American President to go to hell.

On the subject of Joel Gilbert's vision of Israel one day being overwhelmed, I recall the words spoken to me many years ago by Golda Meir, Mother Israel, when she was prime minister. At a point during an interview I did with her for the BBC's Panorama programme, I interrupted her to say: "Prime Minister, I want to be sure I understand what you're saying… You are saying that if ever Israel was in danger of being defeated on the battlefield, it would be prepared to take the region and the whole world down with it?"

As stated on the second page of Waiting for the Apocalypse, the Prologue to Volume One of my book Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, Golda replied, without the shortest of pauses for reflection, and in the gravel voice that could charm or intimidate American Presidents according to need, "Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying."

Within an hour of that interview being transmitted at eight o'clock on a Monday evening, The Times (pre-Murdoch and not then a cheer leader for Zionism) had changed its lead editorial. Its new one quoted what Golda had said to me and then added its own opinion - "We had better believe her."

I did and still do.

Evidence-based Bombing

Evidence-based Bombing

By publishing intelligence on a possible Syrian nuclear facility, the US has endorsed after the fact Israel's illegal use of force in attacking it

By Scott Ritter

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It looks as if Israel may, in fact, have had reason to believe that Syria was constructing, with the aid and assistance of North Korea, a facility capable of housing a nuclear reactor. The United States Central Intelligence Agency recently released a series of images, believed to have been made from a videotape obtained from Israeli intelligence, which provide convincing, if not incontrovertible, evidence that the "unused military building" under construction in eastern Syria was, in fact, intended to be used as a nuclear reactor. Syria continues to deny such allegations as false.

On the surface, the revelations seem to bolster justification not only for the Israeli air strike of September 6 2007, which destroyed the facility weeks or months before it is assessed to have been ready for operations, but also the hard-line stance taken by the administration of President George W Bush toward both Syria and North Korea regarding their alleged covert nuclear cooperation. In the aftermath of the Israeli air strike, Syria razed the destroyed facility and built a new one in its stead, ensuring that no follow-up investigation would be able to ascertain precisely what had transpired there.

Largely overlooked in the wake of the US revelations is the fact that, even if the US intelligence is accurate (and there is no reason to doubt, at this stage, that it is not), Syria had committed no crime, and Israel had no legal justification to carry out its attack. Syria is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and under the provisions of the comprehensive safeguards agreement, is required to provide information on the construction of any facility involved in nuclear activity "as early as possible before nuclear material is introduced to a new facility". There is no evidence that Syria had made any effort to introduce nuclear material to the facility under construction.

While the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the global watchdog responsible for the implementation of nuclear safeguards inspections, has pushed for the universal adherence to a more stringent safeguards standard known as the "additional protocol of inspections", such a measure is purely voluntary, and Syria has refused to sign up to any such expansion of IAEA inspection activity until such time as Israel signs the NPT and subjects its nuclear activities to full safeguards inspections. While vexing, the Syrian position is totally in keeping with its treaty obligations, and so it is Syria, not Israel, that was in full conformity with international law at the time of Israel's September 6 2007 attack.

The United States and Israel contend that the Syrian-North Korean construction project was part of a covert nuclear weapons programme. However, even the United States admits that the facility under construction in Syria lacked any reprocessing capacity, meaning its utility for producing plutonium for a nuclear bomb was nil. Rather than serving as the tip of the iceberg for a nuclear weapons programme, it seems more likely that the Syrian facility was intended for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Following the same path as Iran, Syria most probably was positioning itself to present the world with a fait acompli, noting that the current US-Israeli posture concerning the regime in Damascus would not enable Syria to pursue and complete any nuclear programme declared well in advance. By building the reactor in secret, Syria would be positioned to declare the completed facility to the IAEA prior to the introduction of any nuclear material, and then hope to hide behind the shield of the IAEA in order to prevent any Israeli retaliation.

But this is all speculation. By bombing the Syrian facility, Israel not only retarded any Syrian nuclear ambition, peaceful or otherwise, but also precluded a full, definitive investigation into the matter by the international community. Perhaps fearful that Syrian adherence to the NPT would underscore its own duplicity in that regard, the Israeli decision to bomb Syria not only allowed the Syrian effort to be defined as weapons-related (an unproven and unlikely allegation), but by extension reinforced the Israeli (and American) contention that the nuclear activity in Iran was weapons-related as well.

The international debate that has taken place about the Syrian facility shows how successful the Israeli gambit, in fact, was, since there is virtually no discussion about the fact that Israel violated international law in attacking, without provocation, a sovereign state whose status as a member of the United Nations ostensibly affords it protection from such assault. The American embrace of the Israeli action, and the decision to produce intelligence information about the nature of the bombed facility at this late stage in the game, only reinforces the reality that the United States has turned its back on international law in the form of arms control and non-proliferation agreements.

The Bush administration seeks to use the alleged Syrian nuclear facility as a lynchpin in making its arguments against not only the Iranian nuclear programme, but also to scuttle the current discussions with North Korea over its nuclear weapons activities. Having embraced pre-emptive war as a vehicle to pursue its unilateral policy of regime change in Iraq (and having sold that conflict based upon hyped-up weapons of mass destruction charges), it should come as no surprise that the Bush administration would seek to support, and repeat, past patterns of behaviour when pursuing similar policies with Syria, Iran and North Korea.

Truth, and the adherence to international law, have never been an impediment to implementation of American policy objectives under the Bush administration.

‘Western Leaders Are War Criminals’

‘Western Leaders Are War Criminals’

By Mick Meaney

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he former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, has echoed calls for Western leaders to be charged with war crimes over the illegal invasion of Iraq.

Speaking at Imperial College in London Mahathir, who was in office from 1981 to 2003, singled out US President George Bush, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australia’s former prime minister John Howard as he wants to see them tried “in absence for war crimes committed in Iraq”.

The event was organised by the Ramadhan Foundation which is a leading British Muslim youth organisation working for peaceful co-existence and dialogue between communities.

Mohammed Shafiq, spokesman for the group said: “It was an opportunity for students to put a range of questions about war crimes and the international situation. He said that people have to stop killing each other and use arbitration, negotiation and discussion as an alternative to violence, war and killing.”

Speaking about the Iraq war, Mahathir focused on “the thousands dying, the economic war, the power of oil and how we could utilise some of these tools to have a leverage against the people who commit countries to war”, Shafiq said.

The event was incredibly well attended with over 450 people and 200 more had to be turned away.

Among the mountain of war crimes Western leaders are guilty of include:-

The illegal use of napalm and other chemical weapons

Intentionally torturing and abusing detainees

Blocking aid convoys

Killing unarmed civilians, including shooting into family homes

Western leaders are also guilty of many other violations of the Geneva Convention, the Charter of the United Nations, the Nuremberg Charter, International Law and the Constitution of the United States, including crimes against peace and crimes against humanity.

International law professors have called the attack against Iraq “a fundamental breach of international law (that) would seriously threaten the integrity of the international legal order that has been in place since the end of the Second World War.”

Mahathir Mohamad’s statement appears to be valid as the International Criminal Court defines the following as international crimes:

(a) Crimes against Peace:

Namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing:

(b) War Crimes:

Namely, violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations include, but not be limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity:

(c) Crimes against Humanity:

Namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.