The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PACTI – stoptorture.org) “believes that torture and ill-treatment of any kind and under all circumstances is incompatible with the moral values of democracy and the rule of law.” Yet it’s systematically practiced by the Israeli Police, General Security Service (GSS), Israeli Prison Service (IPS), and Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
In December 2009, PACTI published its latest report titled, “Accountability Denied: The Absence of Investigation and Punishment of Torture in Israel,” explaining “the many layers of immunity that protect” the guilty, specifically the GSS, the focus of this report.
Immunity insures that GSS interrogation torture and abuse complaints never become criminal investigations, indictments, or legal hearings. Israel’s State Attorney and Attorney General assure it “under a systemic legal cloak” giving torturers “unrestricted protection.”
Since 2001, victims submitted over 600 torture complaints to authorities. None were investigated – “the first step” before indictments, prosecutions, and convictions. As a result, GSS interrogators have blanket immunity to operate freely “behind closed doors (making) torture an institutionalized method of interrogation in Israel, enjoying the full backing of the legal system.” As in America, torture is official Israeli policy.
Torture in Israeli Law – A Barrier of Loopholes
Israel’s Supreme Court ruling in Public Committee against Torture in Israel et al v. the Government of Israel et al (the HCJ Torture Petition) established the current legal basis, even though international law prohibits it unequivocally, at all times, under all conditions, with no allowed exceptions – a matter universally binding even on non-signatory states. Israel, however, signed and ratified the 1984 Convention against Torture. Yet no Israeli law explicitly bans it, except for several provisions relating to torture, including assault, abuse of defenseless persons, and the explicit prohibition of force or threats by a public employee toward interrogees.
However, Israeli court rulings ban torture, and the Supreme Court interpreted the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty to mean torture is unacceptable and prohibited. Earlier, “psychological pressure (and) a moderate degree of physical pressure” were permissible, based on the Landau Commission’s recommendations that GSS interrogators may commit such acts on the basis of necessity.
The Commission condemned the practice but approved using it to obtain evidence for convictions in criminal proceedings, saying coercive interrogation tactics were necessary against “hostile (threats or acts of) terrorist activity and all expressions of Palestinian nationalism.”
This notion protects defendants in a criminal trial “for an act that was required in an immediate manner in order to save his life, liberty, person, or property or those of another from danger of grave injury accruing from a given situation at the time of the act when he had no course of action other than to commit this act.”
In its 1999 ruling, Supreme Court President Aharon Barak established a milestone in the struggle against torture by recognizing its prohibition in international law, calling it “absolute (with) no exceptions and no balances.”
Yet the High Court of Justice (HCJ) legitimized coercive interrogations in three 1996 cases – by plaintiffs Bilbeisi, Hamdan and Mubarak for interim injunctions against abusive GSS practices. Ones cited included violent shaking, painful shackling, hooding, playing deafeningly loud music, sleep deprivation, and lengthly detainments. After due consideration, the HCJ ruled painful shackling illegal, but not the other practices.
The Court’s 1999 ruling went further, but equivocated by adding loopholes to allow torture, so effectively its prohibition was empty. Although it reversed the Landau Commission’s recommendations, it ruled that pressure and a measure of discomfort are legitimate interrogation side-effects provided they’re not used to break a detainee’s spirit. It also sanctioned physical force in “ticking bomb” cases, in violation of international laws allowing no exceptions ever. Moreover, Israeli security forces routinely claim detainees are security threats enough to justify abusive interrogations.
In his ruling, Court President Barak justified physical force to save lives, saying interrogators may employ the “necessity defense” to justify them. In so doing, he authorized sweeping use of the most abusive practices, while at the same time prohibiting torture “absolute(ly with) no exceptions and no balances.”
The Court let “the Attorney General….guide himself concerning the circumstances (to assure) interrogators who are alleged to have acted in an individual case from a sense of ‘need’ are not to be prosecuted.” These guidelines thus “serve as a priori authorization” to practice torture freely. In other words, the Court wanted to “have its cake and eat it too: to declare an absolute prohibition of torture,” yet let it continue.
The Necessity Defense
Despite the Israeli High Court’s equivocal position, international law prohibits torture under all conditions with no exceptions. The notion of “no other alternative” is false, disingenuous, criminal, and illogical as experts say torture doesn’t work and isn’t used for information.
The US Army Field Manual 34-52 Chapter 1 says:
“Experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation. Therefore, the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.”
US experts, including generals, CIA and FBI interrogators, diplomats, politicians and others concur. So do foreign officials and Israeli experts. Yet the practice persists, not for information but to abuse and punish maliciously. The “necessity” rationale is a red herring.
Yet shortly after the HCJ’s ruling, Israel’s Attorney General and State Attorney’s Office Criminal Department head published two key documents:
“GSS Interrogations and the Necessity Defense – A Framework for the Discretion of the Attorney-General (and) Circumstances in Which GSS Interrogators Who Acted out of a Sense of ‘Need’ Are Not to be Prosecuted.”
They establish guidelines authorizing abusive practices to gain “vital information to prevent tangible danger or grave injury to state security or to human life, liberty, and integrity, and when there is no other reasonable means in the circumstances of the matter to prevent this injury, the Attorney General will consider refraining from instigating criminal proceedings.”
In other words, anything goes, anytime, for any reason under the “necessity defense” even though torture is justified nor does it work.
Yet in 2006, a GSS interrogator told Haaretz writer Nir Hasson that “authorization to use force in interrogations is given at least by the head of the interrogation team, and sometimes comes directly from the head of the GSS.”
GSS, in fact, openly admits that a priori permission is granted for it – the result of legal loopholes permitting it in violation of international law.
Torture, Lies and No Investigation
The Officer in Charge of GSS Interrogee Complaints (OCGIC) is responsible for handling them together with his counterpart in the State Attorney’s Office. Yet Israel has no policy for responding and one in place undermines the process.
GSS’ “culture of lying” began with the April 1984 “Bus (or Kav) 300″ affair referring to a bus highjacking by Palestinians and the allegation that GSS agents executed two of them taken captive. A secret commission was appointed to investigate. Those testifying lied. The commission determined that blows to the head killed the two detainees, but no one was held responsible.
GSS head Avraham Shalom claimed he acted “with authority and permission.” Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said nothing, but President Chaim Herzog pardoned four GSS official to quash further actions – the first time in Israeli history that the president pardoned someone before being tried and convicted, even though the investigation revealed lawless acts including torture.
This and other findings led to the Landau Commission’s formation and its revelations that GSS personnel lied to courts, denied using torture, and the coverup included top officials, mindful of their lawless acts. The Commission quoted an internal 1982 GSS memorandum instructing interrogators to lie, yet recommended no criminal action.
Public discussion, however, led to two amendments to the Police Ordinance – Amendment No. 12 in 1994 and No. 18 in 2004. The first one extended Police Investigation Department (PID) authority to include investigating GSS employee offenses during or in connection with interrogations.
The second one allowed investigations of all suspected GSS offenses in the performance of their duties, including those unrelated to interrogations. However, while police personnel investigations are submitted directly to the PID, the Attorney General must authorize whether GSS ones will be sent there. As a result, complaints about them have never been investigated, and justice has consistently been denied.
“In hindsight….the amendments created a hermetic barrier preventing criminal investigation(s), since the Attorney General has chosen not to forward even a single case (to) the PID (and) the Israel Police has not opened a single investigation in this field.”
In addition, since a GSS official is authorized to investigate complaints, in practice, a clear conflict of interest exists, and it’s evident in consistent whitewashings. From January 2001 – December 2008, PACTI submitted 598 interrogee complaints to the State Attorney’s Office. None were forwarded for criminal investigation. For example, in 2007:
– OCGIC opened 47 examinations;
– as of June 20, 2008, processing for 30 were completed; but
– “not a single complaint relating to a GSS investigator was forwarded for investigation and no steps (including disciplinary action) were taken against the interrogators.”
The years 2005, 2006 and earlier ones were no different. On October 20, 2009, PACTI submitted a freedom of information request to the Ministry of Justice for pertinent 2008 and 2009 information. As of yearend 2009, no reply was received. It appears torture and abuse aren’t serious enough to warrant investigation and disciplinary action. As a result, it continues unpunished and unabated.
Past Department of Special Tasks responses have been brief and obstructionist with “formulaic phrases” like:
– “The complaints in your letter are baseless.
– The interrogation was pursued in accordance with the procedures.
– After the interrogators have been questioned and the complainant’s claims have been examined one by one, the Attorney General has reached the conclusion that no defect occurred in the interrogators’ behavior. Accordingly, there is no cause to take any legal action against them.”
No clarifications were given, and at times, responses had no relevance to the complaints or why they were dismissed. PACTI concluded that thorough investigations weren’t undertaken, and whatever was done was “laundered,” making the conclusions reached worthless.
Worse still, lawyers may not represent complainants (no longer suspects) during interrogations or prepare them in advance. They occur without prior notification. The atmosphere is tense, and PACTI learned about complainants being shackled and having no rights, “whose words are to be regarded with great suspicion.” In other words, their complaints may do more harm than good. Submitting them may make them a future target, and GSS accounts are always accepted as factual, no matter how false and inaccurate.
The Illogic of Letting the Abuser Be the Investigator
How can “a body responsible for investigating torture and improper means of interrogation” be the one responsible for the abuse. “Such a body cannot operate as a substitute for a criminal investigation; the investigation must be transparent and open to public criticism.” Doing otherwise discredits the entire process and “defies common sense, Israeli law and international law….”
Also, letting torturers investigate their own crimes discourages complainants. Why bother under a fundamentally unfair system, one with further harmful implications for the abused.
The system is rigged to fail. Abuse gets rubber-stamp approval, and authorization goes right to the top, granting sweeping immunity for the most grievous offenses, justice always being denied. By order of the Attorney General and State Attorney’s Office (via Prime Ministerial authorization), “an impenetrable barrier (shields) criminal investigation(s)” and GSS prosecutions.
Grave consequences result. Abuses and a culture of lying persist as well as a “disrespect for the rule of law and for the values of human rights. It denies relief to victims seeking to repair the physical and psychological damage they have suffered, and it also imposes an obstacle, preventing (them) from securing their right to claim compensation through a civil proceeding.”
Being Palestinian under Israeli control carries great risks, best attested to by victims.
The Legal Obligation to Investigate Abuses and Penalize Those Responsible
Numerous international laws prohibit torture, including the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture, Geneva Conventions and Common Article 3, the Nuremberg Principles, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and others.
The prohibition is sweeping, applies universally, and no exceptions are allowed. Israel committed to observe it, yet systematically is in violation.
The Convention against Torture defines it as follows:
“any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful actions.”
Actions not meeting the definition of torture come under the definition of “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment,” otherwise called abuse, but the line between the two is thin and often crossed.
The Obligation to Investigate
The Convention against Torture obligates member states to investigate and punish torturers. The same is true for the UN Committee against Torture (responsible for implementing the Convention), the UN Human Rights Committee (responsible for implementing the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), and the main international tribunal rulings – all requiring independent, impartial, efficient, effective and reliable action to hold those responsible accountable.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture is also mandated to investigate torture globally, including complaints and legal issues as well as regular fact-finding missions to specific countries under conditions of free inquiry, unrestricted movement, and the ability to conduct confidential interviews with victims, witnesses, human rights defenders, and NGOs, after which reports are prepared for the Human Rights Council and made available to the public.
The European Court of Human Rights and Inter-American Committee of Human Rights stipulated that states must report their investigatory results to complainants and publish them. The Istanbul Protocol includes the most detailed publication requirements, stating:
“A written report, made within a reasonable time, shall include the scope of the inquiry, procedures and methods used to evaluate evidence as well as conclusions and recommendations based on findings of fact and on applicable law. On completion, this report shall be made public. It shall describe in detail specific events that were found to have occurred and the evidence upon which such findings were based, and list the names of witnesses who testified with the exception of those whose identities have been withheld for their own protection. The State shall, within a reasonable period of time, reply to the report of the investigation, and, as appropriate, indicate steps to be taken in response.”
In addition, prosecuting guilty parties must occur in compliance with Article 12 of the Convention. Also, integrating torture offenses comes under under the provisions of Article 4(1) and definition in Article 1. Minimum penalties aren’t established, but recommendations range from six to 20 years, depending on the severity of the offense. Under no circumstances should pardons be granted. Doing so violates the Convention’s Article 2(1) and encourages recurrences.
Israel is a signatory to the Convention against Torture and is obligated to observe its provisions. Yet as early as 1994, the UN Committee against Torture, in a departure from its usual practice, demanded that Israel submit a special report following the HCJ ruling explicitly permitting “physical pressure” against interrogees. After examining the report, the Committee concluded that GSS interrogation methods constitute torture in violation of fundamental international law, including so-called “ticking bomb” cases.
In its most recent May 2009 report, the Committee addressed Israeli violations with respect to conditions of detention and imprisonment, protracted isolation, illegal facilities, detaining minors, and using force during military operations. Concern was also raised about failure to include torture in Israeli law, and that:
“….the ‘necessity defense’ exception may still arise in cases of ‘ticking bombs,’ i.e., interrogation of terrorist suspects or persons otherwise holding information about potential terrorist attacks….The Committee is concerned that GSS interrogators who use physical pressure in ‘ticking bomb’ cases may not be criminally responsible if they resort to the necessity defense argument.”
The Committee against Torture’s unequivocal recommendation was for Israel to “completely remove necessity as a possible justification for the crime of torture.” The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Human Rights Committee expressed the same view, including that “all allegations of torture and ill-treatment are promptly and effectively investigated and perpetrators prosecuted and, if applicable (appropriate) penalties….imposed.”
Of great concern was that none of the 600 torture complaints against GSS interrogators from 2001 through 2008 led to a criminal investigation and prosecution. It called Israel’s behavior particularly grave and urgently in need of change. Everyone up the chain of command is responsible, including commanders, the Attorney General, and others materially involved.
Torture and inhumane treatment are crimes under international law. In armed conflict, they’re war crimes, and when civilian populations are attacked, they’re crimes against humanity. Defendants may be tried by their home countries, or in others under the universal jurisdiction principle, an obligation borne by all Geneva Convention parties. They may also be tried in the International Criminal Court in the Hague, a permanent tribunal to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression.
Culpable persons include planners, order issuers, and assistants. Vicarious liability is also recognized and may be imposed on commanders and civilian leaders based on crimes committed by their subordinates on explicit or implicit orders given.
To prove guilt, it must be established that they either knew or should have known about crimes, yet they made no effort to stop them, or when committed, punish offenders.
Institutionalized torture can’t be maintained without higher up authorization and tacit or explicit approval of the practice. In the case of the Bush administration, culpability went right to the top, documented in revealed torture memorandums, memos, findings Executive Orders, and National and Homeland Security Presidential Directives.
In sum, states are obligated to investigate torture complaints and hold guilty parties accountable. “The State of Israel has failed to meet these requirements, to which it is obligated under international law.” The UN Committee against Torture noted this lawlessness for years. Israel did nothing to address it. To date, the practice continues unabated, authorized by the highest government officials and IDF commanders in violation of fundamental international law.
According to PACTI:
“There can be no doubt that all branches of (Israel’s) government – the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary – have provided GSS interrogators with multiple layers of protection. There can also be no doubt that (they) exploited these (protections) to emerge unscathed after committing unconscionable actions in moral and legal terms. (It’s) essential to end the era in which torturers enjoy immunity in Israel or elsewhere.” Nothing less is tolerable or acceptable.
Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
William A. Cook provides an overview of the state of affairs of the zionist affairs of state, in a piece entitled The Unstated Script of the Wiesel Open Letter to President Obama. It is a good summary but by no means definitive: one could add theft of Palestinian tax credits, water, fertile top soil, religious sites, harvesting of human organs, daily humiliations, and much much more …
Let’s draw up the bill of particulars that is hidden from the world, the subtext, the unsaid prayer no one in this American government wants revealed and certainly no one in Israel wants displayed publicly.
What is the true nature of this state of Israel that … is now seeking to enlist the governments of the world against its perceived “existential” enemy, Iran?
* It is a state without mercy, a state without morals, a state premised on racism, a state built on deception and lies;
* a state defiant of international law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Geneva Conventions that apply to occupying powers;
* a state, unlike North Korea or Iran, the other identified Axis of Evil states, that has invaded neighboring states and occupies them;
* a state, unlike all nations in the Mid-East, that possesses weapons of mass destruction, including hundreds of nuclear weapons, and refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty;
* a state that uses cluster bombs, white phosphorus, and other internationally banned weapons of warfare, not only against the innocent people of Lebanon, but also against the defenseless people of Palestine;
* a state that proclaims itself above the law as it executes individuals without arrest, without charges brought, without counsel, without habeas corpus, and without trial by jury;
* a state that imprisons over 10,000 Palestinians without charge and without due process;
* a state that tortures those it imprisons;
* a state that constructs a wall, in defiance of the International Court of Justice and the United Nations, that encircles the Palestinians with full intention of decimating their economy and hence their livelihood as well as their chance to create a state of their own, while inflicting a psychological humiliation that is inhumane and in defiance of every principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
* a state that has systematically confiscated, appropriated, annexed, and assimilated virtually all land belonging to the Palestinians in a sixty-year period of time, leaving them approximately 14 percent of their original land, making it the greatest visible land theft known to human kind in our day;
* a state whose laws protect a group that belongs to a religion and denies equality of citizenship to all others including the indigenous people of the land;
* a state that has defied more than 160 UNGA and 39 UNSC resolutions, demanding it act as a civilized state abiding by international law and protocol;
* a state that will not tolerate interference by the UN in its calculated genocide of the Palestinian people;
* a state that, through its Zionist supporters in America, particularly AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), influences U.S. policy in the Mid-East that has resulted in the unlawful invasion of Iraq and irrational economic and political procedures against Syria and Iran;
* a state that has convinced our Congress that it provide billions of dollars to ensure that the state of Israel continues this genocide of the Palestinian people;
* a state that proclaims itself a democracy but is not and, with malicious intent, confiscates the money belonging to a democratically elected government in Palestine and arrests their representatives without charge or trial;
* a state that proclaims peace but creates conditions that prevent peace;
* a state that, like the United States under Bush, has reached the nadir of the civilized state, a return to lawless barbarism inflicted on the weak by the strong, the imposition of the will of the few on the many;
* and, finally, in all brazen hypocrisy, a state that cries to the world that it is the victim of unspeakable cruelty and in constant peril of obliteration by forces within and without. And we wonder why the United States is castigated throughout the world when it supports this rogue state, this state without mercy.
Great is truth, sayeth the Prophet, and it shall prevail, if not for those now living perhaps for the dead who have suffered the consequence of this deceit; it is to them, “to the dead,” says Voltaire, “we owe only truth.” Thus ends the “second prayer.”
William A. Cook is Professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California. He serves as senior editor at MWC News and has written for Counterpunch, the Palestine Chronicle, the Pacific Free Press, the Atlantic Free Press, Information Clearing House, Dissident Voice among others. His books on the mid-east include Tracking Deception: Bush Mid-East Policy, The Rape of Palestine, and a fictional work, The Chronicles of Nefaria, to be published soon in Arabic.
Radioactive materials from nuclear weapons production sites are being dumped into regular landfills, and are available for recycling and resale. The Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) has tracked the Department of Energy’s (DOE) release of radioactive scrap, concrete, equipment, asphalt, chemicals, soil, and more, to unaware and unprepared recipients such as landfills, commercial businesses, and recreation areas. Under the current system, the DOE releases contaminated materials directly, sells them at auctions or through exchanges, or sends the materials to processors who can release them from radioactive controls. The recycling of these materials—for reuse in the production of everyday household and personal items such as zippers, toys, furniture, and automobiles, or to build roads, schools, and playgrounds—is increasingly common.
The NIRS report, “Out of Control on Purpose: DOE’s Dispersal of Radioactive Waste into Landfills and Consumer Products,” tracks the laws, methods, and justifications used by the DOE to expedite the mandatory cleanup of the environmental legacy being created by the nation’s nuclear weapons program and government-sponsored nuclear energy research. One of the largest and most technically complex environmental cleanup programs in the world, the effort includes cleanup of 114 sites across the country to be completed by the end of 2008.
The DOE has unilaterally chosen allowable radioactive contamination and public exposure levels to facilitate “clean-up” of these sites. Pressure is increasing to allow clearing radioactivity from control in order to legalize the dispensing and disbursing of nuclear waste.
In 2000, the Secretary of Energy banned the commercial recycling of potentially radioactive metal. However, the ban does not apply to the disposal, reuse, or recycling of metal equipment, components, and pipes, or of other materials.
Seven sites of importance were investigated for the NIRS report: Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Rocky Flats, Colorado; Los Alamos, New Mexico; Mound and Fernald, Ohio; West Valley, New York; and Paducah, Kentucky. Of these, Tennessee is said to be the main funnel that pours nuclear weapon and power waste from around the country into landfills and recycling facilities without public knowledge. “People around regular trash landfills will be shocked to learn that radioactive contamination from nuclear weapons production is ending up there, either directly released by DOE or via brokers and processors,” says author Diane D’Arrigo, NIRS’s Radioactive Waste Project director.
EnergySolutions, the company that operates the only private low-level radioactive waste disposal business in the US, disposes of more than 90 percent of the low-level radioactive waste generated in the US. It operates waste processing and disposition facilities in Tennessee, South Carolina, and Utah. The company also operates low-level radioactive waste disposal facilities, vaults, and landfills on the DOE Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee.
Amazingly, as the DOE struggles through desperate and irresponsible measures to “disappear” this nation’s nuclear waste by the end of 2008, EnergySolutions has applied for a license in Tennessee to process nuclear waste from Italy.
This application marks the first time in the history of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that a company has asked to dispose of large amounts of foreign-generated low-level radioactive waste in the United States.
In February 2008, Bart Gordon, the Tennessee Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Science and Technology, asked the Northwest Interstate Compact of Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management to withhold licensing that he says would put the US on a path to becoming “the world’s nuclear garbage waste dump.”
In an understatement, Gordon argued, “The US already faces capacity issues and other challenges in treating and disposing of radioactive waste produced domestically. We should be working on solving this problem at home before taking dangerous waste from around the world.”
UPDATE BY DIANE D’ARRIGO
The nuclear power and weapons industry and the government agencies that promote, oversee, and regulate nuclear activities are trying to save money by allowing large amounts of man-made, radioactively contaminated materials and property to be redefined as not radioactive. They don’t want to pay to try to isolate nuclear waste, including metal, concrete, asphalt, plastic, soil, equipment, and buildings, so they have developed ways to send the waste to regular landfills or even into commercial recycling that could end up in daily-use items the public makes contact with regularly.
This story is increasingly important as old nuclear weapons sites and power reactors close and the companies seek relief from responsibility and liability for the long-lasting nuclear waste they generated. It is especially dangerous as new nuclear power and weapons facilities are proposed, which will dramatically increase the amount of waste generated that could get into the public realm.
Although the US federal agencies have not generally allowed nuclear waste to be released from controls, they are still working on it. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have proposed rules in the wings, likely to emerge at any time. NRC is encouraging case by case releases of nuclear waste. The DOE has procedures to allow some radioactive waste out of controls but claims to be preventing radioactive metal from getting into the commercial metal market. A programmatic environmental review could overturn that prohibition, and internally DOE has many loopholes to let nuclear wastes out.
The story wasn’t covered much in the mainstream news. One notable exception was the investigative team led by Demetria Kalodimos on Channel 4 WSMV, Nashville’s NBC affiliate, who reported on the story and did over twenty follow-ups in the Nashville area (see http://www.nirs.org for links). Public awareness led to legislative attention and a commitment by the landfill operator who was taking nuclear waste to stop taking it. Kalodimos received three journalism awards for reporting and following up on the story herself.
The community is not satisfied with this voluntary commitment, because the Tennessee State Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) still allows nuclear waste to be released from controls. TDEC licenses companies to import nuclear waste from around the country and world for “processing,” including incineration and metal melting and reuse.
The report identified TDEC and Tennessee as leaders in releasing nuclear waste out of control.
The situation has worsened since last year. One of the processors is proposing to import a huge portion of Italy’s nuclear power waste to burn, process, melt and dump in the US (Tennessee and Utah).
Action against this can be taken by contacting your state governors to oppose it and by supporting federal legislation that would prohibit the US from importing foreign nuclear waste.
Citizens can also contact their state officials to find out if their state is allowing nuclear waste into the solid waste streams in their communities.
Nuclear Information and Resource Service, May 14, 2007
Title: “Nuclear Waste in Landfills”
Author: Diane D’Arrigo
Environment News Service, May 14, 2007
Title: “US Allows Radioactive Materials in Ordinary Landfills”
Author: Sunny Lewis
Environment News Service, February 4, 2008
Title: “US Company Seeks Permit to Import Nuclear Waste”
Author: Sunny Lewis
Student Researchers: Derek Harms and Cedric Therene
Faculty Evaluator: Noel Byrne, PhD
firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Palestine Information Center – 24/02/2010
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Member of the Israeli parliament (Knesset) Yariv Levin has called for liquidating Ismail Haneyya, the Palestinian premier in the Gaza Strip, similar to what happened to Qassam leader Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh.
The head of the parliamentary committee in the Knesset voiced his call when the Knesset was debating a proposal by an Arab member demanding a discussion into the involvement of the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence, in the assassination of Mabhouh. The proposal was rejected.
Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera net website quoted the former Israeli army chief of staff Dan Halutz as hailing the assassination crime of Mabhouh.
He said in a lecture at Tel Aviv university that any person like Mabhouh should think a thousand times before embarking on any activity such as travel.
Halutz described the assassination of Mabhouh and that of Emad Mughniye, the Lebanese Hizbullah military commander, as deterrent acts, in a clear indication that Israel was the one that masterminded those murders.
By Glen Ford | Black Agenda Radio | February 24, 2010
Opponents of nuclear power have now joined the ranks of those who are bitterly disappointed with President Obama, who is proposing to triple loan guarantees to the nuclear power industry. Barack Obama has long been allied with nuclear power, as have his two closest confidants, political advisor David Axelrod and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. The Chicago-based Exelon corporation, the biggest nuclear power operator in the United States, was a major Obama campaign contributor. Obama’s support for nuclear power has never been a secret. If environmentalist Obamites were surprised by their president’s all-out push for nukes, they have only their own self-delusions to blame.
Back during the campaign, when Obama was getting huge checks from Big Nukes and Big Coal, environmentalists were giving him a political blank check for no other reason than Obama wasn’t George Bush. But it turns out that regarding nuclear power, Obama is worse than George Bush – three times worse. By boosting federal loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors from $18.5 to $54 billion, Obama is attempting to bring back to life an industry that has been all but dead for almost three decades. More than just a bailout, Obama is determined to pull off a nuclear resurrection.
The demise of U.S. nuclear power is generally dated to the partial meltdown at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island plant in March, 1979. But nuclear power has always been a failed business model in the U.S. Construction costs consistently run amok, at three, four and five times advertised. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that loans for nuclear plant construction have a more than fifty percent chance of never being repaid. Environmental opposition to nuclear power is not the reason the industry has been moribund for 30 years. Nuclear power was all but dead because private capital saw the industry as a bad risk. So Wall Street helped elect a president who would put up the people’s money. With public dollars reviving the industry, Chicago-based Exelon’s stock should shoot through the roof. Wall Street can prepare to process billions of dollars in new loans, knowing it doesn’t stand to lose one cent because the public is taking all the financial risk.
The public is also taking all the risk for the health hazards of nuclear power. Private industry will not insure against accidents, which could amount to hundreds of billions of dollars in damages. The public will ultimately pay for any cleanup.
Late-stage finance capitalism, like nuclear power, can only exist as a parasite on the larger society. The people pay all the costs: financial, safety, and health. The investment class puts up no money unless guaranteed a payback plus big profits. This isn’t about the environment. It’s about Wall Street stealing the people blind, through their bought-and-paid-for servants in the Congress and the White House. It’s really a crime story.
Jamal Juma’, The Electronic Intifada, 24 February 2010
Six years ago, we were busy preparing for the start of the hearings of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. The world’s highest court was to decide on the legal consequences of Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank, which together with the network of settlements, military zones and Jewish-only roads annexes around 46 percent of Palestinian West Bank land. The court’s decision, months later, was clear: Israel’s wall is illegal, it needs to be torn down and the international community has an obligation to ensure that it is dismantled.
A victory? Not quite. Until today, neither foreign governments nor the UN have joined the Palestinian communities who have been destroyed by Israel’s wall in their efforts to dismantle it. Still, Palestinian villages show incredible perseverance and creativity in protesting the theft of their land and tearing down pieces of the cement blocks or iron fencing. They do so in the face of overwhelming repression.
The year 2004, when the court was deliberating the case, marked the first wave of repression aimed at the grassroots movement mobilizing against the wall. The key features of the Israeli attacks consisted of killings, mass injuries, arrests and collective punishment measures such as curfews, the closing of access to the villages protesting the wall and the denial of permits for farmers and workers to reach their jobs and lands beyond the wall or the “green line,” the internationally-recognized boundary between Israel and the occupied West Bank. The villages in northwest Jerusalem bore the brunt of Israeli violence.
Today the movement against the apartheid wall is once again in the crosshairs of Israeli repression.
A wave of serial arrests of well-known grassroots human rights defenders began this past summer and escalated in September 2009. A vocal advocate of Palestinian rights, Mohammed Othman, youth coordinator of the Stop the Wall Campaign, was arrested in September when he returned from a speaking tour in Norway. At the beginning of December, Abdullah Abu Rahmah, a key figure in organizing the weekly protests against the wall in the Palestinian village of Bilin, was arrested during a night raid at his home. In mid-December, I was arrested from my home by Israeli forces and taken to an interrogation center where I was kept for one month and then released without charge — a reprisal for my public outcry against Israel’s policies that have reduced Palestine to a number of isolated Bantustans behind cement walls.
We were all interrogated, threatened and intimidated while held in the deplorable conditions of Israeli jails. Othman was released just a day after me, but Abu Rahmah remains in detention.
Similar scenes are playing out in all villages protesting against Israel’s wall across the occupied West Bank. In the Palestinian village of Nilin, to date, Israeli soldiers have shot five persons dead, including a 10-year-old boy, and severely injured almost 500 individuals. Since the beginning of 2010 more than 20 have been arrested.
The arrests do not just focus on active members of the popular committees. Children and minors are particularly targeted because their arrest puts pressure on their families and the community at large. Further, being more vulnerable, Israeli intelligence officers often arrest children to recruit them as collaborators. Lately, in a number of cases, family members of wanted activists have been arrested to pressure those activists to turn themselves in.
Neither I nor other activists in the Stop the Wall Campaign have ever attempted to hide our longtime work as critical voices against Israeli apartheid and the architecture of its occupation. Based on the efforts of the popular committees in each Palestinian village, the Stop the Wall Campaign has been a public and central force of research, analysis and regular news dispatches from our “front line” — our bodies, our voices and our villages up against the wall.
Popular committees have been the basic structure of Palestinian social and political organizing for generations. The creeping criminalization of this social organizing structure therefore not only infringes our right to freedom of expression and association but risks creating a “politicide” and would, if successful, destabilize Palestinian society at its core. During the last six months, this has become Israel’s goal.
In September 2009, at the time when the UN-commissioned Goldstone report was to be officially adopted by the UN Human Rights Council, Palestinian civil society showed its strength in front of Israel and an all-too-compliant Palestinian Authority (PA). The report also contains a chapter describing the sharp increase in Israeli use of force against Palestinians in the West Bank — especially at demonstrations against the wall — during and after the Gaza assault.
The Goldstone report also describes the brutal tactics with which the PA attempted to beat down Palestinian internal dissent at the time. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Ramallah-based PA, attempted to suppress the findings of the Goldstone report, which corroborates Palestinian and international eyewitness testimonies of war crimes committed by Israel during its invasion of Gaza last winter. After the PA’s action at the Human Rights Council in September 2009, Abbas was met by a hefty uproar within Palestinian society and, eventually, pressured by its own constituents, the PA redacted its position on Goldstone.
Especially now that the president’s mandate is expired (since 26 January — which itself was extended for a year under emergency measures), the PA is keenly aware that it is not strong enough to challenge a united Palestinian society, calling for Israel to be held accountable for its crimes. It is clear that Israel also understands this balance of power and has concluded that Palestinian civil society is a force to be reckoned with and therefore should be weakened, if not eliminated.
In a situation where our top leadership is both de jure out of office and de facto too weak to stand up to Israeli and international pressure to defend our interests, such a weakening of civil society would allow Israel even more room to continue its crimes with impunity.
From the bombs dropped in Gaza on an entrapped civilian population, the repression against human rights defenders and the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, to the broad-daylight theft of land and construction of the wall, Israel remains a state that is not held accountable to international law.
Yet there is a window of opportunity opening up in defense of law and Palestinian human rights. In the coming months, the European Union (EU) and its member states will negotiate a new “Action Plan” to implement the EU-Israel Association Agreement.
The fact that this agreement is enacted at all sheds doubts over the acumen of the EU decision-makers: the agreement with Israel seems a contradiction in terms, as article two renders the agreement conditional upon compliance with human rights law and democratic principles. However, to keep a veneer of respect for its own rules and regulations, the EU has started up a “political dialogue” with Israel on its violations of human rights. The result of more than five years of discussions is not only disheartening for Palestinians but also embarrassing for the EU as the only result ever recorded for this “dialogue” is the “willingness” of Israel to talk about the issues.
At last, there seems to be some discontent within EU diplomatic circles about the fact that Israel not only disrespects all human rights and international legal obligations but even imprisons those who try to defend these rights, at a national level and through international advocacy. Yet without sustained civil society pressure, this change in perception will be absorbed into meaningless expressions of “concern,” and no action will be taken.
Member states of the EU have given valuable support to the campaign to release Mohammed Othman and myself. Yet far more decisive pressure from Europe needs to be forthcoming, not just from governments but also from European civil society, to force Israel to change its policies. As long as the EU member states uphold their cooperation agreements with Israel, hide the 2004 International Court of Justice decision against the wall under the carpet, and are unwilling to implement the recommendations of the Goldstone report — even at risk of losing their own credibility — more Palestinian human rights activists will be arrested, detained, tortured, or killed.
An active civil society is a key component of any democratic society and without it justice in Palestine and the rest of the region will remain as elusive as ever.
Jamal Juma’ is a coordinator of the Stop the Wall Campaign. For more information on the campaign visit stopthewall.org.
By Emily Ramshaw | Texas Tribune | February 22, 2010
When state health officials were sued last year for storing infant blood samples without parental consent, they said it was for medical research into birth defects, childhood cancer and environmental toxins. They never said they were turning over hundreds of dried blood samples to the federal government to help build a vast DNA database — a forensics tool designed to identify missing persons and crack cold cases.
A Texas Tribune review of nine years’ worth of e-mails and internal documents on the Department of State Health Services’ newborn blood screening program reveals the transfer of hundreds of infant blood spots to an Armed Forces lab to build a national and, someday, international mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) registry. The records, released after the state agreed in December to destroy more than 5 million infant blood spots, also show an effort to limit the public’s knowledge of aspects of the newborn blood program, and to manage the debate around it. But the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit never saw them, because the state settled the case so quickly that it never reached the discovery phase.
DSHS spokeswoman Carrie Williams says that while the department’s general philosophy was to save blood spots for public health research, “we did not have an exclusive policy.” She says DSHS participated in the project because officials believed it would help in missing-persons cases — and knew the blood spots could not be linked back to a particular individual. “Our understanding of mtDNA is that it’s not used to pinpoint exactly who a person is, but can help determine origins,” Williams says. “Our intentions were good ones.”
But Jim Harrington, the civil rights attorney who filed the blood spot lawsuit last year on behalf of five Texas parents, believes DSHS meant to deceive the public. When he was negotiating with state officials, he says, he specifically asked what research the blood spots were being used for — and there was no mention of the federal mtDNA project. He says he was stunned by how quickly the state settled the lawsuit. “Sometimes there are slam-dunk cases, but I’d never seen this kind of case settle without discovery,” says Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. “This explains the mystery of why they gave up so fast.”
For decades, the state has screened newborns for a variety of birth defects, pricking their heels and collecting five drops of blood on a paper card. Until 2002, the cards were thrown out after a short storage period. But starting that year, the state health department began storing blood spots indefinitely, for “research into causes of selected diseases.” Four years later, DSHS began contracting with Texas A&M University’s School of Rural Public Health to warehouse the cards, which were accumulating at a rate of 800,000 a year. State health officials never notified parents of the changes; they didn’t need consent for the birth-defect screening, so they didn’t ask for it for research purposes. The agency’s rationale was that it let parents who asked opt out of the newborn blood screening and de-identified all of the samples before shipping them off.
Over the last several years, researchers have requested Texas baby blood spots for a variety of medical projects: to study the gene involved in club foot, to inspect the DNA of infants who develop childhood cancer, to examine prenatal lead exposure. Those are the projects state health officials have touted repeatedly before lawmakers and critics. But the least publicized of these research projects is arguably the most interesting. Between 2003 and 2007, the state gave 800 de-identified blood samples to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) to help create a national mtDNA database.
MtDNA is extremely valuable in forensics because it’s easier to find and extract from human cells than nuclear DNA. In addition to blood, it can be identified in hair, bones, teeth and damaged or degraded biological samples and can be used to identify victims of mass disasters or to solve long-since-cold criminal cases. But it’s only as valuable as its sample size. AFDIL scientists, in conjunction with the research branch of the Justice Department, approached Texas in a $1.9 million effort to expand the country’s mtDNA database — part of the President’s DNA Initiative launched under George W. Bush. The researchers wanted “anonymous and maternally unrelated” blood samples from Texas Caucasians, African-Americans and Asians — and from Hispanics and Native Americans in particular — to round out their genetic record. The researchers also took samples from prison populations and infant blood screening in other states, including Florida, Minnesota and California. They did not pay Texas for the samples.
Eventually, research proposals indicate, federal officials hoped to be able to share this data worldwide, “for international law enforcement and investigation in the context of homeland security and anti-terrorism efforts.”
Whether Texas officials were concerned about the perception of the project, or simply didn’t think it was newsworthy, they never mentioned it. In presentations, in public reports and in e-mails sent to reporters as recently as last year, state health officials never brought up the federal project — even when they discussed the merits of roughly two dozen medical research projects designed to “unlock the causes of childhood disorders” like autism and diabetes.
In November, when The Texas Tribune first filed an open-records request with DSHS to review blood spot records, the agency said the information requested was confidential. Two weeks later, when the lawsuit settlement was formally signed, the Tribune asked again, and this time the agency relented. But the box of documents officials turned over hardly referenced the mtDNA project, aside from a single e-mail referencing a “US Department of Justice/National Institute of Justice and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology/Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory.” When the Tribune pressed health officials about the missing research files, they produced them, saying it was an oversight, and that the documents had been overlooked in their initial search.
The records the agency initially released paint a portrait of an agency that walked on eggshells around the baby blood spot collection — from 2001, when lawmakers first debated whether to warehouse the cards, through last year, when they passed a law in response to the civil rights lawsuit giving parents better options to opt out.
In 2001, when the Legislature considered a newborn-blood-spot collection bill that state health officials didn’t like, they took action. In an e-mail chain, an associate commissioner described how she and another official “planted questions” and “planted a note” with sympathetic lawmakers (former state Reps. Bob Glaze, D-Gilmer, and Glen Maxey, D-Austin) before a public hearing. “I suspect this bill will die …” wrote the official, who no longer works for the state. (The bill didn’t make it out of committee.) Glaze couldn’t be reached for comment. Maxey said he couldn’t recall the bill but routinely met with health department staffers to pick their brains about pertinent bills.
E-mails indicate that in 2003, when the agency started to release blood spots for outside research, officials knew they had a parental consent issue on their hands — but tried to avoid it. When a researcher proposed a project, the director of birth defects monitoring wrote that he’d “prefer to not have to go through” the process of getting consent. Another agency official responded that parents “never consented for blood spots to be used for research. … On the other hand, I believe [the health department] already uses (deidentified?) blood spots for some research, so that might not be a big deal.”
In 2006, when the agency was beginning to store blood spots at Texas A&M, the university asked for permission to put out a press release announcing it. The agency balked. “What do you think of this idea? Makes me a bit nervous,” the manager of the birth defects surveillance division wrote in an e-mail to five of his colleagues. Another responded: “This makes me nervous. Genetic privacy is a big ethical issue & even though … approval is required for use of the spots in most situations and great care is taken to protect the identity of the spots, a press release would most likely only generate negative publicity.” One official asked the university not to do it; the university agreed.
When asked about the e-mails, agency officials said a decision not to send out a press release “isn’t an indication of our level of openness.” “We don’t routinely do news releases about every agency initiative or contract,” Williams says, “and obviously this is a sensitive topic.” But they acknowledged that staff members are not permitted to “plant” questions with lawmakers. Given that the e-mail exchange happened in 2001, and that the employee no longer works for the agency, Williams says, “there is no way for me to definitively tell if there was any punishment.”
Scientists say baby blood spot research is incredibly valuable, and that the genetic origins of human diseases can be traced through mtDNA samples if there are enough available. They say there are fail-safe methods for stripping identifying information from the samples, so they could never be used for illicit purposes. The problem, some say, is that scientists have used the public’s unease with the subject as an excuse not to talk about it. “As scientists, we’ve failed in teaching people about genetics in the United States,” says Dr. Bennett Van Houten, a molecular oncologist at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute who formerly worked at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. “We need to work harder at that — at teaching them the facts.”
Williams says that at the direction of lawmakers last session, parents now receive more information at the hospital about the storage and use of bloodspots and are given a better opportunity to opt out. While the agency is destroying more than 5 million baby blood spots collected before the new legislation took effect, she says, officials are not asking outside researchers — including those at the Armed Forces lab — to return the samples they were given. But they must destroy them when they are done with them.
“The core mission is to screen all babies for life-threatening disorders,” Williams says. “We care deeply about this mission, and we have made some changes and are moving forward.”
By Thomas C. Mountain | Online Journal | February 24, 2010
ASMARA, Eritrea — The “richest man in the world,” Microsoft’s Bill Gates, recently announced that he was making a $10 billion donation towards finding vaccines to prevent some of the world’s worst diseases.
Malaria is the number one killer in Africa. From what I’m hearing about $1 billion of BIll Gates donation/tax write-off is for research to find a vaccine to prevent malaria.
The African country of Eritrea, where I live, has reduced malaria mortality by 85 percent in the last seven years. How? By using basic public health methods. By distributing pesticide treated mosquito nets and organizing the pesticide retreatment every three months of mosquito nets. By habitat eradication. And by community medical clinics for immediate treatment.
Malaria is a parasite-based disease noted for its variety and quick development of resistance to medication. Any “vaccine,” if even a billion dollars is able to produce such, would have a limited lifetime and new, patented medications would have to be bought by Africa’s poor every few years.
So “donating” a billion dollars to develop a malaria “vaccine” could turn into tens of billions of dollars in drug sales in Africa alone, and Bill Gates, through his drug company investments, will quietly pocket more African blood money.
All the while a very successful malaria mortality reduction program is operating, effectively, safely and affordably, in Eritrea.
Why isn’t this being publicized internationally? Could it be that such a program is not going to put billions into the pockets of the drug lords of Western finance?
Bill Gates and other assorted financial terrorists through their control of the Western media and “aid” organizations are suppressing implementation of a successful malaria mortality program while investing in a malaria drug addiction for Africa’s people.
These financial terrorists are perfectly willing to see millions die in Africa while they search for their next highly profitable “wonder drug” to cure malaria, all the while deliberately ignoring, worse, engineering a white out/cover up of what could prevent millions of deaths, let alone uncounted suffering.
And HIV/AIDS, Africa’s N0.2 killer? Bill Gates is said to be providing over a billion dollars for research into developing an AIDS vaccine. AIDS, a virus based disease, has already shown to have varieties and to have developed resistance to the medications developed to treat it. Like the flu vaccine, a new AIDS vaccine would most likely have to be developed every few years to combat the latest strain of the AIDS virus; another gold mine of new, patented medications for sale to Africa’s sick.
Eritrea has reduced HIV/AIDS infection rates by 40 percent, according to Physicians for Peace, and is the only country in Africa to reduce HIV/AIDS. How? By using public health education promoting condom use everywhere in the country. Over a billion for a “vaccine” that may never work while an effective program that can reduce HIV/AIDS infection by 40 percent, safely and affordably can be immediately implemented?
Remember, Western billionaires didn’t get that way by being out to really help anyone. Millions die in Africa as the Western drug lords and their financial terrorist stockholders reap their billions in blood money. All the while real heroes in the Eritrean public health service struggle to save people’s lives.
So don’t believe that BIll Gates is up to any good when he donates $10 billion to vaccine research, just the opposite. And don’t forget that as far at the USA is concerned in Africa, no good deed goes unpunished, and, once again, Eritrea is subject to UN Security Council sanctions.
Email thomascmountain at yahoo.com.