Behind a mysterious December 22 Associated Press story about “finding of fact” by a District judge in Manhattan Friday that Iran assisted al Qaeda in the planning of the 9/11 attacks is a tapestry of recycled fabrications and distortions of fact from a bizarre cast of characters.
The AP story offers no indication of the nature of the evidence in the case except that former members of the 9/11 Commission and three Iranian defectors provided testimony. What it didn’t say was that at least two of the Iranian defectors have long been dismissed by US intelligence as “fabricators” and that the two “expert witnesses” who were supposed to determine the credibility of those defectors’ claims are both avowed advocates of crackpot conspiracy theories about Muslims and Shariah law who believe the United States is at war with Islam.
The ostensible purpose of the case brought by families of 9/11 terror attack victims was to win damages from those responsible for 9/11. Dozens of such cases involving different terrorist attacks have been brought to US courts over the years, in which “default judgments” have been made against Iran over various attacks in which Iran was allegedly involved, but there is no chance of getting any money for the families.
The only real effect of the case is to promote right-wing political myths about Iran. One of the peculiarities of such cases is that the witnesses are not subject to cross examination in court. The witnesses have every incentive, therefore to indulge in false testimony, knowing that there will be no one to challenge them.
“A Fabricator of Monumental Proportions”
The lawyers and the “expert witnesses” behind the accusation of Iran in regard to 9/11 hoped to sell the press and public on recycled claims first made by Iranian “defectors” several years ago that they had personal knowledge of Iranian participation in the 9/11 plot. The lawyers produced videotaped affidavits by three such defectors who were identified, with a dramatic flourish, as Witnesses “X,” “Y” and “Z.”
In the one public hearing held on the case, the lawyers revealed the identity of purported former Iranian intelligence official Abolghasem Mesbahi – probably a pseudonym – and described his testimony that he had received a series of “coded messages” from a former colleague in the Iranian government in the late summer and early fall of 2001 warning that a terrorist attack against the United States was being planned, and that it was a plan that had been concocted by Tehran in the late 1980s.
Although the judge and the public were being led to believe that this is somehow new information going beyond what was known by the 9/11 Commission report, it is, in fact, very old information and has long been completely discredited. Mesbahi’s story doesn’t hold up, for several reasons, and the most obvious is that, despite his claim that he was warned nearly a month before the 9/11 attacks that civilian airliners would be crashed into buildings in major US cities, including Washington and New York on September 11, he never conveyed that information to the US government before that date.
In October 2001, Mesbahi claimed to right-wing journalist Kenneth R. Timmerman, as reported in Timmerman’s 2005 book that he had tried calling the legal attaché at the US Embassy in Berlin, but was “unsuccessful in several attempts.” But he did not claim any other attempt to reach a US consulate or the US Embassy in Germany by fax, e-mail or letter before September 11, nor did he go to the US Embassy in person to convey this warning. He told Timmerman that he called an Iranian dissident contact in the United States who, he believed, had contacts with US intelligence agencies only some hours after the attacks on New York and Washington.
It wasn’t the first time Mesbahi had claimed inside information about Iranian involvement in a terrorist attack only after the attack had taken place. He had told investigators working on the December 1988 terror bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 that Iran had asked Libya and Abu Nidal to carry out the attack on the personal orders of Ayatollah Khomeini. Unfortunately for his credibility, however, he had not come forward with the allegation until after the bombing had happened.
He had also provided affidavits to Argentine investigators in the case of the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires, claiming his well-informed friends in Iranian intelligence had tipped him off that the decision to bomb the Jewish Community Center had been made at a meeting attended by top Iranian officials in August 1993.
But in fact, by his own admission Mesbahi had not worked for Argentine intelligence since 1988, and the FBI Hezbollah Office’s James Bernazzani, who had helped the Argentine intelligence service with the investigation in 1997, told me in a November 2006 interview that American intelligence officials had concluded Mesbahi did not have the continued high-level access to Iranian intelligence officials throughout the 1990s and beyond that he was claiming. They regarded him as someone who was desperate for money and ready to “provide testimony to any country on any case involving Iran,” according to Bernazzani.
Mesbahi wasn’t even consistent in the story he told about the alleged “coded messages.” In an interview with Timmerman, Mesbahi stated that he had gotten two messages from his contact, one on September 1, 2001 and a second three days later. And Timmerman wrote that his alleged contact had “phoned him again” on September 4, indicating that Mesbahi had made no reference to an elaborate scheme to send coded messages through articles in Iranian newspapers.
But in his affidavit to the 9/11 court case, he said he had gotten three messages – on July 23, August 13 and August 27 – and that the coded messages were placed in newspaper articles. Timmerman, who referred the lawyers to Mesbahi, discretely avoided pointing out the huge discrepancy between the two stories, which clearly indicates that Mesbahi fabricated the tale of messages in newspaper articles to make it more dramatic and convincing.
The second defector, Hamid Reza Zakeri, claimed he had been an officer of Iran’s Ministry of Information and Security and had provided security for a meeting at an airbase near Tehran on May 4, 2001 attended by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Hashemi Rafsanjani and Osama bin Laden’s son Saad bin Laden. He also claimed to have seen replicas of the twin towers, the White House, the Pentagon and Camp David in the entry hall to the main headquarters of the MOIS with a missile suspended above the targets, and “Death to America” written in Arabic (rather than Farsi) on the side.
Like Mesbahi, Zakeri also first told his tale to Timmerman, who recounts it in his 2005 book. Zakeri, who apparently defected from Iran in late July 2001, claimed he had told the US Embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan on July 26, 2001 about the alleged meeting and replicas, warning them that he believed the Iranians and al Qaeda were planning an attack on those targets that would occur September 11. But CIA officials denied categorically to Timmerman that Zakeri had given any such warning to the Embassy and called Zakeri “a fabricator of monumental proportions” and “a serial fabricator.” Zakeri failed an FBI polygraph test in 2003, according to Timmerman.
Crackpot Hate-Islam Extremists as “Expert Witnesses”
Significantly, no reputable retired intelligence analyst on Iran was asked to help judge the testimony of the Iranian defectors. Instead, Clare M. Lopez and Bruce Tefft, both former CIA covert operations case officers, were invited to be “expert witnesses,” in large part to view the videotaped testimony of the three Iranian defectors and assess their credibility.
Based on the record of their public statements, however, they were selected for that role because they could be counted upon to endorse the defectors’ allegations of Iranian involvement in planning the 9/11 attacks and any other assertion, no matter how outlandish, that suggested Iranian guilt.
Lopez has been linked with the neoconservative faction of the Bush administration and the pro-Likud Party extreme right ever since she became Executive Director of the Iran Policy Committee in 2005. Through a series of policy papers issued that year, the Committee sought to support from outside the push by a group of pro-Likud officials within the administration for a policy of regime change in Iran.
In particular, the Committee called for using the Mujahedin-E-Khalq or MEK, the armed opposition group listed by the US State Department as a terrorist group because of its assassinations of US officials during the regime of the Shah and bombings of large civilian events in Iran. The MEK had long enjoyed close working relations with Israel, but not with the United States, and the State Department had continued to oppose delisting and alliance with the MEK against Tehran, as proposed by the Defense Department and the Vice-President’s office.
Since 2009, Lopez has been a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy founded and headed by notorious Islam-hating extremist Frank J. Gaffney. One of Lopez’s projects has been to stir up public fear over an alleged threat to America – not from al Qaeda attacks, but from subversion by Muslim-Americans. She is one of a number of authors of a book published by Gaffney’s Center in October 2010 called “Shariah: the Threat to America,” which declares, “The United States is under attack by foes who are openly animated by what is known as Shariah (Islamic Law).”
Revealing the project’s anti-Islam paranoia, the book asserts, “Shariah dictates that non-Muslims be given three choices: convert to Islam and conform to Shariah; submit as second class citizens (dhimmis), or be killed.”
In a videotaped talk she gave on February 23, 2011, Lopez said Muslims, “believe they should be in charge of the world.” The main threat from Islam, she said, is “stealth Jihad” waged by Muslims who “hide behind a moderate image,” but whose “purpose is still the same” as that of al Qaeda.
A second aspect of Lopez’s work for Gaffney has been to intimidate opponents of the hard-line policies toward Iran – and especially the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC) – by accusing them of being covert lobbyists for Iran.
Tefft, who retired from the CIA’s Operations Division in 1995, is even more explicit in arguing that there is a worldwide war against Islam. “We are fighting a 14-century war against Islam and its adherents, Muslims,” he declared in an interview with the right-wing website FrontPage in October 2007. “And it is a war that they have declared on all non-Muslims….” Islamic ideology requires Muslims to “make the world Islamic under the Caliphate, and to convert, kill or enslave all non-Muslims….” When the interviewer suggested that there are “moderate Muslims,” Tefft responded, “I don’t think so….” he said. “Were there ‘good’ or ‘moderate’ Nazis?”
Tefft referred to the way “the West” had “prevailed” over Islam with the “defeat of the marauding armies of Islam at the Gates of Vienna in 1529″ and added, “We need to recall that period…and again contain Islam to its existing borders.”
When asked by this writer in a phone interview last week if he had been aware of the advocacy of Islamophobe arguments by Lopez and Tefft, Thomas Mellon, Jr., one of two lead lawyers in the case, did not answer directly, but said, “To the extent that you are accurate, we would say, fine, take them out.” He insisted that the lawyers for the case had not relied on any one of the ten “expert witnesses” listed on the case.
Also playing a central role in weaving the tale of Iranian complicity in the 9/11 attacks for the court case was the right-wing author and anti-Iran activist Kenneth R. Timmerman. According to the lawyers’ brief on the case, it was Timmerman who sought out one of the attorneys, Timothy B. Fleming, and brought to his attention the three Iranian “defectors” who claimed personal knowledge that Iran was involved in the planning of 9/11.
Like Lopez, Timmerman has been linked with hardline pro-Likud organizations and involved in efforts to overthrow the regime in Tehran. Along with Joshua Muravchik, and a group of Iranian exile foes of the Islamic regime, he established the “Foundation for Democracy in Iran” in 1995.
Timmerman has also expressed views sympathetic to the Hate-Islam movement. His 2003 book, “Preachers of Hate: Islam and the War against America,” portrays the United States and Israel as innocent victims of a vicious campaign against the West by whole Islamic societies that refuse to accept the US-Israeli narrative on terrorism. And his new novel, “St. Peter’s Bones,” has been praised by notorious Islam-hater Robert Spencer for revealing the “long-hidden origins of Islam.”
The “Material Support” and “Save Haven” Ploys
The most egregious allegations of Iranian complicity in 9/11 come from three former staff members of the 9/11 Commission – Daniel Byman, Dietrich Snell and Janice Kephart. They had all worked on the section of the 2004 report that had given heavy emphasis to the fact that Iran had not stamped the passports of Saudis who had later become hijackers in the 9/11 attacks when they entered Iran. The section had suggested that this and other evidence could indicate Iranian complicity in the plot, even if it could not yet be proven.
In their affidavits to the court, those three former staffers, two of whom (Snell and Kephart) are lawyers, argue that Iran’s failure to stamp the passports of the al Qaeda operatives constituted provision of “material support” to al Qaeda in executing the 9/11 attacks. US anti-terrorist law specifies that the provision of “material support” to terrorists includes any “service” to terrorists if the provider is “knowing or intending that they are to be used in preparation for, or in carrying out” a terrorist action.
However, a key piece of information in a different chapter of the 9/11 Commission report shows that Iran’s failure to stamp passports was not intended to aid al Qaeda. On page 169, the report says that, in order to avoid the confiscation by Saudi authorities of passports bearing a Pakistani stamp, the Saudi al Qaeda operatives, “either erased the Pakistani visa from their passport or traveled through Iran, which did not stamp visas directly into passports.” In other words, the Iranian practice of not stamping visas directly into passports applied to everyone. And since, as the Commission report acknowledged, there was no evidence of Iranian foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks, the existence of that policy did not support the thesis of Iranian “material support” for the al Qaeda plot.
The Commission staff went back to the two senior planners of the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, in July 2004, to ask them specifically about the Iranian failure to stamp the passports of the hijackers, but, strangely, the Commission report gives no indication of what they said about whether the Iranian practice was intended to assist al Qaeda. Either the staff never asked the question, or the answer was ignored because it contradicted the line that those staff members were pushing in 2004 and are still pushing today.
The former Commission staffers also joined right-wing activists in highlighting the intelligence Commission report statements that “an associate of a senior Hizbullah operative” was on the same mid-November flight from Beirut to Tehran as a group of future hijackers, and that Hezbollah officials in Beirut and Iran had been “expecting the arrival of a group [from Saudi Arabia] during the same time period.” The former staffers insist that these could not have been coincidences and that they had to mean that Iran was involved in the al Qaeda plot.
The argument that the presence of an “associate” of a top Hezbollah official on the same flight as future al Qaeda hijackers could not have been a coincidence is absurd. There were obviously many “associates” of top Hezbollah officials, most whom would have had occasion to travel to Iran frequently. The statistical likelihood that one of them would be on the same flight as the future hijackers would not be so small as to merit suspicion.
And the very same section of the Commission report provides a clear explanation of the anticipation of a group traveling from Saudi Arabia to Iran that reveals the conspiratorial interpretation as dishonest. It says that a senior Hezbollah operative – said to have been Imad Mugniyeh – visited Saudi Arabia in October 2000 to “coordinate activities” there, that he planned to assist a group traveling to Iran in November, and that intelligence reports showed the planned visit to Iran involved a “top Hezbollah commander” and “Saudi Hezbollah contacts.”
But that didn’t stop the lawyers for the case from twisting the Commission report to fit the desired narrative: “The ‘activities’ that Mughniyah went to coordinate,” clearly revolved around the hijackers’ travel, their obtaining new Saudi passports and/or US visas for the 9/11 operation, as several of them did, as well as the hijackers’ security, and the operation’s security.”
Paul Pillar, who was the CIA’s senior intelligence officer on the Middle East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005 and had previously been the senior analyst at the agency’s Counterterrorism Center, was categorical about the matter when I interviewed him in 2006. The facts detailed in the Commission Report about passports, travel of the hijackers through Iran, and the presence of a Hezbollah official on one of the flights “don’t show Iranian collusion with al Qaeda,” he told me.
The lawyers’ brief refers to “the existence of a secret network of travel routes and safehouses” worked out from the mid-1990s onward as being “confirmed by al Qaeda military chief Saef al Adel in a May 2005 interview.” That implies that secret arrangements on such “travel routes and safehouses” were made between al Qaeda and the Iranian government. But al-Adel said nothing of the sort. He made it clear in his interview with a Saudi journalist that the Iranians who helped them with housing and logistics were not connected with the Iranian regime.
The “expert witnesses” and the lawyers carefully skirt the fact that in the latter half of the 1990s – at a time when the United States was officially still “neutral” on the civil war in Afghanistan – Iran was providing funding, arms and other support to the Northern Alliance, the non-Pashtun forces seeking to overthrow the Taliban regime which bin Laden and al Qaeda were helping to keep in power.
That Iranian support for the Northern Alliance was still ongoing when the organization’s chief, Ahmad Shah Massoud, was assassinated September 10, 2001 by two Arabs posing as journalists. The leader of the CIA’s post-9/11 covert paramilitary team in Afghanistan, Gary Schroen, reported that there were two IRGC Colonels attached to the Commander of the Northern Alliance, Bismullah Khan, when the CIA team arrived. Nevertheless, Lopez and Tefft as well as Israeli journalist Ronan Bergman, a former intelligence officer in the Israeli Defense Forces who boasts of his “close personal contacts” with senior Israel intelligence and military officials, cite reports supposedly originating with German intelligence that Iran helped al Qaeda operatives carry out the Massoud assassination.
All the “expert witnesses” insist vehemently that Iran continued to provide “safe haven” for al Qaeda operatives who fled from Afghanistan to Iran after 9/11, allowing them to direct terrorist activities against Saudi Arabia in particular. But that accusation merely recycles the claim first made in early 2002 by Bush administration officials seeking to prevent negotiations between the United States and Iran and push for the adoption of a regime change strategy in Iran.
The central pretense of the neoconservative “safe haven” ploy was that, if any al Qaeda operatives were able to function in Iran, Iran must have deliberately permitted it. But the United States has been unable to shut down al Qaeda’s operation in Pakistan after a decade of trying, despite the cooperation of the Pakistani intelligence service and the drone coverage of the tribal areas. If the same criteria applied to Iran were to be applied to the Bush administration and the government of Germany, they could be accused of having provided “safe haven” for al Qaeda operatives prior to 9/11.
In fact, after US complaints about al Qaeda presence in Iran in late 2001, Tehran detained nearly 300 al Qaeda operatives, and gave a dossier with their names, passport pictures and fingerprints to the United Nations. Iran also repatriated at least 200 of those detainees to the newly formed government of Afghanistan.
US Ambassador Ryan Crocker revealed last year that, in late 2001, the Iranians had been willing to discuss possible surrender of the senior al Qaeda officials it was detaining to the United States and share any intelligence they had gained from their investigations as part of a wider understanding with Washington. But the neoconservative faction in the administration rejected that offer, demanding that Iran give them the al Qaeda detainees without getting anything in return.
Iran’s crackdown on al Qaeda continued in 2002-03 and netted a number of top officials. One of the senior al Qaeda detainees apparently detained by Iran during that period, Saif al-Adel, later told a Jordanian journalist that Iran’s operations against al Qaeda had “confused us and aborted 75 percent of our plan.” The arrests included “up to 80 percent” of Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s group, he said, and those who had not been swept up were forced to leave for Iraq.
In further negotiations with the Bush administration in May 2003, Iran again offered to turn over the senior al Qaeda detainees to the United States in return for the MEK captured by US forces in Iraq. The Bush administration again refused the offer.
By 2005, a “senior US intelligence official” was publicly admitting that 20 to 25 top al Qaeda leaders were in detention in Iran and that they were “not able to do much of anything.”
In 2008, one US official told ABC news that administration officials had not been raising the al Qaeda issue publicly, because “they believe Iran has largely kept the al Qaeda operatives under control since 2003, limiting their ability to travel and communicate.”
But in the world of the right-wing Islam-hating extremists and others pushing for confrontation with Iran, reality is no obstacle to spinning tales of secret Iranian assistance to al Qaeda.
Dr Chris Busby interviewed 20th December 2011 by Theo Chalmers on Sky TV’s “One Step Beyond” about Fallujah, Fukushima and the cover-ups over the health effects of exposure to radioactivity
French boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigners have called on their government to abandon a €318 million deal to buy Heron TP drones from Israel Aircraft Industries. Meanwhile, senior members of France’s Senate have called publicly for the country to abandon the purchase on grounds that the Israeli drones are unsuited to the needs of the armed forces.
Campaign against Israeli drones
A petition launched by Campagne BDS France urging the government to end the deal and calling for an immediate military embargo on Israel has already garnered more than 1300 signatures. The text states:
No to the purchase by France of 318 million euros worth of Israeli drones!
An immediate military embargo against Israel!
On 20 July the French Ministry of Defence took the scandalous decision to buy from Israel more than 318 million euros worth of war weapons. When this outlaw state is guilty, day after day, of grave violations of international law, when there is a climate of austerity, when there are calls for demilitarization and for sanctions against Israel’s impunity, we are outraged by the disgraceful choice made by the Ministry of Defence.
Israel has a well established record of violations of international law and human rights, on display in its various military operations and aggressive attacks, incursions and occupations of Palestinian territories and other Arab countries, in its abusive and indiscriminate use of force and in the deliberate targeting of civilians and infrastructure. All of which result in a ceaseless repetition of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The BDS French Campaign joins the Palestinian BNC in calling for an immediate military embargo against Israel, similar to that imposed upon South Africa in the past. We demand the immediate cancellation of the contract to purchase drones from Israel.
Decision to buy Israeli drones “surprises” French Senate
Earlier this month, the vice-chairs of the foreign affairs and defence and armed forces committees of the French Senate wrote an open letter in Le Monde strongly opposing the decision. The four senators, two from President Nicholas Sarkozy’s UMP party and two from the Socialist opposition, wrote (my translation):
On July 20, the Minister of Defence, Gérard Longuet, chose to equip our forces with the Heron TP, manufactured by the Israeli company IAI [Israel Aircraft Industries] and imported by Dassault. This decision caused surprise in the Senate. When a state undertakes to equip its forces it must be done impartially, in a rational, that is to say, measurable manner: at what price, what specifications, and what industrial sovereignty? If possible it must reconcile all these objectives, otherwise it must prioritize the security of its soldiers and the effectiveness of its armed forces.
The senators added that the Israeli drone was unsuited to French needs. The Heron TP, they wrote, is “big, slow and vulnerable in degraded weather conditions.” They advocated purchasing the US-made Reaper drone instead.
Their support for the Reaper underscores that the senators, while strongly opposing the Israeli drone, did not raise any ethical concerns about the purchase. Their opposition – according to their words – is strictly on technical merit.
Nonetheless, with a significant core of opposition to buying from Israel already in place it may well be easier for BDS campaigners to bring more public pressure to abandon the deal.
French campaign follows in Finland’s footsteps
Last July, the European Network Against Arms Trade (ENAAT) came out publicly in support of an arms embargo on Israel and called for an end to “all military-related training and consultancies with the Israeli army, military companies and academic research institutions.”
Although overall appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are down slightly this year from Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) remains a consistent winner in the battle of the budget.
In the FY 2012 consolidated spending act (Public Law 112-074) signed by President Barack Obama last Friday, TSA received about $7.85 billion, up $153 million from 2011. TSA and US Customs and Border Protection, perhaps two of the three most visible DHS agencies along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, both received increases although the total DHS budget dropped to $39.6 billion in base discretionary funding in FY 2012, down about $111 million from last year.
The TSA funding included several hundred million dollars for 250 additional advanced imaging technology (AIT) devices — the whole body imagers that scan air travelers for any contraband concealed on their bodies. The additional funding came from a congressional conference committee that approved TSA plans to move forward with deployment of the AIT machines despite a House vote on June 2 on a spending bill that would have denied TSA the money for the devices.
House Republicans included the restriction in their bill not out of a sense that the devices are too intrusive — an idea championed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) — but rather out of an estimation from Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, that TSA could withstand a cut in funding for the devices while they adjust to fielding and upgrading previously funded devices, which sometimes stood unmanned at US airports in 2011 due to a lack of staff to operate them.
The Senate sought to sustain funding for the AIT devices in a DHS appropriations bill introduced in September, and the Senate view clearly carried the day in conference committee negotiations between the two chambers.
In addition to the AIT devices, TSA received funds for 140 new behavior detection officers, 12 additional multi-modal Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams, 20 additional explosives detection canine teams, and 53 air cargo security staffers.
The 2012 consolidated spending law directed TSA to report on its strategy for achieving 100 percent screening of US-bound international air cargo, a requirement set by the Implementing the Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act (PL 110-53).
TSA Administrator John Pistole has been emphasizing TSA’s commitment to screening high-risk international air cargo in recent months despite an assurance that the agency would achieve 100 percent screening in the near future. Pistole recently revised his estimates to say TSA would not achieve 100 percent screening of US-bound international cargo for several years. The agency met a deadline to screen 100 percent of domestic air cargo in 2008.
The law further told TSA to produce a five-year strategic investment plan for passenger-screening technology as well as spending plans for checked baggage equipment, checkpoint security technology and air cargo security.
TSA also must improve training and outreach to meet the needs of populations that face unique screening challenges such as some disabled travelers, comply with privacy and civil liberties laws when screening passengers, and review its complaint process.
The consolidated spending law allocated TSA a total budget of $7.85 billion but about 2.3 billion in fees such as the aviation security fee offsets some of that funding.
The base funding of roughly $5.5 billion provided $4.1 billion for screening operations with $543 million specifically funding explosives detection systems. It also funded about $205 million for checkpoint support and $1.1 billion for aviation security direction and enforcement.
Moreover, a major initiative to upgrade the Transportation Threat Assessment and Credentialing system throughout TSA received about $164 million for the modernization and consolidation of the agency’s credentialing efforts.
TSA also got about $1 billion for transportation security support and intelligence collection activities and another $966 million for the Federal Air Marshal Service.
The spending bill restricted TSA to hiring no more than 46,000 full-time transportation security officers or airport screeners or the part-time equivalent of that number.
In Guatemala, former military officers and their supporters have filed legal charges against human rights activists, journalists, and surviving victims of State repression, even as a former general, Otto Perez Molina – himself implicated in Guatemala’s genocide – prepares to assume the Guatemalan presidency on January 14, 2012!
Moreover, Perez Molina has named high ranking trainers of the brutal Kaibil forces to the top three military command positions. Kaibil’s were directly implicated in the very worst of the State repression and genocide of the 1970s, 80s and early 90s, and some today have direct links to the Mexico-based “Zeta” narco-trafficking cartel.
Furthermore, Perez Molina is getting set to engage the Army in policing matters in partnership with the US government that is launching phase II of the brutal and deadly Mexican “war on drugs” in Central America.
2012: MARCHING TOWARDS THE PAST
As Otto Perez Molina prepares to assume the presidency on January 14, 2011, he has named commanders of Guatemala’s “special forces”, the feared Kaibils, to the highest positions in the military. Two officers have been appointed to cabinet level positions, even while the respected and courageous Attorney General, Claudia Paz, along with human rights activists and journalists, have come under legal and public attack by war veterans. Earlier this year, CICIG (the United Nations backed Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala) came under attack from a Washington lobbyist hired by Guatemalan businessmen.
On December 14, 2011, a dual US/ Guatemalan citizen, also a coffee plantation owner, filed legal charges against 52 people, including a US citizen who worked for Amnesty International in Guatemala during the genocide carried out by the military, and including Jennifer Harbury, an attorney who became an internationally recognized campaigner against torture following the extended torture and presumed extrajudicial execution of her husband, Efrain Bamaca, a guerrilla commander she met during peace negotiations in Mexico City.
This is the third legal complaint of its kind lodged over the past month and a half, in what CICIG characterized as an attack on the Attorney General, seemingly an orchestrated campaign pressuring her to resign.
Over the past 2 years, human rights organizations and lawyers – and some politicians – have worked very hard to retake control of the legal system and the administration of justice from organized crime networks which have corrupted elements of the police, prosecuting attorneys and judges.
The clandestine criminal networks in Guatemala today grew out of the military/ business alliances which in the 1960s to early 1990s controlled the nation through US-backed military juntas, carrying out crimes with total impunity ranging from genocide and large scale massacres to drug trafficking. The current Attorney General, Claudia Paz, has been extremely effective in arresting and prosecuting top organized crime figures and high ranking military officers implicated in crimes against humanity.
GENOCIDE AND WAR CRIMES LINKED SPECIAL FORCES COMMANDERS NAMED TO TOP GOVERNMENT POSITIONS
The return of current and former military officers to high ranking positions in government is deeply concerning to human rights activists. The Guatemalan special-forces unit known as the Kaibils is especially renowned for brutality, and has been extensively implicated in heinous massacres that occurred in the worst years of the “cold war” repression.
President elect Perez Molina is making no concessions to concerns. Kaibils were named to the three top military positions: Col. Ulises Anzueto as Defense Minister, Col. René Casados Ramírez as Commander of the Joint Chiefs of Defense, and Col Manuel López Ambrosio as Sub-commander of the Joint Chiefs of Defense. Anzueto’s appointment bucks hierarchy, by military tradition his appointment will force 16 Generals to resign. Another Colonel was named Interior Minister, Mauricio Lopez Bonilla, who managed Perez Molina’s presidential campaign.
In 1995, based on witness testimony and written documentation, Anzueto was named by Harbury as one of three officers responsible for the kidnapping, disappearance and torture of Efrain Bamaca. Ever since, the case has languished in Guatemalan courts, defying rulings of the Inter American Court of Human Rights.
Otto Perez Molina himself, and two other generals, were named in a second case, focusing on the commanding officers whose direct responsibility became apparent through declassified documents and evidence obtained during the first case, charges filed in March 2011.
ZETA-LINKS AS WELL
The placement of four Kaibils in top government positions, including the presidency, is even more shocking given the extensively reported ties between Kaibils and the gruesomely violent Zeta drug trafficking cartel.
The Zetas were originally an elite unit of the Mexican Army Airborne Special Forces (GAFE) and are reported to have been trained in Fort Bragg, a US military base, to combat drug trafficking. In the late 1990′s they were then trained by the Guatemalan Kaibil “special forces.”
It is widely reported that, in 2000, the unit known as the Zetas left GAFE, en masse, to begin work as Gulf Cartel’s enforcers. The Gulf Cartel has, for decades, had a solid presence in Central America. It grew out of a network of local traffickers with strong ties to various militaries and death squads.
Ever since, but particularly since 2005, reports of Zeta recruitment of former Kaibils and former Kaibil training of Zetas, have been frequent. As recently as April 6, 2011, the Mexican Vice Minister of Security reported that current and former Kaibils were training Zetas in northern Guatemala and participated in drug smuggling, at the same time denouncing a pattern of large scale robbery by Zetas of weapons from military bases in Mexico and Guatemala.
The newly appointed Guatemalan Minister of Defense was the director of the Kaibil training academy until 2009, and the Commander of the Joint Chiefs of Defense was a Kaibil instructor.
The Kaibils have been credited as responsible for introducing some of the most gruesome techniques to the Zetas, including severing heads and dismembering bodies. This is no surprise given the Kaibils’ savage history in the Guatemalan civil war. Most recently, on May 17, 2011 former Kaibils, now members of the Zetas, were arrested for the massacre and decapitation of 27 farmworkers on the Los Cocos farm in Sayaxche, Peten.
The savagery of the Kaibils is well known, even within one of the most brutal militaries imaginable, as well documented in two “Truth Commissions,” the 1999 United Nations sponsored report “Memory of Silence” and the 1998 Catholic Church’s report “Guatemala Never Again.”
The United Nations backed Truth Commission found that during conflict over 200,000 people were killed and 45,000 disappeared. It found that 93% of the acts of violence were perpetrated by the military or paramilitary forces, 3% by armed revolutionaries and 3% unidentifiable authors. It documented 626 massacres by State security forces, the vast majority carried out against Mayan communities, and noted:
“The CEH has noted particularly serious cruelty in many acts committed by agents of the State, especially members of the Army, in their operations against Mayan communities… Acts such as the killing of defenseless children, often by beating them against walls or throwing them alive into pits where the corpses of adults were later thrown; the amputation of limbs; the impaling of victims; the killing of persons by covering them in petrol and burning them alive; the extraction, in the presence of others, of the viscera of victims who were still alive; the confinement of people who had been mortally tortured, in agony for days; the opening of the wombs of pregnant women, and other similarly atrocious acts, were not only actions of extreme cruelty against the victims, but also morally degraded the perpetrators and those who inspired, ordered or tolerated these actions.”
In August 2011, four former Kaibils and their commanding officer were sentenced to 6,060 years in prison for their participation in the gruesome massacre of 264 men, women and children in 1982 in the village of Dos Erres, Peten. This was the first time that soldiers have been arrested, tried and sentenced for any of the hundreds of massacres committed by State security forces during the “la violencia” (the violence), the military campaigns from 1981 to 1983.
The UN Truth Commission found that State forces committed acts of genocide against four Mayan peoples, the Achi, Q’anjobal, Kiche and Ixil. President elect Perez Molina commanded the Municipality of Nebaj military base from 1982 until the mid-1980′s, Nebaj being the center of the Ixil genocide. Survivors describe being tortured by him. At least one survivor has done so in court, and survivors and leaked military documents demonstrate involvement in massacres.
Legal cases against the intellectual and material authors of the Ixil genocide have also moved forward under the tenure of AG Claudia Paz y Paz. Former General Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes was arrested June 20, 2011, on charges of genocide against the Ixil people between 1982 and 1983. On October 12, 2011 Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, head of military intelligence from 1983 to 1985, was arrested and indicted for genocide against the Ixil people. The advancement of these cases is now seriously at risk
PRO-MILITARY RALLIES – “WHEN ‘MI GENERAL’ WINS, WE WILL FINISH WHAT WE STARTED”
2011 is the first year military officers (being the “intellectual authors”) have been taken to court for the political crimes of the 1980s, but the impending presidency of one of their own seems to have rallied their spirits.
On November 13, 2011 shortly after Perez Molina’s electoral victory, the military and their supporters rallied in a march in the center of Guatemala City, decrying the prosecution of military officers for war crimes. This is the first time since the end of the war that the military has carried out a demonstration of this kind.
In the year leading up to the 2011 presidential elections, reports from the countryside indicated that networks of former Civil Defense Patrollers, veterans and other military allies – all implicated in the genocide and other extreme human rights abuses – mobilized to rally support for Perez Molina. Over the past year, frequent reports of vague threats made by these networks have been heard from surviving victims from the 1980′s, along the lines of: “When ‘Mi General’ wins, we will finish what we started.”
POLITICALLY MOTIVATED LEGAL CHARGES
Since June 2011, the association of military veterans and their allies have been taking aim at the current Attorney General, Claudia Paz y Paz. In newspaper advertisements veterans denounced prosecutors and human rights defenders, claiming the veterans would respond to attacks. Given the long history of endemic repression in Guatemala, these advertisements are perceived by many as threats.
The ads asserted that military officers were being unfairly persecuted, and that instead of pursuing justice in civilian courts, the Attorney General must respect the military tribunal trials that some of those accused of war crimes had been submitted to, military trials presented clearly as a tactic to avoid being held legally responsible in civilian courts for atrocities.
This year, legislators also attempted to quietly push through a new amnesty law. Both mechanisms – the mis-use of military tribunals and the passing of amnesty laws – violate international law norms.
On November 2, 2011 retired Col. Ricardo Méndez Ruiz filed legal charges, naming 26 people as responsible for his kidnapping in 1982.
On November 29, 2011 the Military Widows Association filed charges against 32 people for 45 acts of violence they claim were carried out by armed revolutionary movements.
On December 14, 2011 dual US/ Guatemalan citizen and coffee planter Theodore Plocharski, who apparently moved to Guatemala in 1980, filed charges against 52 people attributing to them responsibility for 11 acts of violence against diplomats and foreign military officers.
Many of the individuals named as defendants are repeated in the three complaints. At least one person named in the charges had not even been born at the time of the alleged acts, others were infants, some were not in the country.
No one doubts that these charges are direct attacks against the Attorney General, human rights activists, academics, politicians and journalists. Claudia Paz’s deceased father and cousin were named in all three cases. Others named include: Miguel Angel Albizures, a founder of FAMDEGUA, the victims association that promoted the Dos Erres prosecution; Jennifer Harbury and Jean Marie Simon, international human rights activists; outgoing first lady Sandra Torres; as well as well-known journalists, politicians, feminists, clergy, academics, and others. Some were members of the revolutionary movements.
CICIG (the United Nations backed Commission Against Impunity) has characterized the series of legal complaints as an orchestrated attack against the Attorney General, noting that Ricardo Méndez Ruiz clearly stated in an interview that he was going after the Attorney General. The aim of the campaign appears to be to demonstrate that Paz does not lead impartial investigations, a possible pretext to force her out of office.
Even so, the Attorney General has assigned investigation of the charges to a special unit created to investigate war crimes. If the charges follow the example of those levied against military officers, it may take 15 or more years to go to court, if any evidence is uncovered. However given the chronic problems of lack of independence of the judiciary, there is definitely a risk that those charged could face biased trials.
President-elect Otto Perez Molina has picked up on the discourse of these seemingly frivolous legal charges. During a November 9, 2011 interview, Perez asserted that justice must be impartial, not “persecution of just one side.” Four distinct revolutionary movements participated in the 36 year armed conflict that ended in 1996. The first revolutionary movement was founded by military officers loyal to the democratically elected government overthrown in a CIA orchestrated coup in 1954.
LEGAL CASES AGAINST DRUG KING-PINS
In addition to helping advance criminal trials against Guatemalan war criminals, Paz has also been highly successful in arresting and extraditing top level drug kingpins, most of whom have been operating with total impunity for decades. The US ambassador to Guatemala, Arnold Chacon, expressed support for her in November, and on November 30, 2011 Assistant Secretary of State for Global Affairs, Maria Otero, during a visit to Guatemala met with Perez Molina. Many believe pressure from State Department led to a December 8 joint press conference presented by Perez Molina and Claudia Paz in which they assured that Paz’s job was safe.
PEREZ MOLINA TIES TO WASHINGTON
For decades the State Department has maintained a very close relationship to Perez Molina. In 1995 he was reported to have been on the CIA payroll while head of military intelligence in 1993, when he oversaw a secret torture center and prison reported to hold over 300 prisoners. His name was very frequently mentioned in Wikileaks cables. He is a graduate of the School of the Americas.
Despite extensive evidence of his participation in extreme violations, including a video and photographs of him standing over the bodies of three murdered and tortured indigenous men in 1982, the State Department appears to have done nothing to distance itself from him. The embassy recognized his victory the night of the election before the official tally was in. Obama even called to congratulate him on November 21, and to express the US interest in cooperation in security initiatives in Central America.
During a December trip to Mexico, Perez Molina visited Mexican President Felipe Calderon to discuss security cooperation. Human rights activists claim that Calderon’s “war on drugs” has cost 45,000 lives in Mexico and been unsuccessful in stemming trafficking. Calderon’s War is financed by the United States through the Merida Initiative which, when proposed in 2006, was intended to finance security operations in Central America as well as Mexico. However, only this year has Washington’s focus turned back to Central America, and the region is already showing signs of militarization.
Perez Molina and Calderon share some of the same friends in Washington. The Spanish public relations firm Ostos & Sola worked on both Perez Molina’s and Calderon’s campaigns, as well as the campaigns of Haitian President Michel Martelly and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, all considered right wing. The firm’s Executive Director in Washington DC is Damien Merlo, who was previously Vice President of Otto Reich Associates, at a time when the DC lobby firm, run by Bush administration State Department appointee Otto Reich, advocated for the recognition of Honduran coup government of Roberto Micheletti.
MILITARIZATION versus JUSTICE
Earlier this year, in March 2011, Washington’s own breed of political hit men, lobbyists or strategic advisors, were hired to take on, or out, the highly successful United Nations backed Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, CICIG. Former Ambassador Robert Geldbard of Washington Global Partners, a former special envoy to the Balkans during the Clinton Presidency and later Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, was hired by Guatemalan businessmen, including WalMart Central America Vice President Salvador Paiz, reportedly to undermine CICIG’s image with its funders in Washington and New York, the Congress and the United Nations.
According to an October 15, 2011 article in the Economist, Guatemalan businessmen were reportedly angered by the arrest warrants issued against the former Minister of Governance Carlos Vielmann, accused by CICIG of running an organized crime related death squad within the police.
Cleaning up corruption at the highest levels of government is apparently not popular amongst the powerful economic and military sectors, but it is obviously key to ending the devastating violence, repression and impunity in Central America, and is completely dependent on the political will of the powerful sectors in Guatemala and the so-called international community.
As efforts were underway to undermine CICIG’s support in New York and Washington, both the UN and the State Department were pushing full steam ahead on the Central America Security Strategy, particularly focused on a push to ‘reform’ the police forces in Central America, which in El Salvador and Guatemala were created from forces ‘recycled’ from the militaries.
In the ‘Northern Triangle’ of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador), the police forces (historically linked to and dependent on the militaries) are infamously corrupt. The US, United Nations and international community are seemingly turning to infamously corrupt, violent and criminal military partners to ‘clean up’ security.
In furtherance to this focus on strengthening police forces in the Northern Triangle countries, in November, Panamanian President Martinelli announced that the US and Colombia are establishing in Panama a joint training center for police forces from throughout the region, bringing back nightmarish memories of the School of the Americas, which originally trained military forces from throughout Latin America in Panama.
There also appears to be a push to involve private security contractors in the police reforms and ‘anti-narcotics war’ in Central America. Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has coordinated a series of conferences for mayors and presidents of Central America, sponsored by private security corporation Continental Security and Integrated Systems (CIS). 55% of Plan Colombia funds were spent on US based private security contractors. It appears Central America will follow suit.
Military and former military officers dominate the private security industry throughout the region, and in recent years the presence of private security forces in the countryside, especially in Guatemala and Honduras, has grown extensively, largely present where mines, hydroelectric dams and biofuel projects are being developed by transnational corporations and the local elite.
In the Bajo Aguan region of Honduras, it is reported that 1980s death squad member Billy Joya advised the local police before a rash of death squad style killings of land rights activists in conflict with biofuel producers broke out; at least 50 campesinos activists have been killed in under two years.
In addition to Washington’s willingness to work with incoming president Perez Molina and his Kaibil cabal, in El Salvador former General Munguia was named Security Minister in November, an extremely controversial move toward ‘militarization’ of civilian security. Analysts claim that the appointment came in response to pressure form the US Embassy.
Perez Molina has pledged to deploy Kaibils to combat drug trafficking, despite accusations against current and former Kaibils of participating in drug trafficking. He has also pledged to mobilize the Airforce Special Forces in the drug war, and to expand the military by 2,500 new elements.
In Honduras, the reform program has been vigorously denounced as a charade run by the same corrupt power players that created the criminal networks within the police and that supported the 2009 military coup against the democratically elected government of President Zelaya. Alfredo Landaverde, a former Anti Narcotics Chief and one of the most outspoken critics of the “reform,” was gunned down by motorcycle assassins on December 7.
GRIM PROSPECTS FOR REAL SECURITY AND JUSTICE
While undoubtedly clean police forces are critical to building safe communities, pouring money, arms and training into corrupted security forces, as shown by the Zetas, will only fuel the violence, corruption and impunity.
There must be real political interest in addressing impunity and corruption and in prosecuting organized crimes’ political power players. Apparently prosecution of corruption is not good for transnational business interests, but the security industry is big business.
When some Americans complain that foreign aid is wasting taxpayer money abroad that could be put to better use at home, they may not realize that today’s version of foreign aid isn’t what it used to be. Call it the Pentagon-zation of U.S. foreign assistance.
Until a few years ago, the State Department was the leading U.S. government agency when it came to doling out foreign aid. But beginning in the second term of George W. Bush’s presidency, and continuing through the Obama administration, the Department of Defense has surpassed the State Department in supporting foreign initiatives, most of which have been military oriented.
For the past two years, the Pentagon has been given $10 billion more than the State Department for foreign aid projects. With $17 billion, Defense officials plan for the coming year to invest in foreign military and police training, counter-drug assistance, counterterrorism activities and infrastructure projects, among other programs.
Among the expenditures included in the recently passed 2012 National Defense Authorization Act are $1.1 billion to the government of Pakistan for alleged counterinsurgency efforts and $415 million for two programs known euphemistically as the Combatant Commander Initiative Fund and the Commander Emergency Response Fund. Translated into everyday English, this means cash that can be handed out by U.S. commanders.
Gordon Adams of the Stimson Center told iWatch News that by shifting foreign aid to military programs “you end up strengthening those instruments which are least democratic fundamentally.”
Under South African apartheid, pass laws segregated blacks from whites, restricted their movements, required pass books be carried at all times, and be produced on demand or face arrest and prosecution.
Evolving from the 18th and 19th century until their 1986 repeal, they restricted entry to cities, forcibly relocated blacks, denied them most public amenities, many forms of employment, and became apartheid’s most hated symbol.
Repressive Israeli occupation is worse. It’s a sophisticated form of social, economic, political and racial discrimination, strangulation, and genocide.
It incorporates the worst elements of colonialism and apartheid as well as repressive dispossession, displacement and state terrorism. It separates Palestinians from their land and heritage, denies them their lawful rights, and displaces them from areas Israel wants exclusively for Jews.
Apartheid is the worst form of racism. Israel’s militarized occupation is the worst form of apartheid. It incorporates violence, military incursions, land theft, home demolitions, targeted assassinations, murder, mass arrests, torture, destruction of agricultural land, and isolation. It’s slow-motion genocide, including suffocating Gazans under siege.
The ID/permit system is one of many elements designed to make greater Israel an ethnically pure Jewish state.
Israel requires all permanent residents and citizens over 16 to have a color-coded ID cards. Called te’udat zehut, they’re for West Bank and Gazan Palestinians, East Jerusalem ones, Israeli Arabs and Jews.
For Palestinians, they dictate where they may live, work, move, or be allowed through West Bank checkpoints, to Israel or Gaza. Doing so requires hard to get permits. They’re easily cancelled without notice.
Jews have blue IDs, Palestinians either Israeli-issued orange ones (in Hebrew) or nearly identical Palestinian Authority-issued green ones with a PA seal on top. The following information is included:
- name and ID number;
- father and mother’s names;
- date and place of birth;
- marital status;
- gender; and
Prior to 2005, ethnicity was also included. It’s still available on request from state registrations.
A separate document includes:
- current and previous addresses;
- previous names;
- citizenship, including for permanent resident citizens of other countries;
- name, birth date and ID numbers for spouse and children; and
- electoral polling stamp.
Israel’s Bureaucratic Nightmare
On December 23, Haaretz writer Chaim Levinson headlined, “Israel has 101 different types of permits governing Palestinian movement,” saying:
Most common ones let Palestinians “work in Israel, or in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Over the decades, however, the permit regimen has grown into a vast, triple-digit bureaucracy.”
Separate permits are required for Al-Aqsa Mosque worshippers and clerics. Medical permits distinguish between physicians and ambulance drivers. They also differ for “medical emergency staff” and “medical staff” in the seam zone (between the Green Line and Israel’s Separation Wall).
Escorting a patient in an ambulance requires permit permission as does simply accompanying a patient.
Others are for traveling to a West Bank wedding or Israel, as well as visiting Israel for a funeral, work meeting, or court hearing.
New permits followed Israel’s Separation Wall construction, including for farmers cut off from their land. For example, permit permission is required for “farmer(s) in the seam zone.” A separate one is for “permanent farmer(s) in the seam zone.” In other words, working one’s own land requires Israeli permission.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Occupied Palestine-based international agencies waste 20% of their time applying for, renewing, and dealing with permit related problems.
Machsom Watch, a checkpoint monitoring organization, claims Shin Bet uses Israel’s permit system to recruit informers. Palestinians rejected for security reasons are targeted. In return for spying, they offer “assistance” getting permits.
Besides other daily abuses, Israel’s permit system creates a dystopian nightmare for Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. Major media scoundrels almost never discuss its existence, let alone its draconian harshness.
A Final Comment
In 2001, Israel enacted an Electronic Signature Law. Plans were to issue smart ID cards. The project stalled for a decade. Storing biometric data electronically raises privacy and other civil liberty concerns.
Unlike magnetic cards, however, biometric characteristics are hard to counterfeit, copy, share, lose, or guess.
After much debate, Israel’s Knesset enacted the Biometric Database Law in December 2009. A year later, Netanyahu’s government approved it. As a result, the Interior Ministry will begin issuing Israeli citizens smart ID cards and electronic passports with embedded chips over a two year trial period.
New regulations call for:
- issuing a biometric ID;
- requiring fingerprints and facial images;
- encrypting and securing the data; and
- transferring it among authorized agencies.
At the end of the year end 2013 trial period, all Israeli citizens will be required to provide biometric data for IDs, passports, and storage in Israel’s national database.
Palestinians already must have their hands electronically scanned when applying for Israeli-Issued Magnetic ID cards. At issue is facilitating freer movement under repressive imposed restrictions.
For example, West Bank Palestinians wishing to reach Jerusalem, Gaza or Israel must apply and pay for a magnetic card. Having one proves they have security clearance permission. If gotten, it’s for short periods. Most often it’s for medical or other emergencies.
Foreign travel requires an Interior Ministry-issued “laisser passer.” If granted, it’s good for one year and renewable only in Israel. To reach Jordan, a valid passport is needed. Many West Bank and East Jerusalemites have it as the Hashemite Kingdom once administered the Territory.
Under siege, Gazans are entirely isolated with few exceptions, other than those able to reach Egypt through Rafah. Those granted travel permission to Jordan or abroad via Ben Gurion Airport must have authorized IDs, magnetic cards and permits.
For decades under occupation, Palestinians have been governed by hundreds of draconian military orders. They cover virtually everything from bank account withdrawals, water rights, land transactions, opening a business, growing onions, public gatherings, what can and can’t be published, planting and growing fruit trees, and much more.
Under military occupation, their lives are repressively micromanaged. Orwell understood it well. He once called “the price of liberty….not so much eternal vigilance as eternal dirt.” Getting it, of course, is worth it.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SELLERSBURG — During World War I, Randolph Bourne wrote, “War is the health of the state.” Bourne was referring to nation-states of course, but considering what I’ve learned recently, it seems appropriate to say “war is the health of the state of Indiana.”
According to a 2011 Indiana University report, back in 2001, Indiana received $1.8 billion from the federal government in the form of defense contracts. This number grew to more than $4 billion over the next decade. We all know why the growth occurred: War.
This report, titled “Building National Security: The Economic Impact of Indiana’s Defense Industry,” explains that the ability to attract federal defense spending is of great benefit to Indiana. The introductory letter signed by the lieutenant governor and the IU president says, “… it is critical to the state of Indiana and its work force that the defense industry continues to flourish here.”
I don’t agree. It’s extremely unwise to develop an economy based not only on government spending, which requires taxation and/or debt, but which also depends on death and destruction for growth.
As a result of their desire for continued and increased federal defense spending, a private-public partnership firm, Conexus Indiana, and the Indiana Economic Development Corp. have created the Indiana Aerospace and Defense Council for the specific purpose of promoting Indiana as a great place for the federal government to spend its defense budget.
It’s bad enough that state government uses the euphemism “economic development” in an attempt to centrally plan an economy by spending tax money in ways that favor some industries and businesses over others, but using funds to lobby for increased federal spending that supports war attacks the sensibilities of all peace-loving individuals.
But those who directly benefit don’t see it this way. The groups involved — the politicians, the state universities and the corporations — all benefit from the business that results when the nation-state participates in war. No one wants to acknowledge the horrible truth embedded in the fact that pushing the defense industry encourages the development of businesses that are healthiest during wartime — in other words, peace makes them sick.
This council also wants to increase the number of companies involved, but any business owner should be cautious about such a move. Besides the more obvious concerns when businesses get involved in war, there can also be plenty of unanticipated costs.
For example, as I was browsing around the website of CACI, the newest business to locate in New Albany’s Purdue Research Park, I was amazed at how much time, money and energy this company is spending as it works to disassociate itself from the abuse and torture controversy at Abu-Ghraib prison in Iraq. I wonder if they think the contract was worth it.
Indiana is already receiving fewer defense dollars as the federal government’s involvement in the current wars change. However, instead of seeing this as a warning, signaling a need to gain freedom from such dependency, officials are making decisions that will only suck Indiana in even deeper.
Should the businesses in this state increase their dependency on an “industry” that experiences its best growth when the federal government gets involved in nasty wars far from the actual soil they claim to be defending?
Or would it be better to spend energy working to create products and services that enrich lives, thereby encouraging mutually beneficial peaceful trade and friendly relationships?
I am concerned, and even mourning, this realization of where human energy and resources have been focused, because I do not want war to be the health of the state of Indiana.
— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson is sick of government interference.
‘Land grab’ report highlights growing interest from speculators in ‘flex’ crops like soya, palm oil and sugarcane that can be used for biofuels or food
The amount of land acquired for biofuels globally is far higher than previously thought, according to one of the most comprehensive assessments yet by the International Land Coalition (ILC).
Biofuels are now the major driver for large-scale purchases of farmland or ‘land grabbing’ in the global south, with almost 53 per cent of the 71 million hectares cross-referenced in the report, being used for biofuels.
In Africa, the impact of biofuels was even stronger with 66 per cent of land purchases used for biofuels. Food was next highest at 15 per cent.
This is far higher than a World Bank’s analysis last year that just 21 per cent of global land grab deals conducted between 2008-9 were being used for biofuels.
Europe’s biofuel demand
Campaigners say ‘land grabbing’ is being driven by EU targets to source 10 per cent of all transport fuels for buses and cars from biofuels rather than conventional fossil fuels by 2020.
‘These findings suggest that the scale of land-grabbing for biofuel production is far worse than previously imagined,’ Robbie Blake of Friends of the Earth Europe. ‘Europe’s appetite for land is already unsustainable, reaching well beyond its borders, with devastating social and environmental impacts.’
The report, ‘Land Rights and the Rush for Land’, involved the collaboration of over 40 different organisations in the research process – the biggest study to date. It says rural livelihoods have been put in jeopardy by the land grabbing deals, with the promise of jobs not, as yet, materialising.
‘Weak governance, corruption and a lack of transparency in decision-making, which are key features of the typical environment in which large-scale land acquisitions take place, mean that the poor gain few benefits from these deals but pay high costs,’ says Dr Madiodio Niasse, Secretariat Director of the International Land Coalition.
Rise in ‘flex’ crops
Report author Michael Taylor, from the International Land Coalition, says they were surprised by the dominance of biofuels in land grabbing deals.
‘What one would expect is that food would be a bigger driver, because biofuel is largely driven by two factors which can change quite quickly: one is subsidy [...] the other is other is technological change.’
Taylor said that there had also been a rise in ‘flex’ crops in land grabbing deals, which could be used for biofuels or food, such as soya, palm oil and sugar cane.
‘I think some savvy investors are moving towards planting crops that, as the market changes, they can use for whatever they want. At the moment, it looks like energy is maybe more profitable than food, and so it’s biofuel food stock. But, if something changes in the market, they can change it to food.’
After biofuels and food, the other main drivers of land-grabbing deals were mineral exploitation, tourism and carbon sequestration projects. It is not just foreign investors who buy land either, in some cases national elites were behind the deals, buying up land before offering their services to overseas companies.
Land deals going wrong
The report highlighted land grab deals that went wrong and left local populations with degraded land. For example, in Mozambique and Tanzania land was abandoned after the financial crisis and changing oil prices, which made biofuels less attractive to speculators.
As well as changing financial circumstances, the report says many investments were failing because of unrealistic targets and an underestimation of the technical, logistical, administrative and community engagement challenges involved in getting these projects going.’
Governments were also guilty of abusing the land rights of local communities. In Ethiopia, a large area of land owned by the Indian company Karuturi has been put out of bounds to its original users, despite the company only using a small area of it, denying them access to a water supply and thereby rendering their grazing land useless.
And in Indonesia, the government has given large concessions of forest to companies to produce oil, which was subsequently harvested for its timber without any planting taking place, leaving the area unusable by its local communities.
And the flag that refuses to lie down. (Julie Webb)
Gaza – In Israel, nothing is more rewarding than committing systematic mass killings and war crimes against Palestinians. It seems, according to Israel’s moral system and code of conduct, nothing is more trivial than a Palestinian life. Inflicting death on Palestinians is not punishable in Israel but instead ornamented with decoration and job advancement. I reckon it’s the highest and most honorable accomplishment through which an Israeli soldier can achieve most prominent ranks in the military.
This has been evident throughout the Palestine-Israel conflict, as countless planned massacres were and are still being committed against Palestinians since Palestine was occupied in 1948, and typically, the perpetrators have always been leaders of sorts, either political or military figures.
For example, every year Palestinians widely remember Sabra and Shatila massacre, in which thousands of Palestinians were slaughtered in Beirut, Lebanon in 1982. An independent Israeli investigation followed at the time, and it held the then minister of defense Ariel Sharon responsible for allowing the massacre to take place. Not only that, Sharon was found guilty of committing several pogroms against Palestinians. However, he never stood a trial; but on the contrary, he kept ascending the highest rungs of power, where he eventually ended up being Israel’s prime minister in 2001.
Colonizers living on land illegally sequestrated from Palestinians in the West Bank are possibly most hostile to Palestinians, who are subject to constant humiliation and attacks. Every now and then, news is heard of separate incidents of settlers stabbing an unarmed Palestinian, running over a child, or committing mass murder, like the Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein did in 1994, when he opened fire inside the Ibrahimi Mosque at the Palestinian prayers performing the dawn prayer during the Holy Ramadan, killing 29 persons, and injuring another 125.
Israel’s 22 day invasion of the Gaza Strip three years ago was not an exception. Based on universally held moral values and international laws of war, a lot of neutral and fact-based reports conducted by human rights organizations, including the Goldstone report, and consistent documentations proved that Israel committed war crimes against Palestinian civilians. Israel particularly dismissed the Goldstone report as “biased and one-sided,” refused to cooperate and claimed it would launch its own investigations.
A year ago, the Guardian reported that: “The military’s Judge Advocate General, Maj. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit ordered almost 50 investigations arising from the operation.” Surely, one can’t help but burst into laughter at what some of these investigations were about. The report continues recounting three specific cases, one of which was “for stealing and using a Palestinian’s credit card”. Another Israeli soldier was convicted “for forcing an 11-year-old boy to open bags which could have contained explosives.” For Israeli judges, stealing one’s money—still immoral of the Israeli army–is by all means far more incriminatory than bombing his body. And did Israel really sanctify the Palestinian children’s lives? If so, what about the 352 children who were killed in cold blood? Were they all posing a threat to Israeli soldiers?
Some of the alleged Israeli investigations were reportedly said to be covering—as Col. Tamir Yadi put it—”claims regarding incidents in which many uninvolved civilians were harmed,” but not mentioning a single word about Al Samouni massacre, the single most atrocious incident in the entire assault, where Israeli forces had ordered the entire Al Samouni family to gather in one house—of course, to ensure the highest ratio of casualties–before they premeditatedly bombed it, killing 21 persons and injuring 19 others.
The incident, however, grabbed the world’s attention as hundreds of media reports and firsthand witnesses amassed. Israel immediately pretended an investigation was under way. Despite the overwhelming evidence, including a bunch of air force officers’ compatible testimony, that Ilan Malka, a senior brigade commander, was responsible for authorizing the strike while being aware of a civilian presence in the area. Later on, exactly three years after the massacre, Israel deliberately buried the case and didn’t take any legal actions against him, but instead decided to promote him to the position of brigadier general.
This was quite shocking to me, but later I couldn’t think of any “state” other than Israel capable of doing this. And in retrospect, I was able to grasp the horridness of this racist, inhumane behavior of Israel.
December 27, 2011 marks the third anniversary of Israel’s war–or “Operation Cast Lead,” as Israel sinisterly put it– on the Gaza Strip in late 2008. What can’t be coincidental is the day on which Israel initiated its intensive airstrikes before it proceeded with a 22-day operation from land and sea; it was few days before 2008 drew to a close.
The end of every year is and will always be totally different for the people of Gaza, for it evokes all the painful memories of bodies torn asunder, of houses, mosques and schools destroyed. The timing of the strike was absolutely right, that Israel purposely intended to make the grievance of the people of Gaza recurrent.
Even the Gaza youth, instead of celebrating the heraldry of the new year by congratulating each other and posting hopeful wishes on all social networking sites like the people in the rest of the world do, you see most of them posting statuses of reverential sorrow and lamentation, and make the famous corner-taped black background picture indicating mourning for Gaza their profile pictures. Some others post pictures of burnt children or their beloved relatives Israel killed during the 22 days.
The same is true for Christians in Gaza. They suffered just as equally. When they were supposed to celebrate their Holy Christmas peacefully in 2008, Israel rained on their parade and turned it into an absolute nightmare, which is going to be remembered yearly.
The irony seems beyond imagination; while the entire world was preparing to welcome 2009’s beginning with celebrations and fireworks, Palestinians in Gaza were made to have their own special rituals and extraordinary fireworks too, but ones that rained downwards and made flesh sizzle and bones melt.
This, however, didn’t work completely. It is true Palestinians lost their sons and houses, but one thing they can’t lose for sure is their resilient spirit and ability to heal. In Gaza, meanwhile, Christians are going to churches, decorating their Xmas trees and having lively celebrations. Also, Muslims are going to celebrate on the eve of the New Year and hang out with family and friends. My friends and I have plans too.
- Mohammed AlNadi is Gaza-based English literature graduate. He works as a translator.
Russia’s 11,740-ton Yekaterinburg nuclear submarine catches fire on Thursday while being repaired in the northern Murmansk region.
One of Russia’s biggest nuclear submarines has caught fire while docked in the northern Murmansk region but no radiation leak has been reported so far, officials say.
The 11,740-ton Yekaterinburg was undergoing repairs when the fire broke out, spreading fast from the shipyard’s wooden structures to the submarine’s outer hull, Northern Fleet navy spokesman Vadim Serga said on Thursday.
A special helicopter was used in a massive salvage operation to douse the flames with tons of water from above.
Emergency workers, 11 fire crews and a navy fire boat were involved in launching the operation.
A defense ministry spokesman said that the submarine’s two reactors had been switched off long before the repairs started and there was “no threat of a nuclear radiation leak.”
“The power unit was switched off and is now safe,” defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
Russia’s Northern Fleet has had a series of small accidents, in addition to a deadly disaster in August 2000, when 118 seamen died on board the Kursk nuclear submarine when it caught fire and exploded while at sea.
Mérida – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has expressed his “suspicions” over the number of left wing Latin American presidents who have acquired cancer recently.
“It’s difficult to explain, at this point, what is happening to some of us in Latin America,” Chavez said. “It’s strange that [Paraguayan president Fernando] Lugo, [Brazilian president] Dilma [Rousseff], and then myself, and a few days later [ex Brazilian president Luiz Inacio] Lula [Da Silva] and now Cristina [Fernandez] have contracted cancer”.
“Would it be strange if the U.S had developed the technology to induce cancer? I don’t know, I leave it to be reflected on,” he added.
“I don’t want to make any reckless accusations, but just a while ago I heard president Alvaro Colom [of Guatemala] telling the United States that it should accept its responsibility and seek forgiveness from the Guatemalan people, because it was shown, fifty years later, that they ran a biological and chemical operation, venereal diseases included, in the country, for scientific tests,” Chavez added.
On 4 January Fernandez will be operated on for thyroid cancer. According to Alfredo Scoccimarrio, Argentine secretary of communication, there is no metastasis. Abiding by constitutional regulations, the vice president, Amado Boudou, will take over Fernandez’s responsibilities while she is in hospital.
Lugo was diagnosed with treatable lymphatic cancer in August last year, Rouseff underwent cancer treatment in 2009, also for lymphoma, In October this year Lula’s larynx cancer was detected, and Chavez was diagnosed with cancer in June this year. He has since announced his “full recovery”.
The Venezuelan foreign affairs ministry released a statement yesterday saying Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez had called Fernandez, worried, and to express his solidarity. Fernandez said he was the first president to call her.
According to the statement, during the conversation Fernandez said she would like to be included in the “Summit of Presidents who have overcome cancer” and they talked about asking Lula to coordinate the event. Lula proposed the conference on 3 November this year.
The statement said the conversation concluded with Chavez wishing Fernandez “good health” and saying “We’ll live and we’ll overcome”, a slogan Chavez has been using instead of ‘socialism, homeland, or death’ since he himself fought cancer.