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Argentina: Three Ex Military Sentenced For Crimes Against Humanity in Jujuy

By Denis Culum | The Argentina Independent | May 4, 2013

Three former military officials during the 1976-83 dictatorship were found guilty of crimes against humanity yesterday in the first trial for such crimes in the northwestern province of Jujuy.

The Federal Court of Jujuy (TOF) sentenced two former military officials, Mariano Rafael Braga and José Eduardo Bulgheroni, to life imprisonment. Meanwhile, the third defendant Antonio Orlando Vargas received a sentence of 25 years in prison, according to the Judicial Information Center (CIJ).

The Court found the first two defendants guilty of numerous murders and the third one of illegal deprivation of freedom and aggravated torture in several cases. The heads of trial were judges René Vicente Casas and Marcelo Juárez Almaraz. Before reading the decisive part of the judgment, TOF rejected all the arguments presented by the defendants and considered the facts of the case as “crimes against humanity” and therefore impossible to fall under statute of limitations.

Human rights organisations, relatives and witnesses, were satisfied with the verdict – both in and out of the courtroom. After waiting for 35 years, some 30,000 people gathered around the Court House to celebrate a day of justice with hugs and tears.

Braga will be transferred to the Marcos Paz prison to serve his sentence, Vargas will stay in Ezeiza. Bulgheroni, for health reasons, will go to Prison Unit 7 in the city of Resistencia, Chaco.

Braga and Bulgheroni were military intelligence officers during the military dictatorship, and Vargas worked as a supervisor in the Jujuy Prison, which at the time was serving as a clandestine detention centre.

An estimated 130 people were disappeared in Jujuy during the dictatorship. Alongside this trial, the Ledesma case – investigating the kidnapping of workers at a sugar company based in Jujuy – is looking into civilian involvement in the disappearances.

May 4, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Argentina: Three Ex Military Sentenced For Crimes Against Humanity in Jujuy

Criminal Government

By Sheldon Richman | FFF | May 3, 2013

“A nonpartisan, independent review of interrogation and detention programs in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks concludes that ‘it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture’ and that the nation’s highest officials bore ultimate responsibility for it.”

So began a page-one story in the New York Times that should have dominated public discussion for days and begun the process of coming to terms with this shameful chapter in American history. Unfortunately, the story ran April 16, the day after the Boston Marathon bombing, and thus got little notice. And just as attention on Boston was waning, the George W. Bush Library and Museum was dedicated in Dallas. Unsurprisingly, neither President Obama nor the ex-presidents assembled to celebrate the event (and the Bush administration), mentioned this “nonpartisan, independent review.”

It’s been pretty much consigned to the memory hole. But maybe it’s not too late to retrieve it.

The review was done by The Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, which included members not normally associated with critics of the Bush administration, such as former Republican Rep. Asa Hutchinson (co-chairman), who was an undersecretary in the Bush administration’s Department of Homeland Security and administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The task force concluded that in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and other places, American forces engaged in torture and other practices that violated U.S. laws and international treaties — conduct that has been condemned by the U.S. government when practiced by other governments. Such conduct has long been considered a war crime, the task force noted. While it stopped short of claiming that the highest government leaders explicitly called for the use of torture against detainees, it said the use was a consequence of the administration’s declaration that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to people captured in the “war on terror.” (PDF) The report states,

The Task Force believes there was no justification for the responsible government and military leaders to have allowed those lines to be crossed. Doing so damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.

Democracy and torture cannot peacefully coexist in the same body politic. The Task Force also believes and hopes that publicly acknowledging this grave error, however belatedly, may mitigate some of those consequences and help undo some of the damage to our reputation at home and abroad.

The task force also found,

There is no firm or persuasive evidence that the widespread use of harsh interrogation techniques by U.S. forces produced significant information of value. There is substantial evidence that much of the information adduced from the use of such techniques was not useful or reliable.

It notes that some former officials insist their interrogation techniques were effective, adding, “but those officials say that the evidence of such success may not be disclosed for reasons of national security.” The task force discounts such assertions, however, because the former officials “generally include those people who authorized and implemented the very practices that they now assert to have been valuable tools in fighting terrorism.… It is reasonable to note that those former officials have a substantial reputational stake in their claim being accepted.” The task force went so far as to reject the claim that torture led to the locating of Osama bin Laden, citing the Senate Intelligence Committee finding to that effect. (The fundamental case against torture, of course, is not that it is ineffective, but that it is immoral.)

The task force also called attention to the continuing detention of prisoners at Guantanamo, over half of whom have long been cleared for release. At the moment 100 of the 166 prisoners are conducting a hunger strike, and 21 are being force-fed by nasal tube, which in itself has been called torture and is condemned by the task force. A majority of the task force called for civilian or military trials of some of the detainees and release of others to countries in which they will not be tortured. It continued,

Those prisoners who are deemed to still be a threat to the safety of the U.S. and its citizens and who would be difficult (a) to prosecute because they were subjected to torture or the relevant criminal laws did not apply overseas at the time of their conduct; or (b) to transfer due to lack of suitable receiving country, would be brought to the mainland United States and held in custody until a suitable place to transfer them was found. Their cases would be subject to periodic review.

This recommendation is not good enough. How can men be held indefinitely because the alleged evidence against them was obtained by torture and is inadmissible? That is grounds for release. But even worse is the recommendation from the two-member minority consisting of Hutchinson and Richard Epstein (yes, alas, that Richard Epstein):

As troubling as indefinite detention might be, there are currently no good or feasible alternatives. Those prisoners who are deemed to be a continuing threat to the United States and for whom a trial is not currently feasible, and where there is no other suitable country that will accept them, should remain in detention for the foreseeable future. They should not be brought to the U.S., and Guantánamo remains the best location to hold them.

Justice demands to know why people against whom there is apparently no trial-worthy evidence are to be left to rot in an American prison in Cuba. This is truly a disgrace. And notice the self-reinforcing nature of the argument. These people are said to be a threat, but holding them at Guantanamo sows the seeds of hostility and the desire for revenge. Even if they were tried and acquitted, they might be angry at the U.S. government for the treatment they received. Are they still to be held even if acquitted? (The Bush administration thought that in some cases, yes.)

It’s good to see that the task force report holds the Bush administration lawyers responsible for the mistreatment of detainees:

Lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) repeatedly gave erroneous legal sanction to certain activities that amounted to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of U.S. and international law, and in doing so, did not properly serve their clients: the president and the American people.

Extraordinary rendition, the practice (begun in the Clinton years) of outsourcing torture to foreign governments, and abuse of detainees at secret CIA prisons, or “black sites,” also come in for condemnation as violations of international law. Unfortunately, the task force did not call for an end to turning people over to other governments; it simply recommended that there be more than “diplomatic assurances” that torture will not take place.

Refreshingly, physicians and psychologists are taken to task for their participation, in violation of age-old ethical standards, in the abuse of detainees, both by devising techniques that constituted torture and for failing to report abuses. It’s about time a floodlight was shined on this shameful conduct by medical and so-called mental-health professionals.

Also welcome is the recommendation that “the executive branch should declassify evidence regarding the CIA’s and military’s abuse and torture of captives.” We have a right to know what this lawless government did in our names.

The task force also called on the government to comply with its obligation under the Convention Against Torture to assure “that the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation.” Quite the opposite has happened: “The United States has not complied with this requirement, in large part because of the government’s repeated, successful invocation of the state-secrets privilege in lawsuits brought by torture victims.” The Obama administration has been particularly determined to keep such suits out of court. This is a blot on the country.

The report further indicted the government for not complying with its obligation under the Convention Against Torture to “criminalize all acts of torture, attempts to commit torture, or complicity or participation in torture” and “proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.” It notes that “no CIA personnel have been convicted or even charged for numerous instances of torture in CIA custody.” Conspicuous by its absence is the call for prosecution of President Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, members of the Office of Legal Counsel who cooked up legal justifications for torture, CIA director George Tenet, and other top officials.

President Obama says “looking backwards” at past conduct is unproductive when it comes to the interrogation of detainees. That’s odd. The government doesn’t find it unproductive to look back when private individuals commit crimes. Why should government officers get special treatment?

We can only hope that someday, when these people are traveling abroad, they will be arrested and brought before the International Criminal Court.

Finally, the task force notes that Obama, despite apparent promises to end the abuses, has not lived up to expectations. Guantanamo is still open (he said this week he would push to close it), and reporter Jeremy Scahill has exposed the CIA’s continued participation in interrogations in a secret prison beneath Somalia’s National Security Agency. Scahill’s reporting reveals that the administration has simply outsourced torture — hardly an improvement over the Bush years. Of course, Obama also claims the power to kill people and to detain them indefinitely in a military prison without due process.

“The Obama administration has ended the most inhumane treatment of detainees,” the report states, “though some troubling questions about current policies remain unanswered. But it is unclear whether it has taken sufficient steps to prevent a future administration from resorting to torture or cruel treatment.”

When it comes to conserving the national-security state, it matters little which party is in power.

May 4, 2013 Posted by | Progressive Hypocrite, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Comments Off on Criminal Government

Washington Insider Eduardo Stein Tries to Protect Ríos Montt from the Genocide Trial in Guatemala

By Annie Bird | CEPR | May 3, 2013

On March 19, 2013 Guatemala became the first nation to try a former head of state, Efraín Ríos Montt, for genocide and crimes against humanity in its own courts, an extraordinary achievement that led award-winning investigative journalist Allan Nairn to state that, “Guatemala has reached a higher level of civilization than the United States,” where such a trial would be unthinkable.   Ríos Montt’s power grab in a March 1982 coup, and his brutal military campaign that human rights defenders have characterized as genocidal, received support from President Ronald Regan, though his administration denied it at the time.

Nairn had flown to Guatemala City as a proposed witness but once in Guatemala, he was asked not to testify after another witness, a former soldier, unexpectedly named current President Otto Pérez Molina as responsible for crimes against humanity.  In September 1982, Nairn had interviewed then Major Pérez Molina, a commander in the area where the crimes Ríos Montt is being tried for had occurred.  It appears that his testimony would have implicated the current president in crimes, and the victims’ lawyers were afraid that pushing the political establishment any further would endanger the case.

On April 18, the case was unexpectedly annulled by a judge not overseeing the trial, pre-trial judge Carol Patricia Flores.  She made the illegal ruling two days after former Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Stein signed a communique published in Guatemalan newspapers, along with 11 other former members of the administration of Álvaro Arzú, calling the charges of genocide against Ríos Montt a “threat to the nation” and suggesting that if a sentence for genocide were handed down it could mean a return to political violence.

Stein, who is a member of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue, is now considered to be a consummate Washington insider. For those who follow Honduras, Stein’s position on the Ríos Montt trial may come as no surprise, given that he headed up the one-sided “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” that investigated the Honduran June 28, 2009 coup and its aftermath.  As the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) explained, the Hondurans who were most affected by the coup were excluded from participating in the creation of of the Commission.  Inside sources claim the Commission was actually created in Washington.

Judge Flores has made other rulings that benefit Stein’s political allies.  Stein is reported to be very close to Carlos Vielmann, who served as Minister of Governance while Stein was Vice President to Óscar Berger [2004 to 2008].  Vielmann is currently on trial in Spain, charged with directly undertaking death squad actions in 2005, apparently on behalf of the Gulf Cartel (a major Mexican drug cartel), along with then National Police Director Erwin Sperinsen, simultaneously being tried in Switzerland.  The National Penitentiaries Director Alejandro Giamattei had also been charged for some of the same crimes, but was cleared by Judge Flores of the charges after seeking asylum in the post-coup Honduran embassy. Judge Flores went on to challenge the Guatemalan Attorney General’s decision to not seek Vielmann’s extradition, preferring that he be tried in Spain.

The hearings in Ríos Montt’s genocide case resumed on April 30, after the Constitutional Court resolved some issues raised by Judge Flores’s ruling, but did not directly address the most illegal element of it, the annulment.  This has partially satisfied the needs of the victims and justice advocates, but it leaves the case vulnerable to unresolved technicalities that could later resurface and again undermine the trial.

Guatemala’s UN backed truth commission estimated that over 200,000 people were killed or disappeared during Guatemala’s armed conflict, 93 percent of them at the hands of State security forces, and 3 percent by the guerrillas. The Guatemalan government’s commission established to compensate the victims later estimated that the number of killed or disappeared could be as high as double the UN estimate of 200,000.

May 4, 2013 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Washington Insider Eduardo Stein Tries to Protect Ríos Montt from the Genocide Trial in Guatemala

Senator Menendez Meets with President Lobo to Discuss U.S. Funding for Honduras

By Arthur Phillips | CEPR Americas Blog | May 2, 2013

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) met with Honduran president Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo on Wednesday as part of a tour through Central America. According to press reports, Menendez characterized the trip, during which the Senator also visited El Salvador and Guatemala, as an opportunity to evaluate regional counter-narcotics and security initiatives that the U.S. is funding at increasing levels through the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). A Spanish-language press report on the trip quotes Menendez as having said that he intends to “explore the specific points of this funding proposal,” and that he wants to “see what works and what does not.”

The State Department’s 2014 budget proposal, submitted on April 10, requests $161.5 million in funding for CARSI, a $26 million increase from the previous year. The proposal requests $4.5 million in foreign military financing specifically for Honduras, an increase of 450% over the FY2012 total. And Just the Facts, a joint project of nonpartisan groups focused on U.S.-Latin American relations, notes that current budget proposals have total U.S. military and police funding for Honduras in FY2014 at $8.7 million, a 63% increase over 2013 projections. Furthermore, according to a Congressional Research Service report, as of last July the State Department and USAID had planned to allocate a combined $72 million to Honduras in FY2012.

These rising levels of funding for the police and military run counter to the concerns of many lawmakers in Washington around the lack of accountability for U.S. involvement in Honduran security and anti-narcotics operations. It also highlights the seriousness of recent reports that the State Department has been supporting units under the command of National Police Chief Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, who allegedly ran death-squads a decade ago, and, more broadly, that the police have been accused of continuing to commit death-squad murders today. In December the National Autonomous University, citing the police’s own reports, announced that police had killed 149 civilians in the previous two years.

It is unclear whether or not Menendez raised these concerns while meeting with President Lobo. But Fox News Latino reports that Menendez praised the head of state for helping stabilize the country after the June 2009 coup. Readers who have followed CEPR’s work will remember that Lobo came to power through elections held by the coup regime under a cloud of political repression, which was why the European Union, the Organization of American States, and the Carter Center refused to send election observers. Since then, members of the opposition party and the LGBT community, land rights activists, lawyers and journalists have been murdered with nearly absolute impunity.

In Guatemala, Menendez met with President Otto Pérez Molina and Minister of Governance Mauricio López Bonilla. López Bonilla was part of the six-officer junta that ruled with Efraín Ríos Montt in 1982-3, while Pérez Molina was a commanding officer in the region where the government carried out a campaign of murder, rape and torture. Ríos Montt now faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in a Guatemalan court.

Menendez, meanwhile, is still on the hot seat for having accepted free trips to the Dominican Republic from a major financial backer, Dr. Salomon Melgen. (Menendez has since reimbursed Melgen.) Earlier this year, it was revealed that the senator discouraged U.S. officials from donating port security equipment to the Dominican Republic out of concern that doing so could undermine Melgen’s company’s lucrative contract, though Menendez did not mention the doctor or his company by name. According to federal investigators, Menendez also advocated on Melgen’s behalf to a senior Medicare official regarding the doctor’s reported $8.9 million debt, which he incurred by overbilling the government.

While the Senate Ethics Committee continues to investigate Menendez’s actions, the Washington Post reported on March 14 that a federal grand jury in Miami is also looking into Menendez’s role in advocating for his donor’s financial interests. In response to this news, the New Jersey Star-Ledger’s editorial board said the grand jury investigation undermines “the senator’s credibility and his effectiveness as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations” and urged him to step down from that post.

May 4, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Senator Menendez Meets with President Lobo to Discuss U.S. Funding for Honduras

Guantanamo Bay prison spends $900,000 a year per inmate

Press TV – May 4, 2013

Each inmate at the US’ notorious Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, dubbed as the most expensive jail on Earth, costs Washington some $900,000 annually, a report says.

According to the Pentagon’s estimate, it spends around $150 million every year to run the prison and military court system at the US Naval Base in Cuba, Reuters said in a report on Friday.

With 166 prisoners who are currently in custody in Guantanamo Bay prison, the report adds, that amounts to an annual cost of $903,614 for each inmate.

Meanwhile, analysts say super-maximum security prisons in the US spend about $60,000 to $70,000 at most to keep their inmates.

The cost argument comes at a time when the severe budget-cutting process known as ‘sequestration’ is slated to slash some $109 billion in US spending up to the end of September 2013. It has also cut government services small and large.

“It’s extremely inefficient,” said Ken Gude, chief of staff and vice president at the liberal Center for American Progress think tank. He has followed developments at Guantanamo Bay prison since 2005.

“That … may be what finally gets us to actually close the prison. I mean the costs are astronomical, when you compare them to what it would cost to detain somebody in the United States,” Gude added.

He further said although it is difficult to say how much the US has spent overall on the infamous prison, “it is certainly more than $1 billion by a comfortable margin, I would say, probably more than $2 billion.”

Most of the 166 detainees being held at the jail have been cleared for release or were never charged – a situation that has attracted outcry from certain countries and human rights organizations.

Detainees began the hunger strike in February to protest against prison conditions and the detainees’ indefinite confinement. The strike has led to the force-feeding of nearly two dozen of the captives via tubes snaked up their nose and into their stomach.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has urged the US President Barack Obama’s administration to mend the situation in Guantanamo that has compelled prisoners to starve themselves, saying that the act of force-feeding is akin to torture.

May 4, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, False Flag Terrorism, Timeless or most popular | , , | Comments Off on Guantanamo Bay prison spends $900,000 a year per inmate

Howard Kurtz’s Belated Comeuppance

By Robert Parry | Consortium News | May 3, 2013

For nearly a quarter century, Howard Kurtz has served as hall monitor for Washington’s conventional wisdom, handing out demerits to independent-minded journalists who don’t abide by the mainstream rules. So, there is some understandable pleasure seeing Kurtz face some accountability in his ouster as bureau chief for Newsweek and The Daily Beast.

However, the more salient point is that Kurtz, who continues to host CNN’s “Reliable Sources” show, should never have achieved the level of influence in journalism that he did. Throughout his career, he has consistently – and unfairly – punished journalists who had the courage to ask tough questions and pursue truly important stories.

When one looks at the mess that is modern journalism in the United States, a chief culprit has been Howard Kurtz. Yet, his downfall did not come because of his smearing of fellow journalists – like Gary Webb and Helen Thomas – but rather from a blog post that unfairly criticized basketball player Jason Collins after he revealed that he was gay.

Kurtz faulted Collins for supposedly not revealing that he had once been engaged to a woman, but Collins had mentioned those marriage plans. Twitter exploded with comments about Kurtz’s sloppy error. On Thursday, The Daily Beast retracted the post, and the Web site’s editor-in-chief Tina Brown announced that Kurtz would be departing.

However, Kurtz has committed far more serious offenses during his years destroying the careers of journalists who dared make life a bit uncomfortable for Official Washington’s powerful elites. For instance, Kurtz played a key role in the destruction of investigative reporter Gary Webb, who had the courage to revive the long-suppressed Contra-cocaine story in the mid-1990s.

Working at the San Jose Mercury-News, Webb produced a multi-part series in 1996 revealing how cocaine that was smuggled into the United States by operatives connected to the Nicaraguan Contra war of the 1980s had contributed to the “crack cocaine” epidemic that ravaged U.S. cities. Webb’s articles put the major U.S. news media on the spot because most mainstream outlets had dismissed the Contra-cocaine allegations when they first surfaced in the mid-1980s.

My Associated Press colleague Brian Barger and I wrote the first story about the Contra-cocaine scandal in 1985 and our work was met with a mix of condescension and contempt from the New York Times and the Washington Post, where Kurtz worked for many years. Even after an investigation by Sen. John Kerry confirmed – and expanded upon – our work, the big newspapers continued to dismiss and downplay the stories.

It didn’t matter how much evidence was developed on the Contra-cocaine smuggling or on the Reagan administration’s role covering up the crimes; the conventional wisdom was that the scandal must be a “conspiracy theory.” Journalists or government investigators who did their job, looking at the problem objectively, risked losing their job.

Career Consequences

Journalistic up-and-comers, such as Michael Isikoff (then at the Washington Post), advanced their careers by focusing on minor flaws in Kerry’s investigation rather than on major disclosures of high-level government complicity with drug trafficking. Newsweek’s “conventional wisdom watch” mocked Kerry as “a randy conspiracy buff.”

So, when Gary Webb revived the Contra-cocaine scandal in 1996 by pointing out its real-world impact on the emergence of crack cocaine that ravaged inner cities across the United States in the 1980s, his stories were most unwelcome.

At first, the mainstream news media tried to ignore Webb’s work, but African-American lawmakers demanded investigations into the scandal. That prompted a backlash from the major news organizations. Webb’s articles were dissected looking for tiny flaws that could be exploited to again discredit the whole issue.

On Oct. 4, 1996, the Washington Post published a front-page article knocking down Webb’s series, although acknowledging that some Contra operatives indeed did help the cocaine cartels.

The Post’s approach was twofold: first, the Post presented the Contra-cocaine allegations as old news — “even CIA personnel testified to Congress they knew that those covert operations involved drug traffickers,” the Post sniffed — and second, the Post minimized the importance of the one Contra smuggling channel that Webb had highlighted in his series, saying that it had not “played a major role in the emergence of crack.” A Post sidebar dismissed African-Americans as prone to “conspiracy fears.”

Next, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times weighed in with lengthy articles castigating Webb and his “Dark Alliance” series. The big newspapers made much of the CIA’s internal reviews in 1987 and 1988 — almost a decade earlier — that supposedly had cleared the spy agency of any role in Contra-cocaine smuggling.

But the CIA’s cover-up began to unravel on Oct. 24, 1996, when CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz conceded before the Senate Intelligence Committee that the first CIA probe had lasted only 12 days, and the second only three days. He promised a more thorough review.

Sealing Webb’s Fate

By then, however, Webb had already crossed over from being a serious journalist to an object of ridicule. Washington Post media critic Kurtz effectively sealed Webb’s fate with a series of articles confirming Webb’s new status as a laughable pariah.

For instance, Kurtz mocked Webb for saying in a book proposal that he would explore the possibility that the Contra war was primarily a business to its participants. “Oliver Stone, check your voice mail,” Kurtz chortled.

However, Webb’s suspicion was no conspiracy theory. Indeed, White House aide Oliver North’s chief Contra emissary, Robert Owen, had made the same point in a March 17, 1986, message about the Contras leadership. “Few of the so-called leaders of the movement . . . really care about the boys in the field,” Owen wrote. “THIS WAR HAS BECOME A BUSINESS TO MANY OF THEM.” [Emphasis in original.]

In other words, Webb was right and Kurtz was wrong. Even Oliver North’s emissary had reported that many Contra leaders treated the conflict as “a business.” But accuracy had ceased to be relevant in the media’s bashing of Gary Webb.

While Webb was held to the strictest standards of journalism, it was entirely all right for Kurtz — the supposed arbiter of journalistic standards — to make judgments based on ignorance. Kurtz faced no repercussions for disparaging an embattled journalist who was factually correct. (Kurtz’s sloppiness regarding Webb was similar to Kurtz’s cavalier approach to Collins’s brave announcement as the first player in a major U.S. team sport to declare that he is gay.)

Yet, with Kurtz’s imprimatur, the Big Three’s assault on Webb — combined with their derogatory tone — had a predictable effect on the executives of the Mercury-News. By early 1997, executive editor Jerry Ceppos, who had his own corporate career to worry about, was in retreat.

Webb was forced out of his job to the satisfaction of Kurtz and many in the mainstream media. Webb’s humiliation served as a vindication to their longstanding dismissive treatment of the Contra-cocaine story.

Even when CIA Inspector General Hitz determined that, indeed, the Contra movement had been permeated with cocaine traffickers and that the CIA had shielded them from law enforcement, the mainstream media’s focus remained the alleged shortcomings in Webb’s journalism. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]

So, while Kurtz and other Contra-cocaine “debunkers” saw their careers soar, Webb couldn’t find decent-paying work in his profession. Finally, in December 2004, despondent and in debt, Webb took his own life. Even after his death, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and other major news outlets continued disparaging him. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Warning in Gary Webb’s Death.”]

Hooting at Democracy

As the 1990s ground to a close with the Washington news media obsessing over “important” issues like President Bill Clinton’s failed Whitewater real-estate deal and his sex life, Kurtz and his fellow-travelers were setting the sorry standards for modern U.S. journalism. Many were swooning over the manly man George W. Bush and happily hazing the wonky Al Gore.

Though Gore won the national popular vote in Election 2000 and would have prevailed in the swing state of Florida if all the legal ballots had been counted, five Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court stopped that counting and installed George W. Bush in the White House – with little protest from the national news media.

That pro-Bush/anti-Gore attitude grew stronger after the 9/11 attacks when a group of news organizations completed an unofficial tally of the ignored Florida ballots, which showed that Gore would have carried that key state. Yet, instead of simply telling the American people that the wrong guy was in the White House, the major U.S. news outlets twisted their own findings to protect Bush’s fragile “legitimacy.”

Out front defending that journalistic malfeasance was Howard Kurtz. He rallied behind the decision of the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN and other heavy-hitters to focus on hypothetical partial recounts rather than what the Florida voters actually voted for, i.e., a Gore victory.

On Nov. 12, 2001, the Post’s headline was “Florida Recounts Would Have Favored Bush” and Kurtz backed that judgment up by dismissing anyone who actually looked at the statistical findings of the recount as a kook. Kurtz’s sidebar – headlined, “George W. Bush, Now More Than Ever” – ridiculed as “conspiracy theorists” those who thought Gore had won.

“The conspiracy theorists have been out in force, convinced that the media were covering up the Florida election results to protect President Bush,” Kurtz wrote. “That gets put to rest today, with the finding by eight news organizations that Bush would have beaten Gore under both of the recount plans being considered at the time.”

Kurtz also mocked those who believed that winning an election fairly, based on the will of the voters, was important in a democracy. “Now the question is: How many people still care about the election deadlock that last fall felt like the story of the century – and now faintly echoes like some distant Civil War battle?” he wrote.

After reading Kurtz’s dismissive tone, it was a bit jarring to examine the actual results of the statewide review of 175,010 disputed ballots. “Full Review Favors Gore,” the Washington Post admitted in a box buried on page 10, showing that under all standards applied to the ballots, Gore came out on top. The New York Times’ graphic revealed the same outcome.

However, based on the “journalism” promoted by Howard Kurtz, any reporter who actually read and reacted to the real findings would be risking his or her career. Thus, millions of Americans continued to believe that Bush was the legitimate winner in Florida when the facts showed otherwise. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Sandra Day O’Connor’s ‘Maybe’ Regret.”]

Demonizing Helen Thomas

Given Kurtz’s history as hall monitor for the conventional wisdom, it surely should come as no surprise that he would join in the demonization of longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas, known for her courage in asking uncomfortable questions and for her critical views toward Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

When Thomas made an impolitic remark about Israelis leaving what had been Palestine, her mainstream media colleagues joined the loud calls for her career to be brought to an ignominious end, her apology notwithstanding.

Kurtz penned a harsh retrospective on Thomas’s sudden retirement from journalism, giving Thomas’s critics a free shot at denouncing her for an alleged lack of “objectivity” and her supposedly off-the-wall questions to politicians.

“She asked questions no hard-news reporter would ask, that carried an agenda and reflected her point of view and there were some reporters who felt that was inappropriate,” CBS correspondent Mark Knoller was quoted as saying. “Sometimes her questions were embarrassing to others.”

“She’s always said crazy stuff,” added National Review Online columnist Jonah Goldberg, whose “journalism” career was launched as a defender of his mother, Lucianne Goldberg, after she advised disgruntled federal employee Linda Tripp to tape her conversations with President Clinton’s girlfriend Monica Lewinsky and to save the semen-stained blue dress.

“I did my bit in the trenches of Clinton’s trousers,” Goldberg once wrote. So, in the funhouse-mirror world of today’s Washington news media, Goldberg parlayed his time in Clinton’s trousers into a slot as a frequent guest on high-profile TV news shows, such as ABC’s “Good Morning America,” “Nightline,” MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” CNN’s “Larry King Live,” and, of course, many Fox News programs.

As examples of Helen Thomas’s “crazy stuff,” Kurtz cited some of her questions as if the very words proved her unfitness to work as a national journalist. For instance, he wrote: “In 2002, Thomas asked [White House press secretary Ari] Fleischer: ‘Does the president think that the Palestinians have a right to resist 35 years of brutal military occupation and suppression?’”

Apparently, no further comment was needed for Washington Post readers to understand how outlandish such a question was. Kurtz continued: “Four years later, Thomas told Fleischer’s successor, Tony Snow, that the United States ‘could have stopped the bombardment of Lebanon’ by Israel, but instead had ‘gone for collective punishment against all of Lebanon and Palestine.’ Snow tartly thanked her for ‘the Hezbollah view.’”

Praise for Critics

Kurtz also praised some of Thomas’s colleagues who alerted the world to the dangers of Helen Thomas earlier. He wrote: “A handful of journalists questioned her role over the years. In a 2006 New Republic piece, Jonathan Chait accused Thomas of ‘unhinged rants,’ noting that she had asked such questions as: ‘Why are we killing people in Iraq? Men, women, and children are being killed there … It’s outrageous.’”

Again, Kurtz appeared to believe that the absurdity of Thomas’s statement was self-evident.

Yet, as President George W. Bush’s unprovoked invasion and bloody occupation of Iraq claimed the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, perhaps the greater absurdity was that Helen Thomas was often alone in asking such impertinent questions.

Thomas also had the integrity to refuse to allow her name and reputation to be used by South Korean theocrat (and right-wing funder) Sun Myung Moon when he took over United Press International in 2000. Then the best-known journalist at UPI, she resigned as an act of principle.

Though Moon was a notorious propagandist who had founded the Washington Times in 1982 as a vehicle for supporting some American politicians (such as Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush) and for tearing down others (such as John Kerry, Bill Clinton and Al Gore), much of the “objective” Washington press corps tolerated and even promoted Moon’s curious newspaper.

In the mid-1980s, after Moon’s newspaper signed up for the Associated Press wire service, AP executives told AP staffers, including me, that we were no longer allowed to mention Moon’s connection to the newspaper when we cited the Washington Times’ reporting in AP copy. That policy change meant that readers of AP stories around the world wouldn’t be alerted to the propaganda element of Moon’s operation.

Other respected Washington news figures, such as C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb, actively promoted Moon’s newspaper by hoisting up its articles before viewers, many of whom had no idea that the Times’ owner was a religious cult leader with mysterious ties to foreign intelligence services and to international crime syndicates. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

So, while Moon’s newspaper was influencing the U.S. political debate with propagandistic articles – and while Moon was spreading around money for political and journalism conferences – Helen Thomas was one of the few prominent figures in the Washington press corps to object. (After resigning from UPI, she took a job as a columnist for the Hearst newspapers.)

Nevertheless, at the end of her long and groundbreaking career as one of the first women to operate in the male-dominated Washington press corps, Helen Thomas was the one pilloried as crazy and unprofessional by the arbiter of all that is good in journalism, Howard Kurtz.

~

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

May 4, 2013 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Comments Off on Howard Kurtz’s Belated Comeuppance

In a $100 million move to counter China, India to upgrade Iran’s Chabahar port

By Nidhi Razdan | NDTV | May 4, 2013

Tehran: In a strategically significant move to counter China’s presence in the region, India has announced that it will upgrade Iran’s crucial Chabahar port that gives a transit route to land-locked Afghanistan.

India’s decision was conveyed by Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid in Tehran today during his meeting with his counterpart.

An expert team from India will visit Iran to assess investment needed for the upgrade of the port on the Iran-Pakistan border facing the Arabian Sea. Sources say an investment to the tune of $100 million is required for the upgrade.

The move comes despite strong pressure from America, which doesn’t want any investment in developing infrastructure in Iran to put pressure on the Western Asian country over its covert [sic] nuclear programme. But India has been worried and keen to open an alternative route to Afghanistan ever since China took over Pakistan’s Gwadar port in the region, which is just 76 km from the Chabahar port.

Chahbahar port, which is surrounded by a free trade zone, is crucial particularly since Pakistan does not allow transit facility from India to Afghanistan.

India will also discuss ways to increase trade with Iran as it is concerned over the “grave” imbalance. The two-way trade is around US $15 billion, out of which Indian exports account only for around US $2.5 billion.

Oil is the biggest item of Indian import from Iran but India feels there is a lot of scope for increasing Indian exports to the Persian country particularly in pharmaceuticals and food.

However, efforts to enhance trade have been facing hurdles because of sanctions imposed by the UN and European Union, which make payment difficult.

There are also problems like re-insurance of oil refineries and transportation of consignment from Iran because of the sanctions.

May 4, 2013 Posted by | Economics | , , , , , | Comments Off on In a $100 million move to counter China, India to upgrade Iran’s Chabahar port

Israeli court sentences Palestinian journalist to 3 months imprisonment

DataFiles-Cache-TempImgs-2013-1-images_News_2013_05_03_tariq-abu-zaid_300_0Palestine Information Center – 03/05/2013

RAMALLAH — An Israeli court sentenced on Thursday the correspondent of Al-Aqsa TV Channel in the West Bank to three months imprisonment and ordered him to pay a fine.

Ahrar Center for Prisoners’ Studies and Human Rights said in a press statement that the Israeli court has sentenced journalist Tariq Abu Zaid to three months imprisonment and ordered him to pay 2000 shekel fine (550 U.S. dollars).

The Palestinian reporter was arrested without clear charges on March 8, 2013, while covering the anti-settlement weekly march in the town of Kafr Qaddum, near the city of Nablus.

Ahrar center added that the Israeli court had previously postponed the trial of captive Abu Zaid several times.

The human rights center condemned all violations against Palestinian journalists and demanded the international community to pressure the Israeli government to release the 12 journalists who have been detained while performing their legitimate professional activities.

May 4, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , | Comments Off on Israeli court sentences Palestinian journalist to 3 months imprisonment