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Friends of Israel Initiative: The neoconservatives’ eastern front

By Tom Mills | Pulse Media | July 20, 2010

Today in the House of Commons Britain’s leading neoconservative organisation the Henry Jackson Society hosts the UK launch of the Friends of Israel Initiative.  This new organisation is the latest of a number of well connected advocacy groups in the UK seeking to deflect criticism of Israel’s illegal occupation and repeated human rights abuses.

The Friends of Israel Initiative says it ‘aims to create a network linking private and public figures who agree with the idea of an Israel fully anchored in the West’.  This network will not have to be built from scratch; rather Friends of Israel will be able to integrate itself into extremist networks already well established in UK politics.

The Friends of Israel Initiative is an international operation and was first launched in Paris on 31 May – the same day that Israeli soldiers boarded the Mavi Marmara in international waters and killed nine activists.  The organisation was reportedly established by Dore Gold, an American born Israeli who heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and was formerly an adviser to Ariel Sharon and the current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.[1]

Gold also has links with UK politicians.  In January 2007 he led an Israeli delegation at a conference at the House of Commons debating possible measures against Iran.[2]  The conference resulted in an Early Day Motion signed by 68 MPs urging ‘the British Government to put forward a resolution at the United Nations Security Council demanding President Ahmadinejad be brought to trial on the charge of incitement to commit genocide’.[3]  The Motion was introduced by the neoconservative MP Michael Gove, a signatory to the Henry Jackson Society’s Statement of Principles and now a Cabinet Minister.

Dore Gold also spoke at the House of Commons more recently in October last year, again focusing on Iran and its supposed threat to the western world.[4]  He was invited to speak by Patrick Mercer MP who as the Conservative’s Shadow Security Minister developed connections with a number of dubious figures involved in fabricating terror threats and spreading alarmist propaganda on Iran.[5]

The leading light in Dore Gold’s Friends of Israel Initiative is the former Prime Minister of Spain José María Aznar.  Whilst in office Aznar committed Spain to the invasion of Iraq in defiance of Spanish public opinion.  He has since been appointed President of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, the 175 subsidiaries of which without exception supported the Iraq War.[6]

Other leading figures in Friends of Israel include the former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton – another key architect of the Iraq War – and the Ulster Unionist politician turned Tory David Trimble.  Trimble chaired Dore Gold’s House of Commons conference in January 2007 and has recently been appointed an ‘international observer’ to Israel’s inquiry into the Gaza Aid Flotilla killings.

The group’s source of funding is not disclosed but it is almost certainly bankrolled by its billionaire founder member Robert Agostinelli.  An Italian-American, Agostinelli made his fortune working in Mergers and Acquisitions in London in the 1980s and is currently Managing Director of private equity firm the Rhone Group.  Agostinelli provided funds for the Presidential campaigns of John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, has praised Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas Sarkozy, and once described the left-wing as ‘a cancer that needs to be eradicated’.[7]  He has called Barak Obama a ‘soulless serpent from the deep’ and considers him to be an agent of Marxists who have ‘finally stuck the raw edge of their poisoned sword into the heart of the glorious genie of capitalism and freedom.’[8]

Like its likely paymaster, Friends of Israel is quite open about its extremist agenda.  Last month The Times – a News Corporation subsidiary – published an article by José María Aznar outlining his reasons for promoting the organisation.  In the article Israel is portrayed not as a violent rogue state but as an outpost of Western civilisation and an indispensable strategic asset:

Israel is our first line of defence in a turbulent region that is constantly at risk of descending into chaos; a region vital to our energy security owing to our overdependence on Middle Eastern oil; a region that forms the front line in the fight against extremism. If Israel goes down, we all go down.[9]

In common with many right-wing and neoconservative commentators Aznar chastises ‘The West’ for its supposed failure to assert itself over those who he claims ‘oppose Western values’:

The West is going through a period of confusion over the shape of the world’s future. To a great extent, this confusion is caused by a kind of masochistic self-doubt over our own identity; by the rule of political correctness; by a multiculturalism that forces us to our knees before others; and by a secularism which, irony of ironies, blinds us even when we are confronted by jihadis promoting the most fanatical incarnation of their faith.[10]

This notion of a Western civilisation weakened by liberal guilt is commonly held on the right and is propagated by Britain’s Islamophobic think-tanks.  It is a perception apparently impervious to the reality of growing Islamophobia on Europe’s streets and a proliferation of anti-Muslim legislation.  For Aznar and those like him, this repression is part of protecting Europe’s ‘Judeo-Christian roots’ and Israel is seen as being on the frontline in this imagined war.  Friends of Israel’s founding statement declares that an ‘assault on Israel is itself an assault on Judeo-Christian values.’  The founding statement also provides some clues on the exact nature of this unholy ‘assault’ and the ‘Judeo-Christian values’ so under threat.  It describes with concern how ‘principles of human rights and universal jurisdiction’ are now being ‘turned into weapons against Israeli democracy’.

Tom Mills is a freelance investigative researcher and a doctoral candidate at the University of Strathclyde. He also writes for PULSE.

– Notes –
[1] ‘Lord Trimble’s ‘Israel-friendly’ reputation’, Jewish Chronicle. 17 June 2010

[2] Dore Gold, Biography, http://www.dore-gold.com/biography.php [Accessed 14 July 2010]

[3] Early Day Motion. EDM 900. IRAN AND ISRAEL. 19.02.2007.

[4] Henry Jackson Society, The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran defies the West By Ambassador Dore Gold, 12 October 2009, [Accessed 14 July 2010]

[5] see Tom Mills and David Miller, ‘The British amateur terror trackers: A case study in dubious politics’, Spinwatch, 26 August 2009 and Tom Mills and David Miller, ‘Réalité EU: Front group for the Washington based Israel Project?’, Spinwatch, 30 October 2009

[6] Roy Greenslade, ‘Their master’s voice’, Guardian, 17 February 2003. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2003/feb/17/mondaymediasection.iraq

[7] Tony Barrett, ‘Rhône Group should not expect a warm welcome at Anfield’, Times Online, 16 March 2010. Available at: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/football/premier_league/liverpool/article7065086.ece

[8] Robert F. Agostinelli, ‘Letter: Behold the naked hand of socialism’, The Washington Times, 30 March 2010; p.2.

[9] José María Aznar, ‘Support Israel: if it goes down, we all go down’, The Times, 17 June 2010; p.31

[10] José María Aznar, ‘Support Israel: if it goes down, we all go down’, The Times, 17 June 2010; p.31

July 19, 2010 Posted by | Wars for Israel | Leave a comment

BBC: Israel Training PKK

May 04, 2008

The BBC has obtained evidence that Israelis have been giving military training to Kurds in northern Iraq.

A report on the BBC TV programme Newsnight showed Israeli experts in northern Iraq, drilling Kurdish militias in shooting techniques.

PKK officials have refused to comment on the report and Israel has denied it knows of any involvement.


See also:

Israel Escalating Terror in Turkey?

Aletho News | June 22, 2010

And:

Turkey’s tourist resorts threatened with terrorist campaign

The Telegraph | July 18, 2010

Analysts say the PKK, which is considered as terrorist group by the EU and the US and is on Britain’s list of proscribed groups, threats promise a major escalation of the conflict, at a time when Turkey is in the spotlight following its championing of the Palestinian cause in Gaza.

July 19, 2010 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, Video, Wars for Israel | Leave a comment

The Government and Banking Social Security Theft

Phil’s Stock World | July 17, 2010

How does one decrease the cost of labor in America?  Well first, you have to bust the unions. Check.

Then you have to create a pressing need for people to work – perhaps give them easy access to credit and then get them to go so deeply into debt that they will have to work until they die to pay them off. Check.

It also helps if you push up the cost of living by manipulating commodity prices. Check.

Then, take away people’s retirement savings. Check.

Lower interest rates to make savings futile and interest income inadequate. Check.

And finally, threaten to take away the 12% a year that people have been saving for retirement by labeling Social Security an “entitlement” program – as if it wasn’t money Americans worked their whole lives to save and gave to the government in good faith. Check.

The practice of using every dollar of the surplus Social Security revenue for general government spending continues to this day.  The 1983 payroll tax hike has generated approximately $2.5 trillion in surplus Social Security revenue which is supposed to be in the trust fund for use in paying for the retirement benefits of the baby boomers.  But the trust fund is empty!  It contains no real assets.  As a result, the government will soon be unable to pay full benefits without a tax increase.  Money can be spent or it can be saved.  But you can’t do both. Absolutely none of the $2.5 trillion was saved or invested in anything.

That is how the largest theft in the history of the world was carried out.  300M people worked and saved their whole lives to set aside $2.5Tn into a retirement system that, if it were paying a fair compounding rate of 5% interest over 40 years of labor (assuming an even $62Bn a year was contributed), would be worth $8.4Tn today – enough money to give 100M workers $84,000 each in cash!  The looting of FICA hid the massive deficits of the last 30 years in the Unified Budget. Presidents and Congresses were able to reduce taxes on the wealthiest Americans without complaint from the deficit hawks, because they benefited. The money went directly from the pockets of average Americans into the pockets of the rich.

Now that it is time to repay those special bonds in the Trust Fund, we are inundated in opinion pieces in the leading newspapers and magazines complaining about Social Security and its horrible impact on the budget.  Government finances have been trashed by foolish tax cuts, unpaid wars, tax loopholes for corporations and the very wealthy, the failures of economists, the greedy search for greater returns in financial markets and the collapse of moral values in giant businesses but Social Security is supposed to be the problem that needs fixing…

Social Security is not “broken” the money is in the Trust Fund. But the people who manage the finances of the United States don’t want to repay the bonds held by the Trust Fund. They want to default selectively against average people, their fellow citizens, who paid their taxes expecting to be protected in their retirement…  Full article

July 19, 2010 Posted by | Deception, Economics | Leave a comment

60 years ago, first Defense Sec’y said ‘Zionist pressure’ endangered US security, all the way to Afghanistan

By Philip Weiss on July 19, 2010

I’ve kept dropping hints about this. It’s time to post some excerpts about the birth of Israel from the Forrestal Diaries– by James V. Forrestal, the first U.S. Secretary of Defense.

Forrestal is famous of course for tragedy: Not long after these thoughts were set down, Forrestal was sacked by Truman in March 1949 and died two months later, apparently jumping from a high floor of the Bethesda Naval Hospital, where he was being treated for depression.

My introduction. 1, know your narrator: James Forrestal was a serious man to the point of humorless, rigid/repressed, intelligent, self-made.

The son of a contractor, he became a Roaring 20s socialite and a partner at Dillon, Read in New York and was not at all political in the partisan sense. His Quixotic quest as a Truman appointee was to depoliticize the Palestine issue, to get Republicans and Democrats to cut a secret deal not to pander so that the U.S. interest could be sorted out by elected leaders and their aides without political pressure. It’s a crazy quest in a democracy– but then, just as crazy as the idea that one special interest should essentially control policy in this area unto Armageddon.

2, One lesson here is that Partition, which the UN Gen’l Assembly approved on Nov. 29, 1947 amid heavy lobbying, was opposed by almost all the wise men whom Truman had assembled to steer the ship of state, and meanwhile pushed by political rabbis, including Clark Clifford and Truman’s former business-partner Eddie Jacobson, and other Zionists or envoys for Zionists who beat a track into Truman’s office. Bear in mind that the ’48 election, with Thomas Dewey challenging Truman, is in the wings;

3, Note that Forrestal meets with two powerful senators from opposing parties, J. Howard McGrath, who heads Democratic campaigns, and Arthur Vandenberg, a key supporter of Dewey for president, and they both essentially say, It’s Chinatown, Jake! The issue is too radioactive in terms of donations for us to go near.

Repeat: Money– not voters.

4, All the pressures we see today to nullify Obama’s policy-making visa vis a Palestinian state were there back then, and Forrestal identified them as a lobby. The question I ask again and again on this site is, How stupid are the American media and the people, that an assertion is made by serious people not once but again and again, from Robert Lovett to Forrestal to Rabbi Elmer Berger to Paul Findley to George Ball to Walt and Mearsheimer and David Hirst and Lawrence Wilkerson– asserted again and again over 7 decades, an assertion at the core of our foreign policy today, and the media still won’t touch it?

5, Forrestal was hounded by Zionists. Because of his stance on Israel, columnists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson smeared him, and exhumed his unhappy marriage, including his role when his glamorous wife was robbed of jewelry on Fifth Avenue 20 years before these events. Speculating about the cause of Forrestal’s tailspin is not my focus. I would only point out the Terrible Pathos/Tragic Arc of being a Defense Secretary who is calling for military support to protect the life of U.N. envoy Folke Bernadotte in Jerusalem in summer ’48 and he fails, Bernadotte is killed, and a few months later, he too dies.

And Jerusalem is not internationalized, and Zionist territorial gains well beyond Partition are memorialized. Tragedy. The tragedy of the unfolding of extremist Zionism.

6, The diaries were heavily-edited, and often paraphrased, by editor Walter Millis. (The unredacted original, at Princeton, apparently has even stronger material than what follows.) OK, take it away Mr. Secretary:

29 August 1947 Cabinet

[Under Secretary of State Robert] Lovett reported on [Palestine]…He said that the tendency in the General Assembly toward taking decisions by majority vote could constitute a danger to the United States. There was some indication of a lash-up between the Asiatic peoples and those of the Middle East on a color-versus-white basis. He said that while much emphasis had been placed upon the distress and commotion among the Jews, there was an equal danger of solidifying sentiment among all of the Arabian and Mohammedan peoples against us.

4 September 1947 Cabinet Lunch

At the end of the lunch [Robert] Hannegan [Postmaster General] brought up the question of the President’s making a statement of policy on Palestine, particularly with reference to the entrance of a hundred and fifty thousand Jews into Palestine. He said he didn’t want to press for a decision one way or the other but simply wanted to point out that such a statement would have a very great influence and great effect on the raising of funds for the Democratic National Committee. He said very large sums were obtained a year ago from Jewish contributors and that they would be influenced in either giving or withholding by what the President did on Palestine.

29 September 1947 [Conversation with president]

I asked the President whether it would not be possible to lift the Jewish-Palestine question out of politics. The President said it was worth trying although he obviously was skeptical.. [I said] It was dangerous to let it continue to be a matter of barter between the two parties…

6 October 1947 Cabinet Lunch

Hannegan brought up the question of Palestine. He said many people who had contributed to the Democratic campaign fund in 1944 were pressing hard for assurances from the administration of definitive support for the Jewish position in Palestine. The President said that if they would keep quiet he thought that everything would be all right, but that if they persisted in the endeavor to go beyond the report of the United Nations Commission there was grave danger of wrecking all prospects for settlement.

7 November 1947 Cabinet

[Middle East is a tinder box, warns Secretary of State George Marshall]  I repeated my suggestion, made several times previously, that a serious attempt be made to lift the Palestine question out of American partisan politics. I said that there had been general acceptance of the fact that domestic politics ceased at the Atlantic Ocean and that no question was more charged with danger to our security than this particular one.

26 November 1947

Lunch today with Senator McGrath.

[Summary is by Walter Millis, editor of diaries] Forrestal derived several points from McGrath’s conversation. In the first place, Jewish sources were responsible for a substantial part of the contributions to the Democratic National Committee, and many of these contributions were made “with a distinct idea on the part of the givers that they will have an opportunity to express their views and have them seriously considered on such questions as the present Palestine question.” There was a feeling among the Jews that the United States was not doing what it should to solicit votes in the U.N. General assembly in favor of the Palestine partition. (To this Forrestal objected that it was “precisely what the State Department wanted to avoid; that we had gone a very long way indeed in supporting partition and that proselytizing for votes and support would add to the already serious alienation of Arabian good will.”) …

[The two men discuss a possible Gallup poll to see if Americans would support use of force to preserve Partition.]

I hoped that Senator McGrath would give a lot of thought to this matter because it involved not merely the Arabs of the Middle East, but also might involve the whole Moslem world with its four hundred millions of people—Egypt, North Africa, India and Afghanistan.

1 December 1947

…Lovett reported on the result of the United Nations action on Palestine over the week end [vote in favor of Partition]. He said he had never in his life been subject to as much pressure as he had been in the three days beginning Thrusday morning and ending Sunday night. [Herbert Bayard] Swope, Robert Nathan, were among those who had importuned him… The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, which has a concession in Liberia, reported that it had been telephoned to and asked to transmit a message to their representative in Liberia directing him to bring pressure on the Liberian government to vote in favor of partition. The zeal and activity of the Jews had almost resulted in defeating the objectives they were after.

I remarked that many thoughtful people of the Jewish faith had deep misgivings about the wisdom of the Zionists’ pressures for a Jewish state in Palestine, and I also remarked that the New York Times editorial of Sunday morning pointed up those misgivings when it said, “Many of us have long had doubts… concerning the wisdom of erecting a political state on a basis of religious faith.” I said I thought the decision was fraught with great danger for the security of this country….

3 December 1947

Lunch today with [former Secretary of State] Jimmy Byrnes. We talked Palestine… He said that David Niles [adviser to Truman, pro-Zionist] and Sam Rosenman were chiefly responsible for the President’s decision [partition]; that both had told the President that Dewey was about to come out with a statement favoring the Zionist position on Palestine, and that they had insisted that unless the President anticipated this movement New York State would be lost to the Democrats. ….

I said I thought it was a most disastrous and regrettable fact that the foreign policy of this country was determined by the contributions a particular bloc of special interests might make to the party funds…

13 December 1947

At the Gridiron Dinner tonight I spoke to Governor Dewey about Palestine and posed to him the question of getting nonpartisan action on this question, which I said was a matter of the deepest concern to me in terms of the security of the nation. The Governor said he agreed in principle but that it was a difficult matter to get results on because of the intemperate attitude of the Jewish people who had taken Palestine as the emotional symbol, because the Democratic Party would not be willing to relinquish the advantages of the Jewish vote….

(…[T]o his [Dewey's] inquiry as to what we could do now, I said there would inevitably be two things coming up: (1) the arming of the Jews to fight the Arabs (2) unilateral action by the U.S. to enforce the decision of the General Assembly.

At this point Vandenberg interjected to say that on the question of unilateral action he was completely and unequivocably [sic] against such action because it would breed in his opinion a wave of violent anti-Semitism in this country.)

16 January 1948

[Millis writes that Forrestal prepares a paper for Lovett; and that Forrestal] had discussed the question, the paper concluded, “with a number of people of the Jewish faith who hold the view that the present zeal of the Zionists can have the most dangerous consequences, not merely in their divisive effects in American life, but in the long run on the position of the Jews throughout the world.”

[Lovett produced a paper from the State Department, Millis continues] This, as Forrestal paraphrased it, concluded that the U.N. partition plan was “not workable,” adding that the United States was under no commitment to support the plan if it could not be made to work without resort to force; that it was against the American interest to supply arms to the Jews while we were embargoing arms to the Arabs, or to accept unilateral responsibility for carrying out the U.N. decision…

Forrestal [again per Millis] felt that the State Department was “seriously embarrassed and handicapped by the activities of Niles at the White House in going directly to the President on matters involving Palestine.

“… I gave it as my view that the Secretary of State could not avoid grasping the nettle of this issue firmly, and that it was too deeply charged with grave danger to this country to allow it to remain in the realm of domestic politics.”

12 February 1948 Meeting-National Security Council

[A]ny serious attempt to implement the General Assembly’s recommendation on Palestine would set in train events that must finally result in at least a partial mobilization of U.S. forces, including recourse to the Selective Service.

3 February 1948

[Discusses idea of depoliticizing it with late president's son, Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr, a storng supporter of Jewish state]

I thought the methods that had been used by people outside of the Executive branch of the government to bring coercion and duress on other nations in the General Assembly bordered closely onto scandal. … I said I was forced to repeat to him what I had said to Senator McGrath in response to the latter’s observation that our failure to go along with the Zionists might lose the states of New York, Pennsylvania and California—that I thought it was about time that somebody should pay some consideration to whether we might not lose the United States. …

Had lunch with B[ernard]. M. Baruch. …

He took the line of advising me not to be active in this particular matter and that I was already identified, to a degree that was not in my own interests, with opposition to the United Nations policy on Palestine. He said he himself did not approve of the Zionists’ actions, but in the next breath said that the Democratic Party could only lose by trying to get our government’s policy reversed….

August 1948…

It was also on the 11th that there came… an urgent request from the State Department for a detail of enlisted men from the Mediterranean Fleet to assist Count Bernadotte, the United Nations mediator…

21 October 1948 National Security Council meeting

[according to an assistant’s note.] “Mr. Forrestal said that actually our Palestine policy had been made for ‘squalid political purposes.’… He hoped that some day he would be able to make his position on this clear.”

July 19, 2010 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Wars for Israel | 1 Comment

Early release for soldier who killed British activist

Ma’an - 19/07/2010

Bethlehem – An Israeli soldier convicted of shooting dead a British peace activist has been granted an early release from prison, the Israeli press reported Monday.

A military committee accepted Taysir Hayb’s appeal, and he will be free in one month, the Israeli news site Ynet reported Monday.

Hayb shot Tom Hurndall, who died aged 22, during an incident on Gaza’s southern border.

Witnesses reported that the British citizen was watching children play on a street in Rafah when Israeli soldiers opened fire. Most of the children fled, but three, aged between four and seven, were paralyzed by fear.

Hurndall took one of the children to safety and was returning for the two others when Hayb shot him in his forehead.

After a two hour delay at the border, Hurndall was taken to hospital, where he remained in a coma until his death nine months later.

Hayb, an award-winning marksman, faced court after intense pressure from the British government and Hurndall’s parents and in his initial testimony, claimed that he had aimed four inches from Hurndall’s head but missed.

He also claimed Hurndall was wearing military fatigues, although photographic evidence showed he was wearing a fluorescent orange jacket to show he was a foreigner.

The soldier later changed his testimony and “admitted to firing in proximity to an unarmed civilian as a deterrent,” an Israeli army statement at the time said.

An Israeli military court convicted Hayb in 2005 and sentenced him to eight years in prison. During the trial, Hayb said that a policy of shooting unarmed civilians existed at the time.

Hurndall’s killing came one month after US activist Rachel Corrie was killed by a military bulldozer as she tried to stop the demolition of a Palestinian home in Rafah, and one month later British journalist James Miller was shot dead by an Israeli sniper in the same area.

A British inquest in 2006 found Hurndall was intentionally killed. “Make no mistake about it, the Israeli defense force have today been found culpable by this jury of murder,” the family’s lawyer Michael Mansfield said after the hearing.

In his appeal for early release, Hayb told the committee he is engaged and wishes to start a family, Ynet reported.

In journals released by Hurndall’s family since his death, the young photographer wrote, “I want to be proud of myself. I want more. I want to look up to myself and when I die, I want to smile because of the things I have done, not cry for the things I haven’t done.”

July 19, 2010 Posted by | Militarism, Solidarity and Activism | Leave a comment

The Real U.S. Government

By Glenn Greenwald | July 19, 2010

The Washington Post‘s Dana Priest demonstrates once again why she’s easily one of the best investigative journalists in the nation — if not the best — with the publication of Part I of her series, co-written with William Arkin, detailing the sprawling, unaccountable, inexorably growing secret U.S. Government:  what the article calls “Top Secret America.”  To the extent the series receives much substantive attention (and I doubt it will), the focus will likely be on the bureaucratic problems it documents:  the massive redundancies, overlap, waste, and inefficiencies which plague this “hidden world, growing beyond control” — as though everything would better if Top Secret America just functioned a bit more effectively.   But the far more significant fact so compellingly illustrated by this first installment is the one I described last week when writing about the Obama administration’s escalating war on whistle blowers:

Most of what the U.S. Government does of any significance — literally — occurs behind a vast wall of secrecy, completely unknown to the citizenry. . . . Secrecy is the religion of the political class, and the prime enabler of its corruption. That’s why whistle blowers are among the most hated heretics. They’re one of the very few classes of people able to shed a small amount of light on what actually takes place.

Virtually every fact Priest and Arkin disclose underscores this point.   Here is their first sentence:  “The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.”  This all “amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight.”  We chirp endlessly about the Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, the Democrats and Republicans, but this is the Real U.S. Government:  functioning in total darkness, beyond elections and parties, so secret, vast and powerful that it evades the control or knowledge of any one person or even any organization.

Anyone who thinks that’s hyperbole should just read some of what Priest and Arkin chronicle.  Consider this:  “Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications.”  To call that an out-of-control, privacy-destroying Surveillance State is to understate the case.  Equally understated is the observation that we have become a militarized nation living under an omnipotent, self-perpetuating, bankrupting National Security State.  Here’s but one flavoring anecdote:

Command centers, internal television networks, video walls, armored SUVs and personal security guards have also become the bling of national security.

“You can’t find a four-star general without a security detail,” said one three-star general now posted in Washington after years abroad. “Fear has caused everyone to have stuff.  Then comes, ‘If he has one, then I have to have one.’ It’s become a status symbol.”

What’s most noteworthy about all of this is that the objective endlessly invoked for why we must acquiesce to all of this — National Security — is not only unfulfilled by “Top Secret America,” but actively subverted by it.  During the FISA debate of 2008 — when Democrats and Republicans joined together to legalize the Bush/Cheney warrantless eavesdropping program and vastly expand the NSA’s authority to spy on the communications of Americans without judicial oversight — it was constantly claimed that the Government must have greater domestic surveillance powers in order to Keep Us Safe.  Thus, anyone who opposed the new spying law was accused of excessively valuing privacy and civil liberties at the expense of what, we are always told, matters most:  Staying Safe. [...]

Long before the Priest/Arkin article, Tim Shorrock has been documenting this sprawling, secretive, merged public/private world that combines unchecked surveillance and national security powers with enormous corporate profits.  So long as the word Terrorism continues to be able to strike fear in the hearts of enough citizens and media stars — as Communism did before it — the political class, no matter who is elected, will be petrified to oppose any of this, even if they wanted to, and why would they want to?  They wouldn’t and they don’t.  And it thus grows and becomes more powerful, all justified by endless appeals to The Terrorists.

That’s why it is difficult to imagine — short of some severe citizen unrest — how any of this will be brought under control.  One of the few scenarios one can envision for such unrest involves growing wealth disparities and increasingly conspicuous elite corruption.  In The New York Times today, investment banker and former Clinton Treasury official Roger Altman announced that the alleged “tension between President Obama and the business community” can be solved only if the political class is willing to “fix Social Security” — i.e., to slash Americans’ retirement security.  Sooner or later (probably sooner), one way or another (probably this way), that’s going to happen.  It’s inevitable.  As George Carlin put it several years ago, in an amazingly succinct summary of so many things:

And now, they’re coming for your Social Security money – they want your fucking retirement money – they want it back – so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street.  And you know something?  They’ll get it.  They’ll get it all from you sooner or later.  Because they own this fucking place.  It’s a Big Club: and you’re not in it.

That’s really the only relevant question:  how much longer will Americans sit by passively and watch as a tiny elite become more bloated, more powerful, greedier, more corrupt and more unaccountable — as the little economic security, privacy and freedom most citizens possess vanish further still?

How long can this be sustained, where more and more money is poured into Endless War, a military that almost spends more than the rest of the world combined, where close to 50% of all U.S. tax revenue goes to military and intelligence spending, where the rich-poor gap grows seemingly without end, and the very people who virtually destroyed the world economy wallow in greater rewards than ever, all while the public infrastructure (both figuratively and literally) crumbles and the ruling class is openly collaborating on a bipartisan, public-private basis even to cut Social Security benefits?

The answer, unfortunately, is probably this:  a lot longer.  And one primary reason is that our media-shaped political discourse is so alternatively distracted and distorted that even shining light on all of this matters little.  The New York Times‘ Peter Baker had a good article this weekend on how totally inconsequential squabbles dominate the news more or less continuously:  last week’s riveting drama was the bickering between the White House and Nancy Pelosi over Robert Gibbs’ warning that Democratic control of the House was endangered.  Baker quotes Democratic strategist Chris Lehane as follows:  “Politics in D.C. have become Seinfeldesque.  Fights about nothing.”

If you read and write about politics full-time and are thus forced to subject yourself to the political media — as I am — what’s most striking aren’t the outrages and corruptions, but the overwhelming, suffocating, numbing stream of stupidity and triviality that floods the brain.  One has to battle the temptation to just turn away and ignore it all.  Every day, day after day, is consumed by some totally irrelevant though distracting melodrama:  what Sarah Palin wrote on her Facebook page, some “outrageous” snippet of a comment made by John Boehner or Harry Reid, some “crazy,” attention-attracting statement from some fringe idiot-figure or TV blowhard that is exploited for superficial partisan gain or distraction value (hey, look over there:  I think Michelle Bachmann just said something outrageous!!!!).  I can’t recall an incident that better captures our political culture than this, from a Politico report on one of last week’s fascinating Royal Court dramas — the insult-trading between Palin and Mitt Romney:

Asked about the comments by POLITICO, a longtime Palin aide unloaded on Romney’s staff. . . . “For Washington consultants to sit around and personally disparage the governor anonymously to reporters is unfortunate and counterproductive and frankly immature,” said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A Palin aide, hiding behind Politico-granted anonymity, complaining that petty comments were made anonymously by a Romney aide:  a perfect expression of what our politics are.  The Drudge and Politico sewers still rule our world — “fights over nothing” — and happily distract us from Top Secret America, what it does and what it takes.

And whatever these petty distractions fail to achieve, active media distortion takes care of the rest.  This superb article by Mark Prendergast, the Ombudsman for Stars & Stripes, details the billions of dollars secretly (and probably illegally) spent by the Pentagon — much of it on private contractors — to subject not only foreign nationals but also American citizens to pure propaganda campaigns.  The Pentagon propaganda program exposed by David Barstow is but a representative sliver of the weapons used by the National Security State and its private partners to control media behavior and shape public opinion.  Billions upon billions of dollars are spent for this propagandistic purpose at exactly the time that real journalistic outlets are failing.  Television journalists think they’re covering war zones when they submit to Pentagon embedding and then broadcast what they’re allowed to see, while repeating government lies about war without challenge.  And when all else fails, we’re told to look over there at all those Bad, Evil things done by those Other Countries (hey, look at Pakistan, whose citizens are pumped full of myths and disinformation while their wealthy manipulate the law so as to not pay their fair share of taxes!! – and Iran detains people without charges and China tortures!! — can you believe them?).

Meanwhile, the Real U.S. Government — the network of secret public and private organizations which comprise the National Security and Surveillance State — expands and surveils and pilfers and destroys without much attention and with virtually no real oversight or accountability.  It sucks up the vast bulk of national resources and re-directs the rest to those who own and control it.  To their immense credit, Dana Priest and William Arkin will spend the week disclosing the details of what they learned over the past two years investigating all of this, but the core concepts have long been glaringly evident.  But Sarah Palin’s Twitter malapropism from yesterday will almost certainly receive far more attention than anything exposed by the Priest/Arkin investigation.  So we’ll continue to fixate on the trappings and theater of government while The Real Government churns blissfully in the dark — bombing and detaining and abducting and spying and even assassinating — without much bother from anyone.

July 19, 2010 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Civil Liberties, Militarism | Leave a comment

100 settlement units underway in Beit Jala

Ma’an – 19/07/2010

Ramallah: Israel recently began construction on 100 new settlement units in the southern West Bank district of Bethlehem, Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouthi announced Sunday.

The latest settlement construction is underway on Palestinian land in the towns of Beit Jala and Al-Walaja, as US Middle East envoy visits the region for the latest round of indirect talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Barghouthi said.

He said Israeli authorities began overturning land and surrounding it with barbed wires, which he said was an attempt to thwart Palestinian land owners from protesting the confiscation. He said the work began secretly to avoid “the exposure of the Netanyahu government’s false claims of freezing settlement construction.”

Israel announced it would halt settlement expansion and building in the West Bank. However, a report issued by the Islamic Christian Commission for Support of Jerusalem and the Holy Places in May alleged that Israel plans to expand its Jerusalem municipal borders into the West Bank with the Al-Walaja settlement, which will include a 12,000-unit housing complex.

Another 32 units are planned for the Palestinian village of Tuqu, east of Bethlehem, Barghouthi added, saying settlement expansion has increased since Israel declared its moratorium on building.

Since the decision, he said, all projects which were under construction continued in the West Bank and Jerusalem while thousands of new settlement units have been approved by the government.

July 19, 2010 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | Leave a comment

Guantánamo Bay detainee says interrogation record has been redacted

Prisoner says his complaints about Bagram detention centre were blacked out by British security service officers

Rajeev Syal and Owen Bowcott | The Guardian | 18 July 2010

A former Guantánamo Bay detainee says that key exchanges from his interrogation by British security service officers have been blacked out or deliberately omitted from the notes to hide the agents’ complicity in torture. Other exchanges, he says, have been removed simply to hide evidence of spurious and potentially embarrassing lines of questioning.

Omar Deghayes, one of six UK detainees suing the government over their clandestine removal to the US base in Cuba, was able for the first time to read notes from his interrogations after they were published by the Guardian last week. He alleges that they provide an inaccurate impression of what took place, and that a true record of his meetings with British security would have shown that he made specific allegations of ill-treatment, starvation and beatings to MI6 and MI5 officers.

One of the notes he has now been able to examine, released through the high court as part of his case against the government and the security services, blacks out, or redacts, repeated questions put to him about his involvement in the Chechen freedom movement, he says. This was a false allegation that, unbeknown to Deghayes, was the key reason for his being held by the US authorities for five years.

Deghayes says that other passages, if they had not been redacted, would have revealed that he was asked repeatedly to justify scuba-diving lessons taken at a Sussex swimming club, and that he was questioned about Britain’s immigrant community.

His allegations will increase pressure on the government to appoint an independent judge to decide whether the notes were redacted in a legitimate manner.

All these notes emerged last week from a court case brought by Deghayes and five other UK claimants over their removal to Guantánamo Bay. The files show the intricate involvement of British agents in the questioning and detention of young Muslims with connections to Britain.

Deghayes, a Libyan-born political refugee, had lived in Britain for many years before moving to Afghanistan. He fled to Pakistan after the US invasion but was was arrested in 2002 and handed over to the US authorities. He was then subjected to a sequence of interrogations in Islamabad and Bagram detention centre in Afghanistan, and eventually moved to Guantánamo Bay in 2002. He was released from detention in 2007.

What has been removed from the record of interrogations, Deghayes said after reading the notes, was almost as significant as what has actually been revealed. Before each session with MI6 officers, he said, he complained about the torture he was subjected to and his conditions.

“I told them about the treatment – the shackles, being beaten, lack of sleep, how sick I was. But these [comments] don’t appear. The national interest appears to have been used as a convenient shield for them,” said Deghayes, who now lives near Brighton. “Some of [their accounts are] reasonably accurate in terms of the conversations. What’s left in is to show me in a bad light. It’s highly selective. It’s censorship.”

Much of the material still withheld, he says, relates to lines of questioning pursued by the security services that would now show them in an embarrassing light. “They claimed I went to Iran to negotiate on behalf of Osama bin Laden but it was all part of their deception. I was never in Iran. In one of the first sessions, they asked me about Chechnya, and I told them I had never been there. But this question does not appear,” he said. Years after the interrogations took place, Deghayes discovered from his lawyer that this allegation had been central to his incarceration, because he had been wrongly identified. Sometimes, lines of questioning that were repeatedly fired at Deghayes over many months turned out to be completely spurious. These have been omitted or redacted from the British agents’ notes, he says. “There was a fat man from MI5 who kept asking me about scuba diving. I had been learning in Saltdean lido [before leaving Britain]. I hadn’t even passed my test. [Nonetheless] they kept asking me questions about it and showing me pictures from military manuals about scuba divers carrying mines. But there is no reference in the records here of my scuba diving – it is just too embarrassing [for them].”

There is a brief mention in one document, which has not been redacted, of his complaints about the “head-braces and lockdown positions” used by the Americans in Bagram. “I had complained at that point about being chained to wire mesh on the wall and having a hood drawn tightly round my neck when I was in Bagram. I don’t know what else they mean by ‘head-braces’,” he said.

“I was very sick in Bagram. I had serious malaria. They took my temperature and said it was dangerously high. They didn’t know what the problem was. [In the record of the interview] they are trying to say that everything was clear and I was fit. I wasn’t alert. I had had no food for 45 days. They interpreted [my condition] as me lying about how unwell I was. Whenever I was not co-operating, they decided I must be lying. I didn’t even have my wits about me then.

“They even imply that my ‘mumbling’ [referred to on one Bagram interview session] was proof that I was not being honest. What the documents don’t say is that it was such a relief to talk to anyone.”

His responses to questioning, as recorded in the notes, he says, have often been wilfully misinterpreted. In his first session in Islamabad in 2002, he was desperate to persuade the MI5 officer that he was a British national and therefore entitled to support from the embassy.

For that purpose, he initially pretended to be his elder brother, who held British nationality. “In the interview in Islamabad, I said I was my older brother, because he’s a British national. I said Omar had gone to Libya. I told ‘Andrew’, the MI5 interrogator, that I was a British national and he should help get me out of there. Eventually I admitted to being Omar.” That plea for help appears in the documents, he said, to be used as evidence of a more sinister type, to show that it was another terrorist deception.

On several occasions Deghayes was asked, in effect, to spy on his community and friends back in Britain. “They had books of hundreds of photographs of people. They wanted me to go through them and identify the people. I didn’t recognise anyone in the book, so they said: ‘You are not helping us. You will be sent back to Libya, where they will get tortured.’ I [tried not] to show my fear.”

Notes that record his last interrogation in Bagram before being transferred to Guantánamo in July 2002 do not show the dismissive way he was treated by Andrew, he said. This moment, Deghayes said, was devastating, because he felt abandoned by his adopted country.

According to the notes made by Andrew, he knew that Deghayes had previously lied and gave him one last chance to tell the truth. Deghayes said that the note failed to record the following exchange: “I told him that I had only ever told him the truth. He just turned to someone outside the door and said: ‘This bandit doesn’t want to talk.’ I thought he was saying what he really felt. He thought that we were bandits and deserved whatever we got,” he said.

The notes remain incomplete, he said, because they show only one record of an interview with UK agents in Guantánamo. Deghayes recalls three or four.

“Where are the notes for the other meetings?” he said.

Deghayes was to spend almost six years in Guantánamo before being released.

He told the Guardian in January this year how he was so brutally attacked by a guard during his time there that he was left blind in one eye.

July 19, 2010 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Subjugation - Torture | Leave a comment

Qualitative Military Edge — assuring Israeli capacity for brutality with impunity

By Paul Woodward on July 19, 2010

On October 15, 2008, just three weeks before the US presidential election, George Bush signed into law the Naval Vessel Transfer Act which had been sponsored by one of Israel’s most loyal supporters in the US Congress, Rep. Howard Berman.

The new law, which from its title might have been assumed to relate primarily to the sale of ships from the US Navy to foreign governments, actually had a much more important purpose: to place every American president under a legal obligation to ensure that Israel maintains its military dominance over the Middle East.

What had previously been a matter of foreign policy, suddenly became law — law written to meet the interests of a foreign government.

Israel’s regional hegemony is legally enshrined in the concept of Israel’s “Qualitative Military Edge” (QME). The US Government must now guarantee that “the sale or export of the defense articles or defense services will not adversely affect Israel’s qualitative military edge over military threats to Israel.”

The law states:

[T]he term ‘qualitative military edge’ means the ability to counter and defeat any credible conventional military threat from any individual state or possible coalition of states or from non-state actors, while sustaining minimal damages and casualties, through the use of superior military means, possessed in sufficient quantity, including weapons, command, control, communication, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities that in their technical characteristics are superior in capability to those of such other individual or possible coalition of states or non-state actors. [Emphasis mine.]

Andrew J Shapiro is the Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs. One of his primary responsibilities is to ensure that Israel maintains its qualitative military edge. Does he serve the US government or the Israeli government? It’s far from clear.

This is how he presented the United States’ obligation to serve Israel’s interests in a speech he delivered at the Brookings Institute in Washington on Friday:

For decades, the cornerstone of our security commitment to Israel has been an assurance that the United States would help Israel uphold its qualitative military edge — a commitment that was written into law in 2008. Israel’s QME is its ability to counter and defeat credible military threats from any individual state, coalition of states, or non-state actor, while sustaining minimal damages or casualties. The Obama Administration has demonstrated its commitment to Israel’s QME by not only sustaining and building upon practices established by prior administrations, but also undertaking new initiatives to make our security relationship more intimate than ever before.

Each and every security assistance request from the Israeli Government is evaluated in light of our policy to uphold Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge. At the same time, QME considerations extend to our decisions on defense cooperation with all other governments in the region. This means that as a matter of policy, we will not proceed with any release of military equipment or services that may pose a risk to allies or contribute to regional insecurity in the Middle East.

The primary tool that the United States uses to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge is security assistance. For some three decades, Israel has been the leading beneficiary of U.S. security assistance through the Foreign Military Financing program, or FMF. Currently, Israel receives almost $3 billion per year in U.S. funding for training and equipment under FMF. The total FMF account is $5 billion annually and is distributed among some 70 countries. So it is a testament to our special security relationship that each year Israel accounts for just over 50 percent of U.S. security assistance funding distributed through FMF.

The Obama Administration is proud to carry on the legacy of robust U.S. security assistance for Israel. Indeed, we are carrying this legacy to new heights at a time when Israel needs our support to address the multifaceted threats it faces.

For Fiscal Year 2010, the Administration requested $2.775 billion in security assistance funding specifically for Israel, the largest such request in U.S. history. Congress fully funded our request for FY 2010, and we have requested even more — $3.0 billion — for FY 2011. These requests fulfill the Administration’s commitment to implementing the 2007 memorandum of understanding with Israel to provide $30 billion in security assistance over 10 years.

This commitment directly supports Israel’s security, as it allows Israel to purchase the sophisticated defense equipment it needs to protect itself, deter aggressors, and maintain its qualitative military edge. Today, I can assure you that — even in challenging budgetary times — this Administration will continue to honor this 10-year, $30 billion commitment in future fiscal years. [Emphasis mine.]

Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin challenged Shapiro during Q&A:

[I]t pains me to hear you sound more like an agent of the Israeli government than a U.S. representative because as you travel around the world you see that this “special relationship” really endangers us, makes us more hated around the world. So I wonder if you would be willing to step in other shoes and go to Gaza, see the results of the Israeli invasion there, see the destruction, talk to people in Gaza, talk to the elected government, which is Hamas. You don’t have to like them to talk to them. I also wonder if you’ve spent any time with people in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to see what it feels like for Palestinians, the daily humiliations they suffer.

And I also wonder, given the financial crisis here at home and the great needs of impoverished nations around the world, couldn’t you think of a better use of $3 billion than giving it to a wealthy country like Israel that is abusing the human rights of Palestinians on a daily basis?

Benjamin drew a round of applause — Shapiro declined to respond directly to her challenge.

As Shapiro noted, the concept of Israel’s QME has been in use for decades, but it was only when the Bush administration let Israel draft American law, that QME turned into a license to use force with impunity.

In January 2008, William Wunderle, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, and Andre Briere, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, wrote in a paper for The Washington Institute for Near East Policy:

The US commitment to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) is a long-standing tradition that every president since Lyndon Johnson has maintained and reiterated. The basic principle behind this commitment is simple: Israel is a bastion of liberal representative government in the Middle East, and, as such, its continued survival is a vital national interest of the United States. To ensure this longtime ally’s continued existence in a sea of nations that reflexively call for its destruction, Israel must be able to defend itself militarily and deter potential aggression. In this effort, Israel will always be militarily outnumbered with regard to the artillery, tanks, and combat aircraft that can be deployed by a coalition of Arab states. Israel’s continued survival can be ensured only if it is able to maintain qualitative military superiority, relying on superior weaponry, tactics, training, leadership, and other factors of military effectiveness to deter or defeat its numerically superior adversaries in the Middle East.

In other words, the US policy advocated that Israel should be able to counter a quantitative disadvantage with a qualitative advantage. It said nothing about supporting Israel’s use of that advantage at minimal cost. The expression after all was qualitative military edge — not supremacy.

These analysts noted however that:

Israel defines QME as “the ability to sustain credible military advantage that provides deterrence and, if need be, the ability to rapidly achieve superiority on the battlefield against any foreseeable combination of forces with minimal damage and casualties.”

The Israeli phrasing went straight into US law which says that Israel must maintain the ability to use military force “while sustaining minimal damages and casualties.”

Let’s put that in context. The law was signed just two years after Israel had visibly lost its qualitative military edge in Lebanon in 2006 when it faced Hezbollah, and less than three months before it used the assault on Gaza to once again demonstrate its ability to wreak massive destruction while sustaining minimal damages and casualties.

The war on Gaza, which President-elect Obama watched in silence, showed not merely the brutality that Israel is willing to use under America’s political protection, but the extent to which Israel’s military agenda is empowered through its ability to control the United States Government.

The war on Gaza was QME in action.

July 19, 2010 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Militarism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | Leave a comment

   

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