Sunday, December 20, 2009

US jobless claims rise for second week in a row

US jobless claims rise for second week in a row

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Initial jobless benefit claims in the US rose the second time in a row last week, undermining claims that the recovery in corporate profits is translating into improved employment conditions for workers.

Filings for the week ending December 12 reached 480,0000, up 7,000 from the previous week, according to the report issued Thursday by the Labor Department. The figure was significantly higher than predicted by economists surveyed in a Dow Jones poll, who expected jobless claims to fall by 9,000.

The increase follows an unexpected jump in the number of new claims the previous week, when filings reached 474,000. That figure was revised downward slightly in the latest report to 473,000. Claims for continuing jobless benefits, paid to workers who have remained unemployed, also rose by 5,000 to 5,186,000.

New York had the largest increase in new claims. The state registered 16,344 new applications, which the Labor Department report attributed to layoffs in the service sector, construction and transportation.

The number of jobless claims rose in 45 states, and decreased in eight. The four-week level of jobless claims fell slightly, despite the second consecutive increase in new filings.

The Labor Department report also showed that a growing number of people are collecting extended unemployment insurance benefits. That figure reached 4.73 million after growing by 144,000 last week, according to partial data included in the report. The extended benefits, provided by the federal government for laid-off workers whose state benefits have expired, are scheduled to expire at the end of the year, and Congress has yet to authorize new extended benefits. This could leave millions of workers without any jobless benefits.

The continued increase in the number of people collecting unemployment benefits reflects the growing ranks of workers who are unable to find employment. “People who have already lost their job are having incredible difficulty finding a job,” wrote Dan Greenhaus of Miller Tabak, a Wall Street firm.

The latest figures add to concerns that economic growth in 2010 will be lower than that for the second half of 2009, dragged down by the expiration of government stimulus programs, continued unemployment, and falling wages.

Persistent high unemployment is leading millions of people who have lost their jobs to apply for federal disability programs, according to a recent analysis of Social Security Administration data made by MSNBC. New applications for disability benefits rose 17 percent in fiscal year 2009, reaching 3 million. Filings for fiscal year 2010 are expected to jump another 10 percent.

Meanwhile, mass layoffs continue. Reynolds American, one of the largest US tobacco companies, announced this week that it will cut 400 jobs. ArcelorMittal SA plans to cut 10,000 jobs in Europe, the US and other regions, according to a recent leak to the Wall Street Journal. The company has already reduced its capacity utilization to 70 percent in response to the downturn, and does not plan to change this figure over the next four years.

Large-scale layoffs will continue in the coming year, according to a survey of corporate chief financial officers conduced by Duke University and CFO magazine. The executives surveyed expect to cut their workforces by 1.6 percent in the US.

Despite the improvement in business profitability, most of the executives surveyed said that they don’t expect employment to reach normal levels until 2011 at the earliest. Some 61 percent of executives said their companies had lowered overtime in 2009, while 40 percent implemented other cuts, including furloughs and benefit reductions.

Three quarters of the companies said they had cut their work forces in recent years. Two thirds said they did not expect to bring those jobs back in 2010. At the same time, the surveyed CFOs expected their companies’ earnings to rise by 7.4 percent next year.

Monsanto role in cornering seed biz revealed

AP INVESTIGATION: Monsanto seed biz role revealed

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Confidential contracts detailing Monsanto Co.'s business practices reveal how the world's biggest seed developer is squeezing competitors, controlling smaller seed companies and protecting its dominance over the multibillion-dollar market for genetically altered crops, an Associated Press investigation has found.

With Monsanto's patented genes being inserted into roughly 95 percent of all soybeans and 80 percent of all corn grown in the U.S., the company also is using its wide reach to control the ability of new biotech firms to get wide distribution for their products, according to a review of several Monsanto licensing agreements and dozens of interviews with seed industry participants, agriculture and legal experts.

Declining competition in the seed business could lead to price hikes that ripple out to every family's dinner table. That's because the corn flakes you had for breakfast, soda you drank at lunch and beef stew you ate for dinner likely were produced from crops grown with Monsanto's patented genes.

Monsanto's methods are spelled out in a series of confidential commercial licensing agreements obtained by the AP. The contracts, as long as 30 pages, include basic terms for the selling of engineered crops resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, along with shorter supplementary agreements that address new Monsanto traits or other contract amendments.

The company has used the agreements to spread its technology - giving some 200 smaller companies the right to insert Monsanto's genes in their separate strains of corn and soybean plants. But, the AP found, access to Monsanto's genes comes at a cost, and with plenty of strings attached.

For example, one contract provision bans independent companies from breeding plants that contain both Monsanto's genes and the genes of any of its competitors, unless Monsanto gives prior written permission - giving Monsanto the ability to effectively lock out competitors from inserting their patented traits into the vast share of U.S. crops that already contain Monsanto's genes.

Monsanto's business strategies and licensing agreements are being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice and at least two state attorneys general, who are trying to determine if the practices violate U.S. antitrust laws. The practices also are at the heart of civil antitrust suits filed against Monsanto by its competitors, including a 2004 suit filed by Syngenta AG that was settled with an agreement and ongoing litigation filed this summer by DuPont in response to a Monsanto lawsuit.

The suburban St. Louis-based agricultural giant said it's done nothing wrong.

"We do not believe there is any merit to allegations about our licensing agreement or the terms within," said Monsanto spokesman Lee Quarles. He said he couldn't comment on many specific provisions of the agreements because they are confidential and the subject of ongoing litigation.

"Our approach to licensing (with) many companies is pro-competitive and has enabled literally hundreds of seed companies, including all of our major direct competitors, to offer thousands of new seed products to farmers," he said.

The benefit of Monsanto's technology for farmers has been undeniable, but some of its major competitors and smaller seed firms claim the company is using strong-arm tactics to further its control.

"We now believe that Monsanto has control over as much as 90 percent of (seed genetics). This level of control is almost unbelievable," said Neil Harl, agricultural economist at Iowa State University who has studied the seed industry for decades. "The upshot of that is that it's tightening Monsanto's control, and makes it possible for them to increase their prices long term. And we've seen this happening the last five years, and the end is not in sight."

At issue is how much power one company can have over seeds, the foundation of the world's food supply. Without stiff competition, Monsanto could raise its seed prices at will, which in turn could raise the cost of everything from animal feed to wheat bread and cookies.

The price of seeds is already rising. Monsanto increased some corn seed prices last year by 25 percent, with an additional 7 percent hike planned for corn seeds in 2010. Monsanto brand soybean seeds climbed 28 percent last year and will be flat or up 6 percent in 2010, said company spokeswoman Kelli Powers.

Monsanto's broad use of licensing agreements has made its biotech traits among the most widely and rapidly adopted technologies in farming history. These days, when farmers buy bags of seed with obscure brand names like AgVenture or M-Pride Genetics, they are paying for Monsanto's licensed products.

One of the numerous provisions in the licensing agreements is a ban on mixing genes - or "stacking" in industry lingo - that enhance Monsanto's power.

One contract provision likely helped Monsanto buy 24 independent seed companies throughout the Farm Belt over the last few years: that corn seed agreement says that if a smaller company changes ownership, its inventory with Monsanto's traits "shall be destroyed immediately."

Quarles, however, said Sunday he wasn't familiar with that older agreement, obtained by the AP, but said, "as I understand it," Monsanto includes provisions in all its contracts that allow companies to sell out their inventory if ownership changes, rather than force the firms to destroy the inventory immediately.

Another provision from contracts earlier this decade- regarding rebates - also help explain Monsanto's rapid growth as it rolled out new products.

One contract gave an independent seed company deep discounts if the company ensured that Monsanto's products would make up 70 percent of its total corn seed inventory. In its 2004 lawsuit, Syngenta called the discounts part of Monsanto's "scorched earth campaign" to keep Syngenta's new traits out of the market.

Quarles said the discounts were used to entice seed companies to carry Monsanto products when the technology was new and farmers hadn't yet used it. Now that the products are widespread, Monsanto has discontinued the discounts, he said.

The Monsanto contracts reviewed by the AP prohibit seed companies from discussing terms, and Monsanto has the right to cancel deals and wipe out the inventory of a business if the confidentiality clauses are violated.

Thomas Terral, chief executive officer of Terral Seed in Louisiana, said he recently rejected a Monsanto contract because it put too many restrictions on his business. But Terral refused to provide the unsigned contract to AP or even discuss its contents because he was afraid Monsanto would retaliate and cancel the rest of his agreements.

"I would be so tied up in what I was able to do that basically I would have no value to anybody else," he said. "The only person I would have value to is Monsanto, and I would continue to pay them millions in fees."

Independent seed company owners could drop their contracts with Monsanto and return to selling conventional seed, but they say it could be financially ruinous. Monsanto's Roundup Ready gene has become the industry standard over the last decade, and small companies fear losing customers if they drop it. It also can take years of breeding and investment to mix Monsanto's genes into a seed company's product line, so dropping the genes can be costly.

Monsanto acknowledged that U.S. Department of Justice lawyers are seeking documents and interviewing company employees about its marketing practices. The DOJ wouldn't comment.

A spokesman for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said the office is examining possible antitrust violations. Additionally, two sources familiar with an investigation in Texas said state Attorney General Greg Abbott's office is considering the same issues. States have the authority to enforce federal antitrust law, and attorneys general are often involved in such cases.

Monsanto chairman and chief executive officer Hugh Grant told investment analysts during a conference call this fall that the price increases are justified by the productivity boost farmers get from the company's seeds. Farmers and seed company owners agree that Monsanto's technology has boosted yields and profits, saving farmers time they once spent weeding and money they once spent on pesticides.

But recent price hikes have still been tough to swallow on the farm.

"It's just like I got hit with bad weather and got a poor yield. It just means I've got less in the bottom line," said Markus Reinke, a corn and soybean farmer near Concordia, Mo. who took over his family's farm in 1965. "They can charge because they can do it, and get away with it. And us farmers just complain, and shake our heads and go along with it."

Any Justice Department case against Monsanto could break new ground in balancing a company's right to control its patented products while protecting competitors' right to free and open competition, said Kevin Arquit, former director of the Federal Trade Commission competition bureau and now a antitrust attorney with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP in New York.

"These are very interesting issues, and not just for the companies, but for the Justice Department," Arquit said. "They're in an area where there is uncertainty in the law and there are consumer welfare implications and government policy implications for whatever the result is."

Other seed companies have followed Monsanto's lead by including restrictive clauses in their licensing agreements, but their products only penetrate smaller segments of the U.S. seed market. Monsanto's Roundup Ready gene, on the other hand, is in such a wide array of crops that its licensing agreements can have a massive effect on the rules of the marketplace.

Monsanto was only a niche player in the seed business just 12 years ago. It rose to the top thanks to innovation by its scientists and aggressive use of patent law by its attorneys.

First came the science, when Monsanto in 1996 introduced the world's first commercial strain of genetically engineered soybeans. The Roundup Ready plants were resistant to the herbicide, allowing farmers to spray Roundup whenever they wanted rather than wait until the soybeans had grown enough to withstand the chemical.

The company soon released other genetically altered crops, such as corn plants that produced a natural pesticide to ward off bugs. While Monsanto had blockbuster products, it didn't yet have a big foothold in a seed industry made up of hundreds of companies that supplied farmers.

That's where the legal innovations came in, as Monsanto became among the first to widely patent its genes and gain the right to strictly control how they were used. That control let it spread its technology through licensing agreements, while shaping the marketplace around them.

Back in the 1970s, public universities developed new traits for corn and soybean seeds that made them grow hardy and resist pests. Small seed companies got the traits cheaply and could blend them to breed superior crops without restriction. But the agreements give Monsanto control over mixing multiple biotech traits into crops.

The restrictions even apply to taxpayer-funded researchers.

Roger Boerma, a research professor at the University of Georgia, is developing specialized strains of soybeans that grow well in southeastern states, but his current research is tangled up in such restrictions from Monsanto and its competitors.

"It's made one level of our life incredibly challenging and difficult," Boerma said.

The rules also can restrict research. Boerma halted research on a line of new soybean plants that contain a trait from a Monsanto competitor when he learned that the trait was ineffective unless it could be mixed with Monsanto's Roundup Ready gene.

Boerma said he hasn't considered asking Monsanto's permission to mix its traits with the competitor's trait.

"I think the co-mingling of their trait technology with another company's trait technology would likely be a serious problem for them," he said.

Quarles pointed out that Monsanto has signed agreements with several companies allowing them to stack their traits with Monsanto's. After Syngenta settled its lawsuit, for example, the companies struck a broad cross-licensing accord.

At the same time, Monsanto's patent rights give it the authority to say how independent companies use its traits, Quarles said.

"Please also keep in mind that, as the (intellectual property developer), it is our right to determine who will obtain rights to our technology and for what purpose," he said.

Monsanto's provision requiring companies to destroy seeds containing Monsanto's traits if a competitor buys them prohibited DuPont or other big firms from bidding against Monsanto when it snapped up two dozen smaller seed companies over the last five years, said David Boies, a lawyer representing DuPont who previously was a prosecutor on the federal antitrust case against Microsoft Corp.

Competitive bids from companies like DuPont could have made it far more expensive for Monsanto to bring the smaller companies into its fold. But that contract provision prevented bidding wars, according to DuPont.

"If the independent seed company is losing their license and has to destroy their seeds, they're not going to have anything, in effect, to sell," Boies said. "It requires them to destroy things - destroy things they paid for - if they go competitive. That's exactly the kind of restriction on competitive choice that the antitrust laws outlaw."

Some independent seed company owners say they feel increasingly pinched as Monsanto cements its leadership in the industry.

"They have the capital, they have the resources, they own lots of companies, and buying more. We're small town, they're Wall Street," said Bill Cook, co-owner of M-Pride Genetics seed company in Garden City, Mo., who also declined to discuss or provide the agreements. "It's very difficult to compete in this environment against companies like Monsanto."

Creating a 'Gitmo North' an Alarming Step, Says ACLU

Creating a 'Gitmo North' an Alarming Step, Says ACLU

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The Obama administration announced today that it will purchase the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois for the purpose of holding some of the detainees currently remaining at Guantánamo. Though the administration is leaving unsaid which detainees will be moved there and for what purposes, the information it has provided indicates that some detainees might be held for military commission proceedings in Illinois while others might be held at Thomson indefinitely without charge or trial.

The administration has stated that "any detainees at Guantánamo who continue to be held, and for whom no prosecution is planned, will be held only under authority granted by Congress in 2001 under the Authorization for Use of Military Force, as informed by the law of war." However, the so-called war on terrorism is not a traditional war, having no temporal or geographical boundaries.

The following can be attributed to Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU:

"The creation of a 'Gitmo North' in Illinois is hardly a meaningful step forward. Shutting down Guantánamo will be nothing more than a symbolic gesture if we continue its lawless policies onshore.

"Alarmingly, all indications are that the administration plans to continue its predecessor's policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial for some detainees, with only a change of location. Such a policy is completely at odds with our democratic commitment to due process and human rights whether it's occurring in Cuba or in Illinois. In fact, while the Obama administration inherited the Guantánamo debacle, this current move is its own affirmative adoption of those policies. It is unimaginable that the Obama administration is using the same justification as the Bush administration used to undercut centuries of legal jurisprudence and the principle of innocent until proven guilty and the right to confront one's accusers.

"It is also greatly disturbing that the administration will continue the use of military commissions, which are no more acceptable in Illinois or any other U.S. state than in Guantánamo. Despite some improvements, the commissions still fall far short of the legal standards necessary to comply with constitutional and international standards, allowing, for example, the use of coerced and hearsay evidence that would not be allowed in federal court. The proceedings will achieve neither reliable justice nor a restoration of America's credibility around the world.

"The administration must also make very clear what category of detainee will be transferred to Thomson in the future and what kind of prison conditions will apply. Detainees not charged with a crime should not be subject to punitive conditions meant for sentenced prisoners who have been found guilty in a court of law, and all conditions must comply with the Geneva Conventions.

"The administration will no doubt be looking to Congress for legislative buy-in for this facility, and as both branches work together, we strongly urge lawmakers to legislate responsibly and not set any policies or precedents for indefinite detention on U.S. soil, or create any violation of the Geneva Conventions.

"The Obama administration's announcement today contradicts everything the president has said about the need for America to return to leading with its values. American values do not contemplate disregarding our Constitution and skirting the criminal justice system. After detaining hundreds of individuals without the basic due process rights that define our justice system for almost eight years, it is time to charge suspects where evidence exists and repatriate and transfer the rest to countries where they won't be tortured."

DOD: Obama's Afghan Surge Will Rely Heavily On Private Contractors

DOD: Obama's Afghan Surge Will Rely Heavily On Private Contractors

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Private contractors will make up at least half of the total military workforce in Afghanistan going forward, according to Defense Department officials cited in a new congressional study.

As President Obama's escalation of the war in Afghanistan unfolds, the number of contractors will likely jump by between 16,000 and 56,000, adding up to a total of 120,000-160,000, according to an updated study from the Congressional Research Service.

DOD officials who spoke with the study's author said contractors would make up 50-55 percent of the total workforce -- troops plus contractors -- in the future. This would actually be a significant reduction from the last two years, when contractors have averaged 62 percent of the total.

As we've reported, many questions about the army of contractors, which outnumbers the size of the U.S. troop force, remain unanswered and underexamined. We don't have up to date numbers on how much the United States spends on private contracts, and the DOD does not break down the services done by contractors in Afghanistan (it does for Iraq).

As of September 2009, contractors providing security, transportation, and logistical services numbered 104,100 in Afghanistan and 113,700 in Iraq, according to the military. Most of the contractors in Afghanistan are local nationals, according to the military. Here's a table looking at how much the numbers in Afghanistan will increase with Obama's surge:

Interestingly, it looks like military planners themselves -- not just the media and politicians -- find it all too easy to ignore the role of contractors in U.S. foreign policy. The most recent Quadrennial Defense Review, a key strategic overview of American defense and military policy, runs over 100 pages. Just five sentences of the QDR document addresses the use of private contractors, the CRS study notes.

Besides crunching the numbers, the study also looks at whether contractors can undermine U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the issue of abuses of civilians by contractors.

Here's a graph we've shown you before, now updated through September 2009:

The whole study is worth a read:

CRS Contractors Study 12/09

US 'sends special forces to Yemen' amid crisis

US 'sends special forces to Yemen' amid crisis

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US special forces have reportedly been sent to Yemen to train its army, as the Yemeni military backed by the Saudi Arabian army has been fighting local Houthi fighters in the north of the country.

The development comes amid fears that foreign military intervention in the country has put Yemeni civilians in dire condition.

American officials told The Daily Telegraph on Sunday that US forces have been sent to Yemen to prevent the country from turning into a "reserve base" for al-Qaeda.

The move to strengthen Yemen's army comes at a time that the country's army is not fighting with al-Qaeda militants, which are based in the southern parts of the country.

The conflict in northern Yemen began in 2004 between Sana'a and Houthi fighters. The conflict intensified in August 2009 when the Yemeni army launched Operation Scorched Earth in an attempt to crush the Shia fighters in the northern province of Sa'ada.

The government claims that the fighters, who are named after their leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi, seek to restore the Shia Zaidi imamate system, which was overthrown in a 1962 coup

The Houthis reject the claim and accuse the Yemeni government of violation of their civil rights, political, economic and religious marginalization as well as large-scale corruption.

Saudi intervention

The Saudi air force has further complicated the conflict by launching its own operations against Shia resistance fighters.

Saudi fighter jets are reportedly using phosphorus bombs against the Houthi fighters.

Houthi fighters on Sunday said that Saudi forces launched a major cross-border airstrike on Yemen, leaving at least 70 civilians dead and more than 100 others injured in the northern district of Razeh.

As Sana'a does not allow independent media into the conflict zone, there are no clear estimates available as to how many people have been killed in the Shia province of Sa'adah
since the beginning of the conflict.

UN role

International aid agencies and some UN bodies including United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have voiced concern over the dire condition of the Yemeni civilians who have become the main victims of the conflict in the country.

UNICEF has deplored the plight of children in northern Yemen. UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Sigrid Kaag, said "They (children) are living in difficult conditions, away from their homes and schools despite significant humanitarian relief efforts."

UNHCR estimates that since 2004, up to 175,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in Sa'ada and take refuge at overcrowded camps in which, according to UN reports, bad conditions have resulted in children's deaths.

The United Nations, which according to its charter is set up "to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace," has failed to adopt any concrete measures to help end the bloody war.

House passes $636B defense bill

House passes $636B defense bill

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The U.S. House passed a $636 billion defense spending bill that also would extend jobless benefits and healthcare for out-of-work Americans another few months.

The vote was 395-34 Wednesday.

The Pentagon bill for fiscal 2010 also included several temporary extensions of current laws due to expire at the end of the year, including the Patriot Act designed to make it easier for the U.S. government to fight terrorism.

The bill also would provide a 3.4 percent military pay increase but did not include funding to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan as President Obama called for early this month. The price tag was estimated to be about $30 billion.

Yemen: Pentagon's War On The Arabian Peninsula

Yemen: Pentagon's War On The Arabian Peninsula

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Yemen will become a battleground for a proxy war between the United States and Saudi Arabia - whose state-to-state relations are among the strongest and most durable of the entire post-World War II era - on one hand and Iran on the other.

It is perhaps impossible to determine the exact moment at which a U.S.- supported self-professed holy warrior - trained to perpetrate acts of urban terrorism and to shoot down civilian airliners - ceases to be a freedom fighter and becomes a terrorist. But a safe assumption is that it occurs when he is no longer of use to Washington. A terrorist who serves American interests is a freedom fighter; a freedom fighter who doesn't is a terrorist.

Yemenis are the latest to learn the Pentagon's and the White House's law of the jungle. Along with Iraq and Afghanistan which counterinsurgency specialist Stanley McChrystal used to perfect his techniques, Yemen is joining the ranks of other nations where the Pentagon is engaged in that variety of warfare, fraught with civilian massacres and other forms of so-called collateral damage: Colombia, Mali, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia and Uganda.

BBC News reported on December 14 that 70 civilians were killed when aircraft bombed a market in the village of Bani Maan in northern Yemen.

The nation's armed forces claimed responsibility for the deadly attack, but a website of the Houthi rebels against whom the bombing was ostensibly directed stated "Saudi aircraft committed a massacre against the innocent residents of Bani Maan." [1]

The Saudi regime entered the armed conflict between the (eponymous) Houthis and the Yemeni government on behalf of the latter in early November and since has been accused of launching attacks inside Yemen with tanks and warplanes. Even before the latest bombing scores of Yemenis have been killed and thousands displaced by the fighting. Saudi Arabia has also been accused of using phosphorous bombs.

Moreover, the rebel group known as Young Believers, based in the Shi'ite Muslim community of Yemen which comprises 30 percent of the country's population of 23 million, claimed on December 14 that "US fighter jets have attacked Yemen's Sa'ada Province" and "US fighter jets have launched 28 attacks on the northwestern province of Sa'ada." [2]

The previous day's edition of Britain's Daily Telegraph reported on discussions with U.S. military officials, stating "Fearful that Yemen is in danger of becoming a failed state, America has now sent a small number of special forces teams to improve training of Yemen's army in reaction to the threat."

One unnamed Pentagon official was quoted as saying "Yemen is becoming a reserve base for al-Qaeda's activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan." [3]

The conjuring up of the al-Qaeda bogey, however, is a decoy. The rebels in the north of the nation are Shi'ites and not Sunnis, much less Wahhabi Sunnis of the Saudi variety, and as such are not only not linked with any group of groups that could be categorized as al-Qaeda, but instead would be a likely target thereof.

In service to American designs in the region, the British and American press lately has been referring to Yemen as the "ancestral homeland" of Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden comes from a prominent billionaire Saudi Arabian family, of course, but as his father had been born in what is now the Republic of Yemen over a century ago the Western media are exploiting an insignificant historical accident to suggest Osama bin Laden's active role in the nation and to establish a tenuous link between the South Asian war in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Saudi and American armed intervention in a civil conflict in Yemen.

In 2002 the Pentagon dispatched an estimated 100 soldiers, by some accounts Green Beret special forces, to Yemen to train the country's military. In that instance, coming as it did two years after the suicide bombing attack against the Navy destroyer USS Cole in the southern Yemeni port of Aden, attributed to al-Qaeda, and accompanied by drone missile attacks against identified leaders of the same, Washington justified its actions as retaliation for that incident as well as the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. the year before.

The present context is different and a U.S.-backed counterinsurgency war in Yemen will have nothing to do with combating alleged al-Qaeda threats, but will in fact be an integral part of the strategy to expand the Afghan war into yet wider concentric circles taking in South and Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Persian Gulf, Southeast Asia and the Gulf of Aden, the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The eagerly awaited departure of President George W. Bush may have led to the end of the official global war on terror, now referred to as overseas contingencies operations, but nothing except the name has changed.

On December 13 the top commander of the Pentagon's Central Command in charge of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, General David Petraeus, told the Al Arabiya television network that "that U.S supports Yemen's security in the context of the military cooperation provided by America for its allies in the region" and "stressed that U.S. ships in the territorial waters of Yemen [are there] not only to control but to impede the infiltrations of weapons to Houthi rebels." [4]

To be recalled the next time the al-Qaeda/bin Laden canard is used to justify expanding U.S. military involvement on the Arabian Peninsula.

The Yemen Post of December 13 wrote that the Houthi media office "accused the U.S. of participating in the war against Houthis" and released photographs of what were identified as U.S. warplanes "involved in bombing operations in Sa'ada province [in] Northern Yemen."

The source estimated there have been twenty U.S. bombing raids coordinated with satellite surveillance. [5]

The Western press is again leading the charge in linking the Houthis, whose religious background of Zaydi Shi'ism is quite distinct from the Iranian version, to sinister machinations imputed to Tehran. Even U.S. government officials have to date acknowledged no evidence that Iran is supporting much less arming the Yemeni rebels. That will change if the script goes according to precedent as is indicated by Petraeus's comment above, and Washington will dutifully echo the Yemeni government's claim that Iran is arming its Shi'ia brethren in Yemen as it is accused of doing in Lebanon.

Yemen will become a battleground for a proxy war between the United States and Saudi Arabia - whose state-to-state relations are among the strongest and most durable of the entire post-World War II era - on one hand and Iran on the other.

In an editorial of five days ago the Tehran Times accused all parties to the Yemeni conflict - the government, the rebels and Saudi Arabia - of recklessness and issued a warning: "History provides a good example. Saudi Arabia funded extremist groups in Afghanistan and still, two decades since the withdrawal of the Soviet army from the country, the flames of war in Afghanistan are overwhelming the allies of Saudi Arabia.

"And a similar scenario is emerging in Yemen." [6]

The comparison between Yemen and Afghanistan alluded in particular to Riyadh, in the second case hand-in-glove with the United States, exporting Saudi-based Wahhabism to expand its political influence.

Saudi Arabia is attempting to promote its own version of extremism in Yemen as it did earlier in Afghanistan and Pakistan and is currently doing in Iraq. Far from the U.S. and its Western allies expressing any objection, the Saudis and their fellow Persian Gulf monarchies will be in the forefront of what is estimated to be $100 billion worth of Middle East arms purchases from the West over the next five years. "The core of this arms-buying spree will undoubtedly be the $20 billion U.S. package of weapons systems over 10 years for the six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council - Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain." [7] Saudi Arabia is also armed with state-of-the-art British and French warplanes as well as U.S. missile defense systems.

What the earlier cited Iranian commentary warned about regarding "the flames of war" in Afghanistan is perfectly confirmed by the Commander's Initial Assessment of August 30, 2009 issued by top American and NATO military commander in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal and published by the Washington Post on September 21 with the redactions demanded by the Pentagon. The 66-page document served as the blueprint for President Barack Obama's December 1 announcement that 33,000 more American troops are headed to Afghanistan.

In the report McChrystal stated, "The major insurgent groups in order of their threat to the mission are: the Quetta Shura Taliban (05T), the Haqqani Network (HQN), and the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HiG)."

The last two are named after their founders and current leaders, Jalaluddin Haqqanni and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Mujahideen darlings of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in the 1980s when the Agency's deputy director (from 1986-1989) was Robert Gates, now U.S. Secretary of Defense in charge of prosecuting the war in Afghanistan. And in Yemen.

In his 1996 book From the Shadows, Gates boasted that "CIA had important successes in covert action. Perhaps the most consequential of all was Afghanistan where CIA, with its management, funnelled billions of dollars in supplies and weapons to the mujahideen...." [8]

The New York Times in 2008 divulged these details:

"In the 1980s, Jalaluddin Haqqani was cultivated as a 'unilateral' asset of the CIA and received tens of thousands of dollars in cash for his work in fighting the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, according to an account in 'The Bin Ladens,' a recent book by Steve Coll. At that time, Haqqani helped and protected Osama bin Laden, who was building his own militia to fight the Soviet forces, Coll wrote." [9] Coll is also the author of the 2001 volume Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001.

Haqqani's colleague Hekmatyar "received millions of dollars from the CIA through the ISI [Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence]. Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin received some of the strongest support from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and worked with thousands of foreign mujahideen who came to Afghanistan." [10]

This past May the (superlatively) pro-American president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, told the American NBC news network that Taliban is "part of our past and your past, and the ISI and CIA created them together....It (the Taliban) was (a) monster created by all of us...." [11]

On September 11, 2001 there were only three nations in the world that recognized Taliban rule in Afghanistan: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. U.S. President George W. Bush immediately afterward singled out seven so-called states supporting terrorism for potential retaliation: Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria. Only Sudan, which expelled Osama bin Laden in 1996, had any conceivable connections to al-Qaeda. Of the nineteen accused September 11 airline hijackers, fifteen were from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt and one from Lebanon.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia remain highly-valued American political and military allies and the United Arab Emirates has troops serving under NATO command in Afghanistan.

It is perhaps impossible to determine the exact moment at which a U.S.-supported self-professed holy warrior - trained to perpetrate acts of urban terrorism and to shoot down civilian airliners - ceases to be a freedom fighter and becomes a terrorist. But a safe assumption is that it occurs when he is no longer of use to Washington. A terrorist who serves American interests is a freedom fighter; a freedom fighter who doesn't is a terrorist.

For decades the African National Congress of Nelson Mandela and the Palestine Liberation Organization of Yasser Arafat were at the top of the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist groups. No sooner had the Cold War ended than both Mandela and Arafat (and Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams) were invited to the White House. The first shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and the second in 1994.

If a hypothetical self-styled jihadist left Saudi Arabia or Egypt in the 1980s for Pakistan to fight against the Afghan government and its Soviet ally, he was a freedom fighter in the U.S.'s eyes. If he then went to Lebanon he was a terrorist. In the early 1990s if he arrived in Bosnia he was a freedom fighter again, but if he showed up in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank a terrorist. In the Russian North Caucasus he was a reborn freedom fighter, but if he returned to Afghanistan after 2001 a terrorist.

Depending on how the wind is blowing from Foggy Bottom, an armed Baloch separatist in Pakistan or a Kashmiri one in India is either a freedom fighter or a terrorist.

Contrariwise, in 1998 U.S. special envoy to the Balkans Robert Gelbard described the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fighting the government of Yugoslavia as a terrorist organization: "I know a terrorist when I see one and these men are terrorists." [12]

The following February U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright brought five members of the KLA, including its chief Hashim Thaci, to Rambouillet, France to offer an ultimatum to Yugoslavia that she knew would be rejected and lead to war. The next year she escorted Thaci on a personal tour of the United Nations Headquarters and the State Department and invited him as a guest to the Democratic Party presidential nominating convention in Los Angeles.

This November 1st Thaci, now prime minister of a pseudo-state only recognized by 63 of the world's 192 nations, hosted former U.S. President Bill Clinton for the unveiling of a statue honoring the latter's crimes. And vanity.

Washington supported armed separatists in Eritrea from the mid-1970s until 1991 in their war against the Ethiopian government.

Currently the U.S. is arming Somalia and Djibouti for war against independent Eritrea. The Pentagon has its first permanent military base in Africa in Djibouti, where it stations 2,000 troops and from where it conducts drone surveillance over Somalia. And Yemen.

In the words of Balzac's character Vautrin, "There are no such things as principles, there are only events; there are no laws, there are only circumstances...."

Yemenis are the latest to learn the Pentagon's and the White House's law of the jungle. Along with Iraq and Afghanistan which counterinsurgency specialist Stanley McChrystal used to perfect his techniques, Yemen is joining the ranks of other nations where the U.S. military is engaged in that variety of warfare, fraught with civilian massacres and other forms of so-called collateral damage: Colombia, Mali, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia and Uganda.


1) BBC News, December 14, 2009
2) Press TV, December 14, 2009
3) Daily Telegraph, December 13, 2009
4) Yemen Post, December 13, 2009
5) Ibid
6) Tehran Times, December 10, 2009
7) United Press International, August 25, 2009
8) BBC News, December 1, 2008
9) New York Times, September 9, 2008
10) Wikipedia
11) Press Trust of India, May 11, 2009
12) BBC News, June 28, 1998


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Kucinich: 'Class war is over, working people lost'

Kucinich: ‘Class war is over, working people lost’

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Reflecting on the growing divide between Wall Street and Main Street, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) on Wednesday offered a powerful critique on the state of the economy in an open committee hearing.

"The class warfare is over -- we lost," Kucinich said before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. "I want to make that announcement today. Working people lost. The middle class lost."

The harrowing comments from Kucinich, who is Chairman of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee, come amidst a national unemployment rate of 10 percent, one year and several months after the economic collapse of 2008 has marred the livelihoods of many.

"Don't tell me about class warfare," he continued. "Come to my neighborhoods in Cleveland. I will show you class warfare. I’ll show you hollowed out areas. I’ll show you businesses that went down because they don’t have access to capital. And on Wall Street it is fat city. Don’t tell me about class warfare."

Kucinich, a former presidential candidate who is viewed across the nation as a progressive champion on many issues, said that despite the recent uptick in economic figures, many regular Americans continue to struggle.

"All across this country people are starved for capital," Kucinich said. "Small businesses are failing, you have shopping centers that are becoming vacant because people can’t afford the rents anymore because the people who own the malls the developers are getting cash calls and credit is tightening."

"The separation between the finance economy and the real economy is real. This is not some fake idea. You can’t call that class warfare. That’s a fact."

Kucinich, who voted against the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (also known as the Wall Street bailout), lamented it as a catalyzing force for the rising inequality of income in the United States.

"The wealth of this nation is being accelerated upward," Kucinich said. "That’s one of the problems that I had with the bailout."

"You could say that it helped stabilize the American economy, but what I see is the separation between the real economy and Wall Street. Wall Street is stabilizing, markets are a lot better, banks are doing well -- they parked their money at the Fed for a while so they could get higher interest rates."

Afghan War Costs 101

Afghan War Costs 101

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Ashton Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, put the matter this way recently: “[N]ext to Antarctica, Afghanistan is probably the most incommodious place, from a logistics point of view, to be trying to fight a war... It's landlocked and rugged, and the road network is much, much thinner than in Iraq. Fewer airports, different geography.” In other words, we might as well be fighting on the moon. In translation, this means at least one thing: don’t believe any of the figures coming out of the White House or the Pentagon about what this war is going to cost.

As Jo Comerford, executive director of the National Priorities Project points out below, the president’s $30 billion figure for getting those 30,000-plus new surge troops into Afghanistan is going to prove a “through-the-basement estimate.” As for the dates for getting them in and beginning to get them out? Well, it’s grain-of-salt time there, too. According to Steven Mufson and Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, some of the fuel storage facilities being built to support the surge troops won’t even be completed by the time the first of them are scheduled to leave the country, 18 months from now.

And keep in mind the endless, and endlessly vulnerable, supply lines on which so much of that fuel -- and almost everything else the U.S. military has to have to survive -- travels. Along those mountainous roads, trucks are “lost,” or Taliban-commandeered, or bribes are paid for passage, or some are simply destroyed in what can only be thought of as an underreported supply-line war. All of this adds immeasurably to the staggering expense of the project. According to August Cole of the Wall Street Journal, in fuel terms alone, to support a single soldier in Afghanistan costs between $200,000 and $350,000 a year.

And while we’re at it: don’t expect all those surging troops to make it into Afghanistan any time soon. In the heroic tales of presidential surge deliberations (based on copious White House leaks) that appeared soon after the president’s West Point speech, much was made of how Obama himself had insisted on speeding up the plan to get the extra troops in place. All would arrive, the White House said, within six months. That was quickly changed to approximately eight months. Now, Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, deputy commander of American and NATO forces there, has just announced that it will take nine to eleven months (or maybe even “up to a year”), and that’s if none of the factors that could go wrong do -- something not worth putting your money on when it comes to the Afghan War.

If all this leaves you with lingering worries about the success of both the surge and the war, you can put them to rest, however. NBC’s Richard Engel found a “military schematic,” a single chart from the office of the Joint Chiefs, that offers a visual representation of the military’s full surge/counterinsurgency strategy. It has to be seen to be believed. (Just click here.) It lays out as a flow chart (or perhaps overflow chart would be the more accurate description) just how our war will achieve success. What could possibly go wrong with such a plan? It’s hard to imagine. In the meantime, let Comerford give you a little lesson in the economics of the Afghan War, and what we could have done with that low-ball figure of $30 billion, had we chosen not to fight a war on the moon. Tom

Surging by the Minute
By Jo Comerford

$57,077.60. That’s what we’re paying per minute. Keep that in mind -- just for a minute or so.

After all, the surge is already on. By the end of December, the first 1,500 U.S. troops will have landed in Afghanistan, a nation roughly the size of Texas, ranked by the United Nations as second worst in the world in terms of human development.

Women and men from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will be among the first to head out. It takes an estimated $1 million to send each of them surging into Afghanistan for one year. So a 30,000-person surge will be at least $30 billion, which brings us to that $57,077.60. That’s how much it will cost you, the taxpayer, for one minute of that surge.

By the way, add up the yearly salary of a Marine from Camp Lejeune with four years of service, throw in his or her housing allowance, additional pay for dependents, and bonus pay for hazardous duty, imminent danger, and family separation, and you’ll still be many thousands of dollars short of that single minute’s sum.

But perhaps this isn’t a time to quibble. After all, a job is a job, especially in the United States, which has lost seven million jobs since December 2007, while reporting record-high numbers of people seeking assistance to feed themselves and/or their families. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 36 million Americans, including one out of every four children, are currently on food stamps.

On the other hand, given the woeful inadequacy of that “safety net,” we might have chosen to direct the $30 billion in surge expenditures toward raising the average individual monthly Food Stamp allotment by $70 for the next year; that's roughly an additional trip to the grocery store, every month, for 36 million people. Alternatively, we could have dedicated that $30 billion to job creation. According to a recent report issued by the Political Economy Research Institute, that sum could generate a whopping 537,810 construction jobs, 541,080 positions in healthcare, fund 742,740 teachers or employ 831,390 mass transit workers.

For purposes of comparison, $30 billion -- remember, just the Pentagon-estimated cost of a 30,000-person troop surge -- is equal to 80% of the total U.S. 2010 budget for international affairs, which includes monies for development and humanitarian assistance. On the domestic front, $30 billion could double the funding (at 2010 levels) for the Children's Health Insurance Program and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Or think of the surge this way: if the United States decided to send just 29,900 extra soldiers to Afghanistan, 100 short of the present official total, it could double the amount of money -- $100 million -- it has allocated to assist refugees and returnees from Afghanistan through the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

Leaving aside the fact that the United States already accounts for 45% of total global military spending, the $30 billion surge cost alone would place us in the top-ten for global military spending, sandwiched between Italy and Saudi Arabia. Spent instead on “soft security” measures within Afghanistan, $30 billion could easily build, furnish and equip enough schools for the entire nation.

Continuing this nod to the absurd for just one more moment, if you received a silver dollar every second, it would take you 960 years to haul in that $30 billion. Not that anyone could hold so much money. Together, the coins would weigh nearly 120,000 tons, or more than the poundage of 21,000 Asian elephants, an aircraft carrier, or the Washington Monument. Converted to dollar bills and laid end-to-end, $30 billion would reach 2.9 million miles or 120 times around the Earth.

One more thing, that $30 billion isn’t even the real cost of Obama’s surge. It’s just a minimum, through-the-basement estimate. If you were to throw in all the bases being built, private contractors hired, extra civilians sent in, and the staggering costs of training a larger Afghan army and police force (a key goal of the surge), the figure would surely be startlingly higher. In fact, total Afghanistan War spending for 2010 is now expected to exceed $102.9 billion, doubling last year's Afghan spending. Thought of another way, it breaks down to $12 million per hour in taxpayer dollars for one year. That’s equal to total annual U.S. spending on all veteran's benefits, from hospital stays to education.

In Afghan terms, our upcoming single year of war costs represents nearly five times that country’s gross domestic product or $3,623.70 for every Afghan woman, man, and child. Given that the average annual salary for an Afghan soldier is $2,880 and many Afghans seek employment in the military purely out of economic desperation, this might be a wise investment -- especially since the Taliban is able to pay considerably more for its new recruits. In fact, recent increases in much-needed Afghan recruits appear to correlate with the promise of a pay raise.

All of this is, of course, so much fantasy, since we know just where that $30-plus billion will be going. In 2010, total Afghanistan War spending since November 2001 will exceed $325 billion, which equals the combined annual military spending of Great Britain, China, France, Japan, Germany, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. If we had never launched an invasion of Afghanistan or stayed on fighting all these years, those war costs, evenly distributed in this country, would have meant a $2,298.80 dividend per U.S. taxpayer.

Even as we calculate the annual cost of war, the tens of thousands of Asian elephants in the room are all pointing to $1 trillion in total war costs for Iraq and Afghanistan. The current escalation in Afghanistan coincides with that rapidly-approaching milestone. In fact, thanks to Peter Baker’s recent New York Times report on the presidential deliberations that led to the surge announcement, we know that the trillion-dollar number for both wars may be a gross underestimate. The Office of Management and Budget sent President Obama a memo, Baker tells us, suggesting that adding General McChrystal’s surge to ongoing war costs, over the next 10 years, could mean -- forget Iraq -- a trillion dollar Afghan War.

At just under one-third of the 2010 U.S. federal budget, $1 trillion essentially defies per-hour-per-soldier calculations. It dwarfs all other nations' military spending, let alone their spending on war. It makes a mockery of food stamps and schools. To make sense of this cost, we need to leave civilian life behind entirely and turn to another war. We have to reach back to the Vietnam War, which in today's dollars cost $709.9 billion -- or $300 billion less than the total cost of the two wars we're still fighting, with no end in sight, or even $300 billion less than the long war we may yet fight in Afghanistan.

Obama seeks Guantánamo-style prison on US soil

Obama seeks Guantánamo-style prison on US soil

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With its decision to purchase a state prison in rural Illinois, the Obama administration is preparing to recreate the essential features of the infamous military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba—indefinite detention without charges and trials by military commissions—on US soil.

This latest move has exposed Obama’s pledge to close down the prison at the US military base in Cuba as an empty gesture. In substance, the administration is adopting the criminal practices of the Bush administration as its own, while seeking to legitimize them through legislation and empty rhetoric about American “values and ideals.”

The administration announced its decision Tuesday, releasing the text of a letter it had sent to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, who last month had first proposed the use of the Thomson Correctional Center, a maximum security prison located 150 miles west of Chicago. The facility, which has the capacity to house 1,600 prisoners, was built in 2001, but never fully opened because of state budgetary problems. Quinn pitched the proposal as a means of bringing revenue and jobs into an area hard hit by the recession.

In an indication of the importance the administration attaches to this proposal, the letter to Quinn was signed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

This letter described the proposed facility as “part of the president’s aggressive posture in the fight against al-Qaeda.”

It vowed that the prison would be refitted to make it “the most secure facility in the nation” and to employ methods more severe than even “security standards at the nation’s only ‘supermax’ prison in Florence, Colorado, where there has never been an escape or external attack.”

Pentagon officials have indicated that 1,500 military personnel would be assigned to run the prison.

The Obama administration appears set to create even more hellish conditions for the detainees in Illinois than existed at the facility in Cuba.

This is in part an attempt to placate the Republican right, which has portrayed the decision to close Guantánamo as a concession to the “terrorists” and the transfer of its detainees to the United States as a mortal threat to the American population.

The Democrats in Congress have bowed to this right-wing hysteria, joining in a 91-to-5 Senate vote last June to deny the administration funding to close Guantánamo and bar the sending of its inmates to the US for prolonged detention.

Now, before it can begin putting together the facility, the Obama administration must go back to Congress for new legislation both funding the prison and providing explicit authority to the executive branch to transfer the Guantánamo detainees to the US in order to detain them indefinitely without charges or try them before military tribunals.

Until now, the Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has claimed such rights under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks. It has maintained this position even in the face of a 2006 US Supreme Court ruling (Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld) that there was nothing in the AUMF legislation allowing the President to abrogate the constitutional right of due process.

Most immediately affected by the Obama administration’s decision are the 210 men still held at Guantánamo, most of whom have been detained for nearly eight years without any justification.

According to administration officials, 116 of these men have been cleared for repatriation to their homelands or to third countries. But in the bulk of these cases, no country has agreed to accept them. Administration officials have claimed that these detainees will be kept at Guantánamo until they can be released abroad.

This is one more indication that the pledge announced by Obama last year with great fanfare that Guantánamo would shut down within a year will not be kept, no matter what happens to the prison in Illinois. Moreover, refitting the Thomson facility would take several months and could begin only after funding is approved by Congress.

A few of the other Guantánamo detainees are to be tried in federal court, held during the trials in facilities near the courthouse. This is the case with five detainees who are to be brought to New York City to be tried on charges stemming from the September 11 terrorist attacks. Among them is the alleged organizer of the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was subjected to waterboarding 183 times as well as other forms of torture.

All of those brought to Thomson would be denied trials in a normal court. One group would be brought before military tribunals in which their rights are severely abridged. Last month, it was announced that five others were slated for this treatment. Among them is the 23-year-old Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, who was detained by US forces in Afghanistan when he was only 15 and subjected to eight years of imprisonment and abuse.

As for the rest of the Guantánamo detainees, they will be locked away in Thomson—if it is run like other “supermax” prisons, in solitary confinement—indefinitely without ever being formally charged much less brought to trial.

Among the considerations in the Obama administration’s decisions on which inmates are given trials and which not is how much their being tortured would impede prosecution.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, which has defended a number of the Guantánamo detainees, issued a statement in which it charged that the Obama administration’s plans for Thomson showed that it was acting “merely to shut down the symbol of Guantánamo without dismantling the injustice of Guantánamo. A change of scenery does nothing to restore the rule of law.”

Legislation allowing preventive detention within the United States has implications that go far beyond the fate of the 210 men still held at Guantánamo.

The US government needs a facility like the one proposed at Thomson not just for those presently held in Cuba, but for those it will detain in the future.

The Obama administration has upheld its predecessor’s claim to the right to seize supposed terrorist suspects off the street in any country it pleases and hold them without charges on the theory that the US is engaged in a “global war on terrorism.” It has gone into court to defend the use of rendition, in which such detainees can be handed over to other governments for the purpose of interrogation and torture.

These practices will inevitably create a steady flow of new detainees for the facility that is being referred to as “Guantánamo North.”

Moreover, the passage of such legislation would essentially legitimize the use of presidential power to suspend the bedrock right of habeas corpus and to hold those deemed by the government to be terrorist suspects under preventive detention on US soil.

While such treatment is supposedly restricted to what are now being termed “alien unprivileged enemy belligerents,” a precedent is being set that can be extended under conditions of growing crisis and intensifying social struggle to anyone seen as a threat to the government and the ruling financial elite that it defends.

The international league of war criminals

The international league of war criminals

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The issuing of a British arrest warrant for former Israeli Foreign Minister and current leader of the opposition Tzipi Livni is only the latest event confirming an international body of legal opinion that Israel should be tried for war crimes over its treatment of the Palestinians.

Livni was a member of the war cabinet during Operation Cast Lead, the offensive against Gaza between December 27, 2008 and January 18 this year. Some 1,400 Palestinians—the majority of them civilians, including 400 women and children—were killed, at least 5,000 people were injured, and 21,000 homes and other vital infrastructure were destroyed.

In October, the United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed a report by South African Judge Richard Goldstone stating that the war was “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever-increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”

The warrant against Livni was issued by Westminster Magistrates' Court at the request of lawyers acting on behalf of 16 Palestinian plaintiffs. Livni was due to address the Jewish National Fund conference on December 13, but it is claimed she had cancelled her appearance some time ago due to a “scheduling conflict.” However, the New York Times reported Thursday that Livni was tipped off about the warrant and the threat of arrest.

This is far from the first time that an Israeli political or military figure has faced the threat of prosecution. In 2001, a warrant was issued in Belgium for the arrest of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, former Army Chief-of-Staff Raphael Eitan and former head of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) Northern Command, Amos Yaron, for their roles in the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982.

In September 2005, former head of IDF Southern Command Doron Almog faced arrest in the UK for ordering the demolition of 59 civilian Palestinian homes. The arrest warrant was supposedly issued secretly under UK law, but Israeli diplomats were tipped off and Almog refused to leave his plane for two hours until it took off again for Israel.

An arrest warrant was also issued by Spain for seven Israelis involved in the July 2002 bombing of an apartment building in Gaza City that killed Hamas military leader Salah Shehadeh and 14 civilians, including his wife and several children. Moshe Ya'alon, the Israeli deputy prime minister and strategic affairs minister, and the former defence minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, were amongst the accused.

In September, the Westminster Court was asked to issue an arrest warrant for Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, under the 1988 Criminal Justice Act, for his involvement in the Gaza War. The court accepted the assertion by the Foreign Office that he was a serving minister who would be meeting his British counterparts and therefore enjoyed immunity under the State Immunity Act of 1978.

Ex-ministers, not on official business, such as Livni, enjoy no such immunity. For this reason both Ya'alon and Avi Dichter, the public security minister and head of the Shin Bet security agency, have turned down invitations to events in Britain.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has mounted a campaign to end all possibility of future arrests under universal jurisdiction provisions of the Geneva Conventions and other international laws. As far as Israel’s allies are concerned, however, Tel Aviv is kicking against an open door.

Whenever there has been a prosecution threatened against an Israeli official, Washington has brought pressure to bear to prevent it. This led to the dropping of Belgium’s charges against Sharon, et al and changes to Belgian law to lessen the possibility of similar prosecutions in the future. In June this year, a Spanish court shelved its investigation into the Gaza City bombings. In addition, the US led a block of six nations that voted against acceptance of the Goldstone report, while Britain and France abstained.

Britain’s response to Israel’s official protests against the warrant issued for Livni was more than merely fawning. It led to promises by Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Prime Minister Gordon Brown to change the law allowing non-citizens to be brought before British courts.

In the naked language of imperialist realpolitik, Miliband declared, “Israel is a strategic partner and a close friend of the United Kingdom. We are determined to protect and develop those ties.” So much for Western claims to uphold international law and democratic rights!

As with the position taken by the US, much more is involved in the UK’s response than mere loyalty to an ally. There is a basic issue of self-preservation.

Time and again Israeli spokesmen have warned that the leaders of the major powers—including George Bush and Tony Blair over Iraq and Brown and President Barack Obama over Afghanistan—are threatened with prosecutions under universal jurisdiction provisions. Netanyahu himself warned, regarding Goldstone’s report, “It’s not just our problem… If they accused IDF officers, IDF commanders, IDF soldiers, IDF pilots and even leaders, they will accuse you too. What, NATO isn’t fighting in various places? What, Russia isn’t fighting in various places?”

The concept of universal jurisdiction allows prosecution by international or national courts when the case is deemed to be a crime against humanity and not likely to be tried in the allegedly guilty party’s own state. It underlies the creation of a range of institutions such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), established in 2002, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The US and other major powers have been happy to see these bodies utilized against those regimes they have targeted as hostile to their interests, such as Serbia. But like Israel, the US opposes universal jurisdiction over itself and therefore endorses neither the ICC nor the ICJ.

When Obama gave his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize last week, he argued explicitly for war as an instrument of US foreign policy, defending military action whose purpose “extends beyond self-defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor.” He insisted that such pre-emptive imperialist wars—of the kind already conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan—were essential to the US maintaining its position at the centre of the “architecture to keep the peace” set up in the aftermath of World War II.

This supposedly included abiding by “certain rules of conduct” and the US acting as “a standard bearer in the conduct of war.” To this end, he made great play of having personally reaffirmed “America's commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions” and “other international laws of war.”

This is one lie amongst many. Some newspapers have claimed that Spain and Britain pioneered the concept of universal jurisdiction, with the 1998 extradition warrant by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. In point of fact, the concept is rooted in the Geneva Conventions, adopted on August 12, 1949.

Regarding war crimes, the Conventions require signatory nations, such as Britain and the US, to pass the necessary laws and “provide effective penal sanctions” for persons “committing, or ordering to be committed” any “grave breaches” of the Conventions. Article 129 goes on to state that each signatory “shall be under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, such grave breaches, and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts.”

That is why the Goldstone report made an explicit call to countries that are signatories to the Conventions to use their “universal jurisdiction” to search for and prosecute those Israelis, as well as leaders of Hamas, it accused of war crimes.

In reality, the imperialist powers and their allies operate as a de facto international league of war criminals—dedicated to their mutual defence and self-preservation. That is why the US rejects universal jurisdiction when it comes to its friends, as well as its own politicians and military personnel.

Now Brown and Miliband have made clear that they too will abrogate the independence of the courts in order to prevent any prosecution for war crimes that runs contrary to the strategic interests of British imperialism. In doing so, they may hope to save themselves from the possibility of being brought to justice. But they should know that some crimes are too great for prosecution to be avoided forever.