Director of National Intelligence Tells Congress Americans Can Be Killed
By Jason Ditz, February 03, 2010
In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee today, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair told representatives that American citizens can be assassinated by the US government when they are oveseas.
Blair said the comments were intended to “reassure” Americans that there was a “set of defined policy and legal procedures” in place and that such assassinations are always carried out by the book.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R – MI) inquired about the procedures involved, asking what the legal framework was under which Americans could be killed by the intelligence community.
Blair insisted that under no circumstances would Americans be assassinated overseas for criticizing the government, adding “we don’t target people for free speech.” Rather they are subject to assassination when the government decides they are a threat and when they “get specific permission.” Exactly who was giving that permission was unclear.
The question has been increasingly important as the Obama Administration attempts to help the Yemeni government assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born cleric who is not accused of any crimes by the US government. The administration maintains that secret evidence exists linking Awlaki to terrorism.
There seems to be a chilling lack of oversight in the procedure behind these killings, however, Blair’s assurances against politically motivated assassinations aside. The US has killed Americans in overseas attacks before, but only as “collateral damage.” It has never admitted to explicitly assassinating an American citizen before, though it seems that the policy is in place and such killings are only a matter of time.
By Laura Flanders | Online Journal | February 4, 2010
Who says the president is failing to show leadership? In one area at least, there’s no sign of flag or falter. If anything, the administration’s only becoming more forthright. Sad to say, that area is military build-up.
Last year, the White House made a big deal of cutting a weapons program — the F-22 fighter jet — and the cuts conveniently obscured the growth in spending on unmanned aircraft or drones (the weapons that Pakistanis say killed a record 123 civilians in 12 attacks last month; 41 for every alleged Al Qaeda member.)
This year, the president dispensed with window dressing. No big deal about cuts — except on the domestic side. While the administration’s record $3.8 trillion budget shrinks or freezes spending on domestic needs, it requests $708.3 billion for war. That’s $14.8 billion more than we’re spending now.
The total includes $548.9 billion for “regular” war, plus $159.3 billion for special spending on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Oh yes, the administration’s also asking Congress to increase spending on new nuclear weapons by more than $7 billion dollars over the next five years — despite that peace prize-winning pledge to cut the US arsenal and seek a nuclear weapons-free world.
The quote of the day comes from the CEO of a military contractor-funded policy group called the Lexington Institute. Loren Thompson tells Tuesday’s New York Times, “The defense industry is pleased but bemused . . . It’s been telling itself for years that when the Democrats got control it would be bad news for weapons programs. But the spending keeps going on.”
Take that you Nobel committee!
And to think some whiners complain about Democrats suffering from a lack of direction.
Press TV – February 4, 2010
Chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat says Palestinians should consider other alternatives to the two-state solution, if the peace process with Israel does not move forward.
Palestinians should develop credible alternatives to the two-state solution, such as a one-state solution or a bi-national state and dissolve the Palestinian Authority, according to Erekat.
Erekat also called for a “campaign of non-violent resistance, such as prohibition of Palestinians working in settlements and boycott of Israeli products.”
Another option that the Palestinians should consider, according to Erekat, is the re-evaluation of the Oslo Accord and “declaring them null and void, partially or completely, or applying them selectively in a manner consistent with Palestinian interests.”
The prominent Palestinian figure also called for a united Palestinian message and position regarding peace talks with Israel.
Erekat went on to urge Palestinians to try to secure a UN Security Council resolution that would recognize the state of Palestine on its 1967 borders recognizing East Jerusalem (Al-Quds) as its capital he further called for a just solution to the Palestinian refugee issue based on Resolution 194.
The chief negotiator also called on Israel to implement a comprehensive settlement freeze, which would include in East Jerusalem (Al-Quds), and reopen Palestinian institutions in the city.
“Israel also must remove settlement outposts established since March 2001, lift the siege and closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip and halt raids, arrests and assassinations and all activities that may jeopardize building mutual trust and confidence,” Saeb Erekat pointed out.
Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler
SILWAN, Occupied East Jerusalem, Feb 3 (IPS) – Backed by armed security men, the municipal inspectors race their jeeps through the narrow alleyways and up a hillside crowded with buildings.
Some of the homes are well-faced with stone; the naked concrete of others gives off something of a temporary air.
One block of flats stands out for its unusual seven-storey height in an area of the city where two or three storied buildings are the norm. And then there is the giant, blue-and-white Israeli national flag draped demonstratively over the front of the building, from the roof down to the ground.
This is the so-called ‘Beit Yehonatan’, the House of Yehonatan, where religious Jews have put down a nationalist marker in the heart of this Palestinian neighbourhood, part of a major effort to change the face of Arab East Jerusalem that has been under Israeli occupation since 1967.
The inspectors’ mission is to deliver demolition orders to owners of illegally-built homes, almost all of them Palestinians.
Beit Yehonatan is also exceptional in this respect. In July 2008, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered that it too was built “illegally” by the settlers and should be evacuated and sealed off.
When, for the umpteenth time, the inspectors arrive at the settlers’ building they find it shuttered. They are unable to gain access. It is not clear whether anybody is at home. Shrugging their shoulders the inspectors move on to deliver demolition orders on more accessible targets – Palestinian families.
Anyway, they know that there are powerful forces determined to ensure that this display of equal application of the law to Jews and Arabs remains precisely that – a demonstration.
The seven-story structure was built in Silwan by the religious nationalist association Ateret Cohanim in 2004 without the necessary permits. Several Jewish families from Ateret Cohanim – a lynchpin group in the Jewish colonisation endeavour in East Jerusalem – are known to live there.
Last week, Jerusalem’s Israeli mayor Nir Barkat launched a new legal maneuver in a bid to stave off implementation of the High Court order that the settlers be evacuated.
This, despite the fact that the municipality’s own legal advisor, Yosi Havilio, ruled that the court order issued two years ago be implemented immediately. Havilio said that the Mayor’s last-ditch attempt to bypass the court by appealing for an additional ruling from “an external legal authority” was “unacceptable”.
Faced by international opprobrium over the repeated cases of settlers moving more and more into Palestinian neighbourhoods, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu says blandly “it is a purely municipal matter”.
That has enabled the mayor to stand his ground. In a letter to Israel’s State Prosecutor Moshe Lador, Barkat insisted that he has police backing too. “The police believe there is serious concern that the day after Beit Yehonatan would be sealed off it would be invaded by Jews and/or Arabs and that could create an unnecessary point of friction,” he warned.
The mayor is also trying to push an alternative gambit to having the “illegal building” closed down. He is proposing to issue a new municipal by-law specifically for Silwan which will allow the construction of buildings there up to four stories high.
The motive is clear: Such a by-law would “whitewash” many of the illegal buildings in the area, including Beit Yehonatan.
Given the mayor’s record, however, this seems unlikely to ease the plight of the Palestinians of East Jerusalem whose homes are regularly pulled down on the grounds that they have not acquired the necessary building permits.
In other parts of East Jerusalem the mayor has indeed approved construction tenders for new Jewish building projects; he has yet, though, to extend such tenders to Palestinian applicants in spite of repeated pledges to do so on the grounds that all residents of Jerusalem, Jews and Arabs alike, be treated “equally” in respect of building applications. In the nearby Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Israeli and international demonstrators have been gathering weekly to protest the eviction of Palestinian families and their replacement by Jewish settlers.
At last Friday’s protest, a leftwing member of the Israeli parliament, Ilan Gilon, poured cold water on the settler claim of ownership over the houses they take over on the grounds that they rely on property titles held by Jews from early in the 20th century.
“If settlers can prove ownership of 28 buildings, Palestinians can prove ownership of 28,000,” he said.
“There are times when one cannot afford to sit quietly by,” the internationally-renowned Israeli novelist, David Grossman, told the gathering. “The settlers and the Right – with tremendous help from the government, the Israeli legal system and important business interests – continue to abuse Palestinian rights in a thousand ways.
“They are complicating the situation to such an extent as to make any peace agreement impossible. Basically, they are destroying our future – of Israelis and Palestinians alike,” Grossman warned.
Copyright © 2010 IPS-Inter Press Service. All rights reserved.
By Jonathon Cook | February 4, 2010
Nazareth – Over the past four decades Israel has defrauded Palestinians working inside Israel of more than US $2 billion by deducting from their salaries contributions for welfare benefits to which they were never entitled, Israeli economists have alleged.
A new report, “State Robbery,” to be published later this month, says the “theft” continued even after the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994 and part of the money was supposed to be transferred to a special fund on behalf of the workers.
According to information supplied by Israeli officials, most of the deductions from the workers’ pay were invested in infrastructure projects in the Palestinian territories – a presumed reference to the massive state subsidies accorded to the settlements.
Nearly 50,000 Palestinians from the West Bank are working in Israel – following the easing of restrictions on entering Israel under the “economic peace” promised by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister – and continue to have such contributions docked from their pay.
Complicit in the deception, the report adds, is the Histadrut, the Israeli labor federation, which levies a monthly fee on Palestinian workers, even though they are not entitled to membership and are not represented in labor disputes.
“This is a clear-cut case of theft from Palestinian workers on a grand scale,” said Shir Hever, a Jerusalem-based economist and one of the authors of the report. “There are no reasons for Israel to delay in returning this money either to the workers or to their beneficiaries.”
The deductions started being made in 1970, three years after the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories began, when Palestinian workers started to enter Israel in significant numbers, most of them employed as manual laborers in the agriculture and construction industries.
Typically, the workers lose a fifth of their salary in deductions that are supposed to cover old age payments, unemployment allowance, disability insurance, child benefits, trade union fees, pension fund, holiday and sick pay, and health insurance. In practice, however, the workers are entitled only to disability payments in case of work accidents and are insured against loss of work if their employer goes bankrupt.
According to the report, compiled by two human rights groups, the Alternative Information Centre and Kav La’Oved, only a fraction of the total contributions – less than eight percent – was used to award benefits to Palestinian workers. The rest was secretly transferred to the finance ministry.
The Israeli organizations assess that the workers were defrauded of at least $2.25 billion in today’s prices, in what they describe as a minimum and “very conservative” estimate of the misappropriation of the funds. Such a sum represents about 10 percent of the PA’s annual budget.
The authors also note that they excluded from their calculations two substantial groups of Palestinian workers – those employed in the Israeli settlements and those working in Israel’s black economy – because figures were too hard to obtain.
Hever said the question of whether the bulk of the deductions – those for national insurance – had been illegally taken from the workers was settled by the Israeli High Court of Justice back in 1991. The judges accepted a petition from the flower growers’ union that the government should return about $1.5 million in contributions from Palestinian workers in the industry.
“The legal precedent was set then and could be used to reclaim the rest of these excessive deductions,” he said.
At the height of Palestinian participation in the Israeli labor force, in the early 1990s, as many as one in three Palestinian workers was dependent on an Israeli employer.
Israel continued requiring contributions from Palestinian workers after the creation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, arguing that it needed to make the deductions to ensure Israeli workers remained competitive.
However, the report notes that such practices were supposed to have been curbed by the Oslo process. Israel agreed to levy an “equalization tax” – equivalent to the excessive contributions paid by Palestinians – a third of which would be invested in a fund that would later be available to the workers.
In fact, however, the Israeli state comptroller, a government watchdog official, reported in 2003 that only about a tenth of the money levied on the workers had actually been placed in the fund.
The Finance Ministry has admitted that most of the money taken from the workers was passed to Israeli military authorities in the Palestinian territories to pay for “infrastructure programs.” Hannah Zohar, the director of Kav La’Oved who co-authored the report, said she believed that the ministry was actually referring to the construction of illegal settlements.
The report is also highly critical of the Histadrut, Israel’s trade union federation, which it accuses of grabbing “a piece of the pie” by forcing Palestinian workers to pay a monthly “organizing fee” to the union since 1970, even though Palestinians are not entitled to membership.
Despite the Histadrut’s agreement with its Palestinian counterpart in 2008 to repay the fees, only 20 percent was returned, leaving $30 million unaccounted for.
The Histadrut was also implicated in another “rip-off,” Hever said. It agreed in 1990 to the Israeli construction industry’s demand that Palestinian workers pay an extra two percent tax to promote the training of recent Jewish immigrants, most of them from the former Soviet Union.
Hever said that in effect the Palestinian laborers were required to “subsidize the training of workers meant to replace them.” The funds were never used for the stated purpose but were mainly issued as grants to the families of Israeli workers.
In one especially cynical use of the funds, the report claims, the money was spent on portable stoves for soldiers involved in Israel’s three-week attack on Gaza last year.
In response, the Finance Ministry called the report “incorrect and misleading,” and the Histadrut said it was “full of lies.” However, neither provided rebuttals of the report’s allegations or its calculations.
Hever said the government body responsible for making the deductions, the department of payments, had initially refused to divulge any of its figures, but had partly relented after some statistics were made available through leaks from its staff.
Assef Saeed, a senior official in the Palestinian Authority’s Labor Ministry, said the PA was keen to discuss the issue of the deductions, but that talks were difficult because of the lack of contacts between the two sides.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. A version of this article originally appeared in The National, printed in Abu Dhabi.