Monday, June 7, 2010

Ending the Longest War

Ending the Longest War

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This past week, the United States recognized a dubious milestone in our country's history as direct war spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan topped $1 trillion. Unfortunately, we have reached a second milestone, with the War in Afghanistan passing the Vietnam War to officially become the longest military conflict in American history.

Most historians agree that the Vietnam War began with the enactment of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, ended with the withdrawal of the last American troops in March of 1973, and lasted a total of 103 months. The War in Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001 when President George W. Bush ordered air strikes against militant camps. As of today, June 7, 2010, the war has just ended its 104th month.

For many, the Vietnam War conjures up images of war fatigue, when a larger ideological and strategic rationale for going to war devolved into a sense that our country was trapped in a military quagmire that lacked a clear purpose, identifiable goals, and deliverable objectives. After nearly nine years of war, many Americans are beginning to have many of the same impressions about our military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

We should remember that the United States originally attacked Afghanistan to disrupt the Al Qaeda terrorist network. In an interview with CNN last October, National Security Advisor, General James Jones, acknowledged that "fewer than a hundred" Al Qaeda militants remain in Afghanistan. And yet, the war continues.

Like Vietnam, America's political leadership struggles to justify the lives and treasure sacrificed in Afghanistan. Clear objectives have been replaced with murky concept-slogans, like "securing the population" or implementing "government in a box" in previously lawless areas, which seem to have only a tangential connection to allowing our troops to complete their mission and come home. For example, as we prepare for a new offensive in Kandahar, the failure of the Afghan police to impose order following the recent operations in Marja should cause Americans to question whether the current troop surge is helping to bring the war to a close.

In an interview with C-SPAN taped before his death last year, former Secretary of Defense McNamara noted that one of the Vietnam War's fatal flaws was the failure to recognize the existence of a civil war:

"We were fighting -- and we didn't realize it -- a civil war. Now, true, obviously there were Soviet and Chinese influence and support and no question that the communists were trying to control South Vietnam, but it was basically a civil war. And one of the things we should learn is you can't fight and win a civil war with outside troops, and particularly not when the political structure in a country is dissolved. So it wasn't the press that was the problem. The problem was that we were in the wrong place with the wrong tactics.''

McNamara's words should haunt us today, as we recognize this new standard for military occupation. No amount of firepower will convince the Afghans to decide how to coexist with each other. Political conflicts do not have military solutions.

The Vietnam War took 58,000 American lives, weakened America's image abroad for many years afterward, and sapped the ability of multiple presidents to pursue a robust domestic agenda at home. The War in Afghanistan is having a similar effect on our country.

Despite his many flaws, Richard Nixon recognized that there was a tipping point when our military presence in Vietnam could no longer be sustained. I believe we are close to a such a tipping point today. Many Members of Congress and citizen-activists are calling for withdrawal. I hope that you will join us. Securing a sustainable future for Afghans and Americans starts with bringing the troops home now.

Helen Thomas, Under Siege About Israel Comments, Retires

Helen Thomas, Under Siege About Israel Comments, Retires

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Helen Thomas, the longest serving White House correspondent, retired Monday after comments she made about Israel over the weekend drew condemnation from both the White House and the White House Correspondents Association.

Hearst News Service announced Thomas's retirement in a news story transmitted Monday morning. The story said her retirement was immediate.

"I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians," the story quote Thomas as saying. "They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.’’

Thomas will mark her 90th birthday on Aug. 4.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that Thomas's comments, in which she said Jews should leave Israel and return to Europe, were reprehensible. The White House Correspondents Association called them indefensible.

The association's board also said it was reconsidering Thomas’s special seat in the front row of the White House briefing room.

"I think those remarks were offensive and reprehensible," Gibbs said when asked about her comments at Monday’s press briefing.

"I think she should and has apologized. Because, obviously, those remarks …do not reflect, certainly, the opinion of, I assume, most of the people in here and certainly not of the administration."

Thomas did not attend Monday morning's briefing, which feaetured Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the administration's point man on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Thomas was asked about Israel on May 27. The video was recorded by the website on the day the White House held a Jewish Heritage event. The video was released Friday.

"Any comments on Israel," an offscreen voice asks Thomas.

“Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine,” Thomas says.

“Where should they go?” the offscreen voice asks.

She responds that they should go home to Germany, Poland or the United States.

After a special meeting Monday, the correspondents’ association board issued a statement condemning Thomas’s comments.

“Helen Thomas' comments were indefensible and the White House Correspondents Association board firmly dissociates itself from them,” the group said.

"Many in our profession who have known Helen for years were saddened by the comments, which were especially unfortunate in light of her role as a trail blazer on the White House beat.

“While Helen has not been a member of the WHCA for many years, her special status in the briefing room has helped solidify her as the dean of the White House press corps so we feel the need to speak out strongly on this matter.

“We want to emphasize that the role of the WHCA is to represent the White House press corps in its dealings with the White House on coverage-related issues. We do not police the speech of our members or colleagues. We are not involved at all in issuing White House credentials, that is the purview of the White House itself.

“But the incident does revive the issue of whether it is appropriate for an opinion columnist to have a front row seat in the WH briefing room. That is an issue under the jurisdiction of this board. We are actively seeking input from our association members on this important matter, and we have scheduled a special meeting of the WHCA board on Thursday to decide on the seating issue.”

Human Experimentation at the Heart of Bush Administration's Torture Program

Human Experimentation at the Heart of Bush Administration's Torture Program

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High-value detainees captured during the Bush administration's "war on terror," who were subjected to brutal torture techniques, were used as "guinea pigs" to gauge the effectiveness of various torture techniques, a practice that has raised troubling comparisons to Nazi-era human experimentation. according to a disturbing new report released by Physicians for Human Rights, an international doctors' organization.

PHR, based in Massachusetts, called on President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and the US Congress to launch investigations into the role of physicians and psychiatric experts in the monitoring and assessments of the brutal interrogations.

"Health professionals working for and on behalf of the CIA monitored the interrogations of detainees, collected and analyzed the results of [the] interrogations, and sought to derive generalizable inferences to be applied to subsequent interrogations," said the 27-page report, entitled "Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence of Experimentation in the 'Enhanced' Interrogation Program." "Such acts may be seen as the conduct of research and experimentation by health professionals on prisoners, which could violate accepted standards of medical ethics, as well as domestic and international law. These practices could, in some cases, constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity."

The report is based on extensive research of previously declassified government documents that shows the crucial role medical personnel played in establishing and justifying the legality of the Bush administration's torture program. Many of the details contained in the document has already been painstakingly documented by Marcy Wheeler at her blog Emptywheel, and Truthout's own Jeffrey Kaye on his blog Invictus and in articles published on this web site and at Firedoglake.

Written by medical and psychological experts, some of who have worked with victims of torture, the report said the research and experimentation on detainees violate medical professional standards, the Geneva Conventions on treatment of detainees, and international law based on the Nuremberg principles that were embraced by the civilized world after it was revealed that the Nazis engaged in medical atrocities on prisoners during World War II.

“The essence of the ethical and legal protections for human subjects is that the subjects, especially vulnerable populations such as prisoners, must be treated with the dignity befitting human beings and not simply as experimental guinea pigs,” the PHR report said.

Frank Donaghue, PHR's chief executive officer, said the report appears to demonstrate that the CIA violated "all accepted legal and ethical standards put in place since the Second World War to protect prisoners from being the subjects of experimentation."

Waterboarding and Combined Techniques

For example, CIA medical personnel obtained experimental research data by subjecting more than 25 detainees to individual and combined torture techniques, including sleep deprivation and stress positioning, as a way of understanding "whether one type of application over another would increase the subjects' susceptibility to severe pain," the report said, adding that the information derived from that research informed "subsequent [torture] practices."

The study of combined and individual torture tactics “appears to have been used primarily to enable the Bush administration to assess the legality of the tactics, and to inform medical monitoring policy and procedure for future application of the techniques," the report said.

Drawing from the study of torture tactics, Steven Bradbury, then head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), prepared a memo in 2005 that approved combinations of torture tactics, including forced nudity, “wall-slamming,” stress positions and repeated periods of sleep deprivation.

PHR's analysis on sleep deprivation concluded that "government lawyers used observational data collected by health professionals from varying applications of sleep deprivation to inform legal evaluations regarding the risk of inflicting certain levels of harm on the detainee, and to shape policy that would guide further application of the technique."

PHR also said the drowning method known as waterboarding was monitored in early 2002 by medical personnel who collected data about how detainees responded to the torture technique. The data was then given to Bradbury, who cited it in advising CIA interrogators how to administer the technique.

"According to the Bradbury memoranda, [CIA Office of Medical Services] teams, based on their observation of detainee responses to waterboarding, replaced water in the waterboarding procedure with saline solution ostensibly to reduce the detainees' risk of contracting pneumonia and/or hyponatremia, a condition of low sodium levels in the blood caused by free water intoxication, which can lead to brain edema and herniation, coma, and death," the report said.

In Bradbury's memo urging revised techniques – what the PHR report termed "Waterboarding 2.0" – the Bush lawyer wrote that "based on advice of medical personnel, the CIA requires that saline solution be used instead of plain water to reduce the possibility of hyponatremia … if the detainee drinks the water."

The Bush administration also used the medical studies to mitigate any blame that might be placed on CIA interrogators or their superiors, by suggesting that doctors were involved to protect the health of the detainees even if a side benefit was to make the torture more effective, the report said.

Shielding Torturers

But the administration apparently anticipated accusations of human experimentation by adding language in the 2006 Military Commissions Act. The PHR’s report noted that the law amended the War Crimes Act, and made it retroactive to 1997, “to delineate the specific violations of [the Geneva Conventions’] Common Article 3 that would be punishable. Among those violations is ‘performing biological experiments.’

“The amended language prohibits: The act of a person who subjects, or conspires or attempts to subject, one or more persons within his custody or physical control to biological experiments without a legitimate medical or dental purpose and in so doing endangers the body or health of such person or persons.”

According to the PHR report, "the new language of the WCA added two qualifications that appear to have lowered the bar on biological experimentation on prisoners" by creating a loophole regarding a “legitimate” purpose that does not necessarily match up with the interests of the subject. The word “endangers” also would open the door to some forms of human experimentation, the report said.

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Calls for Accountability

PHR and other human rights groups plan to file a complaint Wednesday with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) demanding the agency launch a probe into the CIA’s Office of Medical Services. Additionally, the group wants the Justice Department's ethics watchdog, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), to launch a separate investigation.

The OPR recently concluded a four-year long investigation into the legal work former OLC attorneys John Yoo, now a Berkeley law professor, and Jay Bybee, a federal appeals court judge on the Ninth Circuit, did when drafting the August 2002 torture memos and concluded both men violated professional standards when they issued their legal opinions that allowed CIA officers to use brutal methods when interrogating suspected terrorists, and recommended both men be referred to their state bar associations to face possible disbarment.

The judgment was softened by career prosecutor David Margolis, who was put in charge of the final recommendations, and who said he was "unpersuaded" by OPR's "misconduct" conclusion, which faulted Yoo and Bybee for their approval of brutal interrogation techniques that were used against terrorism suspects after the 9/11 attacks.

The CIA denied the PHR's allegations of wrongdoing. Spokesman Paul Gimigliano said the agency, "as part of its past detention program, [did not] conduct human subject research on any detainee or group of detainees."

Despite the latest revelations regarding the torture program and other war crimes, President Obama still refuses to allow war-crimes investigations into the actions of President George W. Bush and his subordinates, saying it is better to "look forward, and not backwards."

However, Obama appears to have different standards for other countries. During an interview with a reporter for an Indonesian television station, Obama was asked whether he was satisfied with the way Indonesia dealt with its past human rights abuses.

"We have to acknowledge that those past human rights abuses existed," said Obama, who lived in Indonesia as a child and whose step-father was Indonesian. "We can't go forward without looking backwards."

Stephen Soldz, a psychoanalyst and one of the author's of the PHR report, said "it is important to realize that the logic used by the Obama administration to refuse an investigation of torture claims - that the torture memos allowed the torturers to believe their actions were legally sanctioned - does not apply to potential research on detainees."

"As far as is publicly known, there exist no 'torture research' memos authorizing ignoring laws and regulations prohibiting research on torture techniques," Soldz said.

Rev. Richard Killmer, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, said PHR's findings "recalls some of humanity's darkest days - charges from which no person of faith can afford to turn away."

"A Guinea Pig"

The PHR report's conclusions regarding sleep deprivation also buttresses previous information that the Bush administration practiced its torture techniques on the first “high-value detainee,” Abu Zubaydah, after he was captured in March 2002 and confirm several recent investigative reports published by Truthout.

A former National Security official knowledgeable about the Bush administration's torture program previously told Truthout that Zubaydah was "an experiment ... a guinea pig" used so CIA contractors could obtain data regarding different techniques.

The data was then shared with officials at the CIA and the Justice Department, who used the information to draft the August 2002 torture memos regarding the preferred interrogation methods and their frequency of use, setting parameters that supposedly prevented the interrogators from crossing the line into torture.

In an interview with the International Committee of the Red Cross, Zubaydah said the torture he was subjected to after his capture "felt like [his torturers] were experimenting and trying out techniques to be used later on other people."

Moreover, in her book "The Dark Side," New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer wrote that Zubaydah's interrogation sessions became more aggressive and experimental in April 2002, after the CIA sent in Dr. James Mitchell, a psychologist under contract to the agency, to take over the interrogations.

Mayer wrote that when Mitchell arrived he told Ali Soufan, an FBI agent who had first interrogated Zubaydah using rapport-building techniques, that Zubaydah needed to be treated “like a dog in a cage.”

Mitchell said Zubaydah was “like an experiment, when you apply electric shocks to a caged dog, after a while he’s so diminished, he can’t resist.”

Soufan and the other FBI agent argued that Zubaydah was “not a dog, he was a human being” to which Mitchell responded: “Science is science.”

The PHR report does not identify Zubaydah by name.

In March, Truthout reported, based on interviews with more than two dozen intelligence and national security officials, that one of the main reasons Zubaydah's torture sessions were videotaped was to gain insight into his "physical reaction" to the techniques used against him.

For example, one current and three former CIA officials said some videotapes showed Zubaydah being sleep deprived for more than two weeks. Contractors hired by the CIA studied how he responded psychologically and physically to being kept awake for that amount of time. By looking at videotapes, they concluded that after the 11th consecutive day of being kept awake Zubaydah started to "severely break down." So, the torture memo signed by Bybee concluded that 11 days of sleep deprivation was legal and did not meet the definition of torture.

Those videotapes were destroyed and the issue is now the subject of a criminal investigation lead by John Durham, a US attorney from Connecticut.

PHR's report said, "information collected by health professionals on the effects of sleep deprivation on detainees was used to establish sleep deprivation policy" and "guide further application of the technique."

The report determined that the human experimentation side of the program helped create a framework to protect the torturers from war crimes and other charges.

"OLC lawyers argued that efforts to refine and improve the application of techniques would provide a potential 'good faith' defense for interrogators against charges of torture," the report said. "They argued that such a medical monitoring regime would remove the element of intent to cause harm from the act, which is a necessary requirement for a successful prosecution of a torture charge under US law, and that a 'good faith belief need not be a reasonable belief; it need only be an honest belief.' Thus, research on the detainees became a key part of the OLC legal strategy to demonstrate the lack of intent to commit torture."

Nathaniel Raymond, director of PHR's Campaign Against Torture, said, "Justice Department lawyers appear to have never assessed the lawfulness of the alleged research on detainees in CIA custody, despite how essential it appears to have been to their legal cover for torture."

Brent Mickum, Zubaydah's attorney, said PHR's report is evidence that there was an "experimental element to the torture program and it was approved at the highest levels of government."

"I have said literally for years that I believe my client was tortured before any of these enhanced interrogation techniques were approved by the Justice Department," Mickum told Truthout. "And now we know that not only was my client subjected to torture but he was part of an experiment. This is so ugly, so shameful, so unlawful. If this revelation doesn't kick in an obligation on the part of the Department of Justice to investigate war crimes than I don't know what does. The Obama administration has essentially refused to do that. At some point, this president and his appointees have to take seriously what their obligations are under the law."

Mickum said he is preparing to file a series of motions in federal court, calling on the government to preserve evidence related to the CIA's research and experimentation.

"Research" Continues

Meanwhile, Obama's presence in the White House has not resulted in an abandonment of the research side of the interrogation program.

Last March, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, who recently resigned, disclosed that the Obama administration's High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), planned on conducting "scientific research" to determine "if there are better ways to get information from people that are consistent with our values."

"It is going to do scientific research on that long-neglected area," Blair said during testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. He did not provide additional details as to what the "scientific research" entailed.

The Banking Showdown

The Banking Showdown

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With public attention focused on everything from the oil disaster, the diplomatic isolation of Israel, to Al and Tipper's separation, the final legislative push for financial reform begins this week as House and Senate conferees commence their work. This is the moment when lobbyists for the banking industry hope to kill provisions that they were unable to block in the House or Senate. This is no time for reformers to relent.

Much of the conference will be in public session -- a break with recent practice -- but backroom deals are likely to determine the final outcome. Efforts by progressives and friendly media are desperately needed to keep the pressure on to strengthen, rather than weaken, reform. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, more than 1,400 former legislators and Hill staff now work for the banking lobby. The industry has about 1,800 paid lobbyists in all, compared to about 60 mostly volunteer lobbyists from several dozen consumer and labor organizations working (on their own time) under the banner of Americans for Financial Reform (AFR).

Here is a brief user's guide to the proceedings.

The House and Senate conferees will formally be appointed on Tuesday, and the conference's real work will begin Thursday. Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank has promised that debates will be open and televised, and that key votes will be recorded. That's a good start, but invariably a lot of the deals will be struck in private after consultation with administration officials and industry lobbyists. Americans for Financial Reform has requested that key proposed amendments be posted for public review, and Frank agrees in principle.

However, excessive delay works to the benefit of industry lobbyists. There is concern that despite the transparency of the process, the industry will work with Republicans and conservative Democrats to stretch out the conference beyond the deadline target of July 4, and use the delay to weaken the bill.

Despite the David-Goliath nature of this fight, a lot of good provisions are in either the House or Senate bills, and the challenge will be to make sure that the final law includes the stronger rather than the weaker version. Among the key fights:

Senator Blanche Lincoln's language requiring that all derivatives trades be cleared on public exchanges, that no banking company with deposit insurance may also trade derivatives, and that sundry other loopholes be closed, survived fierce industry opposition and only lukewarm support from the administration. Whether or not Lincoln wins her own primary Tuesday, this measure has increasing support of House and Senate progressives. A companion measure by Sen. Maria Cantwell, which did not make it into the senate bill, would close more loopholes and require adequate capital for all such trades. This approach now appears to have the support of both Senate Banking Chair Chris Dodd and House Chair Barney Frank, as well as Gary Gensler on behalf of the administration. Banks want to continue their gambling games, and this is the number one target of the big banks to kill.

Consumer Protection: The House bill includes a free standing consumer financial protection agency, but it would be hobbled by the requirement that it report to a committee as well as limits on its jurisdiction. The Senate version nests the proposed agency as an independent body inside the Federal Reserve, but without many of the restrictions. This is one of the few provisions that enjoys the hands-on personal support of President Obama. The challenge of the conference is to retain the best features of both bills.

Credit Rating Agencies: It was the corruption of credit rating agencies that made possible the sub-prime meltdown. Reform of these private agencies, such as Moody's and Standard and Poors, was not even part of the original legislation. But a surprise amendment by Sen. Al Franken requiring random assignment of agency ratings rather than payment of the agencies by clients narrowly passed the Senate and was included in the bill. There is no House counterpart, and industry is gunning for this one. But the House does provide that credit rating agencies are legally liable for deceptive practices.

Cover Auto Dealers: New and used car dealers are among the most notorious purveyors of deceptive bait-and-switch financing. But the auto industry, which operates in every congressional district, worked with Senate Republicans on a parliamentary maneuver to win an exemption for car dealers; a similar provision is in the House bill. There is an outside chance that this could be reversed. Both Dodd and Frank are sympathetic to reversing this outrageous carve-out.

Bring Back Glass-Steagall:
Among the crucially important provisions that did not make it into either final bill is the Merkley-Levin amendment which would draw a bright line separating taxpayer-insured commercial banks from financial firms that gamble and trade derivatives and other risky other securities for their own accounts (the "Volcker Rule.") There is still a decent chance that this could make it into the final bill.

Break up the Biggest Banks: Another key provision that developed significant support but that was defeated in a floor right was the Brown-Kaufman amendment to limit the percent of deposits held by any one bank, and thereby break up the biggest banks. But this measure will be back another day.

Duty to Clients: Among the most instructive revelations of the hearings, investigations and debates was the disclosure that big Wall Street houses routinely bet against their own customers. An amendment providing that investment banks have a fiduciary duty to their clients was not included in the final senate bill, but has increasing support.

Fix the Mortgage Mess: The House and Senate bills both have modest reforms to tighten mortgage standards but no major breakthrough to end the logjam on refinancing distressed mortgages so that besieged homeowners can keep their homes. This is also a fight for another day.

Despite its limitations, the financial bill is a start that progressives need to defend. Given where we began, this process has come a long way. At the outset, the administration was backing a far weaker bill. House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank was hobbled by the presence of fifteen pro-industry "New Democrats" on his committee who weakened the bill at every opportunity. As recently as March, Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd was on the verge of making a bipartisan deal with Committee Republicans for a measure that would have been reform in name only.

But as the public has begun paying more attention, as AFR has grown into the most effective financial reform coalition ever; and as heroic progressive legislators have moved their colleagues, the bill has gotten better over time. Other progressive leaders such as Elizabeth Warren and AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka have pushed public opinion, key legislators, and the Obama Administration. All of this is no small achievement, given how esoteric most of these issues are to most voters.

The big fight to secure these gains begins this week. As I've observed before, even Roosevelt took seven years and several pieces of legislation before the New Deal structure of financial reform was completed. One thing is certain: Wall Street will continue pulling out all the stops to preserve its corrupted and discredited business model. Reformers need to redouble their own efforts.

Did Obama Administration Help Plan Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla?

Was the Obama Administration involved in the Planning of the Israeli Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla?

The Broader Military Agenda

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The Israeli Navy Commando had prior knowledge of who was on the Turkish ship including where passengers were residing in terms of cabin layout. According to Swedish author Henning Mankell, who was on board the Marmara , "the Israeli forces attacked sleeping civilians."

These were targeted assassinations. Specific individuals were targeted. Journalists were targeted with a view to confiscating their audio and video recording equipment and tapes.

"We were witnesses to premeditated murders," said historian Mattias Gardell who was on the Mavi Marmara.

"...Asked about why activists on the Turkish ship had attacked the Israeli soldiers, Gardell stressed "it is not as if Israel is a police officer whom no human being has the legitimate right to defend him or herself against":

"If you are attacked by commando troops you of course must have the right to defend yourself ... Many people on this ship thought they were going to kill everyone. They were very frightened ... It's strange if people think one should not defend oneself. Should you just sit there and say: 'Kill me'?" he said." (See Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, Detailed Compiled Eyewitness Accounts Confirm Cold-Blooded Murder and Executions by Israeli Military, Global Research, June 1, 2010)

“They even shot those who surrendered. Many of our friends saw this. They told me that there were handcuffed people who were shot,” (quoted by Press TV)

The Israeli Commando had an explicit order to kill.

What was the role of the United States?

The raids on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, bear the mark of previous Israeli operations directed against unarmed civilians. It is a well established modus operandi of Israeli military-intelligence operations, which is tacitly supported by the US administration.

The killing of civilians is intended to trigger a response by Palestinian resistance forces, which in turn justifies Israeli retaliation (on "humanitarian" grounds) as well as a process of military escalation. The logic of this process was contained in Ariel Sharon`s "Operation Justified Vengeance" (also referred to as the "Dagan Plan") initiated at the outset the Sharon government in 2001. This Operation was intent upon destroying the Palestinian Authority and transforming Gaza into an urban prison. (See Michel Chossudovsky, "Operation Justified Vengeance": Israeli Strike on Freedom Flotilla to Gaza is Part of a Broader Military Agenda, Global Research, June 1, 2010).

The Israeli attack on the Flotilla bears the fingerprints of a military intelligence operation coordinated by the IDF and Mossad, which is now headed by Meir Dagan. It is worth recalling that as a young Coronel, Dagan worked closely with then defense minister Ariel Sharon in the raids on the Palestinian settlements of Sabra and Shatilla in Beirut in 1982.

There are indications that the US was consulted at the highest levels regarding the nature of this military operation. Moreover, in the wake of the attacks, both the US and the UK have unequivocally reaffirmed their support to Israel.

There are longstanding and ongoing military and intelligence relations between the US and Israel including close working ties between various agencies of government: Pentagon, National Intelligence Council, State Department, Homeland Security and their respective Israeli counterparts.

These various agencies of government are involved in routine liaison and consultations, usually directly as well as through the US Embassy in Israel, involving frequent shuttles of officials between Washington and Tel Aviv as well as exchange of personnel. Moreover, the US as well as Canada have public security cooperation agreements with Israel pertaining to the policing of international borders, including maritime borders. (See Israel-USA Homeland Security Cooperation, See also Michel Chossudovsky, The Canada-Israel "Public Security" Agreement, Global Research, 2 April 2008)

The Role of Rahm Emmanuel

Several high level US-Israel meetings were held in the months prior to the May 31st attacks.

Rahm Emmanuel, Obama's White House chief of Staff was in Tel Aviv a week prior to the attacks. Confirmed by press reports, he had meetings behind closed doors with Prime Minister Netanyahu (May 26) as well as a private visit with President Shimon Peres on May 27.

May 26 meeting between Rahm Emmanuel and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

Official statements do not indicate whether other officials including cabinet ministers or IDF and Mossad officials were present at the Rahm Emmanuel-Netanyahu meeting. The Israeli press confirmed that Rahm Emmanuel had a meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, whose Ministry was responsible for overseeing the Commando attack on the Flotilla. (Rahm Emanuel visits Israel to celebrate son's bar mitzvah - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News, 23 May 2010). The White House also confirmed that Rahm Emmanuel was to meet other high-ranking Israeli officials, without providing further details. (Rahm Emanuel in Israel for Son's Bar Mitzvah, May Meet With Officials)

"Our Man in the White House"

While born in the US, Rahm Emmanuel also holds Israeli citizenship and has served in the Israeli military during the First Gulf War (1991).

Rahm is also known for his connections to the pro-Israeli lobby in the US. The Israeli newspaper Maariv calls him "Our Man in the White House" (quoted in Irish Times, March 13, 2010). Rahm Emmanuel gave his support to Obama in the November 2008 presidential elections following Obama`s address to the pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC.

At the time of Rahm Emmanuel's confirmation as White House chief of staff, there were reports in the Middle East media of Rahm Emanuel's connections to Israeli intelligence.

The exact nature of Rahm Emmanuel's ties to the Israeli military and intelligence apparatus, however, is not the main issue. What we are dealing with is a broad process of bilateral coordination and decision-making between the two governments in the areas of foreign policy, intelligence and military planning, which has been ongoing for more than 50 years. In this regard, Israel, although exercising a certain degree of autonomy in military and strategic decisions, will not act unilaterally, without receiving the "green light" from Washington. Rahm Emmanuel`s meetings with the prime minister and Israeli officials are part of this ongoing process.

Rahm Emmanuel's meetings in Tel Aviv on May 26 were a routine follow-up to visits to Washington by Prime Minister Netanyahu in March and by Minister of Defense Ehud Barak in late April. In these various bilateral US-Israel encounters at the White House, the state Department and the Pentagon, Rahm Emmanuel invariably plays a key role.

While the pro-Israeli lobby in the US influences party politics in America, Washington also influences the direction of Israeli politics. There have been reports to the effect that Rahm Emmanuel would "lead a team of high octane Democratic party pro-Israel political operatives to run the campaign for the Defense Minister Ehud Barak" against Netanyahu in the next Israeli election. (Ira Glunts, Could Rahm Emanuel Help Barak Unseat Netanyahu? Palestine Chronicle, June 2, 2010)

The April 27 meeting between US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Defense Minister Barak pertained to "a range of important defense issues" directly or indirectly related to the status of the Palestinian territories under Israeli occupation:

"As President Obama has affirmed, the United States commitment to Israel's security is unshakable, and our defense relationship is stronger than ever, to the mutual benefit of both nations. The United States and our ally Israel share many of the same security challenges, from combating terrorism to confronting the threat posed by Iran's nuclear-weapons program.

For years, the United States and Israel have worked together to prepare our armed forces to meet these and other challenges, a recent major example being the Juniper Cobra joint exercise held last October. Our work together on missile-defense technology is ongoing, and the United States will continue to ensure that Israel maintains its qualitative military edge." (Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Israeli Defense Minister Barak, April 2010 - Council on Foreign Relations April 27, 2010)

These consultations pertained to ongoing military preparations regarding Iran. Both Israel and the US have recently announced that a pre-emptive attack against Iran has been contemplated.

Washington views Israel as being "'integrated into America’s military architecture,' especially in the missile defense sphere." (quoted in Emanuel to rabbis: US 'screwed up' Jerusalem Post, statement of Dennis Ross, who is in charge of the US administration’s Iran policy in the White House, May 16, 2010).

Targeting Iran

The attack on the Freedom Flotilla, might appear as a separate and distinct humanitiarian issue, unrelated to US-Israeli war plans. But from the standpoint of both Tel Aviv and Washington, it is part of the broader military agenda. It is intended to create conditions favoring an atmosphere of confrontation and escalation in the Middle East war theater;

"All the signs are that Israel has been stepping up its provocations to engineer a casus belli for a war against Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Tel Aviv sees as unfinished business its inconclusive wars: the first in Lebanon in 2006, and the second in Gaza in 2008-09." (Jean Shaoul Washington Comes to the Aid of Israel over Gaza Convoy Massacre, Global Research, June 4, 2010)

Following Israel's illegal assault in international waters, Netanyahu stated emphatically "Israel will continue to exercise its right to self defence. We will not allow the establishment of an Iranian port in Gaza," suggesting that the Gaza blockade was part of the pre-emptive war agenda directed against Iran, Syria and Lebanon. (Israeli forces board Gaza aid ship the Rachel Corrie - Telegraph, June 5, 2010, emphasis added) .

Moreover, the raid on the Flotilla coincided with NATO-Israel war games directed against Iran. According to the Sunday Times, "three German-built Israeli submarines equipped with nuclear cruise missiles are to be deployed in the Gulf near the Iranian coastline." (Israel Deploys Three Nuclear Cruise Missile-Armed Subs Along Iranian Coastline).

While Israeli naval deployments were underway in the Persian Gulf, Israel was also involved in war games in the Mediterranean. The war game codenamed "MINOAS 2010" was carried out at a Greek air base in Souda Bay, on the island of Crete. Earlier in February, The Israeli air force "practiced simulated strikes at Iran's nuclear facilities using airspace of two Arab countries in the Persian Gulf, which are close territorially with the Islamic republic and cooperate with Israel on this issue." Ria Novosti,War Games: Israel gets ready to Strike at Iran's Nuclear Sites,, March 29, 2010)

Also, in the wake of the final resolution of the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation directed against Israel's nuclear weapons program, the White House has reaffirmed its endorsement of Israel's nuclear weapons capabilities. Washington's statement issued one day before the raid on the flotilla points to unbending US support to "Israel's strategic and deterrence capabilities", which also include the launching of a pre-emptive nuclear attack on Iran:

"a senior political source in Jerusalem said Sunday that Israel received guarantees from U.S. President Barack Obama that the U.S. would maintain and improve Israel's strategic and deterrence capabilities.

According to the source, "Obama gave [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu unequivocal guarantees that include a substantial upgrade in Israel-U.S. relations."

Obama promised that no decision taken during the recent 189-nation conference to review and strengthen the 40-year-old Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty "would be allowed to harm Israel's vital interests," the sources said. Obama promised to bolster Israel's strategic capabilities, Jerusalem officials say - Haaretz Daily Newspaper)

Robert Gates and Israel's Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, Press Conference, April 27, 2010

The Turkey-Israel Relationship in Jeopardy?

The actions of Israel against the Freedom Flotilla have important ramifications. Israel's criminal actions in international waters has contributed to weakening the US-NATO-Israel military alliance.

The bilateral Israel-Turkey alliance in military, intelligence, joint military production is potentially in jeopardy. Ankara has already announced that three planned military exercises with Israel have been cancelled. "The government announced it was considering reducing its relations with Israel to a minimum."

It should be understood that Israel and Turkey are partners and major actors in the US-NATO planned aerial attacks on Iran, which have been in the pipeline since mid-2005. The rift between Turkey and Israel has a direct bearing on NATO as a military alliance. Turkey is one of the more powerful NATO member states with regard to its conventional forces. The rift with Israel breaks a consensus within the Atlantic Alliance. It also undermines ongoing US-NATO-Israel pre-emptive war plans directed against Iran, which until recently were endorsed by the Turkish military.

From the outset in 1992, the Israeli-Turkish military alliance was directed against Syria, as well as Iran and Iraq. (For details see See Michel Chossudovsky, "Triple Alliance": The US, Turkey, Israel and the War on Lebanon, Global Research, 2006)

In 1997, Israel and Turkey launched "A Strategic Dialogue" involving a bi-annual process of high level military consultations by the respective deputy chiefs of staff. (Milliyet, Istanbul, in Turkish 14 July 2006).

During the Clinton Administration, a triangular military alliance between the US, Israel and Turkey had unfolded. This "triple alliance", which in practice is dominated by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, integrates and coordinates military command decisions between the three countries pertaining to the broader Middle East. It is based on the close military ties respectively of Israel and Turkey with the US, coupled with a strong bilateral military relationship between Tel Aviv and Ankara.

Starting in 2005, Israel has become a de facto member of NATO. The triple alliance was coupled with a 2005 NATO-Israeli military cooperation agreement which included "many areas of common interest, such as the fight against terrorism and joint military exercises. These military cooperation ties with NATO are viewed by the Israeli military as a means to "enhance Israel's deterrence capability regarding potential enemies threatening it, mainly Iran and Syria." ("Triple Alliance": The US, Turkey, Israel and the War on Lebanon).

The Issue of Territorial Waters

Israel's blockade of Gaza is in large part motivated by the broader issue of control of Gaza's territorial waters, which contain significant reserves of natural gas. What is at stake is the confiscation of Palestinian gas fields and the unilateral de facto declaration of Israeli sovereignty over Gaza's maritime areas. If the blockade were to be broken, Israel's de facto control over Gaza's offshore gas reserves would be jeopardy. (See Michel Chossudovsky,War and Natural Gas: The Israeli Invasion and Gaza's Offshore Gas Fields, Global Research, January 8, 2009. See also Michel Chossudovsky, The War on Lebanon and the Battle for Oil, Global Research, July 23, 2006)

As "New Media" Proliferate, Does Government Have a Role?

As "New Media" Proliferate, Does Government Have a Role?

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When former Washington Post reporter Sarah Cohen appeared at a recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC), hearing on the role of government in modern journalism, she admits to being nervous.

“I'd never testified at one before and I also didn't know whether they would like what I had to say,” says the Duke University journalism professor.

That tension between government and the so-called fourth estate, or the news media, is at the heart of a mounting war of words in the blogosphere as well as in print and broadcast over when, where, why and how lawmakers should interact – some say meddle – with today's swiftly changing news environment.

As traditional print and broadcast outlets have continued to dwindle at historic rates and so-called “new media” such as blogs and web-only news sites proliferate, the FTC has convened a task force on how government “can help,” with a series of public input meetings, ending June 15. At the same time, in May, Michigan Senator Bruce Patterson introduced a bill to create a state registry for journalists, which he hopes would give the public a means for verifying reporter’s qualifications and credentials.

The outcry over both has been swift and pointed.

Government Involvement a "Chilling Effect'?

“A government agency even having the discussion has a chilling effect,” says Jason Stverak, president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, adding that the foundation of the nation’s democracy rests on the notion of a watchdog press, unregulated by the very institutions it is expected to monitor.

He dubs any official list vouching for a reporter’s “moral character,” as the Michigan law would, nothing less than an attempt to disenfranchise a new class of online citizen journalists who lack official affiliations.

Adds Villanova University media expert, Leonard Shyles, “I’m not interested in having a state board decide who’s accurate. Let the marketplace decide, because I’m going to believe Joe Schmoe after I corroborate his story thru the mosaic of stories that are out there on the Internet now, not because a government agency says I should.”

The pushback disappoints organizers.

“These are nothing more or less than information gathering meetings,” says FTC spokesman Peter Kaplan, who adds that the agency has no current plans other than to publish the hearing results this fall. Beyond that, points out Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, protestations aside, government has played a role in encouraging a healthy press from the dawn of the republic.

“First, we had an ink subsidy and then we had a postal subsidy both of which helped a free press to flourish,” she says.

Anti-Trust and Ensuring Access

There are legitimate roles for government with respect to the media, says Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. They are primarily in the areas of anti-trust and ensuring access.

“Preventing any one company whether its Viacom or Fox or Steve Jobs from having too much power is a legitimate function of government,” she says adding, “as is ensuring that minorities and rural communities have the same access to the means of communication as others.”

Parsing government’s role in the new media world is not simple, says Harvard University business historian Nancy Koehn.

“I can’t find any period in history to compare to the rate and nature of change we are experiencing today,” she says. The debate itself reveals much about the issues facing the country, she adds.

“It’s in the zeitgeist,” she says, “What we are seeing is a response to unspoken angst about what is passing as well as what is emerging. Who will have influence over the flow of information is regarded as critical to the functioning of democratic society.”

The first FTC hearing took place in December, the second in March, and the third and final hearing will take place June 15 at the National Press Club in Washington.

W.H.O. caught in vaccine kickback corruption scandal

WHO scandal exposed: Advisors received kickbacks from H1N1 vaccine manufacturers

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A stunning new report reveals that top scientists who convinced the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare H1N1 a global pandemic held close financial ties to the drug companies that profited from the sale of those vaccines. This report, published in the British Medical Journal, exposes the hidden ties that drove WHO to declare a pandemic, resulting in billions of dollars in profits for vaccine manufacturers.

Several key advisors who urged WHO to declare a pandemic received direct financial compensation from the very same vaccine manufacturers who received a windfall of profits from the pandemic announcement. During all this, WHO refused to disclose any conflicts of interests between its top advisors and the drug companies who would financially benefit from its decisions.

All the kickbacks, in other words, were swept under the table and kept silent, and WHO somehow didn't think it was important to let the world know that it was receiving policy advice from individuals who stood to make millions of dollars when a pandemic was declared.

WHO credibility destroyed

The report was authored by Deborah Cohen (BMJ features editor), and Philip Carter, a journalist who works for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London. In their report, Cohen states, "...our investigation has revealed damaging issues. If these are not addressed, H1N1 may yet claim its biggest victim -- the credibility of the WHO and the trust in the global public health system."

In response to the report, WHO secretary-general Dr Margaret Chan defended the secrecy, saying that WHO intentionally kept the financial ties a secret in order to "...protect the integrity and independence of the members while doing this critical work... [and] also to ensure transparency."

Dr Chan apparently does not understand the meaning of the word "transparency." Then again, WHO has always twisted reality in order to serve its corporate masters, the pharmaceutical giants who profit from disease. To say that they are keeping the financial ties a secret in order to "protect the integrity" of the members is like saying we're all serving alcohol at tonight's AA meeting in order to keep everybody off the bottle.

It just flat out makes no sense.

But since when did making sense have anything to do with WHO's decision process anyway?

Even Fiona Godlee, editor of the BMJ, had harsh words for the WHO, saying, "...its credibility has been badly damaged. WHO must act now to restore its credibility."

Yet more criticism for WHO

The BMJ isn't the only medical publication criticizing WHO for its poor handling of conflicts of interest. Another report from the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly also criticized WHO, saying: "Parliamentary Assembly is alarmed about the way in which the H1N1 influenza pandemic has been handled, not only by the World Health Organization (WHO), but also by the competent health authorities at the level of the European Union and at national level." It went on to explain that WHO's actions led to "a waste of large sums of public money, and also unjustified scares and fears about health risks faced by the European public at large."

The funny thing is, NaturalNews and other natural health advocates told you all the same thing a year ago, and we didn't have to spend millions of dollars on a study to arrive at this conclusion. It was obvious to anyone who knows just how corrupt the sick-care industry really is. They'll do practically anything to make more money, including bribing WHO scientific advisors and paying them kickbacks once the vaccine sales surge.

The vaccine industry and all its drug pushers are, of course, criticizing this investigative report. They say WHO "had no choice" but to declare a pandemic and recommend vaccines, since vaccines are the only treatment option for influenza. That's a lie, of course: Vitamin D has been scientifically proven to be five times more effective than vaccines at preventing influenza infections, but WHO never recommended vitamin D to anyone.

The entire focus was on pushing more high-profit vaccines, not recommending the things that would actually help people the most. And now we know why: The more vulnerable people were to the pandemic, the more would be killed by H1N1, thereby "proving" the importance of vaccination programs.

People were kept ignorant of natural remedies, in other words, to make sure more people died and a more urgent call for mass vaccination programs could be carried out. (A few lives never gets in the way of Big Pharma profits, does it?)

How the scam really worked

Here's a summary of how the WHO vaccine scam worked:

Step 1) Exaggerate the risk: WHO hypes up the pandemic risk by declaring a phase 6 pandemic even when the mortality rate of the virus was so low that it could be halted with simple vitamin D supplements.

Step 2) Urge countries to stockpile: WHO urged nations around the world to stockpile H1N1 vaccines, calling it a "public health emergency."

Step 3) Collect the cash: Countries spend billions of dollars buying and stockpiling H1N1 vaccines while Big Pharma pockets the cash.

Step 4) Get your kickbacks: WHO advisors, meanwhile, collected their kickbacks from the vaccine manufacturers. Those kickbacks were intentionally kept secret.

Step 5) Keep people afraid: In order to keep demand for the vaccines as high as possible, WHO continued to flame the fears by warning that H1N1 was extremely dangerous and everybody should continue to get vaccinated. (The CDC echoed the same message in the USA.)

This is how WHO pulled off one of the greatest vaccine pandemic scams in the last century, and it worked like gangbusters. WHO advisors walked away with loads of cash, the drug companies stockpiled huge profits, and the taxpayers of nations around the world were left saddled with useless vaccines rotting on the shelves that will soon have to be destroyed (at additional taxpayer cost, no doubt) or dumped down the drain (where they will contaminate the waterways).

Meanwhile, nobody dared tell the public the truth about vitamin D, thereby ensuring that the next pandemic will give them another opportunity to repeat the exact same scam (for yet more profit).

The criminality of the vaccine industry

The bottom line is all this is a frightening picture of just how pathetic the vaccine industry has become and how corrupt the WHO and the CDC really are. What took place here is called corruption and bribery, folks. Kickbacks were paid, lies were told and governments were swindled out of billions of dollars. These are felony crimes being committed by our global health leaders.

The real question is: Why do governments continue to allow public health organizations to be so easily corrupted by the vaccine industry? And who will stand up to this profit conspiracy that exploits members of the public as if they were profit-generating guinea pigs?

The next time you hear the WHO say anything, just remember: Their advisors are on the take from the drug companies, and just about anything you're likely to hear from the World Health Organization originates with a profit motive rather than a commitment to public health.

Oh, and by the way... for the record, there has never been a single scientific study ever published showing that H1N1 vaccines worked. Not only was the H1N1 pandemic a fraud to begin with, but the medicine they claimed treated it was also based on fraud. And now we know the rest of the story of why it was all done: Kickbacks from Big Pharma, paid to advisors who told WHO to declare a pandemic.

Commandos raid the Rachel Corrie as: Further evidence emerges of Israel's criminal attack on Gaza aid flotilla

Commandos raid the Rachel Corrie as

Further evidence emerges of Israel’s criminal attack on Gaza aid flotilla

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Israeli naval commandos stormed the Irish-owned Rachel Corrie aid vessel on Saturday, detaining its eight crew and eleven activists from the Cyprus-based Free Gaza Movement, including Irish Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire, former United Nations assistant secretary general Denis Halliday, and Malaysian parliamentarian Mohd Nizar bin Zakaria.

The illegal raid was conducted in international waters, beyond even Israel’s self-declared “maritime exclusion zone” off Gaza. Designed to maintain the blockade of Gaza in the aftermath of the May 31 massacre of nine Turkish activists, the operation was another demonstration of the Israeli government’s utter contempt for international law and global public opinion.

The Rachel Corrie, named after the young American student killed in Gaza in 2003 while trying to prevent a Palestinian home being bulldozed, was carrying 1,200 tonnes of aid, including wheelchairs, medical supplies and cement. The vessel was to have joined last week’s flotilla, but was delayed by technical problems. Crew members and activists made their journey despite the Israeli killings of their counterparts aboard the Mavi Marmara, and in defiance of an attempted deal negotiated between the Israeli and Irish governments to have the cargo unloaded in Israel.

Israeli forces reportedly jammed the ship’s radio and communication signals before boarding from several small boats. Activists and crew offered no resistance to the unlawful seizure of their vessel, with Haaretz reporting that they assisted the raid by lowering a ledge from their ship for the commandos to enter.

Haaretz said several of the soldiers involved had taken part in the previous raids on the Mavi Marmara and other flotilla ships. This underscores the provocative character of the Israeli government’s actions. More killings were entirely possible given these circumstances; violence was averted only because the Rachel Corrie crew decided to acquiesce to the naval takeover. The vessel was steered to the Israeli port of Ashdod. Activists and crew were detained and questioned, but have begun to be released and deported from Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued an extraordinary statement after the interception, arguing that the fact that commandos did not shoot those on the Rachel Corrie proved that they had acted legitimately aboard the Mavi Marmara. He declared: “We saw today the difference between a ship of peace activists, with whom we don’t agree but respect their right to a different opinion from ours, and a ship of hate organised by violent Turkish terror extremists.”

Israeli claims that its troops acted in self-defence on board the Mavi Marmara are refuted not only by eye-witness testimony, but by the results of the autopsies carried out by the Turkish Council of Forensic Medicine for the Ministry of Justice. According to the Guardian, which obtained a copy of the results, the nine men who were killed were shot a total of 30 times. Five were killed by gunshots to the head.

Fulkan Dogan, a 19-year-old US citizen, was shot five times from less than 45 centimetres—in the face, back of the head, twice in the leg and once in the back. Ibrahim Bilgen, a 60-year-old man, was shot four times—in the temple, chest, hip and back. Two others were shot four times and five of the victims were shot either in the back of the head or in the back.

That the victims were shot in the back and head indicates that the Israelis were carrying out a shoot-to-kill policy. It undercuts Netanyahu’s insistence that the soldiers were facing a lynch mob.

Dr Haluk Ince, the chairman of the Council of Forensic Medicine in Istanbul, said only one man had been killed with a single shot—to the forehead and from a distance. Everyone else had received multiple gun shots that had been fired directly and from close by—the nearest from a distance of 20 centimetres.

All but one of the bullets came from 9mm rounds. The other came from a previously unknown variety. “It was just a container including many types of pellets usually used in shot guns. It penetrated the head region in the temple and we found it intact in the brain,” Dr Ince said.

Witnesses confirmed the intensity of the shootings. Ismail Patel, the chairman of the pro-Palestinian group Friends of Al-Aqsa, told the Guardian that the Israelis were shooting to kill, as indicated by the fact that the people who died had been shot in the upper part of their bodies. He calculated that during the bloodiest part of the assault, the commandos were shooting one person every minute. He said he saw one man shot in the back of the head just two feet in front of him, and another shot once between the eyes.

Patel said, “These deaths were avoidable and I lay the blame squarely with the Israelis.” He and another witness, Alex Harrison, said the troops opened fire from the helicopter above the Mavi Marmara with live ammunition and without any warning.

Harrison, who was in the smaller Challenger yacht, crewed largely by women, said that the Israelis used rubber bullets, sound bombs and tasers against them.

Henning Mankell, the Swedish prize-winning writer aboard the cargo ship Sophia, with 24 others, wrote, “A man is shot. I am seeing it happen.” He continued: “The soldiers are impatient with us. Someone who is going too slowly immediately gets a stun device fired into his arm. He falls. Another man who is not moving fast enough is shot with a rubber bullet.”

Once in Israel, Mankell wrote, “Beside me, a man refuses to have his finger prints taken. He resists and is beaten to the ground. They drag him off. I don’t know where. What word can I use? Loathsome? Inhuman?”

Mankell stated that he, along with others on his ship, were robbed of their money, credit cards, clothes, MP3 players and laptops.

Jamal Elshayyal, a British-born al-Jazeera producer, told the Independent, “It was at 11pm local time on the evening of the 30th, as we were headed for Gaza, that we first spotted the Israeli military from afar. I asked the organisers what they expected to happen. They told me they had decided to move as far away from the military zone as possible, and as far away from the Israeli army and as deep into international waters, because they wanted to avoid a confrontation.

“At 2.30am I sent an email to my news desk to say we shouldn't expect anything to happen during the coming hours, and I went to bed. At roughly 4am, a huge bang on the window woke me up. I could see swarms of people in small speedboats belonging to the Israeli army close to our boat. The sound was of water grenades and tear gas canisters landing on board. I quickly put on my life jacket, grabbed my satellite phone and ran upstairs. Most of the others chose to stay down.

“Because many of the crew were at that time at morning prayers, there had been a quick approach from all sides just before they had finished praying.

“When I got to the top deck I could see there were more than 15 speedboats around us, which had on average about 20 soldiers each. About 12 feet above me, maybe 15 feet at most, I saw the bottom of a helicopter; the sound was immense....

“There was a second helicopter hovering over the ship, trying to lower Israeli soldiers down on a rope. On either side there was tear gas being thrown in from the boats, canisters which they were firing from a sort of gun. One man was shot in the top of the head from the helicopter. He collapsed on the ground. I snatched a microphone from one of the Turkish reporters to say one man had been killed. As I did that another man was shot. Those people died instantly.

“Until that point I had not yet seen an Israeli soldier on deck. As far as I am concerned, it's a lie to say they only started shooting on deck. Only then did I see an Israeli soldier on deck.

“The men who were dead had been fired on from above.”

The Independent writes: “Only as eyewitnesses, traumatised by their experiences, started to return to their home countries were serious questions raised about the veracity of the Israeli version of events... At least two other eyewitnesses saw soldiers firing from above the ships before they landed on the Marmara's deck.”

The newspaper continues: “At some point early on, the activists dragged three, possibly four injured soldiers to a lower deck, either to keep as hostages or for their own safety. It was then, several passengers say, that the situation quickly deteriorated. Israel has insisted that the protesters took two of the soldiers' pistols and used them, but others claim the pistols were taken away to prove that Israel planned to use live rounds.

“Below, the protesters rummaged through captured soldiers' belongings and claimed to unearth a document that they allege is a list of people Israel intended to assassinate. The booklet, written in Hebrew and in English, contained some photographs of passengers on the Marmara, including the leader of IHH, the Turkish charity that provided two of the ships, an 88-year-old priest, and Ra'ad Salah, head of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Mr. Elshayyal said.”

According to Patel, 48 other people were suffering from gunshot wounds and six people were still missing. This raises urgent questions. How is it possible that six people are still unaccounted for nearly one week after the raid? If they are in hospitals, why have their names, their whereabouts and injuries not been released and their families informed? If they are dead, where are their bodies?

Israel’s allegations about the aid convoys are a tissue of lies.

Israel claims that the activists on board the Mavi Marmara were terrorists bent on carrying weapons to Hamas, despite their having been checked by the Irish, Greek and Turkish authorities. Not only did the activists have no weapons with which to confront the Israeli commandos—in a few cases they improvised, using iron bars and kitchen knives in self-defence against armed soldiers—but no weapons have been found in the cargo bound for Gaza.

Israel called the main Turkish group organising the flotilla, the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), a violent terrorist group. IHH leaders have denied having any links to terrorist organisations or extremist groups. An Islamic charity, formed in 1994, IHH provides shelter, clothing, food and aid in conflict or natural disaster zones. IHH is presently involved in humanitarian aid projects in over 120 countries, including Ethiopia, Haiti, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Palestine, and has won recognition for its work.

IHH has had Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 2004. It is also affiliated with the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to the United Nations, the Council of International Organisations for Relief in Iraq, and the Union of NGOs of the Islamic World.

Following Israel’s raid on the Mavi Marmara, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said, “the [IHH] organizers are well known for their ties to global Jihad, Al-Qaeda and Hamas. They have a history of arms smuggling and deadly terror… The organizers' intent was violent, their method was violent, and, unfortunately, the results were violent.”

Israel's Shin Bet security service claims IHH is a major player in raising funds for Hamas. But IHH is not on the US State Department's list of 45 groups defined as terrorist organisations, and the department has stated that Israel’s claims of links between IHH and Al Qaeda “can't be validated”.

Israel makes its false claims in order to justify an act of piracy against a Turkish ship in international waters.

According to the Turkish newspaper Zaman, the Istanbul Bakirkoy Prosecutor's Office has opened an investigation into Israel’s raid. Prosecutors are weighing numerous possible charges, including murder, injury, hostage-taking, attacking Turkish citizens on the open seas and piracy, with Netanyahu, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, and Israel Defence Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi as the prime suspects. They are taking witnesses’ statements and intend to use the autopsy reports as evidence.

Navi Pillay, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, said Israel could face prosecution for its raid on the Mavi Marmara and she was following the numerous requests from around the world for a referral to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. She said she believed that Israel’s blockade of Gaza violated international law, but that even if it was legal, Israel had an obligation to allow humanitarian aid to be brought into Gaza.

Behind the Gulf oil crisis: Big Oil extends its political influence

Behind the Gulf oil crisis: Big Oil extends its political influence

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A month and a half into the worst oil spill in US history, frustration and anger directed towards both the oil giant BP and the US government are soaring.

Among the principal factors leading up to the April 20 oil rig explosion, and the subsequent uncontrolled eruption from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, was the absence of any regulations on the profit-driven operations of the energy industry. Government agencies under both Bush and Obama pushed for the expansion of deep-sea oil drilling and rubber-stamped all the decisions made by BP.

One measure of this influence is money. Through a combination of large individual gifts, Political Action Committees and other indirect channels, the oil and gas industry pumped over $250 million into federal campaign coffers over the past 20 years, according to a new report from the Center for Responsive Politics.

This does not include lobbying. The industry spent $174 million last year alone on lobbying the federal government, the third largest of 121 industries. BP, for its part, spent $16 million last year. All told, since 1998 the oil lobby has committed $1 billion to exert its influence on public policy.

“The oil and gas industry has long been one of the most influential in Washington. They are truly a powerhouse industry,” Center for Responsive Politics Communications Director Dave Levinthal told the WSWS.

Levinthal explained, “At any time there are dozens of pieces of legislation on the table and lots of diverging interests. Still, the confluence of all this oil industry money in politics above all purchases access. It gets company executives into the game. The amount of influence they get one can only dream of if you don’t have millions to spend.”

One direct result is that the industry has been allowed to regulate itself. The federal agency with responsibility for oversight and regulation of oil drilling, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), routinely allows extensive offshore drilling without requiring obligatory environmental reviews and permits. MMS waived basic safety precautions that might have prevented the spill.

While the public disgust in the wake of the disaster has skyrocketed, it has not stalled the collusion between government and Big Oil. In fact, the opposite is true. Halliburton, the energy company involved in making the cement casings for the rig, which may have ultimately contributed to the explosion, last month ramped up its political spending to the highest levels since just before the 2008 elections.

Just one week prior to appearing before an investigative subcommittee of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, Halliburton donated $1,500 to the campaign fund of the ranking Republican, Joe Barton (Texas), according to a report by Politico.

In May, Halliburton also contributed donations of $1,000 on Senator Mike Crapo (Idaho) of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Senator Richard Burr (North Carolina) of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Both committees are holding their own hearings to investigate the oil disaster.

Along similar lines, Democratic Senator turned lobbyist John Breaux, who now represents some clients in the oil and gas industry, is working to ensure oil industry representation on the five member “independent” presidential commission to investigate the spill. Breaux told the New Orleans newspaper Times-Picayune, “The commission shouldn’t consist of all environmentalists, or all industry people. You need to have a mix.”

One of Obama’s two choices to head the commission is former Environmental Protection Agency chief William Reilly, who currently sits on the board of directors of oil giant ConocoPhillips.

Congressional donations, not surprisingly, are highest to committee members who play integral roles in crafting legislation affecting the oil industry. Members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee received an average of about $52,000 from individuals and groups associated with the oil and gas industry this election cycle. However contributions are near ubiquitous: 78 percent of House members and 84 percent of Senators received funding from oil and gas this past election cycle.

Both parties have received millions, though donations to Republicans have outweighed Democrats over the years about three to one. Nonetheless, President Obama was the second largest recipient of all candidates for federal office from the oil industry in 2008, pulling in just shy of one million. Only Republican presidential challenger John McCain received more.

BP executives, however, contributed twice as much to Obama, the largest single recipient of the company’s funds.

This current election season, several candidates have already received over $100,000 from the oil industry. Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas) leads the way with over $280,000 collected thus far. Lincoln currently sits on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Republican Senators David Vitter and Lisa Murkowski—from the oil states of Louisiana and Alaska, respectively—both pulled in over $200,000 to date.

The influence extends beyond the executive and legislative branches of government. According to the National Law Journal, seven of the 12 federal judges in the Eastern District of Louisiana have recused themselves from hearing oil spill cases, citing connections to the oil industry.

The ties uniting government officials with the oil industry are intertwined further by the “revolving door” between political office and industry employment. Just within the Department of Interior, these connections are everywhere.

The Obama administration appointed Sylvia Baca, a BP executive, to serve as a Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management. Baca was appointed last June by Obama’s Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, who himself has extensive ties to the oil industry and has long promoted off-shore oil drilling.

Bush administration Interior Secretary Gale Norton, after leaving the government took a position as general counsel for Royal Dutch Shell.

Outside the Interior Department, Obama’s Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, headed a research institute at the University of California, Berkeley, which was funded by BP with a $500 million grant. On becoming Energy Secretary, Chu selected BP’s chief scientist, Steven Koonin, to be the DOE undersecretary for science.

One of the most egregious examples is Steve Griles, who served as Deputy Secretary of the Interior Department and a representative on Dick Cheney’s energy task force. After leaving office to start up his own energy lobbying firm, Griles was convicted of obstructing justice in the investigation of lobbyist Jack A. Abramoff. A federal judge sentenced Griles to 10 months in prison.

The movement between political positions and lobbying firms is very widespread. Of BP’s 37 registered lobbyists identified by Center for Responsive Politics, 22 have held positions within the executive or legislative branches or as senior staffers.

Acting Inspector General Mary Kendall underscored these connections in an investigation released last month that confirmed allegations of MMS employees accepting gifts from oil and gas companies and other misconduct. In the report she wrote, “Of greatest concern to me is the environment in which these inspectors operate—particularly the ease with which they move between industry and government.”

Mandy Smithberger, from the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight put it more bluntly in an interview with the Associated Press. “To say that MMS has had a revolving door problem doesn’t even begin to describe how profoundly this agency has entangled itself with industry. The revolving door has spun so readily in this case that the lines between the regulators and the regulated are now virtually nonexistent.”

Israeli Navy Seizes 'Rachel Corrie'

Israeli Navy Seizes 'Rachel Corrie'

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Editor’s Note: Shortly after dawn on Saturday, the Israeli Navy seized the Rachel Corrie in international waters about 35 miles off the coast of Gaza. Unlike the bloody assault on Monday, Israeli forces boarded the Rachel Corrie from sea, not from helicopters, Israeli officials said.

An Israeli spokesperson said there was no resistance from the crew or passengers. The following article was reported and filed before the assault took place:

Much to the dismay of the Israeli government, Rachel Corrie remains determined to protect the rights of Palestinians crowded into the Gaza Strip.

Of course, we're not talking about the young woman who was crushed under an Israeli bulldozer driven by the IDF in 2003, but rather a boat named in her honor, bringing humanitarian supplies to Gaza.

We reached the Rachel Corrie as it was some 85 miles off the coast of Gaza in international waters on Friday. Soon after we made contact with the ship, reports began to surface that the Rachel Corrie was being pursued by three Israeli Naval vessels, and that the ship's radar was jammed.

The Rachel Corrie was the last of the Gaza Freedom Movement to set sail for Gaza. Israeli commandos attacked the other six ships in the flotilla on Monday as activists on board attempted to break the Israeli embargo of goods heading toward Gaza. When a scuffle broke out on the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, the commandos killed nine passengers and wounded dozens.

Despite Israeli claims that the boats are sponsored by – and filled with – Al Qaeda-connected terrorists, the ship's manifest lists among its passengers a Nobel Peace Laureate, a former assistant secretary of the United Nations, and a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

We got in touch with the Rachel Corrie on a very shaky line as its passengers braced themselves for an attack. According to those on board, they are hoping to reach port without another deadly encounter, but they are prepared for the worst.

We spoke with Derek Graham, a long time anti-occupation activist from Ireland who was himself on another Free Gaza Movement flotilla last year which was violently boarded by Israeli commandos. That vessel was pirated at sea and its contents were seized by Israeli Defense Forces.

At the time we spoke with Graham, the Rachel Corrie was five miles closer to Gaza than the previous flotilla when it was attacked.

Despite the Israeli attack earlier this week, Graham seemed calm and focused on the mission at hand, but tension was rising among the activists.

“People are determined, but at the same time they're starting to get a little bit more anxious,” Graham said. “I have personal experience of these commandos coming on board, because I was arrested last year by these same commandos, and I understand exactly how frightening it is.”

When questioned about the statement by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that these were nothing but terrorists, Graham dismissed the accusations as “absolutely ridiculous.” He explained that if the vessel is attacked by Israeli commandos, the unarmed passengers have no intention of fighting back. “This is a completely peaceful mission... We will not resist in any way, shape or form. We are unarmed. These [commandos] are extremely heavily armed, and we will not resist them.”

Graham said the boats were fully vetted and searched, and the activists welcome all legitimate international inspections of the cargo.

“This ship has been inspected fully by customs and X-rays, which were in Ireland before we left,” Graham said. “Once they finished their inspection, the hatch covers were sealed and the security tags are still on the hatches and have not been touched.”

Graham said they were bringing “things like children's toys, educational materials and reconstruction materials... We also are carrying medical aid.” These are precisely the items that were confiscated by the Israeli military from the flotilla that Graham was on last year.

All the activists on board the Rachel Corrie hope to honor Corrie's legacy to the best of their abilities, and are honored to continue her work, Graham said. Referring to Corrie, Graham said, “She was an amazingly brilliant girl, and we're proud to have the ship named after her.”

In an interview earlier this week, Cindy Corrie, the mother of Rachel Corrie, who is now suing the Israeli government for the bulldozer killing of her daughter, is also very proud that her daughter's name lives on and that her daughter's work has inspired activists to take up the mantle of liberation of the Palestinian people, and to continue her work to break the blockade on Gaza.

“It was very moving to us to hear that [the boat] was being named the Rachel Corrie,” Cindy Corrie said. “We know some of the Irish activists who were involved in making this happen, and we have such respect for their work.”

Meanwhile, there is deep concern among Gaza boat activists that the Israeli violence will continue. Henry Norr, a long-time anti-occupation activist, journalist and flotilla supporter, spoke with one of those detained Monday, 68-year-old Janet Colberne.

“They were still beating people in the airport as the detainees were loading up at Ben-Gurion International Airport,” Colberne said.

Derek Graham ended our interview with a message for President Obama: “Please get in touch with the Israeli government and ask them to lift the siege... and let this aid in. There will never be peace in the Middle East until people are treated equally and with respect.”

Gulf Oil Spill Likely to Hit U.S. Atlantic Coast This Summer

Gulf Oil Spill Likely to Hit U.S. Atlantic Coast This Summer

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Oil from the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to extend along thousands of miles of the Atlantic coast and into the open ocean as early as this summer, according to a detailed computer modeling study released today by the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation, NCAR's sponsor. The results were reviewed by scientists at NCAR and elsewhere, although not yet submitted for peer-review publication.

"I've had a lot of people ask me, 'Will the oil reach Florida?'" says NCAR scientist Synte Peacock, who worked on the study. "Actually, our best knowledge says the scope of this environmental disaster is likely to reach far beyond Florida, with impacts that have yet to be understood."

An image from the NCAR computer model of the flow of Deepwater Horizon oil. (Image courtesy NCAR)

The computer simulations indicate that, once the oil in the uppermost ocean has become entrained in the Gulf of Mexico's fast-moving Loop Current, it is likely to reach Florida's Atlantic coast within weeks.

It can then move north as far as about Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, with the Gulf Stream, before turning east to the open ocean.

Whether the oil will be a thin film on the surface or mostly subsurface due to mixing in the upper ocean is not known. The flow in the model represents the best estimate of how ocean currents are likely to respond under typical wind conditions.

More model studies are underway that will indicate what might happen to the oil in the Atlantic Ocean.

"We have been asked if and when remnants of the spill could reach the European coastlines," says Martin Visbeck, a member of the research team from the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of Kiel, Germany.

"Our assumption is that the enormous lateral mixing in the ocean together with the biological disintegration of the oil should reduce the pollution to levels below harmful concentrations," said Visbeck. "But we would like to have this backed up by numbers from some of the best ocean models."

To model the flow of oil, NCAR scientists are using the Parallel Ocean Program, the ocean component of the Community Climate System Model, a powerful software tool developed by scientists at NCAR in collaboration with the Department of Energy. They are conducting the simulations at supercomputers based at the New Mexico Computer Applications Center and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The NCAR scientists simulated how a liquid released at the spill site would disperse and circulate, producing results that are not dependent on the total amount released.

View of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill illuminated by sunlight taken from NASA’s Terra satellite, May 24, 2010. A streamer of oil is moving south into the Loop Current. (Photo courtesy NASA)

The scientists tracked the rate of dispersal in the top 65 feet of the water and at four additional depths, with the lowest just above the sea bed.

"The modeling study is analogous to taking a dye and releasing it into water, then watching its pathway," Peacock says.

The dye tracer used in the model has no actual physical resemblance to true oil. Unlike oil, the dye has the same density as the surrounding water, does not coagulate or form slicks, and is not subject to chemical breakdown by bacteria or other forces.

Peacock and her colleagues stress that the simulations are not a forecast because it is impossible to accurately predict the precise location of the oil weeks or months from now.

Instead, the simulations provide possible scenarios for the oil dispersal. The timing and course of the oil slick will be affected by regional weather conditions and the ever-changing state of the Gulf's Loop Current, neither of which can be predicted more than a few days in advance.

The dilution of the oil relative to the source also will be impacted by bacterial degradation and other conditions, which are not included in the simulations.

What is possible, is to estimate a range of possible trajectories, based on the best understanding of how ocean currents transport material. The oil trajectory that actually occurs will depend on both on the short-term evolution of the Loop Current, which feeds into the Gulf Stream, and on the state of the overlying atmosphere.

Oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill stains the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. May 18, 2010. (Photo by Daniel Beltra courtesy Greenpeace)

Oil has been spilling into the Gulf of Mexico since April 20 when the oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and caught fire. Oil giant BP, which leased the rig to drill a test well 18,000 feet below the seafloor has not been able to stem the flow of oil from the broken wellhead.

Now, 45 days after the spill began, an estimated 540,000 to 1.25 million barrels of oil have entered the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, according to statements by the National Incident Command's Flow Rate Technical Group and an addition estimate given by Incident Commandert U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen in a news briefing this week. Some of this oil has evaporated or been collected by skimmer boats or burned on the surface of the water.

The spill is located in a relatively stagnant area of the Gulf, and the oil so far has remained relatively confined near the Louisiana and Alabama coastlines, although there have been reports of small amounts in the Loop Current. Oil has come ashore in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.

The model simulations show that a liquid released in the surface ocean at the spill site is likely to slowly spread as it is mixed by the ocean currents until it is entrained in the Loop Current. At that point, speeds pick up to about 40 miles per day, and when the liquid enters the Atlantic's Gulf Stream it can travel at speeds up to about 100 miles per day, or 3,000 miles per month.

The six model simulations released today all have different Loop Current characteristics, and all provide slightly different scenarios of how the oil might be dispersed. The simulations all bring the oil to south Florida and then up the East Coast. However, the timing of the oil's movement differs depending on the configuration of the Loop Current.