Monday, May 12, 2008

Quiet US Confession: Weapons Were Not Made In Iran After All

Quiet US Confession: Weapons Were Not Made In Iran After All

Go To Original

In a sharp reversal of its longstanding accusations against Iran arming militants in Iraq , the US military has made an unprecedented albeit quiet confession: the weapons they had recently found in Iraq were not made in Iran at all.

According to a report by the LA Times correspondent Tina Susman in Baghdad: "A plan to show some alleged Iranian-supplied explosives to journalists last week in Karbala and then destroy them was cancelled after the United States realized none of them was from Iran. A U.S. military spokesman attributed the confusion to a misunderstanding that emerged after an Iraqi Army general in Karbala erroneously reported the items were of Iranian origin. When U.S. explosives experts went to investigate, they discovered they were not Iranian after all."

The US, which until two weeks ago had never provided any proof for its allegations, finally handed over its "evidence" of the Iranian origin of these weapons to the Iraqi government. Last week, an Iraqi delegation to Iran presented the US "evidence" to Iranian officials. According to Al-Abadi, a parliament member from the ruling United Iraqi Alliance who was on the delegation, the Iranian officials totally refuted "training, financing and arming" militant groups in Iraq . Consequently the Iraqi government announced that there is no hard evidence against Iran.

In another extraordinary event this week, the US spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, for the first time did not blame Iran for the violence in Iraq and in fact did not make any reference to Iran at all in his introductory remarks to the world media on Wednesday when he described the large arsenal of weapons found by Iraqi forces in Karbala.

In contrast, the Pentagon in August 2007 admitted that it had lost track of a third of the weapons distributed to the Iraqi security forces in 2004/2005. The 190,000 assault rifles and pistols roam free in Iraqi streets today.

In the past year, the US leaders have been relentless in propagating their charges of Iranian meddling and fomenting violence in Iraq and since the release of the key judgments of the US National Intelligence Estimate in December that Iran does not have a nuclear weaponisation programme, these accusations have sharply intensified.

The US charges of Iranian interference in Iraq too have now collapsed. Any threat of military strike against Iran is in violation of the UN charter and the IAEA's continued supervision on Iran's uranium enrichment facilities means there is no justification for sanctions.

CASMII calls on the US to change course and enter into comprehensive and unconditional negotiations with Iran.

For more information or to contact CASMII please visit http://www.campaigniran.org

Forget The Two-state Solution

Forget The Two-state Solution

Israelis and Palestinians must share the land. Equally.


By Saree Makdisi

Go To Original

T
here is no longer a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Forget the endless arguments about who offered what and who spurned whom and whether the Oslo peace process died when Yasser Arafat walked away from the bargaining table or whether it was Ariel Sharon's stroll through the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem that did it in.

All that matters are the facts on the ground, of which the most important is that -- after four decades of intensive Jewish settlement in the Palestinian territories it occupied during the 1967 war -- Israel has irreversibly cemented its grip on the land on which a Palestinian state might have been created.

Sixty years after Israel was created and Palestine was destroyed, then, we are back to where we started: Two populations inhabiting one piece of land. And if the land cannot be divided, it must be shared. Equally.

This is a position, I realize, which may take many Americans by surprise. After years of pursuing a two-state solution, and feeling perhaps that the conflict had nearly been solved, it's hard to give up the idea as unworkable.

But unworkable it is. A report published last summer by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs found that almost 40% of the West Bank is now taken up by Israeli infrastructure -- roads, settlements, military bases and so on -- largely off-limits to Palestinians. Israel has methodically broken the remainder of the territory into dozens of enclaves separated from each other and the outside world by zones that it alone controls (including, at last count, 612 checkpoints and roadblocks).

Moreover, according to the report, the Jewish settler population in the occupied territories, already approaching half a million, not only continues to grow but is growing at a rate three times greater than the rate of Israel's population increase. If the current rate continues, the settler population will double to almost 1 million people in just 12 years. Many are heavily armed and ideologically driven, unlikely to walk away voluntarily from the land they have declared to be their God-given home.

These facts alone render the status of the peace process academic.

At no time since the negotiations began in the early 1990s has Israel significantly suspended the settlement process in the occupied Palestinian territories, in stark violation of international law. It preceded last November's Annapolis summit by announcing the fresh expropriation of Palestinian property in the West Bank; it followed the summit by announcing the expansion of its Har Homa settlement by an additional 307 housing units; and it has announced plans for hundreds more in other settlements since then.

The Israelis are not settling the occupied territories because they lack space in Israel itself. They are settling the land because of a long-standing belief that Jews are entitled to it simply by virtue of being Jewish. "The land of Israel belongs to the nation of Israel and only to the nation of Israel," declares Moledet, one of the parties in the National Union bloc, which has a significant presence in the Israeli parliament.

Moledet's position is not as far removed from that of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as some Israelis claim. Although Olmert says he believes in theory that Israel should give up those parts of the West Bank and Gaza densely inhabited by Palestinians, he also said in 2006 that "every hill in Samaria and every valley in Judea is part of our historic homeland" and that "we firmly stand by the historic right of the people of Israel to the entire land of Israel."

Judea and Samaria: These ancient biblical terms are still used by Israeli officials to refer to the West Bank. More than 10 years after the initiation of the Oslo peace process, which was supposed to lead to a two-state solution, maps in Israeli textbooks continued to show not the West Bank but Judea and Samaria -- and not as occupied territories but as integral parts of Israel.

What room is there for the Palestinians in this vision of Jewish entitlement to the land? None. They are regarded, at best, as a demographic "problem."

The idea of Palestinians as a "problem" is hardly new. Israel was created as a Jewish state in 1948 only by the premeditated and forcible removal of as much of the indigenous Palestinian population as possible, in what Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe, which they commemorate this week.

A Jewish state, says Israeli historian Benny Morris, "would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. ... There was no choice but to expel that population." For Morris, this was one of those "circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing."

Thinking of Palestinians as a "problem" to be removed predates 1948. It was there from the moment the Zionist movement set into motion the project to make a Jewish state in a land that, in 1917 -- when the British empire officially endorsed Zionism -- had an overwhelmingly non-Jewish population. The only Jewish member of the British government at the time, Edwin Montagu, vehemently opposed the Zionist project as unjust. Henry King and Charles Crane, dispatched on a fact-finding mission to Palestine by President Wilson, concurred: Such a project would require enormous violence, they warned: "Decisions, requiring armies to carry out, are sometimes necessary, but they are surely not gratuitously to be taken in the interests of a serious injustice."

But they were. This is a conflict driven from its origins by Zionism's exclusive sense of entitlement to the land. Has there been Palestinian violence as well? Yes. Is it always justified? No. But what would you do if someone told you that there was no room for you on your own land, that your very existence is a "problem"? No people in history has ever gone away just because another people wanted them to, and the sentiments of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull live on among Palestinians to this day.

The violence will end, and a just peace will come, only when each side realizes that the other is there to stay. Many Palestinians have accepted this premise, and an increasing number are willing to give up on the idea of an independent Palestinian state and embrace instead the concept of a single democratic, secular and multicultural state, which they would share equally with Israeli Jews.

Most Israelis are not yet reconciled this position. Some, no doubt, are reluctant to give up on the idea of a "Jewish state," to acknowledge the reality that Israel has never been exclusively Jewish, and that, from the start, the idea of privileging members of one group over all other citizens has been fundamentally undemocratic and unfair.

Yet that is exactly what Israel does. Even among its citizens, Israeli law grants rights to Jews that it denies to non-Jews. By no stretch of the imagination is Israel a genuine democracy: It is an ethno-religiously exclusive state that has tried to defy the multicultural history of the land on which it was founded.

To resolve the conflict with the Palestinians, Israeli Jews will have to relinquish their exclusive privileges and acknowledge the right of return of Palestinians expelled from their homes. What they would get in return is the ability to live securely and to prosper with -- rather than continuing to battle against -- the Palestinians.

They may not have a choice. As Olmert himself warned recently, more Palestinians are shifting their struggle from one for an independent state to a South African-style struggle that demands equal rights for all citizens, irrespective of religion, in a single state. "That is, of course," he noted, "a much cleaner struggle, a much more popular struggle -- and ultimately a much more powerful one."

I couldn't agree more.

Saree Makdisi is a professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA and the author of "Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation," out this month from W.W. Norton.

Hamas Condemns the Holocaust

Hamas Condemns the Holocaust

We are not engaged in a religious conflict with Jews; this is a political struggle to free ourselves from occupation and oppression


By Bassem Naeem

Go To Original

A
s the Palestinian people prepare to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Nakba ("catastrophe") - the dispossession and expulsion of most of our people from our land - those remaining in Palestine face escalating aggression, killings, imprisonment, ethnic cleansing and siege. But instead of support and solidarity from the western media, we face frequent attempts to defend the indefensible or turn fire on the Palestinians themselves.

One recent approach, which seems to be part of the wider attempt to isolate the elected Palestinian leadership, is to portray Hamas and the population of the Gaza strip as motivated by anti-Jewish sentiment, rather than a hostility to Zionist occupation and domination of our land. A recent front page article in the International Herald Tribune followed this line, as did an article for Cif about an item broadcast on the al-Aqsa satellite TV channnel about the Nazi Holocaust.

In fact, the al-Aqsa Channel is an independent media institution that often does not express the views of the Palestinian government headed by Ismail Haniyeh or of the Hamas movement. The channel regularly gives Palestinians of different convictions the chance to express views that are not shared by the Palestinian government or the Hamas movement. In the case of the opinion expressed on al-Aqsa TV by Amin Dabbur, it is his alone and he is solely responsible for it.

It is rather surprising to us that so little attention, if any, is given by the western media to what is regularly broadcast or written in the Israeli media by politicians and writers demanding the total uprooting or "transfer" of the Palestinian people from their land.

The Israeli media and pro-Israel western press are full of views that deny or seek to excuse well-established facts of history including the Nakba of 1948 and the massacres perpetrated then by the Haganah, the Irgun and LEHI with the objective of forcing a mass dispossession of the Palestinians.

But it should be made clear that neither Hamas nor the Palestinian government in Gaza denies the Nazi Holocaust. The Holocaust was not only a crime against humanity but one of the most abhorrent crimes in modern history. We condemn it as we condemn every abuse of humanity and all forms of discrimination on the basis of religion, race, gender or nationality.

And at the same time as we unreservedly condemn the crimes perpetrated by the Nazis against the Jews of Europe, we categorically reject the exploitation of the Holocaust by the Zionists to justify their crimes and harness international acceptance of the campaign of ethnic cleansing and subjection they have been waging against us - to the point where in February the Israeli deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai threatened the people of Gaza with a "holocaust".

Within 24 hours, 61 Palestinians - more than half of them civilians and a quarter children - were killed in a series of air raids. Meanwhile, a horrible crime against humanity continues to be perpetrated against the people of Gaza: the two-year-old siege imposed after Hamas won the legislative elections in January 2006, which is causing great suffering. Due to severe shortages of medicines and food, scores of Palestinians have lost their lives.

It cannot be right that Europeans in general and the British in particular maintain a virtual silence toward what the Zionists are doing to the Palestinians, let alone supporting or justifying their oppressive policies, under the pretext of showing sympathy for the victims of the Holocaust.

The Palestinian people aspire to freedom, independence and peaceful coexistence with all their neighbours. There are, today, more than six million Palestinian refugees. No less than 700,000 Palestinians have been detained at least once by the Israeli occupation authorities since 1967. Hundreds of thousands have so far been killed or wounded. Little concern seems to be caused by all of this or by the erection of an apartheid wall that swallows more than 20% of the West Bank land or the heavily armed colonies that devour Palestinian land in a blatant violation of international law.

The plight of our people is not the product of a religious conflict between us and the Jews in Palestine or anywhere else: the aims and positions of today's Hamas have been repeatedly spelled out by its leadership, for example in Hamas's 2006 programme for government. The conflict is of a purely political nature: it is between a people who have come under occupation and an oppressive occupying power.

Our right to resistance against occupation is recognised by all conventions and religious traditions. The Jews are for us the people of a sacred book who suffered persecution in European lands. Whenever they sought refuge, Muslim and Arab lands provided them with safe havens. It was in our midst that they enjoyed peace and prosperity; many of them held leading positions in Muslim countries.

After almost a century of Zionist colonial and racist oppression, some Palestinians find it hard to imagine that some of their oppressors are the sons and daughters of those who were themselves oppressed and massacred.

Palestinians had nothing to do with the Holocaust but find themselves punished for someone else's crime. But we are well aware and warmly welcome the outspoken support for Palestinian rights by Israeli and Jewish human rights activists in Palestine and around the world.

We hope that journalists in the west will begin to adopt a more objective approach when covering events in Palestine. The Palestinian people are being killed by Israel's machine of destruction on a daily basis. Nevertheless, we still see a clear bias in favour of Israel in the western media.

The Europeans bear a direct responsibility for what is befalling the Palestinians today. Britain was the mandate authority that handed over Palestine to Israeli occupation. Nazi Germany perpetrated the most heinous crimes against Jews, forcing the survivors to migrate to Palestine in pursuit of safety. We, therefore, expect the Europeans to atone for their historic crimes by restoring some balance to the inhuman and one-sided international response to the tragedy of our people.

Four Days That Changed The Middle East

Four Days That Changed The Middle East

By Rami G. Khouri

Go To Original

E
vents in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon continue to move erratically, with simultaneous gestures of political compromise and armed clashes that have left 46 dead in the past week. The consequences of what has happened in the past week may portend an extraordinary but constructive new development: the possible emergence of the first American-Iranian joint political governance system in the Arab world. Maybe.

If Lebanon shifts from street clashes to the hoped-for political compromise through a renewed national dialogue process, it will have a national unity government whose two factions receive arms, training, funds and political support from both the United States and Iran. Should this happen, an unspoken American-Iranian political condominium in Lebanon could prove to be key to power-sharing and stability in other parts of the region, such as Palestine, Iraq and other hot spots. This would also mark a huge defeat for the United States and its failed diplomatic approach that seeks to confront, battle and crush the Islamist-nationalists throughout the region.

The brief, isolated, but intense clashes that occurred in the four days between Wednesday and Sunday threatened a total, Iraq-like collapse of Lebanon, with the Hizbullah-led alliance controlling power in the capital Beirut and other critical areas. The frantic pace of political and street action comprised and clarified four noteworthy developments, whose implications for the rest of the Middle East could be momentous:

1. When the government decided to challenge Hizbullah on Tuesday by announcing it was sacking the Shiite army general in charge of airport security and dismantling Hizbullah's underground security telecommunications network, Hizbullah saw this as the first serious attempt by the government to try and disarm it. Hizbullah immediately challenged the government, warned it against these decisions, and made a show of force to protect its security and telecommunications system. When street clashes started in several parts of Beirut, the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hizbullah-led opposition alliance quickly and roundly asserted its dominance over the US- and Saudi-backed government alliance. Put to the test, the new balance of power in Lebanon affirmed itself on the street for the first time in less than 24 hours.

2. All the Lebanese parties repeatedly indicated a preference for political compromise over communal war, but also showed they were prepared to fight if forced to. The persistent negotiations via the mass media included critical agreements on naming the armed forces commander, General Michel Suleiman, as the new president, resuming the national dialogue, forming a government of national unity, and revising the electoral law before holding parliamentary elections next year. Negotiating offers came in sequence from Hizbullah secretary general and Shiite leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Future Movement head and Sunni leader Saad Hariri, Sunni Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and the Shiite Amal movement of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hizbullah ally.

3. The newly vulnerable government effectively backed down Saturday and reversed its two decisions, as Hizbullah had demanded. The street balance of power was translated into a new political equation inside Lebanon. Hizbullah and its allies had achieved on the street that which they had been asking for politically: the capacity to veto government decisions that were seen as threatening Hizbullah's security and resistance activities.

4. By immediately handing over to the armed forces those few buildings and strategic locations that they had taken over in Beirut, Hizbullah and its allies sent the signal that they did not want to rule the entire country, and that they trusted the army as a neutral arbiter between the warring Lebanese factions. Prime Minister Siniora sent the same message when he asked the armed forces and their commander, Suleiman, to decide on the fate of the two contested government security decisions that had sparked Hizbullah's move into West Beirut. The armed forces emerged as the powerful political arbiter and peace-keeper, effectively forming a fourth branch of government, and the only one that is credible and effective in the eyes of the entire population.

All factions have agreed to get their gunmen off the streets and leave only the army and police as public security guardians. Now they are expected to follow up quickly by formally naming Suleiman as president (to which they have all agreed already), agreeing on a transitional national unity government of technocrats, and drawing up a new election law. The precise sequence of those events is one of the disputed points that must be agreed, but agreement may be easier now that the army has emerged as a pivotal arbiter and political actor.

The new domestic political balance of power in Lebanon will reflect millennia-old indigenous Middle Eastern traditions of different and often quarreling parties that live together peacefully after negotiating power relationships, rather than one party totally defeating and humiliating the other. Lebanon can only exist as a single country if its multi-ethnic and multi-religious population shares power. As the political leaders now seek to do this, they operate in a new context where the strongest group comprises Iranian- and Syrian-backed Islamist Shiites and their junior partners, Christian and Sunni Lebanese allies. They will share power in a national unity government with fellow Lebanese who are friends, allies, dependents and proxies of the United States and Saudi Arabia.

If a new Middle East truly is being born, this may well prove to be its nursery.

Hezbollah Foiled US Coup Bid In Lebanon - Report

Hezbollah Foiled US Coup Bid In Lebanon - Report

Go To Original

Syrian official daily Al-Baath Sunday said Hezbollah had foiled a U.S.-planned coup to seize control of Lebanon during the deadly gunbattles which rocked the country.

"The Americans launched a pre-emptive strike against opposition nationalist forces, starting with the (Hezbollah) resistance, and attempted a Washington- planned coup but were taken aback by the opposition, which restored order in Lebanon," the paper said.

The Lebanese opposition aimed to "remove foreign interference and stop the plots to transform Lebanon... into an Israeli protectorate and new focal point of U.S. links in the region," the ruling party's paper added.

The clashes between supporters of the Western-backed government and the Hezbollah-led opposition, backed by Syria and Iran, saw opposition forces seize control of west Beirut Friday before they withdrew on Saturday.

Gunfights were initially focused in the capital but Sunday spread to the northern city of Tripoli as the opposition handed control of west Beirut back to the army.

At least 35 people have been killed in the clashes.

The fighting was sparked by a government announcement of an investigation into a communications network set up by Hezbollah and its decision to reassign the head of Beirut airport security.

"The recent events in Lebanon showed that the coup (attempt) carried out by the Americans and their men in Lebanon backfired," Al-Baath added.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Saturday that he was opposed to the " internationalisation" of the Lebanon crisis after earlier reaffirming the conflict was an "internal matter."

Lebanon's parliamentary majority accuse Syria, a long-time dominant force in Lebanon, and Iran of blocking all solutions to the political crisis, which has left the country without a president since November.

The opposition in turn accuses Washington and Paris of meddling in Lebanese affairs.

US Terrorism Report: Selective Data, Wrong Lessons

US Terrorism Report: Selective Data, Wrong Lessons

By Ramzy Baroud

Go to Original

The data provided in the US State Department's annual terrorism report for 2007 points to some interesting if puzzling conclusions. The much publicised document, made available 30 April via the State Department's website, makes no secret of the fact that Al-Qaeda is back, strong as ever. It also suggests that violence worldwide is nowhere near subsiding, despite President Bush's repeated assurances regarding the success of his "war on terror".

Will the report inspire serious reflection on the US's detrimental foreign policy and its role in the current situation?

Let's look at some of the data. To start with, take Pakistan. Al-Qaeda or Al-Qaeda-inspired attacks in the country more than doubled (from 375 to 877) between 2006 and 2007. These attacks have claimed the lives of 1,335 people, compared to 335 in a previous report. That is a jump of almost 300 per cent.

Then there's Afghanistan, which was supposedly "liberated" shortly after 11 September 2001. The number of attacks reported there increased a sharp 16 per cent in 2007. Some 1,127 violent incidents killing 1,966 people represent a significant surge in violence compared to 2006's 1,257 deaths.

There have also been many other violent incidents around the world, including but not limited to North Africa, the terrorist bombings in Algeria in particular.

But this is barely half the story - or 40 per cent of it, if we want to be as specific as the terrorism report. Iraq accounted for 60 per cent of worldwide terrorism fatalities.

Considering the fact that the horrifying violence currently witnessed in Iraq was unheard of prior to the US invasion of 2003, will the Bush administration take a moment to connect the dots? Even a third grader could figure this one out: the US occupation was a major, if not sole factor, in Iraq's relentless bloodbath. In order to right the wrong in Iraq, the US military should clearly just withdraw, and Bush - or whoever next claims the White House - should stop fabricating pretexts to justify a prolonged mission.

On 1 May 2003, President Bush declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq. As he stood on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln a huge banner behind him bore the words "Mission Accomplished". The New York Times then wrote, "the Bush administration is planning to withdraw most United States combat forces from Iraq over the next several months and wants to shrink the American military presence to less than two divisions by the fall."

Instead, more than five years after Bush's speech, the administration seems determined to maintain a military surge, having added 20,000 soldiers. Making no apologies for the war's contribution to an increase in terrorist activities, Bush's officials continue to rationalise the surge as a commonsense response to ongoing violence, conveniently omitting the US's own part in this violence. The State Department report doesn't classify any of the thousands of innocent victims killed by US or coalition forces as victims of terrorism.

Russ Travers, deputy director of the Counterterrorism Centre, stated on the day the report was published, "It's a fair statement that around the globe people are getting increasingly efficient at killing other people." While Travers' assertion is undoubtedly true, there seems to be no intention of providing any context, no connection drawn to the US's direct invasions, or indirect but equally devastating role in campaigns of violence, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan.

But what the State Department's terrorism report didn't fail to do was once again identify Iran as the world's "most active" state sponsor of terrorism. As reported in the Associated Press on 1 May, Iran was responsible for "supporting Palestinian extremists and insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq, where? elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps continued to give militants weapons, training and funding."

The irony is that the report further contributes to the US's long-touted case for war against Iran; ironic because the report's findings, if viewed responsibly, substantiate the claim that the Bush administration's policies have only made the world more unsafe. Wouldn't a war against Iran hike up the number of violent or terrorist incidents?

It also remains unclear how powerful Al-Qaeda really is, and how much of its capabilities were hyped in order to enable the Bush administration to continue its mission. Consider the two occasions Al-Qaeda was back in the news recently.

News media cited official Afghani reports attributing the recent assassination attempt on US-ally Afghani President Hamid Karzai to Al-Qaeda. In other reports, the US rationalised its own assassination of a leading Somali militia leader Aden Hashi Eyrow on 1 May as targeting a key Al-Qaeda member. It's not the logic of the assassination that is key here, but rather the fact that while Al- Qaeda has reached a position of strength that can penetrate several layers of defences in Afghanistan, the US is getting itself involved in a regional feud in Somalia. Why would the Bush administration be chasing Al-Qaeda in Somalia, as in Iraq, if the group is reportedly in the most powerful position in Afghanistan?

Moreover, if Al-Qaeda indeed exists on such a large and influential scale in so many countries, isn't it time to question the logic used by the Bush administration's "war on terror" that was meant to weaken and destroy Al- Qaeda in the first place?

It may be, of course, that Al-Qaeda's power and outreach is inflated for political reasons, where every conflict the US is involved in becomes immediately reduced to those who support, shield or host Al-Qaeda or Al- Qaeda inspired groups, thus justifying US military intervention anywhere.

Instead of dealing with the obvious truths that the terrorism report highlights, the authors of the report have resorted to another logic that places blame squarely on external circumstance, never holding the US government accountable for its actions.

Finally, is there really a need for lengthy reports that cost large sums of money and thousands of work hours if the lessons gleaned are always the wrong ones, leading to more blunders that prompt more violence, and more terrorism reports?

The Truth About Veteran Suicides

The Truth About Veteran Suicides

By Aaron Glantz

Go to Original

Eighteen American war veterans kill themselves every day. One thousand former soldiers receiving care from the Department of Veterans Affairs attempt suicide every month. More veterans are committing suicide than are dying in combat overseas.

These are statistics that most Americans dont know, because the Bush administration has refused to tell them. Since the start of the Iraq War, the government has tried to present it as a war without casualties.

In fact, they never would have come to light were it not for a class action lawsuit brought by Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth on behalf of the 1.7 million Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The two groups allege the Department of Veterans Affairs has systematically denied mental health care and disability benefits to veterans returning from the conflict zones.

The case, officially known as Veterans for Common Sense vs. Peake, went to trial last month at a Federal Courthouse in San Francisco. The two sides are still filing briefs until May 19 and waiting for a ruling from Judge Samuel Conti, but the case is already having an impact.

"Shh!"

Thats because over the course of the two week trial, the VA was compelled to produce a series of documents that show the extent of the crisis effecting wounded soldiers.

Shh! begins one e-mail from Dr. Ira Katz, the head of the VAs Mental Health Division, advising a media spokesperson not to tell CBS News that 1,000 veterans receiving care at the VA try to kill themselves every month.

Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see in our medical facilities. Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it? the e-mail concludes.

Leading Democrats on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee immediately called for Katzs resignation. On May 6, the Chair of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Bob Filner (D-CA) convened a hearing titled The Truth About Veterans Suicides and called Katz and VA Secretary James Peake to testify.

That e-mail was in poor tone but the content was part of a dialogue about what we should do about new information, Katz said in response to Filners questions. The e-mail represents a healthy dialogue among members of VA staff about when its appropriate to disclose and make public information early in the process.

Filner was nonplused and accused Katz and Peake of a cover-up.

We should all be angry about what has gone on here, Filner said. This is a matter of life and death for the veterans that we are responsible for and I think there was criminal negligence in the way this was handled. If we do not admit, assume or know then the problem will continue and people will die. If thats not criminal negligence, I dont know what is.

A Pattern

Its also part of a pattern. The high number of veteran suicides werent the only government statistics the Bush Administration was forced to reveal because of the class action lawsuit.

Another set of documents presented in court showed that in the six months leading up to March 31, a total of 1,467 veterans died waiting to learn if their disability claim would be approved by the government. A third set of documents showed that veterans who appeal a VA decision to deny their disability claim have to wait an average of 1,608 days, or nearly four and a half years, for their answer.

Other casualty statistics are not directly concealed, but are also not revealed on a regular basis. For example, the Pentagon regularly reports on the numbers of American troops wounded in Iraq (currently at 31,948) but neglects to mention that it has two other categories injured (10,180) and ill (28,451). All three of these categories represent soldiers who are so damaged physically they have to be medically evacuated to Germany for treatment, but by splitting the numbers up the sense of casualties down the public consciousness.

Heres another number that we dont often hear discussed in the media: 287,790. Thats the number of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who had filed a disability claim with the Veterans Administration as of March 25th. That figure was not announced to the public at a news conference, but obtained by Veterans for Common Sense using the Freedom of Information Act.

Why all the secrecy? Why is it so hard to get accurate casualty figures out of our government? Because the Bush Administration knows if Americans woke up to the real, human costs of this war they would fight harder to oppose it.

Some "Cakewalk"

Think back to 2002, before the invasion of Iraq, when leading neo-conservative thinker and Donald Rumsfeld aide Ken Adelman predicted the war would be a cakewalk.

Or consider this statement from Vice President Dick Cheney. Two days before the invasion, Cheney told NBCs Tim Russert the war would go relatively quickly(ending in) weeks rather than months.

Today, those comments are gone but the motivation behind them remains. This is why the VAs head of mental health wrote Shh! telling a spokesperson not to respond to a reporters inquiry.

But all the shhing in the world cannot stop the horrible pain thats mounting after five years of war in Iraq and nearly seven years of war in Afghanistan.

Unpleasant Facts

According to an April 2008 study by the Rand Corporation, 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans currently suffer from post traumatic stress disorder or major depression. Another 320,000 suffer from traumatic brain injury, physical brain damage. A majority are not receiving help from the Pentagon and VA system which are more concerned with concealing unpleasant facts than they are with providing care.

In its study, the RAND Corporation wrote that the federal government fails to care for war veterans at its own peril - noting post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury can have far reaching and damaging consequences.

Individuals afflicted with these conditions face higher risks for other psychological problems and for attempting suicide. They have higher rates of unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, overeating, and unsafe sex and higher rates of physical health problems and mortality. Individuals with these conditions also tend to miss more work or report being less productive, the report said. These conditions can impair relationships, disrupt marriages, aggravate the difficulties of parenting, and cause problems in children that may extend the consequences of combat trauma across generations.

These consequences can have a high economic toll, RAND said. However, most attempts to measure the costs of these conditions focus only on medical costs to the government. Yet, direct costs of treatment are only a fraction of the total costs related to mental health and cognitive conditions. Far higher are the long-term individual and societal costs stemming from lost productivity, reduced quality of life, homelessness, domestic violence, the strain on families, and suicide. Delivering effective care and restoring veterans to full mental health have the potential to reduce these longer-term costs significantly.

Bush and Congress have the power to stop this problem before it gets worse. Its not too late to extend needed mental health care to our returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans; its not too late to begin properly screening and treating returning servicemen and women whove experienced a traumatic brain injury; and it is not too late to simplify the disability claims process so that wounded veterans do not die waiting for their check. As the Rand study shows, this isnt only in the best interest of veterans, its in the best interest of our country in the long run.

To start with, the Bush Administration needs to give us some honest information about the true human costs of the Iraq War.

Deadly Animal Virus May Soon Come to U.S. Mainland

Deadly Animal Virus May Soon Come to U.S. Mainland

by Barbara L. Minton

Go To Original

The nation’s food supply may soon be under significant threat as the result of a Bush administration decision to move its research on one of the most contagious animal diseases from an isolated island laboratory to the U.S. mainland, placing it near herds of livestock.

According to an April 11th Associated Press article by Larry Margasak, concerns about a catastrophic outbreak of hoof and mouth disease have prompted Congressional Democrats to demand internal documents they believe highlight the risks and consequences of this decision. An epidemic of this dreaded disease could devastate the livestock industry.

Lawmakers have already received one such report from the Homeland Security Department, which combines commercial satellite images and federal farm data to reveal the proximity to livestock herds of the five locations under consideration for the new lab. The numbers of livestock in the counties and surrounding areas of the locations under consideration range from 132,900 at the site near Atlanta, Georgia, to 542,507 at the site near Manhattan, Kansas.

Research on diseases that can be transferred from animals to humans will be included at this new laboratory, the National Bio-and-Agro-Defense Facility. The rationale for the new laboratory is that the current facility, in Plum Island, does not have the security in place for this higher-level usage. The Department of Agriculture ran the Plum Island lab until 2003, when it was turned over to the Homeland Security Department because preventing an outbreak has become part of the nation’s biological defense program. Other locations being considered are Butner, N.C.; San Antonio, Tx; and Flora, Miss.

Although rarely a threat to humans, hoof-and-mouth virus is deadly to animals. It can be transported on workers breath, clothes, or vehicles when they leave the lab. It is so contagious that it has been confined to Plum, Island, New York for over 50 years where it is far from commercial livestock. The current location, 100 miles northeast of New York City in the Long Island Sound, is accessible only by ferry or helicopter.

Plum Island researchers work on detection of disease, epidemic control strategies, vaccines and drugs, tests of imported animals, and training of professionals. Researchers who work with the live virus are not permitted to own susceptible animals at their homes, and they are required to wait at least a week before attending outside events where such animals might be encountered, such as circuses or rodeos.

According to the article, a simulated outbreak of the disease was part of a 2002 government exercise called Crimson Sky. “It ended with fictional riots in the streets after the simulation’s National Guardsmen were ordered to kill tens of millions of farm animals, so many that troops ran out of bullets.” The government said it would have been forced to dig a ditch 25 miles long in Kansas to bury the carcasses.

Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan. portrayed the president in the simulation, and recalls what a mess it was. Nevertheless, he now supports moving the government’s new lab to his state, because “It will mean jobs” and spur research and development, he says.

An epidemic of the disease in 2001 produced devastation to Britain’s livestock industry, and resulted in the government slaughter of 6 million sheep, cows and pigs. A less serious outbreak last year was thought to have been caused by viral contamination from a site shared by a government research center and a vaccine maker. Other recent outbreaks occurred in Taiwan and China.

Diseased animals weaken and lose weight. Milk cows stop producing and remain highly infectious, even if they survive the virus. If evidence in a single cow suggests an outbreak in the U.S., emergency plans call for the government to immediately shut down all exports and movement of livestock. Herds would be quarantined, and controlled slaughter would begin to help halt the spread of the disease.

Although the British outbreak indicated that the virus can escape from a modern day facility and wreak economic havoc, the Bush administration supports belief that modern laboratory safety rules are adequate to prevent an outbreak. The Homeland Security Department is also convinced that it can operate a lab on the mainland safely, citing improved containment procedures at high-security labs.

The former director of the aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center, Dr. Roger Breeze, says that research ought to be kept away from cattle populations and, ideally, placed where the public has already accepted this type of research. If the government is unwilling to expand and update the Plum Island site, he suggests the location of the facility at the Atlanta campus of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., the location of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for infectious diseases. Another possibility he suggests is on Long Island, where there is no commercial livestock industry, and where most of the current Plum Island employees could be retained.

When asked about the administration’s choice of sites near livestock, Breeze says, “It seems a little odd. It goes against the... safety program of the last 50 years.”

The last outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease on the U.S. mainland was in 1929. “The horrific prospect of exterminating potentially millions of animals is not something this country’s ready for,” says Dr. Floyd Horn, former head of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Agricultural Research Service.

Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee also express worry about a move to the mainland. Rep. John Dingle, D-Mich, chairman of the committee, and Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich, have threatened to subpoena records they claim Homeland Security is withholding from Congressional inspection. Of particular interest are the reports about Crimson Sky, an internal review of a 1978 release of hoof-and-mouth disease on Plum Island, and reports about releases of the virus on the island during the past century.

If these reports are not turned over as requested, the committee leaders warned in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary, Chertoff, they will vote to issue a congressional subpoena.

Cattle farmers and residents are divided over the proposal. Community activist, Grady Thrasher is worried about an outbreak from a research lab, and has started a petition drive against moving the lab to Georgia, citing the great risks involved. “There’s no way you can balance that equation by putting this in the middle of a community where it will do the most harm,” Thrasher said. “The community is now aroused, so I think we have a majority against this.”

Up to 700 arrests estimated in Iowa raid

ICE describes raid as 'largest in Iowa history'

By NIGEL DUARA, WILLIAM PETROSKI and GRANT SCHULTE

Go To Original

At least 300 people were arrested today at the Agriprocessors, Inc. meat packing plant, federal officials said.

The operation, which targeted people who illegally used other persons Social Security numbers and were in the U.S. illegally, was the largest of its kind in Iowa, said Claude Arnold, a special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The workers arrested so far were interviewed by agents with the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Public Health Service. Public health officials were included to ensure that their humanitarian needs were being met, said U.S. District Attorney Matt M. Dummermuth.

Authorities have released 40 of the arrested employees “on humanitarian grounds” with supervision, pending further proceedings, Dummermuth said.

A total of 16 local, state and federal agencies, led by ICE, joined the investigation that began last October. Among them was the U.S. Marshals Service, the Iowa Department of Public Safety, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the U.S.

Department of Agriculture, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, the Waterloo Police Department and the Postville Police Department.

Agents with ICE have received information about immigration violations at the plant over the past two years, according to a federal search warrant made public today. Authorities said they will release more details at another press conference tomorrow morning in Cedar Rapids.

According to search warrants, ICE agents interviewed a former plant supervisor – identified as “Source 1” – in November 2007, who told them that the plant employed foreign nationals from Mexico, Guatemala and Eastern Europe. Roughly 80 percent of those workers were living illegally in the U.S., the supervisor said.

“Source 1” told federal agents that some employees were running a methamphetamine lab in the plant, and were bringing weapons to work. The supervisor confronted a higher-level manager about the drugs, and shortly after was fired.

The supervisors also described an encounter with the plant’s human resources manager about three separate Social Security cards from different employees with the same number. The human resources manager “laughed when this matter was brought to her attention,” the supervisor told federal agents.

The Waterloo Cattle Congress grounds will serve as an intake center, said Barbara Gonzalez, an ICE spokeswoman from Miami who is at the Cattle Congress grounds.

The men will be housed at Estel Hall at the Cattle Congress, but the women will be housed at local jails, she said.

It’s likely no one will be at Cattle Congress past Thursday, Gonzalez said.

Four Homeland Security buses with U.S. Immigration and Customs tags on them were a the Postville plant this morning.

The buses, along with a trail of SUVs and vans with Minnesota license plates, arrived at about 11:45 a.m.

Federal agents descended upon this northeast Iowa community at about 10 a.m. today to conduct an immigration raid at the nation’s largest kosher meatpacking plant.

The ICE agents entered the Postville plant to execute a criminal search warrant for evidence relating to aggravated identity theft, fraudulent use of Social Security numbers and other crimes, said Tim Counts, a Midwest ICE spokesman.

Agents are also executing a civil search warrant for people illegally in the United States, he said.

Immigration officials told aides to U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley that they expect 600 to 700 arrests. About 1,000 to 1,050 people work at the plant, according to Iowa Workforce Development.

Chuck Larson, a truck driver for Agriprocessing, was in the plant when the agents arrived. “There has to be 100 of them,” he said of the agents.

Larson said the agents told workers to stay in place then separated them by asking those with identification to stand to the right and those with other papers, to stand to the left.

“There was plenty of hollering,” Larson said. “You couldn’t go anywhere.”
When asked who was separated, Larson said those standing in the group with other papers were all Hispanic.

ICE spokesman Harold Ort in Postville did not confirm or deny that anyone had been detained, but went on to say that the children of those detained would be cared for and that “their caregiver situation will be addressed.”

“They were asked multiple times if they have any sole-caregiver issues or any childcare issues,” Ort said.

He said the two helicopters circling the complex were there to provide EMT support and to watch out for the agents on the ground.

Jeff Schnerbach, a sub-contractor electrician with Viking Electric, said he was on break at 10 a.m. when “200 agents” stringed into the complex.

“They took our statements, asked us where we were from, asked for an ID and let us go,” Schnerbach.


Early scene in Postville

Earlier this morning, a helicopter hovered over the scene, and a number of agents formed a perimeter around the Agriprocessors facility. Vehicles from ICE and at least eight cars and vans from the Iowa State Patrol were at the plant. There were also reports of two moving vans at the scene, along with an ambulance and two black Chevrolet Suburbans.

Counts declined to confirm where people who are arrested will be detained. Federal officials have leased the National Cattle Congress fairgrounds in Waterloo, but they declined to explain last week whether the property was being prepared for use as a detention center.

Aides to Braley, a Waterloo Democrat, said they have been told that “hundreds” of arrests are expected because the action is more of an “investigation” than an immigration raid, and specific individuals are being targeted for arrest as part of the investigation.

Jeff Giertz, a spokesman for Braley, said immigration officials left the impression that the Cattle Congress site will be used mainly for processing of suspects rather than any long-term detention.

Counts said that each person being arrested would be questioned by ICE and by Public Health Service medical professionals to determine if they have humanitarian issues, including child care giver or medical issues.

“Those interviews will aid ICE in determining whether people will be detained or conditionally released on humanitarian grounds, pending their immigration court appearance,” Counts said.

Counts described the events in Postville as a “single site operation.” He said he was not aware of any other immigration raids being conducted elsewhere today.

Postville Police Chief Michael Halse said he did not know anything about the raid until 10 a.m. today.

Postville, on the border of Allamakee and Clayton counties, is a community of more than 2,500 people that includes natives of German and Norwegian heritage and newcomers who include Hasidic Jews from New York, plus immigrants from Mexico, Russian, Ukraine and many other countries.

The Agriprocessors plant, known as the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, is northeast Iowa’s largest employer.

About 200 Hasidic Jews arrived in Postville in 1987, when butcher Aaron Rubashkin of Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood reopened a defunct meat-packing plant with his two sons, Sholom and Heshy, just outside the city limits. Business boomed at the plant, reviving the depressed economy while pitting the newcomers against the predominately Lutheran community.

A University of Iowa professor, Stephen Bloom, wrote a book, “Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America,” detailing what happened.

Workers and immigration advocates in Iowa began girding for an immigration raid last week after learning that federal authorities had leased Waterloo’s Cattle Congress fairgrounds. Federal officials declined to explain their plans last week, but advocates worried the fairgrounds would be used as a detention center. That’s what happened in December 2006, when federal agents took people apprehended in a raid at the Swift & Co. meatpacking plant in Marshalltown to the Camp Dodge military base in Johnston.

The scene in Waterloo

In Waterloo, a helicopter cruised over the Cattle Congress fairgrounds about 12:45 p.m. as a group of about five reporters watched from a parking lot across the street from the main gate.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials in black uniforms were posted at the gate and referred all reporter questions to Tim Counts, the spokesman.

A few touring coach buses were parked inside the gates, along with several ICE vehicles.

Retired University of Northern Iowa professor Rosa Maria de Finlay approached the gate to offer her interpretation services, but she, too, was turned away by an agent.
De Finlay said she has stopped by Cattle Congress repeatedly today, checking the grounds for signs that people were being detained there. She said she saw no buses enter.

“I think the money we’re spending on all this is incredible. You and I will never know how much it costs. That money could be used for something else other than this crap, this nonsense,” she said.

Food Crisis Hits Fallujah

Food Crisis Hits Fallujah

Ali al-Fadhily and Dahr Jamail

Go To Original

FALLUJAH, May 12 (IPS) - Sharp increases in food prices have generated a new wave of anti-occupation and anti-U.S. sentiment in Fallujah.

"This is a country that was damned by the Americans the moment they stepped on our soil," Burhan Jassim, a farmer from Sichir village just outside Fallujah told IPS. "This is Iraqi land that has always been blessed by Allah with the best production in quality and quantity, but now see how it has been turned into a wasteland."

Fallujah faces this new crisis after much of the city was destroyed by U.S. military operations in 2004.

The area around Fallujah city, which lies 70 km west of Baghdad, has traditionally been one of the most agriculturally productive in Iraq. Farmers planted tomatoes and cucumbers north of Fallujah, others grew potatoes south of the city near Amiriya. Both areas had plenty of date palm trees and small fruit plantations. Now production is down to a fraction of what it was.

Farmers have been struggling with changing times. "We changed our motors from electric to diesel oil to avoid electricity failures during the UN sanctions (during the 1990s)," Raad Sammy, an agriculture engineer who has a small farm in Saqlawiya on the outskirts of Fallujah told IPS. "We used to have a minimum of 12 hours electricity per day under the programmed cut, but there is practically no electricity now. And now we also have to face lack of fuel for our pumps, and the incredible increase of fuel prices on the black market."

The price of agricultural products has skyrocketed. "The average price for one kilogram of tomatoes is approximately one dollar," Yasseen Kamil, a grocer in Fallujah told IPS. "This price is when there is no crisis such as Americans blocking the entrance into the city. It is naturally doubled in winter when we have to import everything from Syria and Jordan."

Fallujah residents say the price of food now exceeds their income. The average income for government employees is 170 dollars a month, and no more than 100 dollars for labourers and salesmen.

Residents say unemployment in the city is well above 50 percent. Under these circumstances, a food crisis has hit people harder than it might elsewhere.

"The social effects of the situation are enormous," Ahmed Munqith from the city told IPS. "We believe that people are carrying out illegitimate acts in order to obtain their daily life necessities. The food crisis has led to vast corruption, and raised crime rates to peak point."

As with any difficulty now, many Iraqis believe that the occupation forces want it this way.

"It is obvious that the prices are up and life is difficult in this city and all of Iraq because it has been so planned," Sheikh Ala'in, a cleric in Fallujah told IPS. "Occupation planners designed this poverty in order to make Iraqis work for them as policemen and spies. Iraq is floating on a lake of oil, but there is no gas to run water pumps. What an irony."

Residents say they are told of a world food crisis that may be affecting them. But their crisis arises mainly from local factors like shortage of water, fuel and electricity.

Whatever the reason, residents simply want relief. "We just want our lives back," said a college student who gave her name only as Nada. "We want to eat, buy clothes, get proper education and breathe pure air. No thanks to Americans for their effort to bring us democracy that killed half of us by their bombs and is now apparently killing the other half by starvation. Can you pass this message to the American people for us?"

According to the UN, at least four million people in Iraq do not have enough food, while approximately 40 percent of the 27.5 million population do not have access to clean drinking water. At least 30 percent do not have access to proper health services.

Judge's Guantanamo Ruling Bodes Ill for System

Judge's Guantanamo Ruling Bodes Ill for System

By William Glaberson

Go to Original

A decision by a military judge on Friday to disqualify a top Pentagon official from any further role in a Guantánamo war crimes case was a major new challenge to the Bush administration's legal approach to the war on terrorism.

The ruling, in the case against Salim Hamdan, a detainee who was a driver for Osama bin Laden, transformed what had been something of a Pentagon soap opera over how to prosecute detainees into a formal ruling that gave new force to critics' accusations of improper political influence over this country's first use of military commissions since World War II.

At issue is the role of a Pentagon office called the "convening authority," which oversees the military prosecutors and has extensive power over the defense lawyers and judges in the cases against Guantánamo detainees. One role of that office is to be a neutral arbiter, deciding such matters as allocation of resources for both the defense and prosecution and which charges brought by prosecutors should go to trial.

But military defense lawyers and other critics have said officials running that office have overstepped the bounds of impartiality by pushing prosecutors to charge more detainees and to use evidence obtained under coercive interrogations.

Lawyers said the ruling set the stage for new challenges that could slow even the administration's highest priority Guantánamo prosecution, against six detainees for the 2001 terrorist attacks. One of the six is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-professed planner of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

"The military judge has said that, at the very least, there are grave appearance problems with this system," said Michael J. Berrigan, the deputy chief defense counsel for the Guantánamo cases.

The judge, a Navy captain, provided the critics with pages of new material to underscore their attacks on the system. He said he accepted accusations by a former Guantánamo chief prosecutor, Col. Morris D. Davis, that a military official with broad powers over the tribunal system, Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, had exerted improper influence over the prosecutors.

"Telling the chief prosecutor (and other prosecutors)," the decision said, "that certain types of cases would be tried and that others would not be tried, because of political factors such as whether they would capture the imagination of the American people, be sexy, or involve blood on the hands of the accused, suggests that factors other than those pertaining to the merits of the case were at play."

In the past, General Hartmann had denied that he had political motives in pressing for progress in what has been a problem-plagued war crimes system.

But the decision sided with Colonel Davis, who has become a harsh critic of the system he once helped run. His most contentious claim has been that General Hartmann pressed him to use evidence that he had rejected because it had been obtained through interrogation techniques critics view as torture, like the simulated drowning known as waterboarding.

The judge, Capt. Keith J. Allred, noted that prosecutors have an ethical obligation to present only evidence they consider reliable. At a hearing in Guantánamo on April 28, Colonel Davis testified that before General Hartmann was appointed last summer, prosecutors had been building cases without using evidence derived through waterboarding because Colonel Davis considered it unreliable. He testified that General Hartmann overruled that approach.

Judge Allred wrote that directing the use of "evidence that the chief prosecutor considered tainted and unreliable, or perhaps obtained as a result of torture or coercion, was clearly an effort to influence the professional judgment of the chief prosecutor."

General Hartmann did not comment on Friday's ruling, which, as is common at Guantánamo, was not publicly released immediately. But in Congressional testimony after his dispute with Colonel Davis became public last fall, General Hartmann said military judges should decide whether evidence backing prosecution cases was permissible.

Under the Military Commissions Act, evidence derived through torture is inadmissible, but prosecutors can build cases with evidence obtained through coercion.

Critics of the military commission system seized on Judge Allred's ruling as the latest in a long line of challenges that have frustrated the Bush administration in its efforts since 2001 to begin war crimes prosecutions.

"The military commission process is hitting a brick wall from within the military and outside the military," said Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been a vocal critic of the system.

The ruling only affected Mr. Hamdan's case, in which defense lawyers had claimed there had been unlawful influence over the prosecutors. But the case would not necessarily be delayed. It is scheduled to go to trial this month.

The judge directed the Pentagon to appoint a replacement for General Hartmann in dealing with the Hamdan case. General Hartmann is the legal adviser to Susan J. Crawford, a Pentagon official with the title of Convening Authority, who has broad powers over the entire war crimes system, including the power to approve charges, reduce sentences and make plea bargains.

General Hartmann has described Ms. Crawford as "an independent, quasi-judicial figure" who administers the Pentagon's Office of Military Commissions, which runs the war crimes system at Guantánamo.

It was that independence Judge Allred found that General Hartmann compromised by becoming so deeply involved in the prosecution that he was making decisions about what cases were to be prosecuted and how. Judge Allred called it a Pentagon official's "nanomanagement of the prosecutors' office."

Burma Exports Rice as Cyclone Victims Starve

Burma Exports Rice as Cyclone Victims Starve

By Ian MacKinnon

Go to Original

Burma is still exporting rice even as it tries to curb the influx of international donations of food bound for the starving survivors of the cyclone that killed up to 116,000 people.

Sacks of rice destined for Bangladesh were being loaded on to a ship at the Thilawa container port at the mouth of the Yangon River at the end of last week, even though Burma's 'rice bowl' region was devastated by the deadly storm a week ago.

The Burmese regime, which has a monopoly on the country's rice exports, said it planned to meet all its contractual commitments.

With rice prices hitting a record high after more than doubling since January, the exports are a valuable source of foreign revenue for the junta and its allies. The fear is that with the rice-growing area in the Irrawaddy delta inundated with salt water from the huge tidal wave, Burma may need to import greater amounts of rice this year. Alarm at the prospect fuelled another spurt in rice prices during the week. The continuing rice sales looked like just another facet of the Burmese regime's insensitivity to the suffering of its own people as it continues to block international relief to cyclone victims and pressed ahead with the constitutional referendum yesterday. The Burmese leader, General Than Shwe, has urged people to vote 'yes'.

Critics claim the referendum is designed to cement the generals' hold on power as it reserves 25 per cent of the seats in parliament for the military. They say it should have been postponed because of the disaster.

Many of the cyclone's victims have received little aid. International relief from the UN and other agencies has been blocked, and disaster management experts barred from entering even though there has been little evidence that the Burmese military is alleviating the suffering.

A spokesman for the World Food Programme (WFP) said two planes containing humanitarian supplies had 'not been released' by the Burmese authorities after arriving in Rangoon airport yesterday.

The planes contained 'critically needed supplies and equipment' provided by the WFP, UNHCR and other aid organisations. While the sacks of rice for export were being loaded on to the freighter at Thilawa last Friday, cyclone survivors from surrounding villages said they had received only hand-outs of spoiled rice from the port's warehouse, where the storm had soaked 40 per cent of the stored rice.

The cyclone, which hit Thilawa early on Saturday morning, blasted the port so severely that one of the three enormous container cranes toppled and was left crippled. In the nearby village of Thamalone, just 15 miles from Rangoon, the only aid has come from the Free Family Funeral Association which usually provides coffins for poor families but used its trucks to deliver rice to villagers.

Sadr City Residents Fear a Cease-Fire Means More Violence

Sadr City Residents Fear a Cease-Fire Means More Violence

By Leila Fadel

Go to Original

Baghdad - One day after an agreement between followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr and the Iraqi government to end more than six weeks of fighting, the streets in parts of the vast Shiite slum of Sadr City were deserted, amidst signs of a battle. Wires snaked out of potholes and from underneath tires - signs of past or future roadside bombs; abandoned pickup trucks, destroyed by airstrikes, littered the streets, and bullets or shrapnel scarred the houses.

Hussein Abd Sakran walked three hours, holding up a white flag, to escape southeast Sadr City, where U.S. and Iraqi forces battled Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, and took refuge inside the home of his brother-in-law, Raheem Abdul Hassan.

He arrived Saturday after most other residents had fled, in fear that the agreement that would allow Iraqi security Forces into the northeast district would bring more violence. It was a long route in order to get past the barricade the U.S. military is building to isolate the southern edge from the rest of the slum and avoid the gun battles in the southern parts of the area, he said.

Inside Abdul Hassan's home, furnished with colorful rugs and flimsy mattresses, Sakran and his wife hoped for calm after weeks of bombardment and gun battles, but they feared the worst is yet to come.

"We just want peace," Sakran's wife, Suham Bresam, said, her eyes heavy from sleepless nights. "This agreement happened and I was up all night from the gunshots and strikes."

Her home was in the middle of the fight on the edge of the district where U.S. forces are holed up in abandoned buildings and the Iraqi Army has set up checkpoints, and she hadn't left it in weeks. A nearly completed wall built by the U.S. military isolates the area, and her modest dwelling is scarred by bullets and shrapnel.

When Sakran tried to buy fuel from a nearby gasoline station he never made it. A roadside bomb exploded nearby and a newly built concrete wall blocked his path. The Iraqi Army started shooting in every direction, and he returned home scared, packed up his family and used a white flag to show he meant no harm as he walked away from the southern part of the slum. There was an additional reason: Iraqi forces had warned residents to evacuate.

Nowhere in Sadr City is safe from an air strike, Bresam said, but Abdul Hassan's home was safer than her own. At home, the Iraqi Army shoots erratically after a roadside bomb blast hit civilians, and when the Mahdi Army shoots rockets at U.S. aircraft, missiles rain on people's homes.

"It's just the civilians who get hurt," she said.

Before the battle began in late March, the area was peaceful, save for the sectarian killings that often happened. Bresam could go to the market, and her husband could drive to and from work easily. But they lived in an atmosphere of intimidation. When women were beaten by the Mahdi Army in her neighborhood or Sunnis killed, they objected quietly and never challenged the militia.

Just three days earlier three men were killed, spy was written on their forehead and they were left in the street. "We can't say anything," she said. "They'll accuse us of being with the Americans."

But they also fear the Iraqi Army. Videos captured on cell phones are being sent as messages from person to person. Abdul Hassan pulled out his phone to show a public hanging of three men. They stood on police trucks with nooses around their necks as a crowd of people looked on and then the trucks were driven away and the men were hung. Another showed men shot by the Iraqi Security Forces and then burned. In the background Iraqi soldiers spoke.

"Don't say in the name of God the most compassionate the most merciful. They are animals," one soldier said.

It was unclear where the videos came from or when they were shot.

Abdul Hassan said the videos were shot in the southern cities of Karbala and Nassiriyah, and he worried that the same would happen in Sadr City if the Iraqi Army had free reign.

"We haven't seen a solution that will give us peace," he said. "We don't want it to be like Karbala or Nassiriyah. We don't want people executed in the streets."

Nearby in northeast Sadr City, blocks of homes were empty and the usually crowded streets were abandoned. Only two homes still had families here, across from Sada, an open area where garbage and bodies shot by the Mahdi Army are dumped. Homes were destroyed by airstrikes and the Peshmerga, the Kurdish militia absorbed into the Iraqi army, were standing guard.

On Sunday the Sakrans changed their minds and returned home, hoping that things would quiet down, they could resume life and markets would reopen.

Domestic Spying Far Outpaces Terrorism Prosecutions

Domestic Spying Far Outpaces Terrorism Prosecutions

By Richard B. Schmitt

Go to Original

As more Americans are watched, fewer cases are made. The trend concerns civil liberties groups as well as some lawmakers and legal experts.

Washington - The number of Americans being secretly wiretapped or having their financial and other records reviewed by the government has continued to increase as officials aggressively use powers approved after the Sept. 11 attacks. But the number of terrorism prosecutions ending up in court - one measure of the effectiveness of such sleuthing - has continued to decline, in some cases precipitously.

The trends, visible in new government data and a private analysis of Justice Department records, are worrisome to civil liberties groups and some legal scholars. They say it is further evidence that the government has compromised the privacy rights of ordinary citizens without much to show for it.

The emphasis on spy programs also is starting to give pause to some members of Congress who fear the government is investing too much in anti-terrorism programs at the expense of traditional crime-fighting. Other lawmakers are raising questions about how well the FBI is performing its counter-terrorism mission.

The Senate Intelligence Committee last week concluded that the bureau was far behind in making internal changes to keep the nation safe from terrorist threats. Lawmakers urged that the FBI set specific benchmarks to measure its progress and make more regular reports to Congress.

These concerns come as the Bush administration has been seeking to expand its ability to gather intelligence without prior court approval. It has asked Congress for amendments to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to make it clear that eavesdropping on foreign telecommunications signals routed through the U.S. does not require a warrant.

Law enforcement officials say the additional surveillance powers have been critically important in ways the public does not always see. Threats can be mitigated, they say, by deporting suspicious people or letting them know that authorities are watching them.

"The fact that the prosecutions are down doesn't mean that the utility of these investigations is down. It suggests that these investigations may be leading to other forms of prevention and protection," said Thomas Newcomb, a former Bush White House national security aide. He said there were half a dozen actions outside of the criminal courts that the government could take to snuff out potential threats, including using diplomatic or military channels.

Although legal experts say they would not necessarily expect the number of prosecutions to rise along with the stepped-up surveillance, there are few other good ways to measure how well the government is progressing in keeping the country safe.

"How does one measure the success? The short answer is we aren't in a great position to know," said Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor. With prosecutions declining, he said, the public is left with imperfect and possibly misleading ways to gauge progress in the Bush administration's war on terrorism - such as the number of secret warrants the government issues or the number of agents it assigns to terrorism cases.

"These are the only tracks in the snow left by terrorism investigations, if there are no more counter-terrorism prosecutions," Richman said. "This is why, more than ever, there is a pressing need for congressional oversight, for accountability at the top of the [Justice] department, and for public confidence in the department."

Changing Numbers

A recent study showed that the number of terrorism and national security cases initiated by the Justice Department in 2007 was more than 50% below 2002 levels. The nonprofit Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which obtained the data under the Freedom of Information Act, found that the number of cases brought declined 19% in the last year alone, dropping to 505 in 2007 from 624 in 2006.

By contrast, the Justice Department reported last month that the nation's spy court had granted 2,370 warrant requests by the department to search or eavesdrop on suspected terrorists and spies in the U.S. last year - 9% more than in 2006. The number of such warrants approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has more than doubled since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The department also reported a sharp rise in the use of national security letters by the FBI - from 9,254 in 2005 to 12,583 in 2006, the latest data available. The letters seek customer information from banks, Internet providers and phone companies. They have caused a stir because consumers do not have a right to know that their information is being disclosed and the letters are issued without court oversight.

The inspector general of the Justice Department has found numerous cases in which FBI agents failed to comply with rules and guidelines in issuing the letters, often gaining access to information they were not entitled to. The FBI has responded by taking a number of measures to tighten its internal procedures.

Civil liberties groups say the new data reveal a disturbing consequence of the government's post-Sept. 11 expanded surveillance capabilities.

"The number of Americans being investigated dwarfs any legitimate number of actual terrorism prosecutions, and that is extremely troubling - for both the security and privacy of innocent Americans as well as for the squandering of resources on people who have not and never will be charged with any wrongdoing," said Lisa Graves, deputy director of the Center for National Security Studies, a Washington-based civil liberties group.

A Mixed Record

But Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman, said statistics on court-approved FISA applications and statistics on criminal prosecution were "apples and oranges."

"There are a variety of factors that may account for the increase in court-approved FISA applications since 9/11," he said. Boyd said he could not comment on those factors, but said, "It is important to remember that surveillance under FISA is authorized by an independent court and used carefully and judiciously to protect the country from national security threats."

Certainly, the government has pursued a number of high-profile terrorism cases of late. A U.S. sailor was convicted in March of providing support to terrorists by passing classified information regarding movements of a Navy battle group to operators of an Internet site suspected of terrorist leanings.

The record in court has been somewhat mixed, however. Federal prosecutors in Miami twice have failed to secure verdicts in the cases of six men accused of plotting to destroy Chicago's Sears Tower and several FBI offices. After two mistrials, the "Liberty City Seven" case is due in court in January.

Even some former government officials concede many intelligence investigations fail to yield evidence of a serious threat to the U.S. "Most of these threats ultimately turn out to be wrong, or maybe just the investigating makes them go away," said Washington lawyer Michael Woods, former head of the FBI national security law unit. "A lot more information is going to pass through government hands, and most of that is going to be about people who turn out to be innocent or irrelevant."

MBIA Posts Loss of $2.4 Billion as CDO Slump Deepens

MBIA Posts Loss of $2.4 Billion as CDO Slump Deepens


Go To Original

MBIA Inc., the bond insurer whose market value tumbled 87 percent in the past year, posted a net loss of $2.4 billion as the slump in mortgage securities deepened.

MBIA dropped 5.5 percent in early New York Stock Exchange composite trading after reporting a first-quarter operating loss of $3.01 a share, more than twice the average analyst estimate from a Bloomberg survey of $1.21. Unrealized losses from derivatives were $3.58 billion, Armonk, New York-based MBIA said in a statement today.

The loss was MBIA's third straight and comes less than three months after the bond insurer successfully retained its AAA credit rating. MBIA, Ambac Financial Group Inc. and the rest of the industry posted record losses after misjudging the value of collateralized debt obligations and securities backed by home- equity loans they guaranteed. MBIA said today it expects to pay more than $1 billion in additional claims.

‘‘We're not out of the woods yet,'' said Richard Larkin, senior vice president at Herbert J. Sims & Co. in Iselin, New Jersey. ‘‘I'm not sure AAA bond insurers will ever be viewed the same way as in the past.''

MBIA raised $2.6 billion in capital to help convince Moody's Investors Service and Standard & Poor's to preserve its AAA rating. Chief Executive Officer Jay Brown said this week the company won't need to raise more.

‘Ample Liquidity'

‘‘We have ample liquidity, our balance sheet is built to withstand credit stress levels many multiples of what we're experiencing now,'' Brown said in the statement today.

The net loss was $13.03 a share. The company reported a profit of $198.6 million, or $1.46 a share, a year earlier. So- called Level 3 assets, those that are most difficult to value, totaled $7.3 billion, in the first quarter, MBIA said.

MBIA fell 52 cents to $8.91 at 8:07 a.m. in early New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The stock traded above $70 a year ago. MBIA's book value slumped to $8.70 a share on March 31 from $29.16 at Dec. 31, in part because of new shares sold in the capital raising.

‘‘Earnings pressure will remain for several quarters as writedowns continue,'' Peter Plaut, senior vice president at Imperial Capital, wrote in an e-mail today. ‘‘This is no longer a AAA industry for the players that diversified into volatile financial derivatives.''

CDO Losses

MBIA estimates it will have $827 million of actual losses from paying claims on nine CDO transactions.

MBIA took $3.5 billion of writedowns in the fourth quarter of last year, mainly on CDOs it guaranteed through derivative contracts. Those contracts, backed by the repayment of subprime mortgages, have contributed to $323 billion of losses at banks since the beginning of 2007. Derivatives are financial instruments linked to stocks, bonds, loans, currencies and commodities, or linked to specific events such as changes in interest rates or weather.

‘‘This valuation task is clearly one that stretches the ability of mere mortals,'' Brown said in a letter to shareholders published May 6.

New York-based Ambac, the second-largest bond insurer, reported a first quarter net loss of $1.66 billion on April 23, wider than analysts estimated, after $3.1 billion of charges related to mortgage securities. New business at Ambac slumped 87 percent after municipalities balked at buying its insurance and sales of CDOs dried up. Ambac shares tumbled 43 percent on the day of the announcement.

Companies Falter

The bond insurers faltered after expanding beyond municipal debt into subprime-mortgage securities and CDOs, which package pools of debt into new pieces with varying ratings and risk. As subprime IND' ))">defaults soared to records, MBIA and Ambac were forced to write down their value.

MBIA had $265 million in additional loss expenses related to home loans in the first quarter. The company insured bonds backed by home equity lines of credit and closed-end second loans totaling $21 billion at the end of 2007, according to the company's Web site. Almost $9 billion of those securities were originated in 2007.

Ambac set aside $1 billion during the first quarter to cover claims on second lien mortgages. Hamilton, Bermuda-based Assured Guaranty Ltd. reserved $59 million, mainly for two deals backed by Countrywide Financial Corp. loans.

Market Share Losses

MBIA, once a dominant provider of municipal bond insurance, had 2.5 percent of the market in the quarter, according to Thomson Financial data. Net premiums written dropped 43 percent to $97.3 million in the first quarter, MBIA said today.

Billionaire Warren Buffett, who created a bond insurance company to insure municipal securities, told attendees at Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s annual meeting earlier this month that an insurer forced to borrow at a 14 percent yield doesn't deserve AAA credit ratings. MBIA sold $1 billion of surplus notes with a 14 percent yield to raise capital in January.

Competition from companies with stable AAA credit ratings has eaten into MBIA's municipal bond business.

Financial Security Assurance Holdings Ltd., owned by Dexia SA, insured 65 percent of the $22.2 billion of municipal bonds sold in the first quarter, according to data from Thomson Financial. Assured Guaranty had a 30 percent share.

‘‘It's up to the market,'' Larkin said. ‘‘Either it's going to give MBIA another shot or not.''