Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Doctors Without Borders Cargo Plane With Full Hospital and Staff Blocked From Landing in Port-au-Prince

Doctors Without Borders Cargo Plane With Full Hospital and Staff Blocked From Landing in Port-au-Prince

Demands Deployment of Lifesaving Medical Equipment Given Priority

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The Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) plane filled with supplies needed to establish an inflatable tent field hospital landed at approximately 11 am local time, Sunday, January 17, in Port-au-Prince.

However, another MSF cargo plane carrying vital medical supplies to replenish stocks for Choscal hospital, where an MSF team is working on a backlog of patients needing surgery, was not allowed to land in Port-au-Prince on Sunday, January 17, and was forced to re-route to the Dominican Republic, where it landed. Choscal hospital will run out of medical supplies in less than 24 hours and its cold chain system for preserving medicines and vaccines at the proper temperatures could be compromised if this cargo plane is not able to fly into Port-au-Prince immediately.

More than 500 patients in need of surgery have been transferred from Martissant to Choscal hospital in Cite Soleil. MSF teams are focusing on lifesaving surgery (open wounds, fractures, burns, amputations, and emergency obstetrics). They’ve been working around the clock and have done more than 90 surgeries since the operating theater became functional. Priority is given to lifesaving interventions, such as amputations carried out on patients with gangrene triggered by infected wounds.

How many cargo flights has MSF successfully flown into Port-au-Prince? 4

What is their total tonnage? 135

How many cargo flights has MSF successfully flown into the Dominican Republic? 2

What is their total tonnage? 65

How many cargo flights are planned for the rest of this week? 6

What is their total tonnage? 195

Port-au-Prince/Paris /New York, 17 January 2009—Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urges that its cargo planes carrying essential medical and surgical material be allowed to land in Port-au-Prince in order to treat thousands of wounded waiting for vital surgical operations. Priority must be given immediately to planes carrying lifesaving equipment and medical personnel.

Despite guarantees, given by the United Nations and the US Defense Department, an MSF cargo plane carrying an inflatable surgical hospital was blocked from landing in Port-au-Prince on Saturday, and was re-routed to Samana, in Dominican Republic. All material from the cargo is now being sent by truck from Samana, but this has added a 24-hour delay for the arrival of the hospital.

A second MSF plane is currently on its way and scheduled to land today in Port- au-Prince at around 10 am local time with additional lifesaving medical material and the rest of the equipment for the hospital. If this plane is also rerouted then the installation of the hospital will be further delayed, in a situation where thousands of wounded are still in need of life saving treatment.

The inflatable hospital includes 2 operating theaters, an intensive care unit, 100-bed hospitalization capacity, an emergency room and all the necessary equipment needed for sterilizing material.

MSF teams are currently working around the clock in 5 different hospitals in Port-au-Prince, but only 2 operating theaters are fully functional, while a third operating theater has been improvised for minor surgery due to the massive influx of wounded and lack of functional referral structures.

Israel and Egypt Continue to Squeeze Gaza

Israel and Egypt Continue to Squeeze Gaza

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Two weeks ago, almost 2,000 internationals came to Egypt and Gaza in a massive show of civil society's support for the people of Gaza. Nearly 1,400 persons representing 44 countries in the Gaza Freedom March and over 500 persons with the Viva Palestina Convoy let the people of Gaza know of their concern for the tragic consequences of their governments' support of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade.

Yet, two weeks later, with the apparent approval of governments (United States, European Community and Canada) that support the quarantine, blockade and siege of Gaza, Israel and Egypt have tightened the squeeze to wring the lifeblood out of the people of Gaza.

US Military Team Visits Underground Wall Construction

The US government continues to assist Egypt in building an underground wall to cut off tunnels under the border of Gaza and Egypt. According to Reuters, on January 14, 2010, three US military personnel from the US embassy in Cairo visited Rafah to follow up on the barrier project. According to security sources in Rafah, visits by US military have been taking place monthly.

In a press conference this week in Washington, US State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said, "What we'd like to see is for Hamas to stop using the border crossings as methods for smuggling in weapons and let's get the weapons smuggling stopped." Duguid did not address the use of the tunnels to get life-saving food and materials prohibited by Israel.

In December 2009, three Palestinians were killed after a tunnel collapsed beneath the Egypt-Gaza border. The three were reported missing, and later found by rescue workers.

Deadliest Week Since Last Year's Israeli Attack

Last week, January 6-12, was the deadliest week for the Gaza Strip in the past year since the January 18, 2009, ceasefire that ended Israel's "Cast Lead" offensive.

According to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israeli air force bombing attacks killed seven Palestinians in Gaza, including three civilians. The attacks came in response to an increase in the number of mortar shells and rockets fired by Palestinian factions from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel that caused no injuries or property damage.

Since the ceasefire a year ago, a total of 84 Palestinians, including at least 27 civilians, and one Israeli (a soldier) have been killed. Another 160 Palestinians and seven Israelis were injured in Gaza and southern Israel.

On January 8, 2010, US aircraft flown by Israeli air force personnel bombed tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border, killing three Palestinians, including a 15 year-old boy, and wounding another two. Another Palestinian was hurt in a separate airstrike. In two other incidents, on January 6 and 10, Israeli aircraft targeted and killed four Palestinian militants, three of them in one airstrike. Five additional airstrikes, resulting in no casualties, were carried out during the week. Also this week, on four separate occasions, Israeli forces drove tanks into Gaza and conducted land-leveling operations.

Israelis Increase Border Zone Into Gaza

On January 7 this year, the Israeli air force dropped leaflets into areas next to the border fence with Gaza, warning residents to keep a distance of at least 300 meters from the border with Israel and to avoid cooperating with "smugglers" in the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border. This doubled the buffer zone along the border from 150 meters to 300 meters, but Israeli forces have opened "warning" fire at farmers as far as 1,000 meters (3,200 feet) from the border.

A parallel ban for Gaza fishermen is applied to sea areas beyond three nautical miles from the coast, though often this distance is less in practice. This week, in nine separate incidents, Israeli naval forces opened "warning" fire at Palestinian fishing boats along Gaza's coast, forcing them to return to shore.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) reported that on January 6 and 9 this year, unknown persons detonated bombs in a pharmacy and two coffee shops in Gaza City; no one was hurt, but property damage was reported.

Two Killed in January in Tunnels and Seven Youths Burned in Tunnel Fire

In January 2010, two Palestinians died in two separate incidents involving the collapse of a tunnel under the Gaza-Egypt border while they were working inside it. At least 70 people have died and 123 others have been injured in the tunnels since the end of the "Cast Lead" Israeli attack on Gaza.

On January 16 this year, seven Palestinians from Gaza were burned in a fire that broke out in one of the tunnels connecting the border towns of Rafah, Gaza and Rafah, Egypt. The seven burned tunnel workers were treated at An-Nasser and Ash-Shifa hospitals in Gaza City.

Digging tunnels and working in them is one of the few jobs available for Palestinian youth in Gaza. Tunnel workers reportedly earn $25 per day, a huge sum in the current Palestinian economy. However, they are subjected to daily bombings by US F-16 aircraft flown by the Israeli Air Force, plus tunnel collapses and fires.

Accidents in the tunnels are frequent. According to the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Mezan, 120 people have been killed working in the tunnel trade in the past three years.

According to OCHA, no commercial gasoline or diesel fuel entered Gaza via Kerem Shalom during last week. Egyptian gasoline and diesel, which is transferred through the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, remains available on the open market, with nearly 100,000 liters of diesel and 100,000 liters of gasoline transferred into Gaza per day.

Israeli Tanks Shell Beit Hanoun

Israeli tanks operating near the northern Gaza border near Beit Hanoun targeted civilian properties with heavy artillery fire on January 15, 2010. Tank shells hit civilian homes on the outskirts of the town, causing material damages but no injuries.

Egypt Builds Anchorage for Border Patrol Boats

Egypt is continuing fortification of its borders with Gaza, this time by sea. According to Reuters, Egypt is constructing a port for patrol boats that will block sea routes into Gaza for merchandise, food and weapons.

The border patrol boats will keep Palestinian fishing boats in Gazan coastal waters. Egypt has said it believes the boats are being used to carry out smuggling operations, though there have never been reports of such incidents. "It is to secure the area. It will be used to direct fishing boats in the area to ensure they do not cross the Israeli sea border and risk getting fired at," the security sources told Reuters.

As Egypt completes the 14-kilometer underground wall along the Rafah border, Egyptian surveillance of the Mediterranean Sea increases the strangling of Gaza. The tunnels are the only way Gazans can bring goods into the Strip. Israel has maintained a tight blockade of the area, letting in only 36 types of goods for the past three years.

Future Aid Missions Must Go Through Red Crescent

On January 6, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrators, protesting Egypt's delay in allowing the aid convoy Viva Palestina into Gaza, as well as Egypt's plans to build the underground steel wall, clashed with Egyptian forces at the Gaza-Egypt border. As a result, an Egyptian soldier was shot dead and 13 Palestinians were injured, including six who suffered gunshot wounds. Eventually, the convoy entered on the same day, carrying food and medical supplies.

However, in response to the clashes, Egypt introduced a new mechanism, through which future aid convoys into Gaza will go through the Egyptian Red Crescent.

No Internationals Allowed Into Gaza

During December, no internationals were allowed into Gaza through the Rafah crossing, until 92 persons from the Gaza Freedom March were allowed in for 48 hours on December 30. During January, only the Viva Palestina convoy personnel were allowed in for 24 hours. Many international persons have letters of invitation from non-governmental organizations to assist in a variety of ways. Only one other international has been allowed into Gaza in January. Egypt has denied the requests for all other internationals. The ability of citizens of the world to assist Gaza when their governments will not is tragically being strangled.

Haiti: An Unwelcome Katrina Redux

Haiti: An Unwelcome Katrina Redux

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President Obama's response to the tragedy in Haiti has been robust in military deployment and puny in what the Haitians need most: food; first responders and their specialized equipment; doctors and medical facilities and equipment; and engineers, heavy equipment, and heavy movers. Sadly, President Obama is dispatching Presidents Bush and Clinton, and thousands of Marines and U.S. soldiers. By contrast, Cuba has over 400 doctors on the ground and is sending in more; Cubans, Argentinians, Icelanders, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, and many others are already on the ground working--saving lives and treating the injured. Senegal has offered land to Haitians willing to relocate to Africa.

The United States, on the day after the tragedy struck, confirmed that an entire Marine Expeditionary Force was being considered "to help restore order," when the "disorder" had been caused by an earthquake striking Haiti; not since 1751, 1770, 1842, 1860, and 1887 had Haiti experienced an earthquake. But, I remember the bogus reports of chaos and violence the led to the deployment of military assets, including Blackwater, in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. One Katrina survivor noted that the people needed food and shelter and the U.S. government sent men with guns. Much to my disquiet, it seems, here we go again. From the very beginning, U.S. assistance to Haiti has looked to me more like an invasion than a humanitarian relief operation.

On Day Two of the tragedy, a C-130 plane with a military assessment team landed in Haiti, with the rest of the team expected to land soon thereafter. The stated purpose of this team was to determine what military resources were needed.

An Air Force special operations team was also expected to land to provide air traffic control. Now, the reports are that the U.S. is not allowing assistance in, shades of Hurricane Katrina, all over again.

On President Obama's orders military aircraft "flew over the island, mapping the destruction." So, the first U.S. contribution to the humanitarian relief needed in Haiti were reconnaissance drones whose staffing are more accustomed to looking for hidden weapon sites and surface-to-air missile batteries than wrecked infrastructure. The scope of the U.S. response soon became clear: aircraft carrer, Marine transport ship, four C-140 airlifts, and evacuations to Guantanamo. By the end of Day Two, according to the Washington Post report, the United States had evacuated to Guantanamo Bay about eight [8] severely injured patients, in addition to U.S. Embassy staffers, who had been "designated as priorities by the U.S. Ambassador and his staff."

On Day Three we learned that other U.S. ships, including destroyers, were moving toward Haiti. Interestingly, the Washington Post reported that the standing task force that coordinates the U.S. response to mass migration events from Cuba or Haiti was monitoring events, but had not yet ramped up its operations. That tidbit was interesting in and of itself, that those two countries are attended to by a standing task force, but the treatment of their nationals is vastly different, with Cubans being awarded immediate acceptance from the U.S. government, and by contrast, internment for Haitian nationals.

U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral James Watson IV reassured Americans, "Our focus right now is to prevent that, and we are going to work with the Defense Department, the State Department, FEMA and all the agencies of the federal government to minimize the risk of Haitians who want to flee their country," Watson said. "We want to provide them those releif supplies so they can live in Haiti."

By the end of Day Four, the U.S. reportedly had evacuated over 800 U.S. nationals.

For those of us who have been following events in Haiti before the tragic earthquake, it is worth noting that several items have caused deep concern:

1. the continued exile of Haiti's democratically-elected and well-loved, yet twice-removed former priest, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide;

2. the unexplained continued occupation of the country by United Nations troops who have killed innocent Haitians and are hardly there for "security" (I've personally seen them on the roads that only lead to Haiti's sparsely-populated areas teeming with beautiful beaches);

3. U.S. construction of its fifth-largest embassy in the world in Port-au-Prince, Haiti;

4. mining and port licenses and contracts, including the privatization of Haiti's deep water ports, because certain off-shore oil and transshipment arrangements would not be possible inside the U.S. for environmental and other considerations; and

5. Extensive foreign NGO presence in Haiti that could be rendered unnecessary if, instead, appropriate U.S. and other government policy allowed the Haitian people some modicum of political and economic self-determination.

Therefore, we note here the writings of Ms. Marguerite Laurent, whom I met in her capacity as attorney for ousted President of Haiti Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Ms. Laurent reminds us of Haiti's offshore oil and other mineral riches and recent revivial of an old idea to use Haiti and an oil refinery to be built there as a transshipment terminal for U.S. supertankers. Ms. Laurent, also known as Ezili Danto of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network (HLLN), writes:

"There is evidence that the United States found oil in Haiti decades ago and due to the geopolitical circumstances and big business interests of that era made the decision to keep Haitian oil in reserve for when Middle Eastern oil had dried up. This is detailed by Dr. Georges Michel in an article dated March 27, 2004 outlining the history of oil explorations and oil reserves in Haiti and in the research of Dr. Ginette and Daniel Mathurin.

"There is also good evidence that these very same big US oil companies and their inter-related monopolies of engineering and defense contractors made plans, decades ago, to use Haiti's deep water ports either for oil refineries or to develop oil tank farm sites or depots where crude oil could be stored and later transferred to small tankers to serve U.S. and Caribbean ports. This is detailed in a paper about the Dunn Plantation at Fort Liberte in Haiti.

"Ezili's HLLN underlines these two papers on Haiti's oil resources and the works of Dr. Ginette and Daniel Mathurin in order to provide a view one will not find in the mainstream media nor anywhere else as to the economic and strategic reasons the US has constructed its fifth largest embassy in the world - fifth only besides the US embassy in China, Iraq, Iran and Germany - in tiny Haiti, post the 2004 Haiti Bush regime change."

Unfortunately, before the tragedy struck, and despite pleading to the Administration by Haiti activists inside the United States, President Obama failed to stop the deportation of Haitians inside the United States and failed to grant TPS, temporary protected status, to Haitians inside the U.S. in peril of being deported due to visa expirations. That was corrected on Day Three of Haiti's earthquake tragedy with the January 15, 2010 announcement that Haiti would join Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, El Salvador, and Sudan as a country granted TPS by the Secretary of Homeland Security.

President Obama's appointment of President Bush to the Haiti relief effort is a swift left jab to the face, in my opinion. After President Bush's performance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the fact that still today, Hurricane Katrina survivors who want to return still have not been provided a way back home, the appointment might augur well for fundraising activities, but I doubt that it bodes well for the Haitian people. Afterall, the coup against and the kidnapping of President Aristide occurred under the watch of a Bush Presidency.

Finally, those with an appreciation of French literature know that among France's most beloved authors are Alexandre Dumas, son of a Haitian slave, and Victor Hugo who wrote: "Haiti est une lumiere." [Haiti is a light.] Indeed, Haiti for millions is a light: light into the methodology and evil of slavery; light into a successful slave rebellion, light into nationhood and notions of liberty, the rights of man, and of human dignity. Haiti is a light. And an example that makes the enemies of black liberation tremble. It is precisely because of Haiti's light into the evil genius of some individuals who wield power over others and man's ability, through unity and purpose, to overcome that evil, that some segments of the world have been at war with Haiti ever since 1804, the year of Haiti's creation as a Republic.

I'm not surprised at "Reverend" Pat Robertson's racist vitriol. Robertson's comments mirror, exactly, statements made by Napoleon's Cabinet when the Haitians defeated them. But in 2010, Robertson's statements reveal much more: Haitians are not the only ones who know their importance to the struggle against hatred, imperialism, and European domination.

This pesky, persistent, stubbornly non-Western, proudly African people of this piece of land that we call Haiti know their history and they know that they militarily defeated the ruling world empire of the day, Napoleon's France, and the global elite at that time who supported him. They know that they defeated the armies of England and Spain.

Haitians know that they used their status as a free state to help liberate Latin Americans from Spain, by funding and fighting alongside Simon Bolivar; their example inspired their still-enslaved African brothers and sisters on the American mainland; and before Haitians were even free, they fought against the British inside the U.S. during its war of independence and won a decisive battle in Savannah, Georgia, where I have visited the statue commemorating that victory.

Haitians know that France imposed reparations on them for being free, and Haiti paid them in full, but that President Aristide called for France to give that money back ($21 billion in 2003 dollars).

Haitians know that their "brother," then-Secretary of State Colin Powell lied to the world upon the kidnapping and second ouster of their President. (Sadly, it wouldn't be the last time that Secretary of State Colin Powell would lie to the world.) Haitians know, all-too-well, that high-ranking blacks in the United States are capable of helping them and of betraying them.

Haitians know, too, that the United States has installed its political proxies and even its own soldiers onto Haitian soil when the U.S. felt it was necessary. All in an effort to control the indomitable Haitian spirit that directs much-needed light to the rest of the oppressed world.

While the tears of the people of Haiti swell in my own eyes, and I remember their tremendous capacity for love, my broken heart and wet eyes don't dampen my ability to understand the grave danger that now faces my friends in Haiti.

I shudder to think that the "rollback" policies believed in by some foreign policy advisors to President Obama could use a prolonged U.S. military presence in Haiti as a springboard for rollback of areas in Latin America that have liberated themselves from U.S. neo-colonial domination. I would hate to think that this would even be attempted under the Presidency of Barack Obama. All of us must have our eyes wide open on Haiti and other parts of the world now dripping in blood as a result of the relentless onward march of the U.S. military machine.

So, on this remembrance of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I note that it was the U.S. government's own illegal Operation Lantern Spike that snuffed out the promise and light of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Every plane of humanitarian assistance that is turned away by the U.S. military (so far from CARICOM, the Caribbean Community, Médecins Sans Frontieres, Brazil, France, Italy, and even the U.S. Red Cross)--as was done in the wake of Hurricane Katrina--and the expected arrival on this very day of up to 10,000 U.S. troops, are lasting reminders of the existential threat that now looms over the valiant, proud people and the Republic of Haiti.

Washington shuts door on Haitian refugees

Washington shuts door on Haitian refugees

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The Obama administration has taken extraordinary measures to prevent desperate Haitians from entering the US since a January 12 earthquake devastated the Caribbean nation, killing an estimated 200,000, making at least 1.5 million homeless, and orphaning 1 million children. The effort to bar Haitians from entering the US—including the wounded seeking medical treatment—illustrates that the priority of the US-led intervention is not to save lives, but to establish military control over the population.

Five US Coast Guard ships have joined US Navy vessels deployed off Haiti’s coast—not to deliver food, water, and medicine to the sick and dying, but to stop any Haitians who might attempt to escape. Coast Guard commander Chris O’Neil told the New York Times that anyone fleeing Haiti would be seized and sent back, but that so far his units have witnessed no attempts. “None, zero,” O’Neil said, “and no indication of anyone making preparations to do so.”

US officials say there is little evidence of Haitians leaving for the US, but “they worry that in the coming weeks, worsening conditions in Haiti could spur an exodus.” That US officials are planning for “worsening conditions” in Haiti over the “coming weeks”—beyond the desperate situation that prevails there now—is a damning admission that Washington has no intention to make available widespread relief, much less rebuild Haiti.

The Obama administration is also making plans to incarcerate Haitians who might attempt the dangerous sea voyage to the US, which every year claims the lives of hundreds. Officials told the Times they are “laying plans to scoop up any boats carrying illegal immigrants and send them to Guantánamo Bay”—the US military base in Cuba notorious for the abuse of “terror suspects”. The Department of Homeland Security has announced it will clear out space in its south Florida deportation prison, the Krome Service Processing Center, in case of an influx of Haitians.

State Department spokesman Noel Clay announced the US would not relax its visa requirements for Haitians. The strict visa policy extends to the earthquake’s estimated one million orphans—10 percent of Haiti’s population. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Monday that the US will take a handful of orphans on “humanitarian parole.” The policy applies to those who were documented orphans before the earthquake and who were already slated to be adopted by US families. On Monday, about 50 Haitian children already cleared for adoption in the US arrived at the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Children’s Hospital, after their orphanage collapsed in the earthquake.

The State Department has gone so far as to refuse visas for sick and dying Haitians seeking treatment at an emergency field hospital adjacent to Miami’s airport. Dr. William O’Neill, dean of the University of Miami medical school, which established the hospital, called the callous policy “beyond insane.” The State Department is headed by Secretary Hillary Clinton, who, along with her husband former President Bill Clinton, has postured as a friend to Haiti’s earthquake survivors.

The measures to stop Haitians from seeking refuge in the US border on the sadistic. While the US has refused to allow numerous relief flights to land at the Port-au-Prince airport, each day, a US Air Force cargo plane has circled for hours above Haiti’s desperate population broadcasting the following Creole-language radio message: “Listen, don’t rush on boats to leave the country. If you do that, we’ll all have even worse problems. Because, I’ll be honest with you: If you think you will reach the US and all the doors will be wide open to you, that’s not at all the case. And they will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from.”

The Miami Herald reported Tuesday that the US has banned commercial flights from Haiti, not because of damage to the airport, but because potential passengers cannot be screened against terrorist watch-lists and put through metal detectors. Spirit Airlines and American Airlines have been flying cargo and relief workers into Port-au-Prince since last Wednesday, but their flights return “with hundreds of empty seats.” An exception came Monday, when a few dozen US college students and Fox reporter Geraldo Rivera were granted a security clearance by the State Department and flown back on Spirit.

Spirit and American say they have been flooded with requests from people attempting to buy tickets to fly out and are losing revenue. “People are always calling us’’ for Haiti flights, Spirit spokeswoman Misty Pinson told the Herald. “We’re inundated.”

The State Department has exempted private charter flights from Haiti from the “anti-terror” requirements. These firms can call in the names of passengers who rent airplanes for as much as $4,000 an hour or can afford $1,000 for a one-way ticket to Florida.

The sheer indifference and cruelty of the US embargo against Haitians coming to the US was underscored by an on-the-spot report broadcast Tuesday by CBS radio news describing thousands of Port-au-Prince residents crowding the beach in a desperate effort to board already overcrowded ferries.

The US efforts to keep out Haitian refugees stands in sharp contrast to its efforts, led by Bill Clinton, to promote the relocation of cheap-labor garment industry sweatshops in Haiti. The extreme poverty in Haiti is the result of decades of American capitalism’s domination.

US workers must reject the latest attempt to victimize the Haitians and demand they be allowed to settle in the US with full rights.

Meanwhile, the rescue operation—the ostensible purpose for the US military presence— has proven such a debacle that even the media has been forced to make note of its obvious failure to deliver food, water, and medicine to the Haitian people.

Very quickly after the earthquake, the US military seized the airport at Port-au-Prince and took control of the capital city’s largely destroyed harbor. Naval and Coast Guard flotillas were rapidly deployed to Haiti’s waters. Thousands of soldiers have been dispatched.

Yet not only has the US military failed to provide significant relief to Haitians over the past week, during which time tens of thousands have died beneath collapsed buildings or due to the ongoing absence of food, water, and basic medicine. It has actually played a counterproductive role, ordering away dozens of relief flights from aid organization and other countries.

The US military claims that the flight diversions resulted from congestion at the airport. Yet 40 percent of all landing flights have been military—one of these evidently being the Air Force Cargo plane that has every day circled above the nation warning Haitians not to go to the US.

The decision to order away flights carrying doctors, nurses, and supplies has doubtless resulted in thousands of deaths. Doctors Without Borders said that over the weekend five of its flights were not allowed to land in Haiti, but were diverted to the Dominican Republic. Benoit Leduc, operations head of the organization, said the resulting delays cost “hundreds of lives.” The Red Cross also said its planes were not allowed to land over the weekend.

In a Tuesday press release, Doctors Without Borders said that its planes are still being turned away. A cargo plane carrying 12 tons of equipment, drugs, and surgical supplies has been delayed three times since Sunday night, according to the release.

The hundreds of military flights that have landed have provided little assistance. Were there evidence of US soldiers delivering humanitarian aid, it is certain that the US media would broadcast it relentlessly. Some soldiers say they have yet to leave their warships and airport base; they “have, for the most part, not been a major presence on the streets,” as the New York Times charitably put it.

An exception came Tuesday morning, when the media broadcast images of US army helicopters landing in front of the toppled National Palace, where tens of thousands of Haitians had been waiting for nearly a week with virtually no aid. Soldiers distributed relief supplies, but they appeared also to be setting up a command center, symbolically, in the very seat of the Haitian government.

The US embassy in Haiti claims it has not been able to deliver needed supplies “because of security,” the implication being that rescue workers’ lives are endangered by “looting” Haitians. In fact, there has not been a single reported case of aid workers being attacked by Haitians. As Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal notes, “US officials have blamed security concerns for holding up providing relief. Yet a team of Cuban doctors were seen Monday treating hundreds of patients without a gun or soldier in sight.”

Even if such dangers existed, this would only beg the question of what the US military is doing in Haiti if its thousands of soldiers are neither delivering supplies nor “providing security” to those who would.

Given the mounting evidence that it is impeding rescue operations, the military was compelled on Tuesday to deny the obvious nature of its mission in Haiti. “There have been some reports and news stories out there that the US is invading Haiti,” US Army Colonel Kane said. “We’re not invading Haiti. That’s ludicrous. This is humanitarian relief.”

Col. Kane delivered his comments to reporters at Port-au-Prince airport, “which has come to resemble an American military base, with helicopters coming and going continually,” according to the Times. What is left of Haiti’s government is consigned to a meeting place at a police department adjacent to the airport.

The international military presence in Haiti, led by the US, continued to grow on Tuesday. US and international soldiers were granted the authority to police the population by a Haiti government decree put in place yesterday at the bidding of Secretary of State Clinton.

The US force in Haiti and offshore is expected to rise to 11,000 in the coming days. The Pentagon said that the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit would soon begin landing west of Port-au-Prince.

Canadian soldiers number about 2,000, and are deploying in the devastated towns of Leogane and Jacmel, close to the epicenter of the earthquake southwest of Port-au-Prince. Canada has sent two warships, which will be joined by naval vessels from Italy, Spain, and Venezuela in the coming days.

The United Nations Security Council, meeting in New York on Tuesday, approved sending 3,500 more soldiers and police to Haiti, bringing the total UN force to 10,500.

While more soldiers arrived, international rescue efforts continued to fall far short of meeting the needs of Haiti’s hungry, thirsty, and sick. These efforts have seen “only a trickle of promised aid reach hundreds of thousands of Haitians in desperate need,” was the Guardian’s assessment of Tuesday’s efforts.

Search for survivors under collapsed buildings led by international teams have resulted in only 90 rescues to date, according to the UN. Hope is fading, but two women were pulled from the wreckage of a university building on Tuesday, and rescue teams using high-tech equipment detected the sounds of beating hearts in a collapsed bank.

In spite of testimony from experts that victims may still be clinging to life under the ruins of Haiti’s cities and towns, the US military said it was time to end search and rescue efforts. “We fully expect that we will transition very soon from the search phase to the recovery phase,” said Marine General Daniel Allyn, deputy commander of the US forces in Haiti.

The Rome-based World Food Program (WFP) said that thus far a mere 250,000 daily food rations have been distributed, about half of these made available by the US military. The WFP managed to distribute only about 50,000 rations on Monday, about half of what it had planned. The US began on Tuesday to distribute pallets of food and water through airdrops. In the first week after the crisis, the Pentagon refused to consider airdrops, saying they would cause riots.

Reporters relate scenes of horror and fear in Port-au-Prince. Tens of thousands of Haitians are fleeing the capital city for the countryside, packed into buses and on foot and boat. Dump trucks unload hundreds of bodies into mass graves.

Because of the lack of antibiotics and other medical supplies, a large number of crude amputations are being performed, many without morphine or pain killers, which are in short supply. Desperate doctors and nurses continued to appeal for anesthetics, scalpels, and saws to amputate crushed limbs, according to the Associated Press. A Doctors Without Borders representative said surgeons at its emergency hospital in Cite Soleil were forced to go to a market for a handsaw to perform amputations after another of its cargo planes was turned away by the US military.

“It’s been amputate or die,” Dr. Nancy Snyderman, who is working relief in Haiti, told NBC. “Secondary infections are huge. It’s the number one cause of death right now.”

“In a country where survival is so tough, for an amputee, it’s nearly impossible. Its raises the question of what’s going to happen?,” Snyderman asked. “There are no prosthetics for a country that may soon be a country of orphans and amputees.”

“I saw babies whose skulls had been cracked open like watermelons,” she added. “The best doctors could do is put a wrap around their heads and cover them and leave them to die.”

Washington’s indifference to these horrors is palpable. After viewing surgeons sterilize equipment with vodka, Bill Clinton, titular head of the relief effort, declared, “It’s astonishing what the Haitians have been able to accomplish.”

Prior to Clinton’s visit, the hospital was secured by about 100 US paratroopers, Agence France Presse reported. The paratroopers drove back desperate crowds of Haitians from the hospital’s doors.

Gaza flooded after Israel opens dam gates

Gaza flooded after Israel opens dam gates

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The Israeli authorities opened the dam's floodgates without any prior warning or coordination with local authorities in Gaza, stunning the residents of the area, the Press TV correspondent in Gaza reported late on Monday.

There has been heavy rain in the region over the past 24 hours. It seems the Israeli authorities could not handle the huge amount of rainwater and decided to open the floodgates without prior warning.

Because Gaza is located in a low-lying area and the elevation decreases on the way to the Mediterranean Sea, water gushed into the area, flooding two Palestinian villages and displacing a hundred Gazan families.

The locals say Israel intentionally caused the floods, the Press TV correspondent said.

The waters from the dam, called the Valley of Gaza, flooded houses in Johr al-Deek village, which is southeast of Gaza City, and Nusirat in the eastern part of the territory, where the Al-Nusirat refugee camp is also located.

The Valley of Gaza is about 8 kilometers long. It starts on the eastern Gaza border with Israel and ends in the Mediterranean.

The houses of many Palestinians have been flooded and a number of people are trapped inside or on their roofs, while many have also gone missing, the Press TV correspondent said.

Rescue teams are using small boats to evacuate the trapped people.

Hamas has condemned the act as a war crime and has called on all concerned parties to intervene and offer assistance to the locals.

The flooding has made life more difficult for the Gazans, especially for those still living in tents because their homes were destroyed in the December 2008-January 2009 Israeli war on the Gaza Strip.

In the war, more than 1,400 people were killed, mostly women and children, and over 10,000 houses were destroyed or damaged, forcing at least 500 families to live in tents.

Very little progress is seen in reconstruction of the devastated areas in the Gaza Strip, mostly due to the Israeli blockade, which has prevented the delivery of building materials to the coastal enclave.

FBI broke law for years in phone record searches

FBI broke law for years in phone record searches

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The FBI illegally collected more than 2,000 U.S. telephone call records between 2002 and 2006 by invoking terrorism emergencies that did not exist or simply persuading phone companies to provide records, according to internal bureau memos and interviews. FBI officials issued approvals after the fact to justify their actions.

E-mails obtained by The Washington Post detail how counterterrorism officials inside FBI headquarters did not follow their own procedures that were put in place to protect civil liberties. The stream of urgent requests for phone records also overwhelmed the FBI communications analysis unit with work that ultimately was not connected to imminent threats.

A Justice Department inspector general's report due out this month is expected to conclude that the FBI frequently violated the law with its emergency requests, bureau officials confirmed.

The records seen by The Post do not reveal the identities of the people whose phone call records were gathered, but FBI officials said they thought that nearly all of the requests involved terrorism investigations.

FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni said in an interview Monday that the FBI technically violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act when agents invoked nonexistent emergencies to collect records.

"We should have stopped those requests from being made that way," she said. The after-the-fact approvals were a "good-hearted but not well-thought-out" solution to put phone carriers at ease, she said. In true emergencies, Caproni said, agents always had the legal right to get phone records, and lawyers have now concluded there was no need for the after-the-fact approval process. "What this turned out to be was a self-inflicted wound," she said.

Caproni said FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III did not know about the problems until late 2006 or early 2007, after the inspector general's probe began.

Documents show that senior FBI managers up to the assistant director level approved the procedures for emergency requests of phone records and that headquarters officials often made the requests, which persisted for two years after bureau lawyers raised concerns and an FBI official began pressing for changes.

"We have to make sure we are not taking advantage of this system, and that we are following the letter of the law without jeopardizing national security," FBI lawyer Patrice Kopistansky wrote in one of a series of early 2005 e-mails asking superiors to address the problem.

The FBI acknowledged in 2007 that one unit in the agency had improperly gathered some phone records, and a Justice Department audit at the time cited 22 inappropriate requests to phone companies for searches and hundreds of questionable requests. But the latest revelations show that the improper requests were much more numerous under the procedures approved by the top level of the FBI.

FBI officials told The Post that their own review has found that about half of the 4,400 toll records collected in emergency situations or with after-the-fact approvals were done in technical violation of the law. The searches involved only records of calls and not the content of the calls. In some cases, agents broadened their searches to gather numbers two and three degrees of separation from the original request, documents show.

Bureau officials said agents were working quickly under the stress of trying to thwart the next terrorist attack and were not violating the law deliberately.

FBI officials said they are confident that the safeguards enacted in 2007 have ended the problems. Caproni said the bureau will use the inspector general's findings to determine whether discipline is warranted.

The internal memos were obtained from a government employee outside the FBI, who gained access to them during the investigations of the searches. The employee spoke on the condition of anonymity because the release was unauthorized.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the need to get information quickly and connect the dots was considered paramount throughout the federal government. The failure to obtain timely and actionable information has been a recurrent theme in the U.S. counterterrorism effort, up to and including the recent shootings at Fort Hood, Tex.

Before 9/11, FBI agents ordinarily gathered records of phone calls through the use of grand jury subpoenas or through an instrument know as a national security letter, issued for terrorism and espionage cases. Such letters, signed by senior headquarters officials, carry the weight of subpoenas with the firms that receive them.

The USA Patriot Act expanded the use of national security letters by letting lower-level officials outside Washington approve them and allowing them in wider circumstances. But the letters still required the FBI to link a request to an open terrorism case before records could be sought.

Shortly after the Patriot Act was passed in October 2001, FBI senior managers devised their own system for gathering records in terrorism emergencies.

A new device called an "exigent circumstances letter" was authorized. It allowed a supervisor to declare an emergency and get the records, then issue a national security letter after the fact.

The procedure was based on a system used in the FBI's New York office in the days immediately after the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings, officials said.

On Jan. 6, 2003, then-FBI Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Larry Mefford issued a bureau-wide communique authorizing the new tactic, saying the bureau's telephone analysis unit was permitted in "exigent circumstances . . . to obtain specialized toll records information for international and domestic numbers which are linked to subjects of pending terrorism investigations."

The e-mail called this new method of gathering phone records "imperative to the continuing efforts by the FBI to protect our nation against future attacks," even as it acknowledged the phone records of many people not connected to a terrorism investigation were likely to be scooped up.

The 2003 memo stated that the new method "has the potential of generating an enormous amount of data in short order, much of which may not actually be related to the terrorism activity under investigation."

Within a few years, hundreds of emergency requests were completed and a few thousand phone records gathered. But many lacked the follow-up: the required national security letters.

Two individuals began raising concerns.

Special Agent Bassem Youssef, the new supervisor of the communications analysis unit that gathered the records, began to receive complaints from phone companies that they had not received documentation to show the searches were legal.

Youssef, a longtime counterterrorism investigator, had earlier fallen out of favor with FBI management as he pursued a whistleblower claim that he had been wrongly retaliated against and denied promotion because of his ethnicity.

He raised questions in spring 2005 with his superiors and the FBI general counsel's office about the failure to get national security letters. E-mails show he pressed FBI managers, trying to "force their hand" to implement a solution.

Youssef's attorney, Stephen Kohn, said Monday that he could not discuss the specifics of the investigation except to confirm that his client cooperated with the inspector general. FBI officials said they could not discuss the conduct of individual employees.

Separately, Kopistansky in the FBI general counsel's office learned in mid-December 2004 that toll records were being requested without national security letters. She handled a request that originated from then-Executive Assistant Director Gary Bald, who had "passed information regarding numbers related to a terrorist organization with ties to the US" and obtained toll records, the memos show.

The communications analysis unit asked Kopistansky to "draw up an NSL" to cover the search, but she was unable to get superiors to tell her which open terrorism case it involved. The request "has to specify why the numbers are relevant to an authorized investigation," she said.

An employee in the communications analysis unit wrote back that most of the emergency requests he received "come from upper mgmt. I don't always receive documentation or know all the facts related to the number, which is a problem for me when I try to get the NSL."

Kopistansky persisted, demanding an open terrorism case file for the legal rationale. "I am sure you know it is true and Gary Bald knows it's true, but it needs to be reflected on a piece of paper," she wrote.

Two months later, Kopistansky was still unable to issue a national security letter to comply with the FBI rules.

She took note of the overall problem. The issuance of a national security letter after exigent searches "rarely happens," Kopistansky warned in a March 11, 2005, e-mail seeking the help of the FBI's top national security lawyer and the deputy counsel.

By March 2005, Kopistansky and Youssef were discussing a worsening "backlog" of other cases where no national security letters had been issued and growing concerned that exigent letters were being abused, e-mails show.

"I also understand that some of these are being done as emergencies when they aren't necessarily emergencies," Kopistansky wrote in an April 26, 2005, e-mail to Youssef.

Kopistansky and the other FBI lawyers discussed a strategy to handle the past emergency searches and to allow the practice to continue.

The e-mails show that they conceived the idea to open half a dozen "generic" or "broad" preliminary investigative (PI) case files to which all unauthorized emergency requests could be charged so a national security letter could be issued after the fact.

The generic files were to cover such broad topics as "threats against transportation facilities," "threats against individuals" and "threats against special events," the e-mails show.

Eventually, FBI officials shifted to a second strategy of crafting a "blanket" national security letter to authorize all past searches that had not been covered by open cases.

A November 2006 e-mail chain indicates that then-FBI Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Joseph Billy signed the blanket national security letter. But when FBI lawyers raised concerns about it, he wrote back that he did not remember signing.

"I have no recollection of signing anything blanket. NSLs are individual as far as I always knew," Billy wrote Caproni on Nov. 7, 2006.

Billy did not immediately respond to a message left at his office on Monday. Kopistansky and Bald, reached by phone Friday, said they could not comment without FBI approval. Mefford did not return calls.

In all, FBI managers signed 11 "blanket" national security letters addressing past searches, officials told The Post.

Although concerns about their legality first arose in December 2004, exigent searches continued for two more years. Youssef's unit began limiting the number of exigent letters it signed between summer 2005 and spring 2006, seeking more assurances the requests could be covered by a national security letter, the memos show.

Phone record searches covered by exigent letters ended in November 2006 as the Justice Department inspector general began investigating.

Among those whose phone records were searched improperly were journalists for The Washington Post and the New York Times, according to interviews with government officials.

The searches became public when Mueller, the FBI director, contacted top editors at the two newspapers in August 2008 and apologized for the breach of reporters' phone records. The reporters were Ellen Nakashima of The Post, who had been based in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Raymond Bonner and Jane Perlez of the Times, who had also been working in Jakarta.

FBI 'fabricated terror emergencies to get phone records'

FBI 'fabricated terror emergencies to get phone records'

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Justice department to accuse FBI of invoking crises to obtain details of more than 2,000 calls, Washington Post reports

The US justice department is preparing a report which concludes that the FBI repeatedly broke the law by invoking terrorism emergencies that did not exist to obtain more than 2,000 telephone call records over four years from 2002, including those of journalists on US newspapers, according to emails obtained by the Washington Post.

The bureau also issued authorisations for the seizure of records after the fact, in order to justify unwarranted seizures.

The Washington Post said the emails show how counter-terrorism ­officials inside FBI headquarters breached regulations designed to protect civil liberties.

The FBI's general counsel, Valerie Caproni, told the Washington Post that the agency violated privacy laws by inventing non-existent terrorist threats to justify collecting the phone records. "We should have stopped those requests from being made that way," she said.

Caproni said that FBI's issuing of authorisations after the fact was a "good-hearted but not well thought-out" move to give the phone companies legal cover for handing over the records.

After the 9/11 attacks, the USA patriot act greatly expanded the government's ability to monitor American citizens, including increased access to their phone calls with the approval of lower-level officials than previously allowed. But the authorisation had to be tied to an open terrorism investigation.

The Washington Post said two FBI officers had raised concerns. Special agent Bassem Youssef observed that the necessary authorisations were not being sought before phone records were seized and were sometimes only given later in response to complaints from phone companies. Another official, Patrice Kopistansky of the FBI's legal office, noticed a similar problem. She also raised concerns when she was unable to get investigators to provide her with an open terrorism case to justify issuing relevant authorisation.

The Washington Post reported that Kopistansky and Youssef discussed the worsening "backlog" of cases without the necessary authorisations, or where false claims were made about terrorism emergencies. "I also understand some of these are being done as emergencies when they aren't necessarily emergencies," Kopistansky wrote to Youssef in April 2005.

The FBI subsequently issued a blanket authorisation covering all past searches, although its legality was questioned.

The Washington Post said journalists on the newspaper and the New York Times were among those whose phone records were illegally searched. The FBI later apologised to editors of both papers.

FBI illegally obtained thousands of phone records

FBI illegally obtained thousands of phone records

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The US Federal Bureau of Investigation illegally obtained thousands of telephone records between 2002 and 2006, according to documents leaked to the Washington Post.

Among the information harvested were the call records of journalists from the New York Times and Washington Post, some of whom had previously exposed illegal activity by government agencies. The FBI acknowledged that it had spied on the reporters in August of 2008, and they received a public apology from FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III.

But it has now come out that the FBI obtained these records illegally, on the basis of manufactured links to terrorist cases. An FBI lawyer disclosed to the Washington Post that the bureau violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act when it collected phone records without linking the investigations to “emergency terrorist threats.”

FBI officials told the Washington Post that an investigation by the Justice Department into illegal data harvesting is expected to find that the FBI routinely violated the law.

The FBI had acknowledged in 2007 that it had made 22 illegal requests for call records. But the latest results show that illegal data gathering by the FBI was far more widespread than initially reported.

The memos were leaked by an anonymous government employee outside of the agency, who obtained them while investigating the agency’s data harvesting activity.

Prior to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the FBI could only obtain phone records through grand jury subpoenas or “National Security Letters” (NSLs) issued by the FBI director or other high-level government officials in relation to alleged cases of terrorism or espionage.

The USA Patriot Act allowed lower-level officials to issue these letters, but, as the Washington Post noted, the letters had to be in relation to “emergencies” pertaining to existing cases of terrorism.

Among the documents obtained by the Washington Post was a memo from former FBI Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Larry Mefford that authorized FBI supervisors to gather data without NSLs, on the condition that these letters would be obtained after the fact.

But FBI officials told the Washington Post that “of 4,000 records obtained through such means, half had no National Security Letters” provided for them, mostly because they were not linked to actual terrorism cases.

To deal with the backlog of cases without National Security Letters attached to them, FBI lawyers recommended opening a number of generic cases, including “threats against transportation facilities,” “threats against individuals” and “threats against special events,” to which they could append the existing cases.

Then the bureau leadership apparently shifted its stance, and Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Joseph Billy signed a single “blanket” National Security Letter covering the entire backlog of cases, according to a leaked email exchange between FBI lawyers. When an FBI lawyer asked Billy if he had done this, he replied, “I have no recollection of signing anything blanket.”

By this time, the Justice Department had begun investigating the use of “exigent circumstances letters” in the FBI, after which illegal spying of this form apparently stopped in November 2006.

As one commentator pointed out, the number of National Security Letters multiplied exponentially following the passage of the US Patriot Act. The number of these letters jumped from 8,500 in 2000 to 39,346 in 2003, and 47,221 in 2005. But even this was apparently not enough to satisfy FBI investigators.

The Washington Post article notes that the journalists who were targeted—including Ellen Nakashima of the Post and Raymond Bonner and Jane Perlez of the New York Times—had all been based at one point in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The FBI’s spying on journalists without any link to known cases of terrorism suggests that the journalists were the victims of political intimidation and retaliation by the FBI for exposing illegal government programs. Ellen Nakashima has written extensively on domestic wiretapping and government intrusions into privacy, while Raymond Bonner’s articles include exposes on detainee abuse and illegal surveillance.

US clears space in Guantanamo, other detention centres for Haitians

US ships blockade coast to thwart exodus to America

A US aircraft carrier is spearheading a blockade of Haiti's waters as America prepares for a mass sea exodus of Haitians with thousands fleeing the devastated capital of Port-au-Prince.

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US officials have drawn up emergency plans to cope with a mass migration crisis and have cleared spaces in detention or reception centres, including the Navy base at Cuba's Guantanamo Bay.

The unprecedented air, land and sea operation, dubbed "Vigilant Sentry", was launched as a senior US official compared Haiti's destruction to the aftermath of nuclear warfare.

"It is the same as if an atomic bomb had been exploded," said Kenneth Merten, America's ambassador to Port-au-Prince, as officials estimated the numbers of those killed by last weeks earthquake to over 200,000.

As well as providing emergency supplies and medical aid, the USS Carl Vinson, along with a ring of other navy and coast guard vessels, is acting as a deterrent to Haitians who might be driven to make the 681 mile sea crossing to Miami.

"The goal is to interdict them at sea and repatriate them," said the US Coast Guard Commander Christopher O'Neil.

Raymond Joseph, Haiti's ambassador to Washington, recorded a public information message in Creole warning his countrymen not to "rush on boats to leave the country".

"If you think you will reach the US and all the doors will be wide open to you, that's not at all the case," he said.

"They will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from."

In response to America's closed door, Abdoulaye Wade, Senegal's President, has offered Haitian descendants of African slaves the chance to resettle in "the land of their ancestors" and offered them plots of land.

"Africa should offer Haitians the chance to return home. It is their right," he said.

US Homeland Security officials said hundreds of immigration detainees have been moved from a South Florida detention centre to clear space for a first wave of Haitians expected to reach America's shores.

The plans, first drawn up in 2003, are aimed at avoiding a repeat of previous Haitian refugee influxes in the 1990s and the "Mariel boatlift" when as many as 125,000 Cubans fled to the US 30 years ago.

In 2004, following political upheaval in Haiti over 3,000 Haitians were stopped attempting to reach America and officials are braced for greater numbers following the worst natural disaster in the region for 200 years.

Janet Napolitano, America's Homeland Security Secretary, appealed to Haitians "not to divert our necessary rescue and relief efforts by trying to leave at this point".

Thousands were said to be on the move out of Port-au-Prince on Tuesday as continuing aid shortages and growing street violence drove people from the city to the countryside.

"Prices for food and transport have skyrocketed since last Tuesday and incidents of violence and looting are on the rise as the desperation grows," warned the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Dieumetra Sainmerita, the manager of Port-au-Prince's main bus terminal, said people were selling whatever they had left of value to buy tickets out of the city.

"First there were the people who lost their houses. Then there were people who lost relatives. Now the people I see, they are afraid of the thieves trying to steal from them in the night," he said.

Haitian-born musician Wyclef Jean called on the international community to help with the evacuation of the capital.

"Port-au-Prince is a morgue," he said. "We need to migrate at least two million people."

A Very American Coup Coming Soon to a Hometown Near You

Going Rogue in Combat Boots

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Herea’s a bit of cheery news: Last week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with the nation's top defense company executives, including the CEOs of those mega-military-industrial combines Lockheed Martin and Boeing, and called for a “closer partnership.” He also made them a promise. He pledged, according to his spokesman, “to work with the White House to secure steady growth in the Pentagon's budgets over time.”

Let’s put that pledge in context. Last week, President Obama did something common in the Bush years, something he swore never to do; he requested a supplemental $33 billion over and above the fiscal year 2011 defense budget, mainly for his Afghan surge. That sum, when appropriated by Congress, will bring the total official Pentagon budget to $708 billion dollars ($159 billion of which will be directly slated for Afghan and Iraq war costs). To put that sum in context, it’s close to what the rest of the world combined spends on military matters. And you can be guaranteed of one thing: this won’t be the last supplemental request of 2011.

By the way, if you were to add up the real “defense” budget, including funds for the Department of Homeland Security, the Energy Department (which handles the U.S. nuclear arsenal), veterans' care, the State Department’s planned near-billion-dollar expansion of its embassy in Pakistan into a mega-command post for the region and the planned doubling of the number of personnel in its already monstrous embassy in Baghdad for a similar purpose, and many other relevant things, you would be closing in on $1 trillion per year.

Meanwhile, in December 2009, the total funds Congress has so far appropriated since 2001 only for our two wars topped $1 trillion dollars, with no end in sight, and that figure doesn’t include projected future costs ranging from care for soldiers wounded in those wars to the cost of replenishing worn out military equipment. At the war-fighting level, the Congressional Budget Office has already projected direct war costs over the next decade at $867 billion.

The Pentagon’s 2011 budget is already the highest since World War II, according to defense analyst Winslow T. Wheeler. Now, consider that the secretary of defense has just “pledged” more of the same for years to come. And note that none of this -- with the possible exception of that $33 billion supplemental request -- is considered particularly controversial by anyone who matters in Washington, or worth much front-page news attention. Sums that put health-care reform in the shade cause barely a stir. In other words, the Pentagon rules the roost and, as TomDispatch regular William Astore indicates, it could get a lot worse. Tom

A Very American Coup
Coming Soon to a Hometown Near You
By William J. Astore

The wars in distant lands were always going to come home, but not this way.

It’s September 2016, year 15 of America’s “Long War” against terror. As weary troops return to the homeland, a bitter reality assails them: despite their sacrifices, America is losing.

Iraq is increasingly hostile to remaining occupation forces. Afghanistan is a riddle that remains unsolved: its army and police forces are untrustworthy, its government corrupt, and its tribal leaders unsympathetic to the vagaries of U.S. intervention. Since the Obama surge of 2010, a trillion more dollars have been devoted to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and other countries in the vast shatter zone that is central Asia, without measurable returns; nothing, that is, except the prolongation of America’s Great Recession, now entering its tenth year without a sustained recovery in sight.

Disillusioned veterans are unable to find decent jobs in a crumbling economy. Scarred by the physical and psychological violence of war, fed up with the happy talk of duplicitous politicians who only speak of shared sacrifices, they begin to organize. Their motto: take America back.

Meanwhile, a lame duck presidency, choking on foreign policy failures, finds itself attacked even for its putative successes. Health-care reform is now seen to have combined the inefficiency and inconsistency of government with the naked greed and exploitative talents of corporations. Medical rationing is a fact of life confronting anyone on the high side of 50. Presidential rhetoric that offered hope and change has lost all resonance. Mainstream media outlets are discredited and disintegrating, resulting in new levels of information anarchy.

Protest, whether electronic or in the streets, has become more common -- and the protestors in those streets increasingly carry guns, though as yet armed violence is minimal. A panicked administration responds with overlapping executive orders and legislation that is widely perceived as an attack on basic freedoms.

Tapping the frustration of protesters -- including a renascent and mainstreamed “tea bag” movement -- the former captains and sergeants, the ex-CIA operatives and out-of-work private mercenaries of the War on Terror take action. Conflict and confrontation they seek; laws and orders they increasingly ignore. As riot police are deployed in the streets, they face a grim choice: where to point their guns? Not at veterans, they decide, not at America’s erstwhile heroes.

A dwindling middle-class, still waving the flag and determined to keep its sliver-sized portion of the American dream, throws its support to the agitators. Wages shrinking, savings exhausted, bills rising, the sober middle can no longer hold. It vents its fear and rage by calling for a decisive leader and the overthrow of a can’t-do Congress.

Savvy members of traditional Washington elites are only too happy to oblige. They too crave order and can-do decisiveness -- on their terms. Where better to find that than in the ranks of America’s most respected institution: the military?

A retired senior officer who led America’s heroes in central Asia is anointed. His creed: end public disorder, fight the War on Terror to a victorious finish, put America back on top. The United States, he says, is the land of winners, and winners accept no substitute for victory. Nominated on September 11, 2016, Patriot Day, he marches to an overwhelming victory that November, embraced in the streets by an American version of the post-World War I German Freikorps and the police who refuse to suppress them. A concerned minority is left to wonder (and tremble) at the de facto military coup that occurred so quickly, and yet so silently, in their midst.

It Can Happen Here, Unless We Act

Yes, it can happen here. In some ways, it’s already happening. But the key question is: at this late date, how can it be stopped? Here are some vectors for a change in course, and in mindset as well, if we are to avoid our own stealth coup:

1. Somehow, we need to begin to reverse the ongoing militarization of this country, especially our ever-rising “defense” budgets. The most recent of these, we’ve just learned, is a staggering $708 billion for fiscal year 2011 -- and that doesn’t even include the $33 billion President Obama has requested for his latest surge in Afghanistan. We also need to get rid of the idea that anyone who suggests even minor cuts in defense spending is either hopelessly naïve or a terrorist sympathizer. It’s time as well to call a halt to the privatization of military activity and so halt the rise of security contractors like Xe (formerly Blackwater), thereby weakening the corporate profit motive that supports and underpins the American version of perpetual war. It’s time to begin feeling chastened, not proud, that we’re by far the number one country in the world in arms manufacturing and the global arms trade.

2. Let’s downsize our global mission rather than endlessly expanding our military footprint. It’s time to have a military capable of defending this country, not fighting endless wars in distant lands while garrisoning the globe.

3. Let’s stop paying attention to major TV and cable networks that rely on retired senior military officers, most of whom have ties both to the Pentagon and military contractors, for “unbiased” commentary on our wars. If we insist on fighting our perpetual “frontier” wars, let’s start insisting as well that they be covered in all their bitter reality: the death, the mayhem, the waste, the prisons, and the torture. Why is our war coverage invariably sanitized to “PG” or even “G,” when we can go to the movies anytime and see “R” rated, pornographically violent films? And by the way, it’s time to be more critical of the government’s and the media’s use of language and propaganda. Mindlessly parroting the Patriot Act doesn’t make you patriotic.

4. It’s time to elect a president who doesn’t surround himself with senior “civilian” advisors and ambassadors who are actually retired military generals and admirals, one who won’t accept a Nobel Peace Prize by defending war in theory and escalating it in practice.

5. Let’s toughen up. Let’s stop deferring to authority figures who promise to “protect” us while abridging our rights. Let’s stop bowing down before men and women in uniform, before they start thinking that it’s their right to be worshipped and act accordingly.

6. Let’s act now to relieve the sort of desperation bred by joblessness and hopelessness that could lead many -- notably male workers suffering from the “He-Cession” -- to see a militarized solution in “the homeland” as a credible last resort. It’s the economy, stupid, but with Main Street’s health, not Wall Street’s, in our focus.

7. Let’s take Sarah Palin and her followers seriously. They’re tapping into anger that’s real and spreading. Don’t let them become the voices of the angry working (and increasingly unemployed) classes.

8. Recognize that we face real enemies in our world, the most powerful of which aren’t in distant Afghanistan or Yemen but here at home. The essence of our struggle to sustain our faltering democracy should not be against “terrorists,” with their shoe and crotch bombs, but against various powerful, perfectly legal groups here whose interests lie in a Pentagon that only grows ever stronger.

9. Stop thinking the U.S. is uniquely privileged. Don’t take it on faith that God is on our side. Forget about God blessing America. If you believe in God, get out there and start trying to earn His blessing through deeds.

10. And, most important of all, remember that fear is the mind-killer that makes militarism possible. Ramping up “terror” is an amazingly effective way of shredding our Constitution. Putting our “safety” above all else is asking for trouble. The only way we’ll be completely safe from the big bad terrorists, after all, is when we’re all living in a maximum security state. Think of walking down the street while always being subject to a “full-body scan.”

That’s my top 10 things we need to do. It’s a daunting list and I’m sure you have a few ideas of your own. But have faith. Ultimately, it all boils down to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s words to a nation suffering through the Great Depression: the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. These words came to mind recently as I read the following missive from a friend and World War II veteran who’s seen tough times:

"It’s very hard for me to accept how soft the American people have become. In 1941, with the western world under assault by powerful and deadly forces, and a large armada of ships and planes attacking us directly, I never heard a word of fear as we faced three powerful nations as enemies. Sixteen million of us went into the military with the very real possibility of death and I never once heard of fear, except from those exposed to danger. Now, our people let [their leaders] terrify them into accepting the destruction of our economy, our image in the world, and our democracy... All this over a small group of religious fanatics [mostly] from Saudi Arabia whom we kowtow to so we can drive 8-cylinder SUV’s. Pathetic!

"How many times have I stood in ‘security lines’ at airports and when I complained of the indignity of taking off shoes and not having water and the manhandling of passengers, have well educated people smugly said to me, ‘Well, they’re just keeping us safe.’ I look at the airport bullshit as a training ground to turn Americans into docile sheep in a totalitarian state."

A public conditioned to act like sheep, to “support our troops” no matter what, to cower before the idea of terrorism, is a public ready to be herded. A military that’s being used to fight unwinnable wars is a military prone to return home disaffected and with scores to settle.

Angry and desperate veterans and mercenaries already conditioned to violence, merging with “tea baggers” and other alienated groups, could one day form our own Freikorps units, rioting for violent solutions to national decline. Recall that the Nazi movement ultimately succeeded in the early 1930s because so many middle-class Germans were scared as they saw their wealth, standard of living, and status all threatened by the Great Depression.

If our Great Recession continues, if decent jobs remain scarce, if the mainstream media continue to foster fear and hatred, if returning troops are disaffected and their leaders blame politicians for “not being tough enough,” if one or two more terrorist attacks succeed on U.S. soil, wouldn’t this country be well primed for a coup by any other name?

Don’t expect a “Seven Days in May” scenario. No American Caesar will return to Washington with his legions to decapitate governmental authority. Why not? Because he won’t have to.

As long as we continue to live in perpetual fear in an increasingly militarized state, we establish the preconditions under which Americans will be nailed to, and crucified on, a cross of iron.

US accused of 'occupying' Haiti as troops flood in

US accused of 'occupying' Haiti as troops flood in

France accused the US of "occupying" Haiti on Monday as thousands of American troops flooded into the country to take charge of aid efforts and security.

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"This is about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti," Mr Joyandet said.

Geneva-based charity Medecins Sans Frontieres backed his calls saying hundreds of lives were being put at risk as planes carrying vital medical supplies were being turned away by American air traffic controllers.

But US commanders insisted their forces' focus was on humanitarian work and last night agreed to prioritise aid arrivals to the airport over military flights, after the intervention of the UN.

The diplomatic row came amid heightened frustrations that hundreds of tons of aid was still not getting through. Charities reported violence was also worsening as desperate Haitians took matters into their own hands.

The death toll is now estimated at up to 200,000 lives. Around three million Haitians – a third of the country's population – have been affected by Tuesday's earthquake and two million require food assistance.

While food and water was gradually arriving at the makeshift camps which have sprung up around the city, riots have broken out in other areas where supplies have still not materialised.

Haiti was occupied by the US between 1915 and 1935, and historical sensitivities together with friction with other countries over the relief effort has made the Americans cautious about their role in the operation.

American military commanders have repeatedly stressed that they are not entering the country as an occupying force.

US soldiers in Port-au-Prince said they had been told to be discreet about how they carry their M4 assault rifles.

A paratrooper sergeant said they were authorised to use "deadly force" if they see anyone's life in danger but only as a "last resort".

Capt John Kirby, a spokesman for the joint task force at the airport, said the US recognised it was only one of a number of countries contributing to a UN-led mission.

He also emphasised the US troops, which he said would rise to 10,000 by Wednesday would principally be assisting in humanitarian relief and the evacuation of people needing medical attention.

The main responsibility for security rests with the UN, which is to add a further 3,000 troops to its force of 9,000.

However, it was agreed on Sunday night that the Americans would take over security at the four main food and water distribution points being set up in the city, Capt Kirby said.

"Security here is in a fluid situation," he said. "If the Haitian government asked us to provide security downtown, we would do that." He played down the threat of violence, saying: "What we're seeing is that there are isolated incidents of violence and some pockets where it's been more restive, but overall it's calm."

Obama Calls for the Integration of State and Federal Military Forces

Obama Calls for the Integration of State and Federal Military Forces

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In the wake of the Flight 253 provocation, over-hyped terrorism panics, and last year's Big Pharma and media-engineered hysteria over the H1N1 flu pandemic, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13528 on January 11.

Among other things, the Executive Order (EO) established a Council of Governors, an "advisory panel" chosen by the President that will rubber-stamp long-sought-after Pentagon contingency plans to seize control of state National Guard forces in the event of a "national emergency."

According to the White House press release, the ten member, bipartisan Council was created "to strengthen further the partnership between the Federal Government and State Governments to protect our Nation against all types of hazards."

"When appointed" the announcement continues, "the Council will be reviewing such matters as involving the National Guard of the various States; homeland defense; civil support; synchronization and integration of State and Federal military activities in the United States; and other matters of mutual interest pertaining to National Guard, homeland defense, and civil support activities."

Clearly designed to weaken the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 which bars the use of the military for civilian law enforcement, EO 13528 is the latest in a series of maneuvers by previous administrations to wrest control of armed forces historically under the democratic control of elected state officials, and a modicum of public accountability.

One consequence of moves to "synchronize and integrate" state National Guard units with those of the Armed Forces would be to place them under the effective control of United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), created in 2002 by Bushist legislators in both capitalist parties under the pretext of imperialism's endless "War on Terror." At the time, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called USNORTHCOM's launch "the most sweeping set of changes since the unified command system was set up in 1946."

The real-world consequences of those changes weren't long in coming.

Following their criminal inaction during 2005's Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, the Bush regime sought, but failed, to seize control of depleted Gulf Coast National Guard units, the bulk of which had been sent to Iraq along with equipment that might have aided the recovery. Bush demanded that then Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco sign over control of the Guard as well as state and local police units as the blood price for federal assistance.

At the height of the crisis, Bush cited presidential prerogatives for doing so under the Insurrection Act, a repressive statute which authorizes the President to federalize National Guard units when state governments fail to "suppress rebellion." How the plight of citizens engulfed by Katrina's flood waters could be twisted into an act of "rebellion" was achieved when Orwellian spin doctors, aided and abetted by a compliant media, invented a new criminal category to cover traumatized New Orleans residents: "Drowning while Black."

Fast forward five years. Given the serious implications such proposals would have for a functioning democracy, the media's deafening silence on Obama's Executive Order is hardly surprising. Like their role as cheerleaders in the escalating wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, media self-censorship tell us much about the state of affairs in "new normal" America.

Like his predecessors in the Oval Office, stretching back to the 1960s with Pentagon "civil disturbance" plans such as Cable Splicer and Garden Plot, both of which are continuously updated, our "change" President will forge ahead and invest the permanent National Security bureaucracy with unprecedented power.

Under color of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, an unsavory piece of Bushist legislative detritus, "The President shall establish a bipartisan Council of Governors to advise the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the White House Homeland Security Council on matters related to the National Guard and civil support missions."

The toothless Council, whose Executive Director will be designated by the Secretary of Defense no less, "shall meet at the call of the Secretary of Defense or the Co-Chairs of the Council."

Will such a Council have veto power over administration deliberations? Hardly. They are relegated "to exchange views, information, or advice with the Secretary of Defense; the Secretary of Homeland Security" and "the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism."

Additional entities covered by the EO with whom the Governors Council will "exchange views" include, "the Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement; the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas' Security Affairs; the Commander, United States Northern Command; the Chief, National Guard Bureau; the Commandant of the Coast Guard; and other appropriate officials of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, and appropriate officials of other executive departments or agencies as may be designated by the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of Homeland Security."

In other words, right from the get-go, the Council will serve as civilian cover for political decisions made by the Executive Branch and the security apparat. EO 13528 continues, "Such views, information, or advice shall concern: (a) matters involving the National Guard of the various States; (b) homeland defense; (c) civil support; (d) synchronization and integration of State and Federal military activities in the United States; and (e) other matters of mutual interest pertaining to National Guard, homeland defense, and civil support activities."

When news first broke last summer of Obama's proposal to expand the military's authority to respond to domestic disasters, it was opposed by the National Governors Association (NGA).

Congressional Quarterly reported that a letter sent on behalf of the NGA opposed creation of the Council on grounds that it "would invite confusion on critical command and control issues, complicate interagency planning, establish stove-piped response efforts, and interfere with governors' constitutional responsibilities to ensure the safety and security of their citizens," Govs. Jim Douglas, R-Vt., and Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., wrote.

According to their August letter to Paul N. Stockton, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas' Security Affairs, Douglas and Manchin III argued that "without assigning a governor tactical control" of military forces during a natural disaster such as a flood or earthquake, or an unnatural disaster such as a terrorist attack or other mass casualty event, the "strong potential exists for confusion in mission, execution and the dilution of governors' control over situations with which they are more familiar and better capable of handling than a federal military commander."

With slim prospects of congressional authorization for the scheme, in fact the 2008 language was removed from subsequent Defense spending legislation, other means were required. Playing bureaucratic hardball with the governors, this has now been accomplished by presidential fiat, further eroding clear constitutional limits on Executive Branch power.

These maneuvers as I have previously written, have very little to do with responding to a catastrophic emergency. Indeed, EO 13528 is only the latest iteration of plans to expand the National Security State's writ and as such, have everything to do with decades-old Continuity of Government (COG) programs kept secret from Congress and the American people.

Derided by neocons, neoliberals and other corporatists as a quaint backwater for "conspiracy theorists" railing against "FEMA concentration camps," Continuity of Government, and the nexus of "civil support" programs that have proliferated like noxious weeds are no laughing matter.

Indeed, even members of Congress are considered "unauthorized parties" denied access "to information on COG plans, procedures, capabilities and facilities," according to a Pentagon document published by the whistleblowing web site Wikileaks, as are the classified annexes of National Security Presidential Directive 51 and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20 (NSPD 51/HSPD 20). In a new twist on administration promises of transparency and open government, even the redacted version of these documents have been removed from the White House web site.

As Antifascist Calling previously reported (see: "Vigilant Shield 09: A Cover for Illegal Domestic Operations?"), the Congressional Research Service issued a 46-page report in 2008 that provided details on the COG-related National Exercise Program, a "civil support" operation that war games various disaster scenarios.

Among other things, the document outlines the serious domestic implications of military participation in national emergency preparedness drills. CRS researchers pointed to the Reagan-era Executive Order 12656 (EO 12656) that "directs FEMA to coordinate the planning, conduct, and evaluation of national security emergency exercises." EO 12656 defines a national security emergency as "as any occurrence, including natural disaster, military attack, technological emergency, or other emergency that seriously degrades or seriously threatens the national security of the United States."

Such programs, greatly expanded by the Bush-era Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8 (HSPD-8), also removed from the White House web site, established "a national program and a multi-year planning system to conduct homeland security preparedness-related exercises." CRS avers, "The program is to be carried out in collaboration with state and local governments and private sector entities."

The Defense Department's role during such emergencies were intended to focus "principally on domestic incident management, either for terrorism or non terrorist catastrophic events." DoD would play a "significant role" in the overall response. Such murky definitions cover a lot of ground and are ripe with a potential for abuse by unscrupulous securocrats and their corporate partners.

The primary DoD entity responsible for "civil support," a focus of Obama's EO is USNORTHCOM and its active combat component, U.S. Army North. However, as with almost everything relating to COG and current plans under EO 13528 that propose to "synchronize and integrate State and Federal military activities," USNORTHCOM's role is shrouded in secrecy.

As researcher Peter Dale Scott revealed in 2008, when Congressman Peter DeFazio, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Christopher Carney sought access to classified COG annexes, their request was denied by the White House. Scott wrote: "DeFazio's inability to get access to the NSPD Annexes is less than reassuring. If members of the Homeland Security Committee cannot enforce their right to read secret plans of the Executive Branch, then the systems of checks and balances established by the U.S. Constitution would seem to be failing."

One hammer blow followed another. In 2008, Army Times reported, that the "3rd Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team [BCT] has spent 35 of the last 60 months in Iraq patrolling in full battle rattle, helping restore essential services and escorting supply convoys. Now they're training for the same mission--with a twist--at home."

Analyst Michel Chossudovsky commented, "What is significant in this redeployment of a US infantry unit is the presumption that North America could, in the case of a national emergency, constitute a 'war theater' thereby justifying the deployment of combat units." According to Chossudovsky, "The new skills to be imparted consist in training 1st BCT in repressing civil unrest, a task normally assumed by civilian law enforcement."

"It is noteworthy, the World Socialist Web Site commented, "that the deployment of US combat troops 'as an on-call federal response force for natural or manmade emergencies and disasters' ... coincides with the eruption of the greatest economic emergency and financial disaster since the Great Depression of the 1930s."

"Justified as a response to terrorist threats," socialist critic Bill Van Auken averred, "the real source of the growing preparations for the use of US military force within America's borders lies not in the events of September 11, 2001 or the danger that they will be repeated. Rather, the domestic mobilization of the armed forces is a response by the US ruling establishment to the growing threat to political stability."

Since USNORTHCOM's deployment of a combat brigade on U.S. soil, the capitalist crisis has deepened and intensified. With unemployment at a post-war high and the perilous economic and social conditions of the working class growing grimmer by the day, EO 13258 is a practical demonstration of ruling class consensus when it comes to undermining the democratic rights of the American people.

After all, where the defense of wealth and privileges are concerned corporate thugs and war criminals have no friends, only interests...