WASHINGTON – When the Barack Obama administration unveiled its plan last week for an improvised State Department-controlled army of contractors to replace all U.S. combat troops in Iraq by the end of 2011, critics associated with the U.S. command attacked the transition plan, insisting that the United States must continue to assume that U.S. combat forces should and can remain in Iraq indefinitely.
But the differences between the administration and its critics over the issue of a long-term U.S. presence may be more apparent than real.
All indications are that the administration expects to renegotiate the security agreement with the Iraqi government to allow a post-2011 combat presence of up to 10,000 troops, once a new government is formed in Baghdad.
But Obama, fearing a backlash from anti-war voters in the Democratic Party, who have already become disenchanted with him over Afghanistan, is trying to play down that possibility. Instead, the White House is trying to reassure its anti-war base that the U.S. military role in Iraq is coming to an end.
An unnamed administration official who favours a longer-term presence in Iraq suggested to New York Times correspondent Michael Gordon last week that the administration’s refusal to openly refer to plans for such a U.S. combat force in Iraq beyond 2011 hinges on its concern about the coming Congressional elections and wariness about the continuing Iraqi negotiations on a new government.
Vice-President Joe Biden said in an address prepared for delivery Monday that it would take a “complete failure” of Iraqi security forces to prompt the United States to resume combat.
Obama referred to what he called “a transitional force” in his speech on Aug. 2, pledging that it would remain “until we remove all our troops from Iraq by the end of the next year”.
He also declared an end to the U.S. “combat mission” in Iraq as of Aug. 31. But an official acknowledged to IPS that combat would continue and would not necessarily be confined to defending against attacks on U.S. personnel.
The administration decided on the transition from military to civilian responsibility for security at an interagency meeting the week of Jul. 19. It made the broad outlines of the plan public at an Aug. 16 State Department news briefing and another briefing the following day, even though crucial details had not been worked out.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Middle Eastern Affairs Colin Kahl and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Michael Corbin presented the administration plan for what they called a “transition from a military to civilian relationship” with Iraq.
The plan involves replacing the official U.S. military presence in Iraq with a much smaller State Department-run force of private security contractors. Press reports have indicated that the force will number several thousand, and that it is seeking 29 helicopters, 60 IED-proof personnel carriers and a fleet of 1,320 armored cars.
The contractor force would also operate radars so it can call in airstrikes and fly reconnaissance drones, according to the New York Times Aug. 21.
Kahl argued that the transition is justified by security trends in Iraq. He said al Qaeda is “weaker than it’s ever been”, that Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army has been “largely disbanded”, and that there is no strategic threat to the regime.
That provoked predictable criticism from those whose careers have become linked to the fate of the U.S. military in Iraq and who continue to view the United States as having enormous power to decide the fate of the country.
Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, a frequent visitor to Iraq at the invitation of Gen. David Petraeus and his successor Gen. Ray Odierno, dismissed the idea of giving the former U.S. military role in Iraq to the State Department and Kahl’s assessment of security trends as far too optimistic.
Some officials were talking “as if we’re on the five-yard line,” Pollack told the Christian Science Monitor. “We’re on more like the 40 – and it’s probably our 40.”
Pollack argued that the U.S. has great influence in Iraq, which it must use for “persuading” Iraqi leaders to do various things. If the U.S. troop presence ends in 2011, he argued, U.S. power would suffer.
Other variants of that argument were offered by Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations and Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, both of whom have been frequent guests of the U.S. command in Iraq and have generally hewed to the military view of Iraq policy.
Former ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who shared the media spotlight and adulation of Congress with Petraeus in 2007- 2009 before retiring from the Foreign Service, opined that the military needs to keep enough presence in Iraq to encourage Iraq’s generals to stay out of politics.
The real position of the administration over the issue is not much different from that of its critics, however. In answer to a question after a briefing Aug.17, Kahl said, “We’re not going to abandon them. We’re in this for the long term.”
Then Kahl observed, “Iraq is not going to need tens of thousands of [American] forces.” That is consistent with the figure of 5,000 to 10,000 being called for by the military, according to the administration official quoted in New York Times Aug. 18.
At another point, Kahl said, “We’ll just have to see what the Iraqi government will do,” adding that the “vast majority of political actors in Iraq want a long-term partnership with the United States.”
It is been generally assumed among U.S. officers and diplomats and the Iraqi officials with whom they talk that once a new Iraqi government is agreed on, it will begin talks on a longer-term U.S. troop presence, as former National Security Council official Brett H. McGurk told the New York Times last month.
At a Pentagon press conference Feb. 22, Gen. Odierno, U.S. overall commander in Iraq, referred to the purchase by the Iraqi government of “significant amounts of military material from the United States,” including M1A1 tanks and helicopters.
Odierno said he expected it would require a “small contingent” to “train and advise” the Iraqis. That formula implicitly anticipated a continuation of the U.S. combat presence in the guise of “advisory and assistance” units.
But the administration apparently made it clear to Odierno and others that they were not to contradict the administration’s public posture that U.S. troops were being withdrawn by the end of 2011.
During the interagency meeting that adopted the Obama administration transition plan, Odierno told reporters at a breakfast meeting Jul. 21 he expected U.S. troops to be down to zero by the end of 2011.
Meanwhile, the Nouri al-Maliki government is not admitting publicly that it would consider such an extension of the U.S. troop presence. The spokesman for al-Maliki said Aug. 12 there are alternatives to keeping U.S. troops in the country, such as signing “non-aggression and non- interference pacts” with neighbours.
*Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam”, was published in 2006.
Ten foreign investors have poured 5.1 billion dollars into Iran’s petrochemical industry, the head of the National Iranian Petrochemical Company (NIPC) says.
“The NIPC has set up a firm in the United Kingdom to attract foreign investors and finance [petrochemical projects],” Abdolhossein Bayat said on Monday.
“We have entered negotiations with foreign investors on three big projects with an estimated value of $2.2 billion,” Bayat told IRNA.
He stressed that Tehran was firmly pursuing development plans aimed at becoming the number one producer of petrochemical products and materials in the region in terms of value.
Last year, the overall production of petrochemical products was about 4 million tons which indicates 95 percent of Iran’s petrochemical development plans has been implemented, Bayat said.
NIPC earlier announced that Turkey plans to assist Iran with the construction of two petrochemical plants in southern and western Iran.
The announcement comes as the United States has voiced impatience with continued foreign cooperation in Iran’s energy sector, despite its latest unilateral sanctions targeting Iran’s oil and gas industry.
Last week, the US urged Turkish officials to comply with Washington’s sanctions against Iran. A Turkish foreign ministry source said Ankara had responded that it did “not feel itself bound to adhere to any sanctions other than those enacted by the UN.”
Why Israel deserves “singling out”
Joel Kovel relates some critical aspects of Zionist influence in the US for our consideration:
• the degree to which US foreign policy is configured to give Israel its impunity, one small instance being Obama’s recent threat to Turkey that he would cut off military contracts unless it lays off Israel for the Mavi Marmara incident; meanwhile the US reinforces Israeli military superiority with the latest in free ultra technology for its F-16 fighter fleet;
• the shameless debasement of our Congress, with hundreds of elected officials doing the bidding of a foreign power, again to whitewash the Mavi Marmara murders, thereby granting impunity once again;
• the plague of Islamophobia now raging, inflamed by fury over the “Ground-zero Mosque,” and more generally, over the terrors stirred up by 9-11. But who pauses to reflect upon that awful day and the fact that it provided the one incontrovertible instance of highly suspicious involvement by a foreign state in the havoc, namely, the most odd finding of five “moving men,” who turned out to be Mossad agents filming from New Jersey the collapse of the towers while jubilantly giving each other high fives, who were released back to their home country after 71 quiet days in FBI custody, and whose “employer” moved very hastily back to Israel, after stripping his office of all evidence? How did they know to be there, cameras primed, at that time? Why were they so happy? No point in asking. The propaganda machine has constructed mass consciousness so as to obscure any thinking about the matter, which no longer exists so far as official political culture goes. Such questions are highly impertinent. After all, one does not want to “single” Israel out. That would be anti-Semitic, wouldn’t it? This Reichstag Fire leads in another direction, that of the Islamic Threat.
• and then, more war, as in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and now the latest looming danger, the Persian menace. That this mainly exists in the mind of the Zionist Power Structure, here and in Israel, is anything but reassuring, given the authority of that mind. Suppose, then, that the exquisitely positioned pundits and opinion-makers get their wish of precipitating us into a bombing war with Iran, Israel’s #1 existential threat, and Iran bombs back. This could be a new Board Game: there goes the global economy; and there looms, as ever, our friend and ally’s “Samson Option” using its nuclear arsenal that nobody is to know about, but that has, in the meantime, totally wrecked any efforts to bring nuclear proliferation under control thanks to universal knowledge of the bad faith of the United States for its complicity over the years under the influence of a certain “lobby” . . .
In sum, if you care about the baleful influence of the United States in the world you cannot set Israel aside as an isolated issue. This is the precise opposite of “singling Israel out.” It is, rather, a demand to integrate Israel within the manifold of imperial/economic/military power, and taking the steps necessary to bring this power under rational control.
A bombed out biscuit factory in Gaza. (Mel Frykberg/IPS)
GAZA CITY, occupied Gaza Strip – Just off Omar al-Mukhtar Street, Gaza City’s main thoroughfare, in a narrow, sandy alleyway is a little second-hand clothing shop. In the dimly lit store, with only intermittent electricity for some hours a day at best, sits a single battered and aging sewing machine.
This is where Khaled Nassan, a father of four children, tries in vain to eke out a living repairing and selling second-hand clothing. Nassan charges the equivalent of 25 cents on average to repair an item. Gazans can’t afford to pay the dollar it used to cost. Nassan is lucky if he takes home $20 a day.
“There is almost no business. I’m surviving on about $500 a month, and I have several children at university. My family is dependent on aid from the [UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA)]. Without them we would not survive,” Nassan tells IPS.
Prior to Israel’s systematic strangulation of the coastal territory (which began during the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada or uprising in 2000 but peaked with its hermetic sealing in 2007 when Hamas took over) Nassan had a clothing factory which employed 250 Gazans who in turn supported nearly 3,000 dependents.
“I used to travel to Israel regularly for business to meet my Israeli business partners and visit stores where my clothing was sold. I would also purchase material there to bring back to Gaza but now I can’t import any material,” says Nassan.
“Previously my profits ranged around $20,000 monthly. I used to give my kids five dollars daily pocket money; now they are lucky if they get 50 cents. They have to walk long distances to and from university. We can’t even afford cheap shared taxis and I’m concerned about being able to fund their future education.”
Nassan is a harsh critic of the ruling Hamas regime. Eighty percent of Gaza’s population is now dependent on foreign aid, much of it from UNRWA. Despite Israel’s recent decision to ease the blockade it is still forbidding Gazan factories and companies from exporting their goods, and preventing the import of vital raw materials and spare parts and machinery.
Gaza’s economy was heavily dependent on the furniture, clothing, textile and food production sectors selling their goods outside Gaza.
Israeli authorities originally argued that the blockade on almost everything but bare humanitarian aid was for security reasons. However, following a lawsuit by the Israeli rights group Gisha the Israeli government was forced to acknowledge that the siege was a political move.
“A country has the right to decide that it chooses not to engage in economic relations or to give economic assistance to the other party to the conflict, or that it wishes to operate using ‘economic warfare,'” the government said.
Nassan is one of hundreds of formerly prosperous Gazan businessmen whose businesses and livelihoods have been decimated by the blockade and Israel’s devastating military assault on the strip during Israel’s invasion of Gaza at the end of 2008 beginning of 2009.
IPS visited the remains of a former three-story biscuit and potato chips factory belonging to Wael al-Wardah in northern Gaza a few hundred meters from the Israeli border.
The factory used to employ 150 individuals who supported approximately a thousand dependents. Its annual turnover was $10-12 million.
Craters, walls pockmarked with bullet holes, twisted and blackened machinery and equipment and sagging ceilings are all that remain after the Israelis employed F-16s, tank fire and bulldozers against the factory.
Al-Wardah, 43, father of seven from Gaza City, inherited the biscuits and potato chips factory from his father. His factory and the factories belonging to his four brothers who used to produce ice cream, sweets, potato chips and biscuits suffered 80 percent destruction and more than $10 million worth of damage during the Israeli bombardment. Twenty-two trucks and vehicles were also destroyed.
During the last three days of Israel’s 2008-09 winter assault, the Israeli Air Force embarked on an intensive bombing campaign aimed at the coastal territory’s economic infrastructure.
Israel had employed its “Dahiyeh doctrine,” which advocates disproportionate force in asymmetrical warfare against the civilian infrastructure of its enemies. Al-Wardah is adamant that no fighters were in the vicinity of the factories, because the Israelis were nearby.
Despite the bloody past, al-Wardah and his brothers are keen to start afresh. But they have been unable to import construction material to rebuild their factories. Al-Wardah is also unable to bring into Gaza machinery he bought in Europe.
“I have more than a million dollars of raw materials and specialist machinery sitting in Israel’s Ashdod port. It costs me $400 monthly to store the goods, but I still can’t bring them into Gaza,” he told IPS.
“Because I’m unable to continue my previous business I’m trying to start a pickled vegetable business, so I’ve brought in some equipment through the smuggling tunnels with Egypt. But this is very expensive and the tunnels get regularly bombed too.”
Karl Schembri from Oxfam in Gaza says easing the blockade doesn’t suffice.
“Gazans continue to suffer. The siege has to be completely lifted. There has to be free movement for people, and if the economy is to recover the import of raw material has to be allowed. Concrete and steel are needed to rebuild after the immense destruction,” Schembri told IPS.
The Canadian Boat to Gaza will bring back with it Gaza-produced goods to support trade with the besieged territory. (Free Gaza)
Canadian activists looking to assist in the breaking of the siege of Gaza plans to launch a Canadian Boat to Gaza this fall. However, this Canadian version of the Freedom Flotilla that seeks to break the siege has a twist.
In partnership with the Free Gaza Movement (the group behind numerous boats to the Gaza Strip), the Canadian Boat to Gaza initiative, headed in part by Canadian activist Sandra Ruch, seeks to also take goods out of Gaza. In this way, the Canadian activists hope to assist Palestinians in Gaza by helping them, as declared in their mission statement, “assert their right to export, trade and provide for themselves rather than be at the mercy of international aid.” It is often forgotten that the siege of Gaza, intensified after the Hamas elections victory in 2006, prohibits all exporting from the Strip. This is the other half of the siege, which helps to corrode the economic independence of the Palestinian people.
The launch of the project was made at the first fundraiser for the Canadian Boat to Gaza on 14 July 2010 at the Steel Workers Hall located in downtown Toronto. Having been to the Gaza Strip twice, Ruch has seen the effects of the suffocating blockade. “Every time that I went to Gaza,” recalled Ruch, “the people told me, ‘You know, we’re not farm animals, we can’t just be fed — we need to be free.'” The organizers estimate the initiative will cost at least $300,000 CDN ($294,663 USD) and fundraising efforts are going on at the moment to reach that amount before the fall sailing season starts in mid-September of this year.
This theme of self-empowerment and self-reliance ran throughout the kickoff fundraiser, which also featured Israeli economist Shir Hever, who gave a presentation on the different types of aid that go into the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hever also discussed how Israel as the occupying power manipulates the management of this aid in ways that allow it to benefit politically and economically from the occupation. Hever detailed the ways in which international aid indirectly takes the heat off Israel’s responsibilities (and crimes), and how the Canadian Boat to Gaza project can contribute to the solution of these problems (Hever’s talk is available on Youtube).
Ultimately, the flotilla movement allows the humanitarian problem in Gaza to be tended to with dignity. While incorporating a mechanism by which the people of Gaza can profit on the ground from the humanitarian support, Hever also emphasized that the flotilla initiative itself is a “strong political message,” forcing “the world to focus on the political and humanitarian disaster that is the Gaza blockade as well as the Palestinian question in general.” By helping to carry Palestinian exports, the act brings to attention the Palestinian right to trade with the outside world (something that Israel, as the occupying power, is supposed to respect).
Hever’s research puts aid to the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in political context. During the years of the Oslo accords from around 1994 to 2000, the international community (especially the European Union) began to funnel more humanitarian and developmental aid to the occupied territories, amounting to approximately $7 billion USD (see “International Aid to the Palestinians Under Occupation,” Alternative Information Center, 7 July 2010).
Instead of being makers of their own destiny, the Palestinians are forced into being passive consumers of mostly Israeli goods. The Palestinians in Gaza, who are not allowed any exports under the siege, and a very, very limited amount of imports from the United Nations (the amount of which fluctuates at the whim of Israeli officials), suffer most from these economic absurdities. All the while, Israel stands to gain the most financially by collecting service fees and customs fees that inevitably accompanies the aid itself. This makes the Canadian flotilla an even more urgent initiative. If successful, it will allow (in addition to raising awareness of the occupation) the Palestinians to fight for some semblance of economic freedom in the shape of exporting their goods to the rest of the world.
Being dependent on aid forever is not compatible with sovereignty. Being under occupation and dependent on international aid is even worse. As the occupying power, Israel’s responsibilities are partially blurred by the donations from international aid agencies. Thus, as Hever stated at the Canadian Boat to Gaza fundraising launch, “The Freedom Flotilla initiative has the exact traits that are the opposite of the aid that goes through the official channels of the UN and the World Food Program. … This is an opportunity to send aid without paying any taxes to Israel, without letting Israel decide what goes in and doesn’t go in, and without allowing Israel to control who will be the staff … many of the aid agencies working in the occupied territories have staff members disqualified by Israel.”
The seven Turkish and American activists who lost their lives on the Mavi Marmara last May exemplified solidarity and their sacrifice helped to further crack the fortress of Israeli hasbara or propaganda. The Canadian Boat to Gaza initiative hopes to honor the legacy of such efforts. In a time when conventional methods of international aid have proven to be largely ineffective in the face of a brutal and manipulative occupation, the Canadian Boat to Gaza seeks to help Palestinians achieve dignity and independence.
Steven Zhou is a student and activist at the University of Toronto in Canada. He is a contributor to The Canadian Charger, and runs his own blog, (Un)Conventional Analysis at www.worldbfree88.wordpress.com.
Is British Attorney-General Grieve up to the job?
Dr Kelly allegedly committed suicide when identified as the high-profile within-government dissenter from the Blair government’s lies about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction immediately prior to the Iraq war. His postmortem files are secret.
Although, when in opposition, Mr Grieve undertook to review the Kelly records, now that he is in government he declines to do so. He insists that Kenneth Clarke, the justice secretary, should make any decision to release them. He is quoted as saying,
- It’s right to say that hunches, theories are not enough – there has to be evidence. And if the evidence is available and people feel that they have the evidence, then if they send it to me it will be considered
- I have no reason to think … and not a shred of evidence to suggest that there has been a cover up. I know that some people have put some theories forward but if you’re going to put a theory forward like that you need some evidence and as matters stand at the moment I haven’t seen.
One can only ask: “Is Mr Grieve up to the job?” This is nonsense and obfuscation of the most puerile sort. The onus is not on conspiracy theorists to produce evidence of a cover up. The onus is on Mr Grieve to justify keeping Dr Kelly’s postmortem records secret, away from a public inquest. We have never heard a valid reason for this.
Mr Grieve has said: “I have been given no evidence to suggest an alternative cause of death.” That is because Mr Grieve will not release the postmortem report for independent examination and establishment of the facts. That is where such evidence will be if it exists.
As for evidence of a cover up, it lies on his desk. A group of doctors has written to him to say that Dr Kelly could not possibly have died from cutting the matchstick-sized ulnar artery given by Lord Hutton as his means of suicide. Perhaps Mr Grieve does not understand that this means that other causes of Dr Kelly’s death should be considered. Conceivably, he has not realized that the doctors have introduced an element of suspicion into Dr Kelly’s death. He shows no curiosity himself about the matter, which begs the question whether he is the man to hold the post of the government’s highest legal officer.
Mr Grieve speaks of theories. Let us consider the theory held by President Bush and Prime Minister Blair that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons. A theory that Saddam had such weapons, a nuclear programme and mobile chemical factories was presented as fact to the United Nations by the American secretary of state in the presence of Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, who willingly accepted it.
Britain and the United States devastated Iraq, killed and made millions refugees on the basis of these theories – which were proven false, absolutely groundless, without a shred of truth. It was a war justified by speculation and supposition.
Dominic Grieve himself voted in favour of this murderous, illegal war without examining the baseless theories proposed for it. He clearly had no curiosity about facts at that time and still seems to be disinterested in them.
Dr David Kelly was a man of facts. His death was the result of conflict between facts of which he had personal knowledge as a weapons inspector and the manufactured theories and suppositions, even lies, peddled by Anthony Blair and swallowed whole by members of parliament who were too lazy, stupid or lacking in morality to accept the factual reports from the weapons inspectors, of whom Dr Kelly was one. His death is an integral part of this war of deceit and the facts about it need to be made known. The doctors who have requested sight of Dr Kelly’s postmortem papers are showing the sort of curiosity and spirit of inquiry as to facts that Mr Grieve should have shown before voting for the Iraq war.
Dominic Grieve has learned nothing from the Iraq war. At least Kenneth Clarke, the justice secretary, voted against it. He made a good speech at that time and an excellent one in favour of a judicial enquiry into the war – which parliament failed to approve. Let us turn our backs on Dominic Grieve in disgust and look to Kenneth Clarke to release these papers. Mr Clarke is one of very few politicians of principle and good sense. We live at a time when such men are desperately needed.
Theorists and conspiracy theorists, such as myself, who wish to know the truth about Dr Kelly’s death are not inventing conspiracy theories. We are investigating the genuine, proven conspiracy of the war that the Blair-Brown government peddled to this country and Europe and inflicted on the Iraqi people.
If Dr Kelly did not commit suicide then he was assassinated. Let us use terms carefully. Assassination is not merely murder. It implies targeted, planned killing by professional murderers. It has always been considered a despicable crime for this reason, although our government now carries it out in Afghanistan in collusion with American practice.
Dominic Grieve’s professed solicitousness for the feelings of Dr Kelly’s family will apparently influence him in dealing with Dr Kelly’s papers. It is unprecedented for family feelings to influence an investigation involving suspicion of foul play. That suspicion now exists. I can only say that if a member of my family were to die in suspicious circumstances I would move heaven and earth to determine the truth. Who would not? Mr Grieve’s mock solicitousness is contemptible.
The truth is surely that Mr Grieve recognizes the position and does not like it. The Kelly files are clearly a hot potato and he does not want the responsibility of dealing with them. His nonsensical response and reluctance to release them, when he could easily do so and put an end to speculation, increases the probability that there is something to hide.
Colombian NGO La Corporacion Colectivo de Abogados Jose Alvear Restrepo claims that former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s signing of a military pact with the U.S. was an act of treason, an abuse of power, and a breach of public duty.
The NGO announced that they will present the accusations before a Congress commission, following the Colombian Constitutional Court’s ruling on Tuesday that the pact Uribe signed in 2009 is unconstitutional until ratified by Congress.
According to the lawyers’ collective, the pact “compromises national sovereignty by ceding considerable portions of strategic territory, of airspace, maritime space, and the electromagnetic spectrum to the U.S., as well as granting them a set of unrestricted privileges not granted to the national population.”
The NGO alleges that Uribe, along with his Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez, Defense Minister Gabriel Silva, and Interior and Justice Minister Fabio Valencia Cossio, compromised Colombia’s national sovereignty by “an arbitrary and unilateral act,” which constitutes abuse of authority and treason.
The NGO requested that the House of Representative’s Commission on Accusations and the prosecutor general investigate their allegations. It also called on current President Juan Manuel Santos to reconsider the base agreement “because of its damaging effects on Colombia’s diplomatic relations in the region, but above all because of its negative effect on national sovereignty and its impact on human rights and international humanitarian law.”
Following the Constitutional Court’s ruling, the pact must be ratified by Colombian House of Representatives.
Former commander of the Colombian armed forces General Freddy Padilla said Wednesday that U.S. Congress would need to ratify the pact if Colombia’s Congress did, and that the U.S. would not do so “due to their foreign policy circumstances.”
U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Wednesday that Washington hopes Bogota “takes the necessary steps to preserve the bilateral military agreement,” and that in the meantime cooperation will continue under pre-existing agreements.
Santos said his government will study the agreement and “decide if it is worth continuing with the pact or not.”
According to Constitutional Court President Mauricio Gonzalez Cuervo, details such as “access points and the use of air bases, free movement within these installations, the freedom to carry arms” led the court to decide that the agreement was not simply an extension of previous treaties.
The controversial pact, which granted the U.S. access to at least seven Colombian military bases and civilian airports, was signed by U.S. President Barack Obama and Uribe in August 2009, but was never approved by the country’s Congress. According to Uribe, the pact was a continuation of existing policy and did not need congressional approval.
The agreement caused tensions in the region, as neighbors Ecuador and Venezuela consider U.S. military presence in Colombia a threat to their sovereignty.
The pact was also controversial within Colombia, with leftist opposition party Polo Democratico labelling the pact a violation of Colombian independence and sovereignty.
Israel has been subject to some bad publicity recently. In 2008-09, it launched a brutal military campaign in the Gaza Strip that killed over 400 Palestinian children. In May, 2010, bumbling Israeli commandos murdered nine nonviolence activists on the relief flotilla Mavi Marmara. It only got worse for Israel when it was revealed that soldiers stole and sold personal items such as laptops from the ship. Last week, former Israeli soldier Eden Abergil posted photos onto facebook showing her preening in front of blindfolded and despondent Palestinian prisoners, in some instances mocking those prisoners with sexual undertones. The photos were part of an album entitled “IDF—the best time of my life.”
While Abergil’s pictures may not seem as abhorrent as the Gaza and Mavi Marmara brutality—Abergil, for her part, described her behavior as nonviolent and free of contempt—all three actions are intimately connected. First of all, we must dispel the notion that Abergil’s photos are nonviolent. As with the Abu Ghraib debacle, a sexualized and coercive humiliation is being visited on the bodies of powerless, colonized, and incarcerated subjects, which by any reasonable principle is a basal form of violence; there is also the obvious physical violence of Palestinians being bound and blindfolded, presumably in or on their way to prisons nobody will confuse with the Mandarin Oriental.
More important, these recent episodes merely extend an age-old list of Israeli crimes and indignities that illuminate a depravity in the Zionist enterprise itself. What is noteworthy about Israel’s three recent escapades is that more and more people are starting to pay attention to its crimes and indignities. In so doing, more and more people are questioning the origin and meaning of Zionism—that is, the very idea of a legally ethnocentric Israel.
I would like to address this piece to those who have undertaken such questioning or to those who are prepared to initiate it. I would urge you not to limit your critique of Israel only to its errors of judgment or its perceived excesses; it is more productive to challenge the ideology and practice of Zionism itself. There is no noble origin or beautiful ideal to which the wayward Jewish state must return; such yearnings are often duplicitous mythmaking or romanticized nostalgia. Zionists always intended to ethnically cleanse Palestinians, a strategy they carried out and continue to pursue with horrifying efficiency.
Likewise, Zionism was always a colonialist movement, one that relied on the notions of divine entitlement and civilizational superiority that justified previous settlement projects in South Africa, Algeria, and North America. Zionism, by virtue of its exclusionary outlook and ethnocentric model of citizenship, is on its own a purveyor of fundamental violence. The bad PR to which Israel sometimes is subject today is a reflection of changed media dynamics, not a worsening of Israel’s behavior.
The 2008-09 Gaza invasion, the attack on the Mavi Marmara, and Abergil’s facebook photos aren’t anomalous or extraordinary. They are the invariable result of a Zionist ideology that cannot help but view Palestinian Muslims and Christians as subhuman, no matter how ardently its liberal champions assert that Zionism is a liberation movement. Zionism has the unfortunate effect of proclaiming that one group of people should have access to certain rights from which another group of people is excluded. There is nothing defensible in this proposition.
Here, then, are four reasons why Americans (and all other humans regardless of race or religion) should oppose Zionism:
1. Zionism is unethical and immoral: Because Zionists claim access to land and legal rights that directly obviate the same access to an indigenous community, it operates from within an idea of belonging that is cruel and archaic. Israel bases its primary criterion for citizenship on religious identity. Imagine having your religion on your driver’s license. And imagine having limited access to freeways, farmland, family, education, employment, and foreign travel because the religion by which the state has chosen to identify you is legally marginalized. Such is the daily reality of the Palestinian people.
2. Zionism is racist: This claim isn’t the same as saying that all Zionists are racist. I would make a distinction between the categories of “Zionist” and “Zionism.” However, inherent in the practice of Zionism is a reliance on racialist judgments about who can fully participate in the benefits and practices of a national community. Many Zionists view themselves merely as supporting freedom and safety for Jewish people. I would suggest that people who identify themselves as Zionist look more closely at the ideology they support. Such freedom and safety, both of which are in fact mythologies, come at the direct expense of people confined to Bantustans and refugee camps.
3. Zionism contravenes the geopolitical interests of the United States: Many Americans have heard former Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert boast that he once pulled George W. Bush off the dais while Bush was giving a speech, or more recently current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing that “America is something that can be easily moved.” Israel costs the United States billions of dollars in direct aid and in bribe money to Jordan and Egypt for their docility. Israel also is the main reason for disgruntlement about American foreign policy in the Arab and Muslim Worlds. I raise this point with some hesitation because I believe all citizens of the United States should challenge and not celebrate American geopolitical interests. I would also point out that Zionism’s narrative of salvation and redemption resonates deeply among Americans because of the United States’ origin and continued presence as a nation of settler colonists. In the end, America itself needs to be decolonized and the vast sums of money that support the imperial projects Israel so brazenly exemplifies need to be directed toward the well-being of those who pay the government its taxes.
4. Zionism is fundamentally incompatible with democracy: Israel, as a result, is undemocratic and will be as long as it uses religious identity as the operating criterion of citizenship. We hear much in the United States about Islam being incompatible with democracy, a belief that is historically untrue and that elides the massive military and monetary support the United States provides to the assortment of dictators and plutocrats that rule much of the Arab World. Neoconservative and mainstream commentators both evoke Israel in opposition to Islam as a symbol of democratic achievement, but in reality Israel performs one of the most barbaric forms of oppression today in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (and discriminates against the Palestinian citizens of Israel).
The alternative media engendered by new technology have allowed more people to witness the unremitting violence that has been Israel’s stock in trade for decades. Many consumers of this information and these images believe that Israel is guilty of excess when a simpler explanation exists: Israel is acting out the requisites of an exclusionary and inherently violent ideology.
These days all it takes is a little braggadocio from an ex-soldier such as Eden Abergil to so perfectly symbolize the callousness of Zionist colonization. Ten years ago, the Israeli government’s lies about the IDF killings aboard the Mavi Marmara would have been unchallenged by gruesome cell phone footage. Nobody these days could have stopped the images of white phosphorous exploding and spreading over the Gaza Strip from being aired; Israelis themselves were foolish enough to capture Jewish children writing messages on soon-to-be-launched missiles.
Americans now have all the evidence they need for a reasonable and morally-sound conclusion, that Zionism produces a cruelty and truculence that they bankroll with their taxes and legitimize with either silence or consent. As a result, I am not arguing that Americans should reassess their level of support for Israel. I am arguing that Americans should oppose Zionism altogether. Perhaps in this way we might begin the long and difficult process of redeeming our own nation of its imperial sins.
Israeli Soldiers Sell Gaza Flotilla Passengers’ Computers and Steal Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars in Cash
Israeli Government Refuses to Secure Criminal Evidence
Despite appeals from 750 passengers on the Gaza flotilla to their governments to pressure the Israeli government to protect and return their personal belongings that were taken by Israeli commandos on May 31, 2010, when they forcefully boarded the six ships of the flotilla, the Israeli government has left millions of dollars of computers, cameras and cell phones and hundreds of thousands of cash unsecured and un-inventoried.
An Israeli newspaper has revealed that four to six computers among the hundreds that were taken from passengers on the six ships have been sold by an Israeli First Lieutenant to three junior military personnel. On August 18, a second officer was arrested in connection with the theft. An Israeli military official described the case as “embarrassing and shameful.” Eitan Kabel, a member of parliament from the Labour party, told Israeli media: “This is an embarrassing, humiliating and infuriating act.”
Israeli government informed of passengers’ property by Embassies
Passengers from the six ships gave detailed lists of their property to consular officers from their respective Embassies while the passengers were in the Beer-Shiva prison on June 2. All passengers who were flown from Israel on June 4 to Turkey also gave another list of their possessions to consular officials in Istanbul, Turkey. Most passengers followed up with letters to their respective Ministries of Foreign Affairs or Department of State and to lawyers who will be filing lawsuits for deaths and injuries inflicted by the Israeli military and claims for stolen property.
Evidence of commandos’ actions on cameras, cell phones and computers should be available for independent investigation and possible criminal cases
Evidence on the flotilla passengers’ cameras, cell phones and computers should be a part of the evaluation by an independent panel to determine when and where 9 passengers on the Mavi Marmara were killed and when and where 50 other passengers were wounded. With the exception of two camera cards that survived endless body inspections on the ships, in the initial processing center at Ashdod port and in the prison, all the photos and video footage taken by 750 passengers is in the possession of the Israeli government.
Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars of Cash Taken by Commandos
Israeli commandos also took cash and credit cards from passengers. A conservative estimate of $1000 cash per passenger gives a total of $750,000 cash that was taken from passengers. Commandos with weapons demanded cash from passengers stating they were “to take the money for safekeeping.” Many passengers had been fundraising in their home areas to have funds to deliver to non-governmental organizations. Other passengers were taking money to families in Gaza from family members living outside of Gaza. I personally know of four persons on the passenger ships who had a total $68,000 in cash taken by commandos.
Israeli military can find out who took the equipment and money–if they want to
The Israeli military is certainly capable of finding out who took the money and equipment if they wish. The Israeli military knows exactly which military unit boarded each of the six ships, the names of each of the commandos that were on each ship and the leaders of each unit. Passengers do not know the names of the commandos as their uniforms were stripped of nametags, rank and unit insignia and they kept black masks on throughout the hours they were on the ships.
The Israeli military can order the leaders of each unit to testify if they know if any member of their unit took money or equipment and whether they have noticed if any unit member has suddenly had a change in his lifestyle that might be attributed to having stolen money or sold equipment from the passengers.
As a retired U.S. Army Colonel with 29 years in the military, I know that the barracks gossip in the military unit involved will provide some information about the stolen property and money. Checking the pawnshops near the military bases is a good bet as they are likely places that stolen goods will appear. New cars, cell phones, electronic equipment that is above the “pay-grade” of a military members is a dead give-away that the person has somehow come into new money and is living beyond his means.
U.S. military court-martials in 1984 for theft by U.S. military during Grenada invasion
I speak from experience about military personnel taking the possessions of others. In 1984, 13 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division of Fort Bragg, North Carolina were court-martialed and found guilty of stealing property of civilians in Grenada when the U.S. military invaded and occupied that country. I was on the U.S. military claims commission and received the complaints from Grenadians that after U.S. military personnel had occupied their houses, jewelry, money and various items were missing.
We immediately asked the criminal investigative office at Fort Bragg to go to the pawn shops around Fort Bragg to look for the items, and they found most of the them at the shops. The soldiers considered that the property of the Grenadians were “spoils of war.” One young private even wrote an article for the Fayetteville, North Carolina newspaper in which he proudly described in detail what he had taken as “spoils of war.” He was court-martialed and sentenced to several months in prison.
In the same manner, I suspect that the commandos decided that since their government was labeling everyone on the flotilla as “terrorists,” that no one in the government would care if they took “spoils of war,” the possessions of the “terrorists.”
Leadership and Accountablility in the Israeli military?
I have no doubts that members of the commando units know exactly who took what and where the money and equipment is. It takes good military leadership to understand the breakdown in unit integrity and want to correct it.
We will see by the actions of the Israeli military and government what type of leadership and accountability they have.
Ann Wright is a retired US Army Reserve Colonel with 29 years of service and 16 years as a US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war. She was in Gaza three times in 2009, helped organize the 1350 person Gaza Freedom March in December, 2009 and was on the Gaza flotilla.
London: An investigation revealed by Israeli news sources confirms that an Israeli military officer and soldiers stole and sold laptops belonging to passengers on board the Freedom Flotilla, which was illegally boarded by Israeli forces on May 31, 2010.
The Israeli military now claims that “[t]he IDF did not receive complaints of stolen computers after the Navy raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla,” and is suggesting that “the civilians who were on the ships chose not to complain in light of the complicated incident they had gone through.”
The Free Gaza Movement, one of the organizers of the flotilla, says that statement is patently untrue. Passengers immediately filed complaints with their consular representatives and embassies about possessions taken from them. They also submitted extensive affidavits to lawyers, and reported it to the media: millions of dollars’ worth of computers, cameras, phones, cash, jewelry and other equipment was taken, and none has been returned. Embassies have repeatedly told us that they are in touch with the Israelis about getting our belongings back.
Col. Ann Wright, one of the passengers on board the U.S. flagged ship, Challenger 1, stated, “Since the U.S. State Department has assured me that they are in touch with the Israeli authorities about our belongings, I expect that they would respond to these articles that say the Israeli government did not know that passengers were missing any personal possessions.”
In addition, our lawyers at Adalah have been corresponding with the Israeli military authorities about the missing personal property, including computers. Therefore, it is a deliberate lie to say they have not received any complaints.
“Many of these computers, cameras and phones may contain vital evidence of Israeli military crimes committed during the attack on our ships,” said Free Gaza chairperson and attorney Huwaida Arraf. “Despite repeated requests, Israel has refused to return the equipment or turn it over to the United Nations. Instead it has stolen documents from our computers and cameras to use for propaganda purposes.”
While the actions of the officer and soldiers who stole and sold a half dozen laptops is reprehensible, it is Israel’s military and political leaders that must be held accountable for the larger crimes of aggression, murder, unlawful detention, bodily harm, confiscation and pillaging of property, tampering with evidence and more. All of these issues are being pursued by lawyers in Europe, Turkey, and the United States.
Contact: Huwaida Arraf, +970-598-336-215
Col. Ann Wright +1 808 741 1141
Audrey Bomse, legal coordinator +44 786 156 0932
Adam Shapiro +1-202-294-8813