Sunday, December 18, 2011

FDA OK's High Levels of Dangerous Carcinogens in Seafood

Why Is the FDA Saying It's OK to Eat Seafood 10,000 Times Over the Safe Limit for Dangerous Carcinogens?

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Ever since the largest offshore oil spill in history spewed into the Gulf of Mexico last year, independent public health experts have questioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's efforts to effectively protect Americans from consuming contaminated seafood.

Now a recent study by two of the most tenacious non-government scientists reveals that FDA Gulf seafood "safe levels" allowed 100 to 10,000 times more carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in seafood than what is safe. The overarching issue the report addresses is the failure of the FDA's risk assessment to protect those most vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals, such as young children, pregnant women and high-consumption seafood eaters.

In an effort to pinpoint how the FDA decided to set its acceptable levels for PAH contaminants in Gulf seafood, researchers at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which performed the study -- published in the leading peer-reviewed environmental health journal Environmental Health Perspectives -- also scoured documents wrested from the FDA under the Freedom of Information Act.

These include internal emails and unreleased assessments that suggest the FDA not only downplayed the risk of contamination but also that the EPA, and even members of FDA staff, had proposed higher levels of contamination protection, which in the end were ignored.

In vehemently denying the NRDC study's findings, the FDA argues that its chemical risk assessments are inherently biased "on the side of safety" and that setting higher protective health measures for PAHs in Gulf seafood would actually "do more harm than good."

Robert Dickey, director of the FDA's Gulf Coast Seafood Laboratory, who's taken the lead for the agency in responding to the NRDC report, elaborated in an email to AlterNet, "Overly conservative estimates would lead you [to] remove a great deal of food from our refrigerators and pantries than is needed."

In an interview with AlterNet, the study's lead researcher, NRDC staff scientist Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, said that such a response from the FDA "begs the question of whether or not it was a political versus a scientific decision" because the agency "does not provide scientific evidence" for the claim that being more health protective somehow carries an increased risk of doing harm.

She added, "PAHs in food have been evaluated and standards set in the European Union without jeopardizing anyone's nutrition."

AlterNet confirmed that the FDA indeed has provided no scientific evidence to back up this claim in either its formal response to the NRDC report or in addressing AlterNet's questions.

More broadly, the FDA declined to directly explain the email correspondence the study's researchers obtained in the FOIA request. They reveal that the Environmental Protection Agency, and even members of the FDA's own staff, questioned the FDA's seafood safety risk assessment criteria for protecting the most vulnerable populations, particularly Gulf residents.

Other documents received via the FOIA request show that the FDA considered multiple other potential calculations and criteria where more health protective risk assessments were considered but never followed.

Asked if these documents, along with the NRDC study's findings, belie the FDA's chief claim that their risk assessments are biased "on the side of safety," Dickey responded, "The seafood safety risk assessment was developed in extensive and open collaboration between FDA, EPA, CDC, NOAA, and public health experts and toxicologists from all five Gulf states impacted by the oil spill."

He added, "During that process many factors and calculations were considered before the final version was agreed on by all participants."

Dickey also claims that the FDA has "built into our assessments, a more than 100-fold safety factor that gives us confidence that sensitive populations are protected."

Yet Rotkin-Ellman countered that this conclusion is based on "outdated science" in which FDA calculations relied on the average lifetime weight of a 176-pound person.

"FDA continues to ignore the best scientific evidence on early-life vulnerability to chemical contaminants, which has shown that it is not sufficient to rely on life-time assessments," she said.

"The National Academy of Sciences and EPA guidelines emphasize that additional steps must be taken to specifically assess early-life stages," Rotkin-Ellman continued, "which includes calculating exposure based on age-specific bodyweights and adjusting to account for increased susceptibility."

The NRDC study found, for example, that the risk of cancer associated with eating Gulf shellfish contaminated at levels the FDA has deemed safe could be as high as 20,000 in a million. In other words, if 1,000 pregnant women consumed Gulf seafood at these levels, 20 of the children they give birth to would be at significant risk of cancer from the contamination.

The report also concluded that based on available testing data on PAH levels in shellfish after the spill, up to 53 percent of the shrimp tested had PAH levels exceeding the NRDC researchers' revised levels of concern for pregnant women who are high consumers of Gulf shellfish.

In the interview with Rotkin-Ellman, she highlighted many other central weaknesses in the FDA's protective criteria for PAHs in Gulf seafood about which she and her NRDC study co-author and UCSF clinical professor of health sciences, Gina Solomon, have long been concerned. These include underestimating the amount of seafood Gulf residents consume, ignoring cancer risk from naphthalene contamination (one of the most prevalent PAHs in petroleum) and projecting the contamination will only last five years.

Another key finding the NRDC report confirmed is that the FDA has no set levels of acceptable PAHs in seafood, but rather creates them on a case-by-case basis after each oil spill.

For example, the FDA made PAH "safe levels" less stringent after the BP oil spill than they had been following the Exxon-Valdez spill.

Asked to explain this practice, Dickey replied, "Each oil spill can involve different kinds of crude oils or refined oil products in different types of environments, so the responses are different to account for the physical environment and the compounds of concern that must be tested for."

He added, "Also, over time scientific knowledge of the toxicity of the many hundreds to thousands of compounds in oil and refined oil products increases, which directly affects the analysis of risks involved."

But Rotkin-Ellman noted his answer simply evades the underlying question.

"There are core PAHs of public health concern that are present in most petroleum products that FDA could set standards for regardless of the specifics of an oil spill," she said. "If analyses prove that those PAHs are not present in the next oil spill then those standards will not be applicable."

But this variability, she went on to say, does not preclude FDA from evaluating health threats from PAHs now.

"The ad-hoc risk assessment performed by FDA without public or outside expert review," Rotkin-Ellman added, "have jeopardized FDA's credibility and they have lost public confidence."

Currently, the FDA has no plans to begin setting standard levels of concern for PAHs in U.S. seafood, as Europe does to protect its citizens. The NRDC recently filed a petition with the FDA to change this practice but has yet to receive a response.

Gulf seafood continues to be tested on a limited basis. On the FDA's Web site, the agency contends that seafood from the Gulf "is as safe to eat as it was before the oil spill."

First debris from Japanese earthquake/tsunami reaches Olympic Peninsula

First debris from Japanese earthquake/tsunami reaches Olympic Peninsula

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The first piece of debris that could be identified as washing up on the West Coast from the March 11 tsunami in Japan — a large black float — was found on a Neah Bay beach two weeks ago, Seattle oceanographers Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Jim Ingraham said Tuesday night.

Since then, the two researchers, known as DriftBusters Inc. — who have used flotsam to track wind and water currents in the Pacific since 1970 — have learned that the black, 55-gallon drum-sized floats also have been found on Vancouver Island.

Ebbesmeyer and Ingraham spoke to more than 100 people at Peninsula College and brought the float with them, along with examples of other items that may be showing up on beaches in the next year.

Tons of debris washed out to sea when a tsunami struck northern Japan after a massive magnitude-9.0 earthquake March 11.

About a quarter of the 100 million tons of debris from Japan is expected to make landfall on beaches from southern Alaska to California, possibly in volumes large enough to clog ports, Ebbesmeyer said.

Using models from a historic shipwreck that occurred 20 miles off Neah Bay, Ebbesmeyer and Ingraham have determined the path of debris that comes into that area off the Washington coast.

They said debris will be snagged by currents leading into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and that a large portion of it will end up on beaches from the mouth of the Elwha River to Port Townsend.

Many ocean models have shown that the massive congregation of flotsam that washed away from devastated Japanese coastal cities is in the middle of the Pacific and won’t make landfall in the U.S. for another year or two.

Most of it is exactly where those models predicted, but those models don’t take into account wind and flotsam with large areas exposed to the wind, said Ebbesmeyer, who became famous for his and Ingraham’s ocean research into currents after large spills of Nike shoes and bath toys from container ships in the 1990s.

Flotsam in a current travels an average of seven miles per hour, but it can move as much as 20 mph if it has a large area exposed to the wind, he said.

The float that was found in Neah Bay sits well above the water, has a very shallow draft and is lightweight, exactly what Ingraham’s computer model said would show up first.

It was found by Surfrider beach cleanup crews working on a Makah-owned beach on the strait, a few miles east of Neah Bay, Ebbesmeyer said.

The black floats are seen in the middle of the Pacific by the hundreds, and are not something that has been seen on Eastern Pacific beaches before, he said.

The floats are included in masses of black blobs supporting huge rafts of debris that include fishing boats, houses and possibly human bodies, Ebbesmeyer said.

Many of those bodies and parts of bodies will likely begin washing up in about a year, some simply as feet in athletic shoes, similar to those found in Puget Sound over the last decade, he said.

Ebbesmeyer has done extensive research on those feet, and said that many more may be found in coming years.

Athletic shoes make the perfect floats to preserve parts of bodies, Ebbesmeyer said, and there are still thousands of people missing from tsunami-stricken areas of Japan.

Shoes with remains or other possibly human remains found on beaches should be reported to the appropriate authorities, either police, sheriff’s deputies or park rangers, he said.

If the debris has any kind of identifiable marking, such as numbers or Japanese writing, it may be traceable, Ebbesmeyer said.

“All debris should be treated with a great reverence and respect,” he said.

Families in Japan are waiting to hear of any items that may have been associated with their loved ones and may travel to the U.S. to meet those who found these mementos, he added.

Items that wash up may include portions of houses, boats, ships, furniture, portions of cars and just about anything else that floats, he said.

The rafts of debris include whole houses which may still contain many personal items, and the Japanese are known for storing important personal mementos in walls, Ebbesmeyer said.

Even the smallest of traceable items may be the only thing associated with one of those people who were lost during the disaster, he said.

Contact Ebbesmeyer at for assistance in translation and to track tsunami debris back to its Japanese origins.

“I have a translator to read things in Japanese,” he said.

Large items still in the water should be reported to the Coast Guard, as they may represent a hazard to boats and ships, he said.

Some shipping lanes have already been rerouted to avoid the worst of the debris, he said.

People should also be aware of the possibility of radiation contamination, he said.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant leaked a large amount of radiation into the water in the wake of the tsunami, and no one knows what levels of contamination there are in the currents, and the items being carried in those currents, he said.

Ebbesmeyer suggested local police take steps to have sensitive Geiger counters available to scan items — just to be safe.

The event was unprecedented, and no one knows yet what levels of radiation, if any, items have picked up, he said.

Battlefield America: Is Gitmo in Your Future?

Battlefield America: Is Gitmo in Your Future?

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Ambiguous but alarming new wording, which is tucked into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and was just passed by the Senate, is reminiscent of the “extraordinary measures” introduced by the Nazis after they took power in 1933.

And the relative lack of reaction so far calls to mind the oddly calm indifference with which most Germans watched the erosion of the rights that had been guaranteed by their own Constitution. As one German writer observed, “With sheepish submissiveness we watched it unfold, as if from a box at the theater.”

The writer was Sebastian Haffner (real name Raimond Pretzel), a young German lawyer worried at what he saw in 1933 in Berlin, but helpless to stop it since, as he put it, the German people “collectively and limply collapsed, yielded and capitulated.”

“The result of this millionfold nervous breakdown,” wrote Haffner at the time, “is the unified nation, ready for anything, that is today the nightmare of the rest of the world.” Not a happy analogy.

The Senate bill, in effect, revokes an 1878 law known as the Posse Comitatus Act, which banned the Army from domestic law enforcement after the military had been used —and often abused — in that role during Reconstruction. Ever since then, that law has been taken very seriously — until now. Military officers have had their careers brought to an abrupt halt by involving federal military assets in purely civilian criminal matters.

But that was before 9/11 and the mantra, “9/11 changed everything.” In this case of the Senate-passed NDAA – more than a decade after the terror attacks and even as U.S. intelligence agencies say al-Qaeda is on the brink of defeat – Congress continues to carve away constitutional and legal protections in the name of fighting “terrorism.”

The Senate approved the expanded military authority despite opposition fro Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI Director Robert Mueller -- and a veto threat from President Obama.

The Senate voted to authorize – and generally to require – “the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons” indefinitely. And such “covered persons” are defined not just as someone implicated in the 9/11 attacks but anyone who “substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.”

Though the wording is itself torturous – and there is a provision for a waiver from the Defense Secretary regarding mandatory military detentions – the elasticity of words like “associated forces” and “supported” have left some civil libertarians worried that the U.S. military could be deployed domestically against people opposing future American wars against alleged “terrorists” or “terrorist states.”

The Senate clearly wished for the military’s “law and order” powers to extend beyond the territory of military bases on the theory that there may be “terrorsymps” (short for “terrorist sympathizers”) lurking everywhere.

Is the all-consuming ten-year-old struggle against terrorism rushing headlong to consume what’s left of our constitutional rights? Do I need to worry that the Army in which I was proud to serve during the 1960s may now kick down my front door and lead me off to indefinite detention — or worse?

My neighbors have noticed, after all, that I now wear a longish beard and, sometimes, even a hat like Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. And everyone knows what a terrorsymp he was. “If you see something, say something!”

Worse still, a few of my neighbors overheard me telling my grandchildren that President Obama should be ashamed to be bragging about having Awlaki, an American citizen, and later his 16 year-old son murdered without a whiff of due process. “If you hear something, say something!”

A Lost Respect

Citizens of powerful countries used to have their rights widely respected — at home and abroad. “I am a Roman citizen”—“Civis Romanus Sum” – once counted for something. Even more respect tended to greet “I am an American” — because of our power abroad and our once famous adherence to a written Constitution at home.

Adherence? Lately not so much. Not since power-hungry politicians set out to exploit 9/11 so that “everything changed,” including even the rights formerly guaranteed us by the Bill of Rights and the habeas corpus protection in the Constitution itself.

Awlaki’s is an interesting case in point. A Muslim whose moderating influence was sought after by the Washington Establishment in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, he became “radicalized” by our warring on his fellow Muslims. By noting that little-known fact, am I showing “support” for “al-Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces”? Will the U.S. military be obliged to target me, too?

“Not you, Grandpa,” my grandchildren reassured me at Thanksgiving. “Even with the beard and the hat, you don’t really look very much like Awlaki, or like any kind of terrorsymp. You look different; and your light skin and American citizenship should suffice to keep you safe.”

I agreed that I would probably be okay, even if I kept up my vocal criticism of what is happening. But, truth be told, I harbored doubts even on Thanksgiving. And that was before the Senate version of the defense appropriation bill passed last Thursday.

Civis Americanus Sum. Yes, I am. But does that really count for much today? It certainly offered no protection to Awlaki, or to his son. What’s to prevent one of my former colleagues at the military or the CIA — those I have roundly criticized for endorsing and cheering on the kidnappers, torturers and assassins in their employ — from adding me to the “kill-or-capture-but-preferably-kill list”?

What has been happening in this continuation of a seemingly endless “war on terror” – amid widespread public indifference – makes Richard Nixon’s “Enemies List” look like a board game. At least, the Nixon White House had a modicum of good sense not to flaunt its skirting the law and violating constitutional rights.

It is a safe bet that functionaries at the National Security Council are updating the kill-or-capture list even now, confident that President Obama will sign the Senate version of the bill into law once it gets predictably endorsed by the Republican-controlled House.

Then, what is to prevent NSC “counterterrorist” functionaries from summoning the go-to lawyers still ensconced in the Justice Department and asking them for help in navigating what appear to be deliberate ambiguities in the new bill’s language.

Backed by a John Yoo-style “legal justification,” an order could be issued to “terminate” me, while reassuring my neighbors that, yes, just as you suspected, he was a terrorsymp. Or maybe they’ll simply order some troops from the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, where I was stationed a half-century ago, to apprehend me and give me a free one-way ticket to Guantanamo.

After all, how bad could that be? Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld explained to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in June 2005 that the detainees at Guantanamo were “living in the tropics. They’re well fed. They’ve got everything they could possibly want.” And would Rumsfeld lie?

Early Obfuscation

From my erstwhile colleagues at CIA, there has been more mumbo-jumbo aimed at disguising what is really afoot. According to press reports, the CIA general counsel has already said, disingenuously: “American citizens are not immune from being treated like an enemy if they take up arms against the United States.”

But one does not need to “take up arms” in order to be labeled a “combatant,” as the government is defining such terms. Awlaki didn’t take up arms; he was said to have provided “material support to terrorism” by his alleged – but unproven – encouragement of terrorist attacks on the United States. (Under the new NDAA, a similar fate could befall someone who advocates resistance to “coalition partners,” like NATO countries or some corrupt governments that are U.S. allies, such as the Karzai regime in Afghanistan or the terror-linked government of Pakistan).

In the broad strokes of defining American “partners” and al-Qaeda/Taliban “associated forces,” will Israel fall into the first group and Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah get lumped into the second?

Could material support be nothing more than providing financial support for the U.S. Boat to Gaza, which challenged the Israeli embargo of Hamas-ruled Gaza? If creative lawyers for this or some future administration get busy, would the new NDAA provide authority for the military to detain such a U.S. citizen under the Law of War and transfer him or her to Guantanamo or elsewhere?

Conflicting legal interpretations of the bill are now more about whether military detentions would be mandatory or would the president still retain some discretion.

In sum, the wording appears to create a parallel military justice system that, theoretically, we are all subject to. All that would be needed is an allegation by someone that we assisted someone who in some way assisted someone else in some way. An actual terrorist act would not be needed – and neither would a trial by one’s peers as guaranteed by the Constitution to determine actual “guilt.”

Should you be tempted to dismiss this as “liberal fear-mongering,” take a look at this item from with its gleeful headline: “Democrat-Controlled Senate Passes Constitution-Shredding Defense Authorization Bill”:

“The bill would require military custody of a suspect deemed to be a member of Al Qaeda or its affiliates and involved in plotting or committing attacks on the United States. … The legislation also would give the government the authority to have the military hold an individual suspected of terrorism indefinitely, without a trial.

“‘Since the bill puts military detention authority on steroids and makes it permanent, American citizens and others are at greater risk of being locked away by the military without charge or trial if this bill becomes law,’ said Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.”

A key element in the Senate bill, like the House version, is to expand the original Authorization of the Use of Military Force Act (AUMF) of September 2001 so it no longer links exclusively to 9/11. This creates the kind of ambiguity that allows Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, to claim that the bill’s stringent provisions do apply to U.S. citizens, as well as non-citizens.

In addition, the new wording adds “associated forces” (whatever that means) to the previous AUMF’s list of targets. The language of the AUMF of September 2001 was limited to “those nations, organizations, or persons he [the President] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

Burning the Midnight Oil

It is a safe guess that the legal pharisees were burning the midnight oil, dissecting how the draft bill can say, on the one hand, that this or that provision does not apply to American citizens — but, oops, this other provision seems to allow them to be shipped off to Guantanamo, too.

Not being expert enough to do so, I happily leave it to them to parse the language, diagram the sentences, and do surgery on each jot and tittle. There will be a veritable feast for the legal beagles.

What speaks loudest to me is the fact that two key amendments did not pass. Senate Amendment 1125 would have limited the mandatory detention provision to persons captured abroad. And Amendment 1126 would have provided that the authority of the military to detain persons without trial until the end of hostilities would not apply to American citizens. Both amendments were voted down 45 to 55.

Though President Obama has objected to the Senate bill as going too far even by his “death-to-Awlaki” standard, a more troubling question is what might these new powers mean if, say, another terrorist attack hits the United States or if a more hard-line president comes to power.

Take, for example, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, one of the Republican presidential hopefuls. Before a stump speech in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, Perry gave us a hint of what his policies, and maybe even his Cabinet, would look like.

Perry flew in none other than racial profiler par excellence, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, Joe Arpaio. No, I’m not kidding; Perry apparently saw this as a way to strengthen his “law and order” credentials (accent, of course, on “order”).

As I sat in the audience, Arpaio’s arrival took me by surprise, so perhaps I can be forgiven for reflexively bellowing a prolonged boo, as Arpaio made his way slowly and carefully up to the lectern to warm up the crowd. Later it occurred to me that booing may be something that gets you on the chain gang in Maricopa County; Arpaio did not seem at all used to it, and he did not take it well.

Reaching the podium, he turned and demanded to know who was booing, so I stood up from my second-row-center seat and raised my hand high. Fortunately for me, he had none of his deputies along, and booing is apparently not yet banned at Town Hall meetings in New Hampshire. Only Arpaio seemed to pay much heed.

Although I knew enough about Arpaio to consider him fully deserving of a loud boo or two, I did not know the half of it. Let me treat you to some encomia from the sheriff’s own official Web site:

“Arpaio knows what the public wants, [and] has served them well by establishing several unique programs. Arpaio … started the nation’s largest Tent City for convicted inmates. Two thousand convicted men and women serve their sentences in a canvas incarceration compound. It is a remarkable success story. …

“Of equal success and notoriety are his chain gangs, which contribute thousands of dollars of free labor to the community. The male chain gang, and the world’s first-ever female and juvenile chain gangs, clean streets, paint over graffiti, and bury the indigent in the county cemetery.

“Also impressive are the Sheriff’s get tough policies. For example, he banned smoking, coffee, movies, pornographic magazines, and unrestricted TV in all jails. He has the cheapest meals in the U.S. too. The average meal costs between 15 and 40 cents, and inmates are fed only twice daily, to cut the labor costs of meal delivery. He even stopped serving them salt and pepper to save tax payers $20,000 a year.

“Another program Arpaio is very well known for is the pink underwear he makes all inmates wear. Years ago, when the Sheriff learned that inmates were stealing jailhouse white boxers, Arpaio had all inmate underwear dyed pink for better inventory control. … Arpaio looks forward to many more years as Sheriff of Maricopa County.”

Again, I am not making this up. You can check out the sheriff’s Web site for yourself for still more.

I have to concede that I find the last sentence about Arpaio’s future plans somewhat reassuring because if he plans to stay in Maricopa County, it means his policing policies would stay limited to a fairly small geographic area (although perhaps that’s not good news for the people of Maricopa County).

But things could be worse if a President Perry picked Arpaio to take over the Department of Justice and Attorney General Arpaio had a chance to incarcerate more of us in tent prisons. But Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder hasn’t exactly shown himself to be a great defender of constitutional rights either.

Perry Strutting His Stuff

Back in New Hampshire, after Arpaio provided a lackluster introduction, Perry took the stage, offering unctuous thank yous to Sheriff Joe. Perry then reminded us forcefully that he is a “law and order guy.”

That resonated with me in an unusually personal way — so much so, that I missed some of his other by now notorious remarks, like his appeal for all those 21 or over (sic) to vote for him in the New Hampshire primary and those from 18 to 21 to work hard and look toward the day when they too can vote. (sic)

Still, the words “law and order” stuck in my mind. I thought under what law did Perry several months ago call on Attorney General Holder to prosecute me and the other passengers on theAudacity of Hope, the U.S. Boat to Gaza as it challenged Israel’s blockade?

Because Perry had been busy glad-handing folks off to the side when I rose to plead guilty to booing Arpaio, the governor didn’t see who it was. And, as luck would have it, he called on me for the first question of the Q & A:

“I’m Ray McGovern, and I thank you for coming here, Governor Perry. My question pertains to a letter that you wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder on the 28th of June of this year, and I quote: ‘As governor of one of the largest states, I write to encourage you to aggressively prosecute those on the U.S. Boat to Gaza, who plan to interfere with Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza.’

“You may not have been aware that, three days previous, the State Department spokeswoman was asked three times whether Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza was legal and she refused to say the blockade was legal. I was one of those passengers on the U.S. Boat to Gaza, and with my co-passengers we were wondering what you, as the governor of Texas, a ‘law and order’ person … under what law did you wish to prosecute my co-passengers and me?”

Perry turned his response into a commentary on how much he supports Israel — no matter what. Like all of his rivals for the Republican nomination (except Ron Paul, who generally refuses to play this craven game), Perry is not about to let anyone outdistance him in expressing unqualified support for Israel. And so, he began:

“The issue was that … a … I am a very strong supporter of Israel. … I’ve made my point; I must stand with Israel. … I’m going to stand with Israel. … And you’re free to go stand with who you want to, Sir, … but I will be standing with Israel.”

“No matter what?” I asked. “No matter what” was his emphatic response that can be heard beneath a crescendo of applause from Perry supporters. [To watch the video of this encounter,click here.]

How Far Will It Go?

With the new language in the NDAA, it would appear that Gov. Perry and others might soon have all the law they need to stifle acts or words that give support to Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran or any other perceived threat to Israel, at least after Obama signs the legislation and some smart lawyers get to work on the definition of “associated forces.”

Then, will the 82nd Airborne be sent to fetch me if I continue to write and speak what I believe to be the truth on issues like these? What will I be risking if I keep hammering home little known facts like the following, which seldom, if ever, find their way into the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM)?

–Israel itself helped to create Hamas in 1987 as a Muslim fundamentalist, divide-and-conquer counterweight to the secular Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

–The bulk of Hamas’s popular appeal — like that enjoyed by Hezbollah in Lebanon — stems not from the crude rockets fired toward Israel, but rather from the tangible help Hamas provides to oppressed Palestinians.

Is James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, now treading on thin ice? This is what Clapper included as a sort of afterthought at the end of his 34-page “Worldwide Threat Assessment” before the House Intelligence Committee on Feb. 10, 2011. (You guessed right; the FCM, for some reason, missed it):

“We see a growing proliferation of state and non-state actors providing medical assistance to reduce foreign disease threats to their own populations, garner influence with affected local populations, and project power regionally. … In some cases, countries use health to overtly counter Western influence, presenting challenges to allies and our policy interests abroad over the long run.

“In last year’s threat assessment, the Intelligence Community noted that extremists may take advantage of a government’s inability to meet the health needs of its population, highlighting that HAMAS’s and Hizballah’s provision of health and social services in the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon helped to legitimize those organizations as a political force. This also has been the case with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.”

This, most assuredly, is not the Official Washington party line. Could the Director of National Intelligence himself be prosecuted by those who believe that any good word for those that Israel considers enemies — like Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran — is tantamount to “material support” for terrorism?

(I do hope readers were not shocked by the diabolically clever way these “terrorist” movements garner public support — by providing life-saving medical care, for example.)

–It was on that public-service record (and also because of wide awareness of flagrant corruption in the PLO), that Hamas won a key parliamentary election in January 2006, defeating the PLO-affiliated Fatah party. While the election results were not disputed, they were not what the U.S., Israel and Europe wanted. So the U.S. and the EU cut off financial assistance to Gaza.

–Confidential documents, corroborated by former U.S. officials, show that thereupon the White House had the CIA try in 2007, with the help of Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, to defeat Hamas in a bloody civil war. That, too, did not go as expected. Hamas won handily, leaving it stronger than ever. [See “The Gaza Bombshell” by David Rose, in Vanity Fair, April 2008, for the entire sad story.]

–Israel and Egypt then imposed an economic blockade on Gaza eventually reducing virtually all Gazans to a bare subsistence level, with 45 percent unemployment.

–From Dec. 27, 2008, to Jan. 18, 2009, while President George W. Bush was a lame duck, Israel launched an armed attack on Gaza, killing about 1,400 Gazans compared to an Israeli death toll of 13. Israel’s stated aim was to stop rocket fire into Israel and block any arms deliveries to Gaza.

President-elect Barack Obama said nothing. His unconscionable silence at the slaughter should have told us at that early juncture that he, too, would feel so politically intimidated that he would mute any objections to Israeli behavior. Since then, he has retreated from even his mild objections to Israel’s expanded settlements on Palestinian lands.

Guilt by Association

The United States is widely seen as responsible for Israel’s aggressive behavior, which is hardly surprising. It is no secret that Israel enjoys financial assistance ($3 billion per year), military backing, and virtually unquestioned political support from Washington.

What is surprising, in the words of commentator Glenn Greenwald, is “how our blind, endless enabling of Israeli actions fuels terrorism directed at the U.S.,” and how it is taboo to point this out.

Take for example former CIA specialist on al-Qaeda, Michael Scheuer, who had the audacity to state on C-SPAN: “For anyone to say that our support for Israel doesn’t hurt us in the Muslim world … is to just defy reality.”

The Likud Lobby got Scheuer fired from his job at the Jamestown Foundation think tank for his forthrightness, and the Israeli media condemned his C-SPAN remarks as “blatantly anti-Semitic.” There can be a high price to pay for candor on this issue.

That is what those behind the noxious language in the NDAA seem to intend. Sens. Carl Levin and John McCain are said to be the driving force behind the new language. No one in the Senate or House has received more funding from donor institutions related to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) than Levin, a Michigan Democrat.

For his part, McCain loves to demonstrate his unquestioning support for Israel — no matter what. He has even called for the release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, who is currently serving a life sentence for passing highly sensitive, highly damaging U.S. secrets to Israel.

A few weeks ago, McCain parroted Tel Aviv’s line on Iran alleged drive to acquire a nuclear weapon (for which U.S. intelligence sees no concrete evidence) and how that creates a “direct existential threat to the state of Israel.” McCain added that Israel “may feel compelled to neutralize this threat.”

Would it be risking running afoul of the language in the defense authorization bill to expose this rhetoric for what it is — rubbish — noxious rubbish that makes it easier for Israel to believe it will enjoy full U.S. support, no matter what, should Israeli leaders decide to attack Iran?

The supreme irony is that such an attack would probably bring on a major war, global economic collapse, and possibly the destruction of Israel itself. Oops, what was that sound at the door? What do you mean — the 82nd is on the front porch?

Sorry; gotta go. Send cards and letters. My wife will probably be told, in due course, where they’ve put me. My only hope now is that Rumsfeld, for once, was telling the truth about detainees having “everything they could possibly want” in that tropical resort named Guantanamo?

No, The U.S. Is Not Leaving Iraq

No, The U.S. Is Not Leaving Iraq

Thousands of armed U.S. private contractors will be based in the country, and the potential for violence is real

Go To Original

In a speech at Fort Bragg, N.C., Wednesday, President Obama declared that the war in Iraq is over.

“I’ve come to speak to you about the end of the war in Iraq,” he told gathered troops. “Over the last few months, the final work of leaving Iraq has been done. Dozens of bases with American names that housed thousands of American troops have been closed down or turned over to the Iraqis. Thousands of tons of equipment have been packed up and shipped out. Tomorrow, the colors of United States Forces-Iraq — the colors you fought under — will be formally cased in a ceremony in Baghdad.”

All the specifics were true. But what about Obama’s claim that the war has come to a end?

The truth is more complicated. It turns out the Obama administration is leaving behind a huge contingent from the State Department along with thousands of armed private contractors. The possibility for violence between Americans and Iraqis is very real.

To dig into the details, I spoke to Spencer Ackerman, who has been covering the issue closely for Wired’s Danger Room.

The administration is saying the war is over. Is the Defense Department leaving anyone behind?

There’s going to be something called the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq that exists after the troop pullout on Dec. 31. That’s going to be under the auspices of the U.S. embassy, so there’s not going to be a military command in Iraq. It’s going to be a pretty small, 150-person office that will do training — things like helping the Iraqi air force understand how to operate the F-16s we’re selling them. That’s a pretty typical relationship for countries who have bought American military hardware.

What about the State Department?

State is going to leave behind the largest embassy that it has on the planet. All told, there are going to be 18,000 people who work for this embassy. Very few of those will be diplomats. Others will be American civil service workers. A great number will be non-Iraqi contractors who do things like the laundry, mail services, cleaning, etc. Then there’s going to be a substantial component of armed private security contractors. Depending on whose numbers you believe, there will be 3,500 to 5,500 of them.

What is the mission of the State Department there?

It will be different than a typical embassy in the sense that Iraq is still a more dangerous place than most places the U.S. operates. There are more fortresslike consulates around the country than is typical. The mission is in theory like any other State Department mission: You manage commercial ties; you deal with bilateral political issues as they arise; you try to get favorable security cooperation. In reality, it’s going to be way different than usual. Iraq is going to be a battleground — using that term colloquially — between the U.S. and Iran. A hugely important mission of the U.S. ambassador in Iraq will be to try to get Iraq’s foreign policy not to back Iran. Look at the recent Arab League vote to condemn the regime in Syria, for example. Iraq abstained from that vote because Iran was upset about the condemnation of one of its proxies. So the U.S. will try to weaken Iran’s diplomatic ties to Iraq.

On the mercenary — or armed private contractor — front, do we know who these people are going to be and what they’re going to be up to?

One is a big security company that’s been in Iraq since 2005 called Triple Canopy. Another is called Global. Another is SOC Inc. Interestingly, the CEO of Blackwater — now renamed Academi — told me on Monday they’re going to get their license back; they lost it after the Nisour Square massacre. They don’t have a contract to do work in Iraq now, but they want to do it again. Beyond that, we know nearly nothing. The State Department has stonewalled even the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction from finding out basic information like what the rules of engagement for the contractors will be. How close can Iraqis get to U.S. diplomats before these guys can open fire? I don’t know the answer to that. Most members of Congress don’t know the answer to that. Pretty much no one who doesn’t work in the State Department knows the answer to that.

The contract is for diplomatic protection. You’re not supposed to see Triple Canopy employees, say, go out on raids. Fifty-six days before the U.S. withdrawal, the State Department also put out a contract for aviation support. That’s an indicator of how this is being put together on the fly. It’s also an indication that the State Department is contracting for missions as sensitive as Medevac or close air support.

Do you think we’re going to see spasms of violence between Americans and Iraqis post-Dec. 31?

I think it’s inevitable. Look at it from the perspective of an Iranian Quds Force operative. You know you want to frustrate the U.S. in Iraq; and you know that Iraqis are burning U.S. flags in celebration of the withdrawal. That’s a tremendous opportunity for Iran right there. Because if you also know that there are these armed contractors helping diplomats get from point A to point B, you win if you provoke them into violence. And it’s really easy to place an IED on a road or to open fire on a convoy. Then if there are Americans in Iraq opening fire on Iraqis — after the Iraqi leaders have said Americans are gone — that’s a major propaganda win for Iran. This is a really foreseeable disaster.

Another thing worth pointing out is that Leon Panetta has been saying recently that there are 1,000 Iraqis who are al-Qaida loyalists. If that’s true, Iraq is by far host to the largest al-Qaida presence in the world. It’s really hard to believe the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command won’t find a way to go after those people. And remember, as Mary Wheeler has pointed out, Congress has not rescinded the authorization for military force in Iraq.

So in your estimation, is the war actually over?

It’s going to shift into a more sotto voce form. It’s going to be a lot subtler. But it most certainly is continuing. Just because we don’t have a U.S. troop presence anymore or a formal U.S. chain of command anymore, does not mean that the war is over.

Obama's "Mission Accomplished" Troops and Prisons Move, Wars and Torture Never Ends

Obama's "Mission Accomplished"
Troops and Prisons Move, Wars and Torture Never Ends

Go To Original

Most Americans--68 percent--oppose the war against Iraq, according to a November 2011 CNN poll. So it's smart politics for President Obama to take credit for withdrawing U.S. troops.

As it often is, the Associated Press' coverage was slyly subversive: "This, in essence, is Obama's mission accomplished: Getting out of Iraq as promised under solid enough circumstances and making sure to remind voters that he did what he said."

Obama's 2008 campaign began by speaking out against the war in Iraq. (Aggression in Afghanistan, on the other hand, was not only desirable but ought to be expanded.) However, actions never matched his words. On vote after vote in the U.S. Senate Obama supported the war. Every time.

As president, Obama has claimed credit for a December 2011 withdrawal deadline negotiated by his predecessor George W. Bush--a timeline he wanted to protract. If the Iraqi government hadn't refused to extend immunity from prosecution to U.S. forces, this month's withdrawal would not have happened.

"Today I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over," Obama bragged reporters on October 24th.

The UK Guardian noted: "But he had already announced this earlier this year, and the real significance today was in the failure of Obama, in spite of the cost to the U.S. in dollars and deaths, to persuade the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to allow one or more American bases to be kept in the country."

Obama's talk-no-walk approach to foreign policy is also on display on Guantánamo, the torture camp set up by the Bush Administration where thousands of Afghans and other Muslim men, including children, were imprisoned and tormented without evidence of wrongdoing. Only 171 prisoners remain there today, held under appalling conditions.

Yet the "war on terror" mentality remains in full force.

Obama ordered the construction and expansion of a new concentration camp at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan to house thousands of new and current inmates in the U.S. torture system. Now The New York Times has discovered that the Obama Administration has developed "the other Guantánamo, an archipelago of federal prisons that stretches across the country, hidden away on back roads" inside the United States. Hundreds of Muslim men have been imprisoned by means of the thinnest veneer of legality.

"An aggressive prosecution strategy, aimed at prevention as much as punishment, has sent away scores of people. They serve long sentences, often in restrictive, Muslim-majority units, under intensive monitoring by prison officers. Their world is spare," announced the paper.

Aware that "his" war against Afghanistan isn't much more popular among voters than the occupation of Iraq, Obama set a 2014 for withdrawal from the Central Asian state several years ago.

Dexter Filkins called it "the forever war": a post-9/11 syndrome that drives the United States to shoot and bomb the citizens of Muslim nations without end. You can't end a forever war. What if you had to sit down and get serious about taking care of the problems faced by regular, boring, American people?

And so Obama is having his ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, release trial balloons about staying past 2014…forever, in so many words.

Talking to reporters, Crocker said that the U.S. would stay longer if the Karzai regime--its handpicked puppet--asked them to. "They [the Afghans] would have to ask for it," he said. "I could certainly see us saying, 'Yeah, makes sense.'"

Vampires can't come inside unless they're invited.

The Iraq War, at least, seems to be coming to an end. According to the Pentagon, there will only be 150 U.S. troops in Iraq next year--those who guard the embassy in Baghdad.

Sort of.

Just shy of 10,000 "contractors"--the heavily-armed mercenaries who became known for randomly shooting civilians from attack helicopters--will remain in Iraq as "support personnel" for the State Department.

As they say, war is an addiction. If we wanted to, we could quit any time.

Any time. Really.