Ewa Jasiewicz, The Electronic Intifada, 17 February 2010
The Polish army’s announcement that it will buy seven Aerostar Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) from Israel’s Aeronautics earlier this month was heralded as a step forward for Poland’s “stabilization” mission in Afghanistan. The UAV, or drone, has long been a key tool in the military arsenals of both the United States and Israel. The US leads the export market, followed by Israel, which as of last year was the planet’s third-biggest arms exporter, arming regimes around the world to the tune of $6.75 billion in 2009
The drone is more than simply a flying camera; it is killing machine in itself. American-made “Predator” and “Reaper” drones are currently used above Afghanistan and Pakistan and carry a payload of 200 kilograms — the weight of three adult men. In January 2010 alone, Predators killed 123 innocent civilians in Pakistan. During this period only two missiles hit their intended targets, in the extrajudicial killings of three al-Qaeda leaders.
Israel’s “Hermes 450” drone was used extensively during the invasion of Gaza last winter, dubbed “Operation Cast Lead” by the Israeli military. Like its American counterparts, the Hermes can also fire missiles, including the “Spike” missile which weighs up to 150 kilograms. Despite being defined as a “battlefield reconnaissance” weapon, drone-launched missiles were the biggest single cause of death during the 23-day invasion. According to Palestinian human rights organization Al Mezan, 519 persons — more than a third of the total casualties — were killed by UAVs. The next closest were 473 Palestinians killed by Israeli warplanes, including American-made F-16s.
The majority of Palestinians killed during the invasion were civilians. Palestinian medics reported a preponderance of civilian deaths by drones — families like the Berbakhs in Rafah who lost five members or the Abed Rabbo family’s six members who were killed by UAV-launched missiles. During the fighting it was common to find the mangled bodies of unarmed men cut down in the streets at night — victims of Israel’s UAV-enforced “aerial curfew.”
Poland’s military has embarked on a “Polonization of Israeli technology” drive, coupling Israeli weapons-manufacturing technology with Polish manpower and raw materials. Poland’s Bumar Group has a 10-year offset deal worth $400 million with Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems to produce Spike missiles for drones and helicopter gunships. Under the deal, Rafael must accept Polish components in its own weapons.
The Spike missiles are currently produced at the ZM Mesko factory in southern Poland. During the Second World War Mesko was occupied by German forces and both Jewish Polish and Polish slave-workers manufactured ammunition for the Third Reich. According to the Israeli Embassy’s Defense Attache here, the venture at Mesko represents the most successful example of the Polonization of Israeli technology. He told this writer, “Now, 60 years after the Holocaust, this company is providing Israeli technologies with Polish manpower for the benefit of the whole world.” The residents of Afghanistan, Palestine and West Papua wouldn’t agree.
The current round of UAVs being sold to Poland are unarmed but will be used to guide F-16 bombing missions in Afghanistan. Poland, with 2,600 troops occupying the country is one of the US’s top ten biggest recipients of Foreign Military funding. Following the completion of a $3.8 billion contract for delivery of 42 F-16s in 2003, the US Air Force has been training Polish pilots how to use the new planes. According to Colonel Timothy Burke, Chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation at the US Embassy in Warsaw, “The pilots should be qualified in the next few years. Once training has been completed, they will be using the F-16s for aerial missions” armed with laser-guided, GPS-enabled “smart-weapons.”
The first Polish S-70i Blackhawk helicopter is also ready to roll this year. It is the product of a trilateral geopolitical military alliance comprised of Israel’s Elbit Systems, the US’s United Technology Corporation and Poland’s PZL Mielec. This alliance is expected to deepen in the coming years.
Israel has also given regular strategic and technical advice to the Polish military command. According to the Polish Ministry of Defense, between 1995 and 2009 there were more than 200 activities including mutual trainings of military units, exchange of expertise, courses, seminars and symposiums organized by the Polish-Israeli Working Group. The working group is comprised of officials from the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs of both countries.
Last autumn, Poland’s Chief of Staff Gen. Franciszek Gagor participated in a training session with Israeli defense specialists on lessons learned from “Cast Lead” and “how to deal with the headlines.” According to the Israeli government, “Information warfare is one of the most developed issues of the past two decades. We have built a structure in the Israeli Defense Forces which includes information warfare. Coping with media challenges is one of our biggest issues.”
The Polish Ministry of Defense’s Vision of the Armed Forces 2030 Plan has a similar structure including “Information Forces” to police enemy media. According to the plan, “The enemy shall use a broad range of mass media in order to support its actions. By diffusing images displaying inhumane aspects of military operations, suffering of the civilian population, including children and persons advanced in years, the enemy shall try to preserve perception of the intervention forces as occupying troops which do not respect human rights. Based on the ideology or religion, it will instill fear, feed hatred and strive for mobilization of the local and international public opinion against military forces and states fulfilling mandate of international organizations.”
By equating the broadcast of the horrific realities of war and particularly its effects on a civilian population with “propaganda” and de facto enemy activity, this policy risks censoring and criminalizing investigative journalism and respect for human rights and international law. We journalists and human rights activists could be the enemy. And if we step out of line, the “Information Forces” could whip us into shape as “The units shall be intended for offensive and defensive actions carried out in order to get information predominance over the enemy and to achieve expected military [political] results of the conducted operation.”
As modern warfare takes on an ever more aerial, alienated and indiscriminate approach to “the enemy,” governments are forcing us to keep our distance. Whether it is soldiers in bunkers guiding UAVs with joysticks or keeping the men, women and children being bombed by our militaries out of our sight through media gagging orders, it is ever more urgent that this distance be closed and those in charge of military policy be held accountable for their devastating results.
Ewa Jasiewicz is a co-Editor of Le Monde Diplomatique Polish Edition where a version of this article was originally published.
A book review
By Dr. Rosalie Bertell | Global Research | February 12, 2010
This new publication of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (Volume 1181), by Alexey Yablokov, Vassily Nesterenko, and Alexey Nesterenko, is the elucidation many of us have been waiting for since the 1986 disaster at the failed nuclear reactor in Ukraine. Until now we have read about the published reports of limited spotty investigations by western scientists who undertook projects in the affected territories. Even the prestigious IAEA, WHO and UNSCEAR reports have been based on about 300 such western research papers, leaving out the findings of some 30,000 scientific papers prepared by scientists working and living in the stricken territories and suffering the everyday problems of residual contamination with nuclear debris and a contaminated food supply.
Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment is wrtitten by Alexey Yablokov, Vassily Nesterenk and Alexey Nesterenko. The senior author, Alexey Yablokov was head of the Russian Academy of Science under Gobachev – since then he receives no support. Vassily Nesterenko, head of the Ukrainian Nuclear establishment at the time of the accident, flew over the burning reactor and took the only measurements. In August 2009, he died as a result of radiation damage, but earlier, with help from Andrei Sakarov, was able to establish BELRAD to help children of the area.
The three scientists who assembled the information in the book from more than 5000 published articles and research findings, mostly available only within the former Soviet Union or Eastern block countries and not accessible in the West, are prestigious scientists who present objective facts clearly nuanced with little or no polemics. They were not encumbered by a desire to promote or excessively blame a failed technology.
The book was expertly translated into readable English by Janette Sherman, Medical Toxicologist and Adjunct Professor in the Environmental Institute at Western Michigan University.
Professor Dr. of Biology, Dimitro Grodzinsky, Chair of the Department of Biology of the Ukraine National Academy of Sciences, and member of the National Commission wrote the Forward to the book. His statement relative to Western reporting of the accident is illuminating:
“For a long time I have thought that the time has come to put an end to the opposition between technocracy advocates and those who support objective scientific efforts to estimate the negative risks for people exposed to the Chernobyl fallout. The basis for believing that these risks are not minor is very convincing.”
The government of the former Soviet Union previously classified many documents now accessible to the authors. For example, we now know that the number of people hospitalized for acute radiation sickness was more than a hundred times larger than the number recently quoted by the IAEA, WHO and UNSCEAR. Unmentioned by the technocrats were the problems of “hot particles” of burning uranium that caused nasopharyngeal problems, and the radioactive fallout that resulted in general deterioration of the health of children, wide spread blood and lymph system diseases, reproductive loss, premature and small infant births, chromosomal mutations, congenital and developmental abnormalities, multiple endocrine diseases, mental disorders and cancer.
The authors systematically explain the secrecy conditions imposed by the government, the failure of technocrats to collect data on the number and distribution of all of the radionuclides of major concern, and the restrictions placed on physicians against calling any medical findings radiation related unless the patient had been a certified “acute radiation sickness” patient during the disaster, thus assuring that only 1% of injuries would be so reported.
This book is a “must read” for all of those bureaucrats currently promoting nuclear power as the only “solution” for climate change. Those who seek information on the disaster only from the official documentation provided by the IAEA, WHO and UNSCEAR need to broaden their reading to include the reality check from those scientists who have access to local findings and are simply telling the truth, with no hidden propaganda agenda.
I was impressed by the simple message of the cover of this volume, which shows a number of felled logs with clearly distinguishable colors of wood: before and after Chernobyl. The reader will find that the environment, living plants and animals all suffered ill effects from this experience, as did the human population. It should be a sobering read for all those who have believed the fiction that “low doses of radiation are harmless”, or that a severe nuclear accident is easily contained within the human environment.
Below is the New York Academy of Sciences site for the book. Unfortunately, its selling price is now about $150, which may limit its distribution.
By Dean Baker | Center for Economic and Policy Research | February 15, 2010
Last week, when President Obama was asked about the $9 million dollar bonus for Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, he described Mr. Blankfein as a savvy businessman, adding that Americans don’t begrudge people being rewarded for success. While Obama later qualified his comment about Mr. Blankfein and his fellow bank executives, it’s worth examining more closely some of the ways in which Blankfein and the Goldman gang were “savvy.”
Perhaps the Goldman gang’s best claim to savvy was in buying up hundreds of billions of dollars of mortgages and packaging them into mortgage-backed securities, and more complex derivative instruments, and selling them all over the world. Mr. Blankfein and Goldman earned tens of billions of dollars on these deals.
The great trick was that many of the loans put into these securities were issued fraudulently, with the banks filling in phony information so that borrowers could get loans that they would not be able to repay. But this was not Goldman’s concern. They made money on the packaging and the selling of the securities. Goldman did not care that the loans in their bundles might not be kosher.
In fact, Goldman actually recognized that many of these loans would go bad. So they went to the insurance giant AIG and got them to issue credit default swaps against many of the securities it had created. In effect they were betting that their own securities were garbage. Now that is savvy. (It says something else about the highly paid executives at AIG.)
Goldman doesn’t just confine its savvy to the U.S. economy; it shares it with the rest of the world as well. According to the New York Times, it worked closely with the Greek government over the last decade to help it conceal its budget deficit. The trick was to construct complex financial arrangements that appeared on the books as “swaps,” even though they were in fact loans. Greece was adding billions of dollars to its debt, and thanks to the ingenuity of the Goldman crew, no one knew about it until now.
But Goldman’s greatest triumph was to get the government to come to its rescue when the financial sector was melting down in the fall of 2008 as the housing bubble that they had helped to fuel began to collapse. Treasury Secretary and former Goldman CEO Henry Paulson rushed to Congress and demanded $700 billion for the banks, no questions asked. He dragged along Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke for support, along with Tim Geithner, then the important head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank and now President Obama’s Treasury Secretary.
Using exaggerations and half-truths, this triumvirate convinced Congress that we would have a second Great Depression if it didn’t cough up the money immediately with no conditions. At that point Goldman, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and most of the other major banks were staring at bankruptcy. While this cascade of bank failures would have been bad news for the economy, there was no plausible scenario in which it would have led to a second Great Depression.
There was also no reason that Congress could not have put conditions on its money. For example, Congress could have dictated that as a condition of getting the money that bankers would get the same sort of paychecks as other workers, that they would get out of highly speculative activity, that the largest banks would be downsized and that the principle would be written down on bad mortgages. At that point, Congress could have told the bank honchos that they had to run around Wall Street naked with their underpants on their head. The bankers had no choice; their banks would crash and burn without government support.
But the savvy Mr. Blankfein and the other bankers got the money no questions asked. In fact, Goldman even got the government to pick up the bankrupt AIG’s debts. Thanks to the government’s intervention, Goldman got paid every penny on its bets with AIG. This came to $13 billion, enough money to pay for 4 million kid-years of health care under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
No one should doubt that Mr. Blankfein is a very savvy banker. Without his ingenuity Goldman Sachs would likely be out of business, its component divisions being auctioned off to the highest bidder. Instead it is making record profits and paying out record bonuses.
But unlike the successful ballplayers to whom President Obama compared Mr. Blankfein, Goldman’s success is inherently parasitic. It comes at the expense of taxpayers and the productive economy. Goldman and the other Wall Street banks are successful in the same way as the savvy Bernie Madoff was successful. It seems that President Obama must still decide whether he stands with the Wall Street banks or whether he stands with the workers and businesses who actually produce wealth.
Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of False Profits: Recovering from the Bubble Economy. He also has a blog on the American Prospect, “Beat the Press,” where he discusses the media’s coverage of economic issues.
Al-Manar | February 17, 2010
A senior British lawmaker called Wednesday for Israel’s ambassador to London to be summoned to the Foreign Office to explain how fake British passports were linked to the killers of a top Hamas figure.
Menzies Campbell, a member of the foreign affairs committee of the House of Commons, said answers were needed over “speculation” about the involvement of Israel’s Mossad secret service in the killing in Dubai last month.
“If the Israeli government was party to behavior of this kind, it would be a serious violation of trust between nations,” said Campbell, a former leader of Britain’s third biggest party, the Liberal Democrats.
“If legitimate British passport holders were put at risk it would be a disgrace… Given the current speculation, the Israeli government has some explaining to do and the ambassador should be summoned to the Foreign Office to do so in double-quick time.”
Another British lawmaker, Hugo Swire of the main opposition Conservatives, also demanded a “full investigation”. “These allegations against the Israeli government need to be answered… I have no evidence one way or another. I have read all the allegations and the denials. It is an easy allegation to make,” he said.
“This is not something that can just be swept under the carpet because of the bad feeling it is going to create in the Arab world. You cannot conduct foreign policy at this extremely sensitive time by this sort of illegal behavior,” he added.
By Linda S. Heard | Online Journal | February 17, 2010
February 13 marked 19 years since the US bombing of Baghdad’s two-storey Al Amiriya bomb shelter when 480 civilians were literally incinerated by two American 2,000 pound laser-guided “smart bombs,” designed to penetrate multiple layers of concrete. Most of the victims were Iraqi, but there were also a number of Syrians, Jordanians, Palestinians and Egyptians who were consumed by the blasts.
It was 4:30 in the morning on February 13, 1991, when the pilots of two stealth bombers released their deadly cargo. Until then, the women, children and elderly inside had felt they were safe in the purpose-built facility designed to protect against nuclear attack — and equipped with bunk beds, televisions, bathrooms, kitchens and a clinic. Their spirits were high after celebrating Eid Al Fitr the previous evening, but some were worried about fathers, brothers and husbands who had remained in their homes to ensure that there was enough room in the shelter for their loved ones.
In the event, their own lives were tragically cut short. Those sheltering on the upper floor were burnt to death; in some instances their silhouettes — carbonised by high temperatures — were eerily seared onto the walls, including that of a woman clutching onto her baby. Most of those in the lower hall were killed by boiling water that gushed from the shelter’s two enormous water tanks following the impact of the bombs.
Only 14 survived, but they could hardly be considered the lucky ones since the majority sustained terrible injuries from the blasts. Rescuers who rushed to the scene were frustrated by a lack of electricity to power their equipment and a thick steel door that was so hot it was glowing. All they could do was listen to the screams and the cries of the dying.
The US government initially claimed that it had received intelligence reports that the bunker was not a civilian shelter, but one of Saddam Hussain’s military command centres.
However, the US Department of Defence later admitted that they knew the facility had previously been used for civil defence purposes. No evidence that the site had been used by the military was ever found, but that didn’t deter the White House from accusing Saddam of using “select civilians” as a cover for the facility’s true mission. Like many other US accusations this turned out to be untrue.
Today, Al Amiriya shelter stands as a monument to the dead; its walls adorned with photographs of victims, commemoratory brass plaques, prayers and flowers. Visitors who must steel their emotions before entering often emerge traumatised. Writing about the experience Na’eem Jeenah relates: “A feeling of revulsion and disgust towards these creatures we call human beings and for the ease with which we allow ourselves to become less than human.”
Ebrahim Alloush says anyone with “one-tenth of a heart and one percent of a conscience will shake with rage and anguish as they try to hold back the tears.”
Outside Iraq and the Middle East, the story of Al Amiriya was soon forgotten as the world celebrated St Valentine’s Day just hours after the attack. Now, a young Moroccan-born French filmmaker based in Dubai is determined to keep alive the memories of those who died such a terrible death.
For her first short film, Faces of Wrath, that focused on the horrors in Gaza, Siham Jouhari received an award from Al Jazeera’s fifth International Documentary Film Festival 2009 in the category ‘New Horizon.’ It is her fervent hope that her second — and much more ambitious — film, Al Amiraya: The Shelter, will be completed in time to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Al Amiriya tragedy.
The script is a simple, uncomplicated yet poignant account of real people who lost those they cared for most, such as Abu Ali and his wife Saoussan who were robbed of their four children. It also recounts the story of a taxi driver Yousuf who lost his entire family, save one son, and Ahmad, a young man in love, whose burns were so severe that he had to be sent abroad for treatment, but who never stops searching for his beautiful childhood sweetheart Bouchra.
We will never know what extraordinary accomplishments these ordinary people could have achieved had they been allowed to continue with their lives, but they deserve to be acknowledged and remembered — firstly, as a reminder to mankind to never again sink to such depths and, secondly, to honour their memories and the memories of all the innocent victims of Iraq.
For some, Al Amiraya: the Shelter may be hard to watch, but its essence is one of hope and courage. Those of us who are appalled at the callous way big powers write-off innocent deaths as “collateral damage” can only wish Jouhari well with her respectful and loving mission to ensure that there’s one American valentine signed in blood that we must never ever forget.
Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.