Tuesday, June 3, 2008

NORTHCOM The Martial Law Managers

NORTHCOM The Martial Law Managers

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Northern Command will stand up new units to respond to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive — CBRNE — attacks.

Currently, if such an attack proved more than local emergency crews could handle, governors could call in National Guard Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams.

And if more help were needed, one of 17 regional Guard CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Packages would come in.

Beginning in October, a federal military response will be available for the worst disasters: the CBRNE Consequence Management Response Force, or CCMRF (pronounced “sea-smurf”).

Three CCMRFs, each with about 4,500 troops from all branches, are in the making.

Each CCMRF will tap units that provide the capabilities most often called for in a CBRNE response, including airlift, medical, logistics and units specializing in biological or radiological identification and cleanup. Army Lt. Col. Rob Cunniff, head of NorthCom’s Future Operations, said CCMRFs are intended to provide “a flexible force” that can provide its various capabilities piecemeal or as a total force.

“This is a no-fail mission,” Cunniff said.

“There is high expectation in the public eye that if something happens, there needs to be a [Defense Department] response, and it needs to be quick.”

The forces will be made up of whatever units NorthCom identifies as having the capabilities needed to respond to CBRNE incidents. NorthCom “has no preference based on service or component,” Cunniff said.

That means service members interested in the homeland CBRNE mission can’t volunteer for CCMRF duty, but they can increase their likelihood of participation by joining a unit with CBRNE focus, such as the Air Force’s radiological assessment teams.

Cunniff did say that CCMRFs 2 and 3 will be composed mostly of Guard units.

And that could create some slight bureaucratic entanglement: If, for instance, a Texas Guardsman was part of an initial response to a chemical weapon attack in Dallas, he could be redirected if he also were part of a CCMRF called in later on the same attack.

He might still be doing the same task but be switched to federal status.

Training begins

Some units already tagged for CCMRF 1 — the team expected to be ready by October — trained as part of National Level Exercise 2-08, which involved a variety of local, state and federal disaster response agencies.

NorthCom officials were unable to provide a list of those units by press time.

The training was successful in terms of proving the units’ capabilities, Cunniff said, and was an early step toward the kind of CCMRF training NorthCom leadership envisions.

That training will start with individuals perfecting their “basic warrior skills,” such as wearing and maintaining protective gear, Cunniff said.

As a whole, CCMRF units will ideally take part in “an overarching combat training center-like experience where the entire capability would deploy, would be employed, would be in support of a primary agency, and would be doing this all on the ground,” he said.

CCMRF 2 is expected to be fully operational by the start of fiscal 2010, with CCMRF 3 ready by the start of fiscal 2011.

“We envision that [the CCMRFs] could be regionally based,” Cunniff said, perhaps one on each coast and one in the middle.

Once that’s determined, Cunniff said, NorthCom will have only one more decision to make: They’d like a better name for the CCMRFs.

6 Die After Receiving Human Antibody Injections in China

6 Die After Receiving Human Antibody Injections in China

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Six people have died after being injected with a human antibody in eastern China, a hospital spokeswoman said Monday, the latest case of deaths caused by suspect medicine.

The six died after being injected with immune globulin, and the company that sold the drugs was ordered to stop selling them, said a spokeswoman at the No. 2 Hospital at Nanchang University in Jiangxi province.

The spokeswoman, who would give only her last name Yu, did not provide any other details. It was not immediately clear if the drugs in question were also used for treating patients outside of China.

Immune globulin is an antibody extracted from blood plasma that can be injected into muscles to protect against hepatitis A, and Rhesus disease in pregnant women. It is rarely used to protect against hepatitis A in developed countries where a childhood vaccination is normally given.

A spokeswoman for China's State Food and Drug Administration, Yan Jiangying, confirmed the six had died.

A notice on the administration's Web site said an initial inspection of samples of the antibody confirmed there were some abnormalities.

A notice on the Web site of the Jiangxi Food and Drug Administration said the people died between May 22 and May 28.

The drugs were produced by Jiangxi Boya Bio-Pharmaceutical Co., and had the same batch number, the notice said.

The State Food and Drug Administration and the Health Ministry ordered the company to suspend sales last week and recall the batch of immune globulin, the administration said on its Web site.

China's pharmaceutical industry is highly lucrative but spottily regulated, enticing some to try to cash in by substituting fake or substandard ingredients.

In April, five officials from a Chinese pharmaceutical company that sold a tainted antibiotic responsible for more than a dozen deaths were sentenced up to seven years in prison.

Latin America has 'created its own neighbourhood'

Latin America has 'created its own neighbourhood'

by Fred Fuentes

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The drums of war are once again beginning to sound, as US imperialism steps up its propaganda attack on Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution.

The new offensive has centred on the supposed documents found on the laptops retrieved from the site of the illegal military assault by Colombia that massacred over 20 people at a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) campsite inside Ecuador in early March. This is despite clear evidence of Colombian government interference with the laptops before handing them over, which many accept would rule such evidence as illegitimate.

On May 16, the Venezuelan government denounced as a "provocation" the incursion of 60 Colombian soldiers into Venezuelan territory, intercepted 800 metres over the border. This occurred at the same time as the US Navy has decided to reactivate, after 58 years, its Fourth Fleet to patrol Latin American waters.


The Interpol report released on May 15 verified that the material allegedly found on the "magical" laptops that somehow survived the intense bombing of the FARC camp backs up Colombian and US claims of links between the guerrillas and the Venezuelan government.

The day before, speaking to a group of uniformed soldiers, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned that "Colombia is launching a threat of war at us". He described Colombia's proposal to establish a US military base on its Venezuelan border as an act of "aggression".

Chavez used the opportunity to insist that "the Colombian government will surely announce tomorrow that the documents retrieved from [FARC negotiator killed in the attack] Raul Reyes' computer are authentic and, therefore, Chavez supports terrorism", he stated.

Following the Interpol announcement, Chavez stated that the Venezuelan government would revise diplomatic, economic and political relations with Colombia.

Tension between the two countries boiled over following Colombia's illegal incursion onto Ecuadorian soil. Ecuador and Venezuela both broke relations and set troops to their respective Colombian borders.

In the immediate aftermath, several meetings of the Organization of American States and the Group of Rio, comprised of most of the countries of Latin America, declared their rejection of Colombia's actions, which were backed only by the US.

While a clear blow to Washington's war plans in the region, recent events show that imperialism's offensive has not ended.

Lost control

Eva Golinger, a US-Venezuelan lawyer who has dedicated herself to exposing US intervention in Venezuela and is the author Chavez vs Bush, explained to Green Left Weekly that behind these events was the fact that the US "have lost control in this region, and this is something that is incredible threatening for the US empire".

"They are seeking out a way to divide and create conflict in the region", said Golinger "in order to impede integration in the region".

"The backyard of the US has gone; it's created its own neighbourhood, and the US isn't part of it", commented Golinger.

The events in Ecuador occurred only weeks before the second meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), one of the numerous initiatives of the Venezuelan government aimed towards increasing Latin American integration.

For Golinger, this latest phase of the campaign against Chavez — which intensified several years ago with statements such as those of US Secretary of State Condelezza Rice of the need to create an international "united front" against Venezuela — can be linked to the steps being promoted by Chavez for a humanitarian accord between the FARC and the Colombian government.

Last September, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe invited Chavez to act as a mediator in the humanitarian accords and then in November "unilaterally cut off his role with no important reason to terminate", Golinger explained.

Golinger argued that the US-backed Colombian regime did not want Chavez to continue in his role, as it saw that he was actually making progress towards the release of FARC-held prisoners — "which was going to look good for Chavez, good for [Venezuela's revolutionary] process, and bad for the US, bad for the Colombian government".

According to Golinger, the policy of Colombian government was never to promote a serious negotiation to release hostages and "give the FARC some kind of political platform in the country". She argued it was always a manouevre aimed at working towards the goal of "eliminating the FARC".

Demonstrating his position on the internal conflict, Uribe announced the extradiction of 14 warlords involved with right-wing Colombian paramilitaries that were facing charges in Colombia to the US. There, they will not face the charges of murder against them in Colombia, but merely drug trafficking.

"What was extradited was the truth", Teresita Gaviria, a leader of the Mothers of La Candelaria that represents the families of more than 530 victims of the paramilitaries, told the Christian Science Monitor on May 15.

Aiming to put a halt to the humanitarian exchange process, which was a direct threat to the continuation of Plan Colombia — the US's project of the militarisation of the region under the guise of fighting "narco-terrorists" — the Colombian government carried out its attack on Ecuadorian soil that killed Reyes, the main contact point not only for the Venezuelan but also the French government in its attempts to secure the release of hostages, specifically French-Colombian prisoner Ingrid Betancourt.

Struggle for peace

While communication with the FARC was severed with the murder of its chief negotiator, Chavez announced on May 14, in a telephone call to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, that he promised to "continue to do everything possible" to continue to proceed towards finding a political solution to the conflict.

On his May 11 Alo Presidente weekly show, Chavez warned that Colombia might be trying to generate a conflict with Venezuela in order to take the focus off the ongoing "para-politics" scandal inside Colombia.

Venezuelanalysis.com reported the following day, "Since 2006, many government officials and close allies of President Uribe have been indicted for suspicions of colluding with armed paramilitary forces. As many as 33 lawmakers, and most recently President Uribe's cousin Mario Uribe Escobar, are currently in jail awaiting trial."

Golinger pointed out that there is not only the issue of Uribe's problems but also the fact that current US president George W Bush is in his last year of power. "As we get into the final days of Bush we are going to see more desperate moves from Washington to let Bush go out with a bang … he would like to have some type of success, given Iraq has been such a failure, and Latin America has always been a kind of easy scapegoat of the US government."

Asked if the November US presidential elections could signal a change in Venezuela-US relations, Golinger replied: "I don't see much chance of change for the moment. I think that until Venezuela is able to somehow get its view across and get accurate information to US public opinion on a massive level, on a mainstream level, there's not going to be much change.

"I think all of the candidates have made statements referring to President Chavez as a tyrant or dictator", Golinger commentated. "All of them would back the continued funding of the opposition, and all of them would reject the socialist model."

Golinger argued: "It's not a question of whether it is an ultra right-wing Republican or a moderate Democrat. They are all still promoting a capitalist consumerist model, and that's in direct conflict to the Venezuelan model of socialism and democracy."

The biggest challenge faced in building solidarity with Venezuela against US attacks in this context is the "huge media wall" that blocks accurate information about what is happening in Venezuela.

Moreover, added Golinger, even much of the US left has been confused by the campaign of the Venezuelan opposition and the Bush administration and Democrats alike, who have an agenda against Venezuela.

"That is why we see most of the respectable publications on the left, like Nation magazine, publishing articles that are incredibly critical and manipulative of what is happening in Venezuela, and that type of information over the years has been published in that magazine and others.

"Its hard to find allies on the US left that are willing to extend themselves in a public way to express solidarity and support for Venezuela and that's troubling because how can we expect [Venezuela] to have a relationship with the Democratic Party when we don't even have such a relationship with what's left of the left — the progressive more radical sectors in the US."

"In this sense a lot more work has to be done" to win over these sectors, Golinger said.

The Corporations – Killers of Democracy

The Corporations – Killers of Democracy

By Siv O'Neall

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It's way too late at this moment to ask the question: Are we going to lose our democracy? We may not all have noticed it yet, but the Big Corporations stole our democracy a long time ago.

How did they manage? They bought up everything, from the heavy to the light industry, arms, oil, chemical, to the people in Congress who are supposed to protect us from abuse of power by applying the rules set down in the Constitution. But, above all, they bought up the media. There is no objective source for authentic news in the U.S. any more, other than the Internet.

Robert Murdoch and his equally power-hungry fellow media moguls have seen to it that we just get pre-cooked baby-formula infotainment. People are dumbed down by the non-stop stream of meaningless chatter and unceasing propaganda.

Two major disasters

Among all the outrageous and inhuman crimes that plague the world today, there are two all-consuming current disasters which tie into all the other dictatorial abuses of power, from the executive to the lobbies that have bought up the government in all its forms.

There is first of all world hunger and, on the same level of emergency, the phenomenon of global warming – both those enormous problems having to be seen as the disasters that must be dealt with in the most urgent way possible. And today, there is virtually no urgency displayed in the way those disasters are dealt with – or not dealt with.

And yet, those two huge problems have to be solved if the world is going to continue in a shape even vaguely like the world as we know it.

There is the planetary inequality which has caused the world hunger that finally seems to have attracted wide-spread attention. It is obviously not a recent phenomenon, but it has been enhanced by the rise in food prices, which have multiple causes – the use of food for biofuel, the rise in the price of oil for transport, the droughts in Australia and in Africa, the enormous sham of GMOs that were made out to be capable of saving the world from hunger, but instead are doing the opposite. And let's not forget about the role the speculators and the hedge funds are playing in their roulette game with heavily loaded dice.

The second enormous disaster is climate change, which we don't seem to be able to do anything much about. Or rather, governments are, at their own peril, disregarding the imminent danger of inaction in the face of global warming. It would be perfectly possible to roll back the disastrous situation where we find ourselves today. However, instead of dealing with the problem of over-consumption of oil in a rational way in order to save our lives and the life of the planet, governments are forging ahead in the same old way of splurging on oil consumption as if there was no tomorrow. Oil companies go on making bigger profits than ever before in human history, while the people are paying the price for their obscene profits at the gas pumps.

Why the lack of action?

So, why can't we deal with the two foremost disasters, poverty and climate change? Because the corporations are more interested in making big bucks than saving the planet or saving people from starvation. Once again, it's that short-term profit that outplays all true concern for realism and sound planning. Speculators drive up the prices of commodities without a second thought for the consequences of their short-sighted game of quick profit which produces nothing and benefits nobody.

So the real rulers of the world, the Big Corporations, are condemning us to a life of increased poverty and hunger in third-world countries, a general increase in insecurity and joblessness for middle class people in the western world and increased pollution in the emerging economies in Asia, where the standard of living is actually rising – for the rich. And of course, alongside all these disasters, we are seeing the lives of steadily increasing luxury for the people who are reaping the profits of the plunder. The Corporations see to it that the so-called governments, their obedient front men, cut back the taxes on the top levels of income, on capital gains and on inheritance.

Ethanol is NOT the solution

There is big talk and lots of activity for the production of ethanol, which is exactly the way we should NOT be going in the campaign to lower the rate of release of CO2 gas into the atmosphere. This use of corn, sugar cane and soybeans for biofuel makes for less food for the hungry in the third world and also in Brazil, which is now considered an emerging nation rather than a developing one, increasing food prices in the entire world. It does not make for less emission of CO2 gas since the production of ethanol gives off more CO2 than it saves as an alternative fuel. But corporations and industrial farms are taking advantage of people's ignorance and gullibility and making huge profits. (See Addendum on ethanol*) Rain forests are being cut down to make room for millions of acres of culture for the production of ethanol and biodiesel. And those rain forests are exactly the best protection on the planet against too much CO2 in the atmosphere. [1]

The Corporations make money off ethanol production, so that's the way we are going, even though it increases world hunger and does absolutely nothing to save the world from global warming.

Production of grazing land for cattle

Land is also being taken over for production of grazing land for cattle who are the heaviest consumers of grain and who, when converted to meat offer far less nourishment than they have consumed during their growing process.

One goal for corporations – maximum profit

In other words, the two problems of poverty and hunger and the problem of climate change are deeply intertwined. Both problems could be dealt with rationally, certainly to a somewhat satisfactory extent. But the corporations are not making money off a policy of improving the situation for the starving people in the world or on the urgent need to limit global warming and the disastrous consequences the planet will be undergoing in a near future. We have already begun to see the effects of climate change, but since the corporations own the governments, there is little chance that anything radical will get done very soon.

Renewable energy

There are several ways of producing renewable energy, but who cares? There is no money in it. There is, above all, solar and wind energy waiting to be developed, but no big-scale efforts have been made so far to save the planet using these fabulous non-polluting sources of energy. On a small scale, yes, enough to prove that it works. Even the tidal movements of ocean water can very efficiently be used to make energy. But it wouldn't make any big bucks for the Corporations. And the Corporation is King. So what happens? We have opted for the destruction of the planet.

In short, the world has been taken over by the Big Corporations hand-in-hand with the Main Stream Media and they are all busy shredding our human rights and making our planet into a sterile desert. As long as wildfire capitalism is ruling the world, we are doomed.

*Addendum on Ethanol:

Ethanol And Biodiesel From Crops Not Worth The Energy
ScienceDaily (Jul. 6, 2005) – ITHACA, N.Y. – Turning plants such as corn, soybeans and sunflowers into fuel uses much more energy than the resulting ethanol or biodiesel generates, according to a new Cornell University and University of California-Berkeley study. "There is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel," says David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell. "These strategies are not sustainable."

In terms of energy output compared with energy input for ethanol production, the study found that:
* corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced;
* switch grass requires 45 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced; and
* wood biomass requires 57 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.
In terms of energy output compared with the energy input for biodiesel production, the study found that:
* soybean plants requires 27 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced, and
* sunflower plants requires 118 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.


[1] "Recent research has shown that the Amazon rain forest is not a stable mature forest with growth and decay in balance but is in fact an expanding forest that is being fertilised by the excess atmospheric CO2. The trees are getting bigger and there is a net take up of 5000 kg of carbon per hectare per year ( 1 hectare = 100 x 100 metres ). The total area of forest is 400 million hectares so the whole forest could be absorbing 2 billion tons of carbon per year."

"If the Amazon rainforest burns and releases billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in a short period then this will be a further boost to global warming that will result in significantly higher end of century temperatures."

US offensive displaces thousands of civilians in Afghanistan

US offensive displaces thousands of civilians in Afghanistan

By James Cogan

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A major US offensive targeting alleged Taliban guerillas around the city of Garmser in the southern province of Helmand has displaced over 4,000 families, according to the provincial governor Gulab Mangal. He told UN relief agencies that most are living in squalid conditions on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Lashkargah, and had not received any food or non-food assistance.

Ahmad Shah, a 43-year-old peasant farmer, told the IRIN newsagency on the weekend: “Now my family and I live almost 10 kilometres from Lashkargah city. I have made a shelter from blanket pieces to live under, in an open area. I left my home with four children and my wife three weeks ago because of fighting. Now I need a tent, I need food. My children may die under the hot burning sun of Lashkargah.”

A representative of the Afghanistan Red Crescent Society, Asadullah Mayar, told IRIN: “I met families in the outskirts of Lashkargah city who had not had food in days, lying under the trees and in the sun in that hot weather in Helmand.”

Mahboob Garmsiri, a member of the Afghan parliament from Helmand, told a press conference in Kabul that US troops were smashing into houses and arbitrarily detaining people. He also alleged that civilians had been killed and wounded by American air strikes and bombardments.

The Frontier Post reported the claims of another Helmand politician, Muhmamand Anwar, who asserted that the number of families displaced was at least 10,000. Muhammad Akhunzada, the head of the Afghan parliamentary committee for internal security, told journalists that the “harsh treatment” of civilians by US troops was “causing further alienation of the population” and had already led “more areas to fall into the hands of the Taliban”.

The US military denies that the Garmser offensive has forced civilians from their homes. The operation, however, is unfolding under a blanket of censorship and secrecy. There have been no reports on the number of alleged Taliban who have been killed or detained, let alone on civilian casualties.

The offensive in the Garmser area, which is one of the main assembly and transit points for Taliban militants coming down from mountain bases along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, is among the largest conducted by US or NATO forces in Afghanistan for several years. It involves the entire 2,300-strong US Marine Expeditionary Unit that was sent to Afghanistan in March to reinforce the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Marine Colonel Pete Petronzio told Canadian reporters on the weekend that the fighting over the past several weeks had been the heaviest of the operation. He explained Garmser was “an incredibly tough place to be”. He said there had been frequent firefights with insurgents, and encounters with roadside bombs and other booby traps. Dozens of air strikes had been called in against alleged guerilla positions.

The outgoing NATO commander in Afghanistan, US General Dan McNeill, told journalists on Monday that “insurgents, after experiencing these several weeks of pressure below Garmser, are trying to flee to the south perhaps to go back to sanctuaries in another country”—meaning Pakistan.

Coinciding with the operation in Helmand, US and NATO troops have launched offensives in other parts of the country against the armed resistance to the occupation forces and the US-backed Afghan puppet government. These operations, however, have the character of rearguard actions aimed at containing an expanding insurgency that enjoys considerable popular support.

Canadian troops launched an offensive called “Rolling Thunder” in late May in several districts of Kandahar province where there is strong local support for the Taliban movement. A Canadian officer told journalists that the operation had “disrupted” Taliban cells in Zhari district, which were manufacturing roadside bombs.

The Globe and Mail’s description of the NATO attack on the Zhari town of Pashmul on May 27 makes clear that civilians have been forced from their homes by the Canadian operations as well.

The newspaper reported: “By 6:15 am, bullets were already ripping through Pashmul, a collection of small, ancient villages and farmland. The few locals still living in the area either fled by foot or hunkered down in their compounds before the fighting began. Most are poor farmers.” The battle with insurgents ended “after the Canadians called on US military air support to drop several bombs, including Hellfire missiles, on the area”.

Afghan police claimed that American air strikes in the district killed a regional Taliban leader, Mullah Tohr Agha, and as many as 15 other guerillas. There were no reports on civilian casualties.

On Monday, three Canadian troops and an Afghan interpreter were wounded by a roadside bomb while on a foot patrol in Zhari. Another Canadian was wounded by small arms fire. A Canadian military spokesman, Lieutenant Al Blondin, told journalists: “We have come to expect retaliation from insurgents following their setbacks.” Nine Canadian troops have been killed this year in Kandahar province.

In the neighbouring province of Uruzgan, Australian special forces and commandos launched an offensive last week to cut off an alleged Taliban supply routes from Helmand to other areas such as the capital Kabul. An Australian military press release noted: “This is an area of huge tactical and strategic significance for the Taliban extremists.”

More than six years after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and despite the deaths of tens of thousands of guerillas, the anti-occupation insurgency is, if anything, extending its reach beyond the southern provinces like Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan. The occupation force of some 60,000 troops is incapable of securing more than the main cities and towns, allowing the Taliban and other resistance groups to move largely unchecked in rural areas.

The Afghan interior ministry claimed on the weekend that a three-day operation had to be conducted in the western province of Farah, which borders Iran, to seize back control of two districts from the Taliban. It reportedly resulted in the death of more than 100 insurgents.

The governor of the north-western province of Badghis reported that a combination of US air strikes and ground assaults last week had killed more than 55 of a Taliban force that had attacked two police stations. As many as 400 guerillas were reportedly involved.

An operation also had to be launched last Friday to take back control of the Rashidan district of Ghanzi province, where the district governor reportedly mutinied against the occupation and handed over the area to Taliban insurgents.

In eastern Afghanistan, two American troops were killed on Saturday by a roadside bomb in the city of Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province. Two others were wounded by a bomb in Paktia province, which is also in the east.

According to figures published in a May 29 feature on Afghanistan by German magazine Speigel, there were 8,950 attacks on US, NATO and Afghan government forces in 2007—ten times as many as in 2004.

US continues “renditions” and operates a floating gulag

US continues “renditions” and operates a floating gulag

By David Walsh

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In a new report, the human rights organization Reprieve (UK) alleges that the US government has continued its program of “rendition” and secret imprisonment — despite a claim by George W. Bush in 2006 that the illegal practices had been stopped — and also that it holds an unknown number of “ghost” detainees aboard US navy vessels.

The report has not been issued, but Reprieve made a press release available Monday and the Guardian in Britain carried a story the same day providing some of the study’s details.

According to the Guardian, the rights group “claims there have been more than 200 new cases of rendition [handing prisoners over to regimes likely to torture them] since 2006.” Reprieve points to Bush’s statement on September 6, 2006 that “the secret prisons are now empty,” and says this is not true. Reprieve and other human rights groups, writes the newspaper, “have uncovered over 200 new cases of rendition and secret detention. Many prisoners remain unaccounted for, held without any legal protection.”

In its press release, Reprieve cites the comment of its director, Clive Stafford Smith: “By its own admission, the US government is currently detaining at least 26,000 people without trial in secret prisons, and information suggests up to 80,000 have been ‘through the system’ since 2001. The US government must show a commitment to rights and basic humanity by immediately revealing who these people are, where they are, and what has been done to them.”

As for the detainees held on US ships, Reprieve alleges in its statement that as many as 17 ships have been employed as “floating prisons” since 2001, and that the “prisoners have been interrogated under torturous conditions before being rendered to other, often undisclosed locations.”

The details have emerged from various sources, including the US military and Bush administration officials, the Council of Europe, parliamentary bodies and journalists, “as well as the testimonies of prisoners themselves.”

Ships that are known to have held prisoners include the USS Bataan and the USS Peleliu. An additional 15 ships operating around the British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, used as a military base by the UK and the US, are suspected by Reprieve of being involved in the practice.

The Guardian notes that the forthcoming human rights report “will raise particular concerns over the activities of the USS Ashland and the time it spent off Somalia in early 2007 conducting maritime security operations in an effort to capture al-Qaida terrorists.”

At that time many individuals were abducted by Somali, Kenyan and Ethiopian forces and interrogated by what were most likely FBI and CIA agents. “Ultimately more than 100 individuals were ‘disappeared’ to prisons in locations including Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve believes prisoners may have also been held for interrogation on the USS Ashland and other ships in the Gulf of Aden during this time,” reports the Guardian.

Prisoners believed by Reprieve to have been imprisoned on board US ships include Ibn Al Sheikh Al Libi, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, John Walker Lindh, and David Hicks.

Sheikh Al Libi, the alleged number three in Al Qaeda, was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001. He was handed over to the US and held on the USS Bataan. According to Reprieve, “Information derived from Sheikh Al Libi under torture in Egypt—later recanted and admitted by the Administration to be false—was relied upon by George Bush and Colin Powell as justification for going to war in Iraq. Instead of being taken to Guantánamo Bay in September 2006 with the fourteen other ‘high-value detainees’, Sheikh Al Libi was returned to Libya where he is apparently being held incommunicado and is dying of untreated tuberculosis.”

The Guardian provides the account of a former Guantánamo detainee who passed on another inmate’s description of being held on board an amphibious assault ship: “One of my fellow prisoners in Guantánamo was at sea on an American ship with about 50 others before coming to Guantánamo ... he was in the cage next to me. He told me that there were about 50 other people on the ship. They were all closed off in the bottom of the ship. The prisoner commented to me that it was like something you see on TV. The people held on the ship were beaten even more severely than in Guantánamo.”

The allegations about an American “floating gulag” are not new. In June 2004 Human Rights First issued a report (“Ending Secret Detentions”) on the network of secret global prisons operated by the US. It alleged that in addition to the notorious US military prisons at Guantánamo, Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib, “there are detention facilities that multiple sources have reported are maintained by the United States in various officially undisclosed locations, including facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jordan, on the British possession of Diego Garcia, and on U.S. war ships at sea.” US officials refused to confirm or deny the existence of such facilities.

A year later the UN’s special rapporteur on terrorism, Manfred Nowak, told the Agence France Presse wire service in June 2005 that there were “very, very serious accusations that the United States is maintaining secret camps, notably on ships,” adding that the vessels were believed to be in the Indian Ocean region.

The AFP commented: “The use of prison ships would allow investigators to interrogate people secretly and in international waters out of the reach of US law, British security expert Francis Tusa said.

“‘This opens the door to very tough interrogations on key prisoners before it even has been revealed that they have been captured,’ said Tusa, an editor for the British magazine Jane’s Intelligence Review.”

The American media has been largely uninterested in the existence of a global network of torture facilities, but the Washington Post did carry a piece in December 2004 on a secret ‘camp within a camp’ at Guantánamo, in which it commented in passing, “CIA detention facilities have been located on an off-limits corner of the Bagram air base in Afghanistan, on ships at sea and on Britain’s Diego Garcia island in the Indian Ocean.”

However, in November 2005, in a more extensive piece on the CIA’s secret prisons, a Post reporter wrote: “One early idea was to keep them on ships in international waters, but that was discarded for security and logistics reasons.” This seems to have been a piece of misinformation.

In response to Reprieve’s new allegations, a US navy spokesman, Commander Jeffrey Gordon, told the Guardian: “There are no detention facilities on US navy ships.” Gordon qualified this denial by adding that it was a matter of public record that certain individuals had been put on ships “for a few days” during what he termed the initial days of detention. (In one of the few cases whose details are known, John Walker Lindh was held for nearly six weeks on two US navy vessels.) Gordon “declined to comment on reports that US naval vessels stationed in or near Diego Garcia had been used as ‘prison ships.’”

Such denials, of course, are meaningless. They contradict comments made previously by US military spokespeople.

In December 2001, for example, General Tommy Franks acknowledged that the US was holding Lindh on one of its vessels, when he told the press, “We will continue to control him on the Peleliu until the determination is made regarding whether we handle him within the military or whether he is handled on the civilian side.”

Also in 2001, questioned about the purpose of detaining prisoners on ships, Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem, spokesman for the US joint chiefs of staff, admitted the practice, when he replied, “I don’t know the specifics. Central command determines for either medical considerations, for the protection of those individuals, for the isolation in the sense of not having forces that would try to come get somebody out of a detention centre, for a security aspect, and obviously an interest to continue interrogation.”

Reprieve’s Stafford Smith commented this week, “The US administration chooses ships to try to keep their misconduct as far as possible from the prying eyes of the media and lawyers. We will eventually reunite these ghost prisoners with their human rights.”

The Corporate State and the Subversion of Democracy

The Corporate State and the Subversion of Democracy

World at 'alarming juncture' as leaders gather for FAO summit

World at 'alarming juncture' as leaders gather for FAO summit

by Gina Doggett

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World leaders gathered in Rome on Monday for a UN summit on food security, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warning that the world had come to an "alarming juncture."

"For years, falling food prices and rising production lulled the world into complacency," Ban told the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), adding: "You know better than anyone how we arrived at this alarming juncture."

"Governments put off hard decisions and overlooked the need to invest in agriculture," Ban said at IFAD's new Rome headquarters on the eve of the three-day Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) summit.

"Today, we are literally paying the price," he said.

"If not handled properly, this issue could trigger a cascade of other crises -- affecting economic growth, social progress, and even political security around the world."

Participants at the High-Level Conference on World Food Security will discuss short-term solutions as well as new strategies to deal with the effects of global warming, growing demand for biofuels and a crumbling agriculture sector in much of the developing world.

Ahead of the summit, battle lines were being drawn over the causes of the global food price crisis.

The humanitarian charity Oxfam staged a protest on Monday to dramatise the effects of the rising use of biofuels, with three actors dressed as ears of corn being strangled by a petrol pump hose.

"We're hoping for structural solutions to a problem that has gone on for at least 20 years, that of finding a sustainable model of agricultural production," local Oxfam official Farida Chapman told AFP.

But Oxfam stresses that European and US biofuel policies are only one of several factors causing higher food prices.

Estimates vary on the extent to which demand for biofuels has pushed up food prices.

The International Food Policy Research Institute, based in Washington, estimates that it accounts for 30 percent of the incrase, the International Monetary Fund puts the figure at 15 percent, while the US Agriculture Department says is is under three percent.

"Really the driving factor (behind soaring food prices) is energy and increased consumption," US Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer told a news conference in Rome on Monday.

Dozens of non-governmental organisations and small farmers' groups opened a forum on Sunday to coincide with the FAO summit.

Tejo Pramano, an Indonesian Via Campesina activist, said of the summit: "If they really want to respond to the crisis, the only thing is to support the small farmer (instead of) agribusiness ... which doesn't see food as a right of the people. They raise prices as they like.

"This is a situation like war," he said.

Meanwhile the planned attendance by the Zimbabwean and Iranian presidents sparked international condemnation and protests.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith called Mugabe's presence in Rome "obscene". Britain also criticised Mugabe's rare foray out of Zimbabwe where he is fighting for his political future in an election runoff.

"This is the person who has presided over the starvation of his people. This is the person who has used food aid in a politically motivated way," Smith said.

In London, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's spokesman said: "We think it's particularly unfortunate that (Mugabe) has decided to attend this meeting given what he has done in relation to contributing to difficulties on food supply in Zimbabwe."

There were also protests in Italy by activists, leftist politicians and Jewish groups against Mugabe and Ahmadinejad.

"It is in no way legitimate for the people of Zimbabwe to be represented by a head of state who has been disowned by the international community and who is unwanted by his own people," Sergio Marelli, Italian host of a forum on food sovereignty coinciding with the summit, told AFP.

Italy's libertarian Radical Party plans a sit-in against both leaders on Tuesday, first day of the three-day summit.

War criminals must fear punishment. That's why I went for John Bolton

War criminals must fear punishment. That's why I went for John Bolton

As long as the greatest crime of the 21st century remains unprosecuted, we all have a duty to keep the truth alive

George Monbiot

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I realise now that I didn't have a hope. I had almost reached the stage when two of the biggest gorillas I have ever seen swept me up and carried me out of the tent. It was humiliating, but it could have been worse. The guard on the other side of the stage, half hidden in the curtains, had spent the lecture touching something under his left armpit. Perhaps he had bubos.

I had no intention of arresting John Bolton, the former under-secretary of state at the US state department, when I arrived at the Hay festival. But during a panel discussion about the Iraq war, I remarked that the greatest crime of the 21st century had become so normalised that one of its authors was due to visit the festival to promote his book. I proposed that someone should attempt a citizens' arrest, in the hope of instilling a fear of punishment among those who plan illegal wars. After the session I realised that I couldn't call on other people to do something I wasn't prepared to do myself.

I knew that I was more likely to be arrested and charged than Mr Bolton. I had no intention of harming him, or of acting in any way that could be interpreted as aggressive, but had I sought only to steer him gently towards the police I might have faced a range of exotic charges, from false imprisonment to aggravated assault. I was prepared to take this risk. It is not enough to demand that other people act, knowing that they will not. If the police, the courts and the state fail to prosecute what the Nuremberg tribunal described as "the supreme international crime", I believe we have a duty to seek to advance the process.

The Nuremberg principles, which arose from the prosecution of Nazi war criminals, define as an international crime the "planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances". Bolton appears to have "participated in a common plan" to prepare for the war (also defined by the principles as a crime) by inserting the false claim that Iraq was seeking to procure uranium from Niger into a state department factsheet. He also organised the sacking of José Bustani, the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, accusing him of bad management. Bustani had tried to broker a peaceful resolution of the dispute over Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Some of the most pungent criticisms of my feeble attempt to bring this man to justice have come from other writers for the Guardian. Michael White took a position of extraordinary generosity towards the instigators of the war. There are "arguments on both sides", he contended on the Guardian politics blog. Bustani might have received compensation after his sacking by Bolton, "but Bolton says that does not mean much". In fact, Bustani was not only compensated at his tribunal, he was completely exonerated of Bolton's accusations and his employers were obliged to pay special damages.

White suggested that Iraq might indeed have been seeking uranium from Niger, on the grounds of a conversation he once had with an MI6 officer. Alongside the British government's 45-minute claim, this must be the best-documented of all the false justifications for the war with Iraq. In 2002, the United States government sent three senior officials to Niger to investigate the claim. All reported that it was without foundation. The International Atomic Energy Agency discovered that it was based on crude forgeries. This assessment was confirmed by the state department's official Greg Thielmann, who reported directly to John Bolton. No evidence beyond the forged documents has been provided by either the US or the UK governments to support their allegation.

White also gives credence to Bolton's claims that the war in 2003 was justified by two UN resolutions - 678 and 687 - which were approved in 1990 and 1991, and that it was permitted by article 51 of the UN charter. The attempt to revive resolutions 678 and 687 was the last, desperate throw of the dice by the Blair government when all else had failed. When it became clear that it could not obtain a new UN resolution authorising force against Iraq, the government dusted down the old ones, which had been drafted in response to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.

This revival formed the basis of Lord Goldsmith's published advice on March 17 2003. It was described as "risible" and "scrap[ing] the bottom of the legal barrel" by Lord Alexander, a senior law lord. After the first Gulf war, Colin Powell, General Sir Peter de la Billiere and John Major all stated that the UN's resolutions permitted them only to expel the Iraqi army from Kuwait, and not to overthrow the Iraqi government. Lord Goldsmith himself, in the summer of 2002, advised Tony Blair that resolutions 678 and 687 could not be used to justify a new war with Iraq.

Article 51 of the UN charter is comprehensible to anyone but the lawyers employed by the Bush administration. States have a right to self-defence "if an armed attack occurs against" them, and then only until the UN security council can intervene. On what occasion did Iraq attack the United States? Is there any claim made by the Blair and Bush governments that Michael White is not prepared to believe?

Conor Foley, writing on Comment is free, suggested that my action "completely trivialises the serious case" against the Iraq war and claimed that I was seeking to "imprison ... people because of their political opinions", as if Bolton were simply a commentator on the war, and not an agent. Does he really believe that the former under-secretary did not "participate in a common plan" to initiate the war with Iraq? What other conceivable purpose might the state department's misleading factsheet have served? And what more serious action can someone who is neither a law lord nor a legislator take? Bolton himself maintains that my attempt to bring him to justice reflects a "move towards lawlessness and fascism". This is an interesting commentary on an attempt to uphold a law which arose from the prosecution of fascists.

But there is one charge I do accept: that my chances of success were very slight. Apart from the 300-pound gorillas, the main obstacle I faced was that although the crime of aggression, as defined by the Nuremberg principles, has been incorporated into the legislation of many countries, it has not been assimilated into the laws of England and Wales. This does not lessen the crime but it means that it cannot yet be tried here. This merely highlights another injustice: while the British state is prepared to punish petty misdemeanours with vindictive ferocity, it will not legislate against the greatest crime of all, lest it expose itself to prosecution.

But demonstration has two meanings. Non-violent direct action is both a protest and an exposition. It seeks to demonstrate truths which have been overlooked or forgotten. I sought to remind people that the greatest crime of the 21st century remains unprosecuted, and remains a great crime. If you have read this far, I have succeeded.