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Saturday, September 25, 2004

State-Organized Crime as a Case Study Of Criminal Policy

In his Presidential address to the American Society of Criminology, William Chambliss raised the issue of what he called "State-Organized Crime" (Chambliss, 1988). Chambliss defined state-organized crime as "acts committed by state or government officials in the pursuit of their job as representatives of the government" (Chambliss, 1988: 327). In Chambliss' view governments often engage in smuggling (arms and drugs), assassination conspiracies, terrorist acts, and other crimes in order to further their foreign policy objectives. While these actions may be seen as having immediate benefits (despite their illegality), they often have unanticipated and unintended outcomes, sometimes referred to in intelligence circles as "blowback." In this section we will examine the issue of state- organized crime as it relates to the United States and some of the "blowback" which law enforcement agencies have had to cope with as a result of these state-organized crime activities.

When governments commit acts that are defined by their own laws as criminal or when government officials break the law as part of their job, they engage in state-organized crime (Chambliss, 1986). While the state rarely makes public its criminality or keeps tabulations on the number of illegal acts it has committed, it is clear from both a historical and contemporary perspective that state organized crime is neither new nor rare. State-organized crime is particularly apparent in the covert operations of intelligence agencies.

Any government operation that is shielded from the public and hidden from Congressional oversight over a long period of time will inevitably become reliant on criminal activity to support and fund the operation. Covert operations provide the perfect setting for organized criminal activity simply because they are clandestine operations conducted with state sanction (Chambliss, 1986). Covert intelligence activities avoid the usual law enforcement scrutiny and surveillance. Passage through customs can be facilitated through official channels. Normal financial accounting procedures are not followed in covert operations. Investigators from law enforcement agencies can be diverted by claims of "national security." And finally, organizers of such operations recruit individuals with the skills necessary to carry them out, most of which are criminal skills. It is typical for covert operators to work with well-established criminal undergrounds and for the government sponsoring the covert operation to at the very least tolerate and often abet the criminal activities of its organized crime allies.

In recent years, intelligence agencies in the United States have sought and received assistance from drug traffickers. While it is, of course, outrageously hypocritical for a government waging a drug war against its own citizens to seek assistance from drug traffickers, it is not surprising. After all, as Chambliss (1986) points out, the characteristics of successful drug trafficking are the same qualities that are essential to successful intelligence operations. Both activities require the movement of bulky commodities, money and couriers quickly and secretly. Both activities require great discretion and allegiance from temporary workers employed for illicit and covert activities. And both activities require the use of force and violence to assure the security of the operation.

State-Sponsored Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy

Iran: The CIA engaged in a massive conspiracy to overthrow the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, in 1953 (Beirne and Messerscmidt, 1991: 258-259; Prados, 1986; Simon and Eitzen, 1986). Following his election, Mossedagh had nationalized several foreign-owned oil companies. His government had offered compensation to the oil companies. But the Eisenhower administration was not tolerant of any independence by foreign leaders and began a campaign to overthrow the Mossedagh government and replace it with the monarchy of Shah Reza Pahlavi. In return for U.S. support for the coup d'etat, the Shah promised U.S. oil companies control over 50 percent of Iran's oil production. After removing the democratic government in Iran and placing the Shah in power, the CIA helped create, train, and finance SAVAK, a vicious secret police force loyal to the Shah. SAVAK arrested over 1,500 people a month during the Shah's reign. On June 5, 1953, SAVAK murdered about 6,000 Iranian citizens in one day (Simon and Eitzen,. 1986: 158). Torture was frequently used on prisoners, and Amnesty International declared, "No country in the world has a worse record in human rights than Iran" (Beirne and Messerscmidt, 1991: 258).

While American oil companies and arms merchants profited from the Shah's reign (Iran purchased $17 billion in military equipment from the U.S.), the ultimate costs of the coup can only by calculated by considering the impact of the 1979 Islamic revolution which replaced the Shah's regime. The government of the Ayatollah Khomeni which took over was virulently anti-American, heavily engaged in the sponsorship of terrorism, responsible for the seizure of American hostages, and part of a bizarre conspiracy involving U.S. intelligence during the Reagan administration.

Guatemala: Fresh from its dubious success in Iran, the CIA intervened in the internal affairs of Guatemala the following year. In 1954 the CIA orchestrated a military coup which removed the democratically elected leader of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, from power (Beirne and Messerchmidt, 1991: 259; Herman, 1982: 176). Arbenz was committed to democracy and had received 65 percent of the vote in Guatemala's election. His crime, however, was that he favored land reform. Guatemala was a country in which 3 percent of the landowners owned 70 percent of the agricultural land. After his election Arbenz nationalized 1.5 million acres of arable land, including land owned by the U.S.- based United Fruit Company. United Fruit insisted that the government act against Arbenz, and the CIA financed a rebel "army" in Honduras. On July 8, 1954, Arbenz fled the country. The U.S.- sponsored dictator immediately canceled the land reform program, ended literacy programs, fired teachers, ordered the burning of "subversive" books, and broke up the peasants' agricultural cooperatives. For the next 30 years, Guatemala was ruled by a vicious military dictatorship which had been imposed on the citizens and was propped up by U.S. military forces.

Cuba: In 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Batista had been friendly to U.S. corporations and to U.S. organized crime interests who had run massive gambling, prostitution, and narcotics operations out of Havana (Beirne and Messerschmidt, 1991: 259-261; Kruger, 1980; Hinckle and Turner, 1981). Once again, the Eisenhower administration elected to use the CIA to try to resolve the problem. As a first step, the CIA began to train anti-Castro Cuban exiles in terrorist tactics in what was known as "Operation 40." Operation 40 involved terrorist attacks on Cuba, attempted assassinations of Cuban leaders, and an alliance with organized crime figures Sam Giancana, Santo Trafficante, and Johnny Roselli in a series of assassination plots against Castro himself.

In April, 1961, the CIA-trained Cuban exiles attempted an invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. The invasion was a military disaster, and much of the military force was captured or killed. The failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion forced a change in tactics against Cuba. Operation 40 was replaced by JM/WAVE, an operation involving some 300 CIA agents and 4,000-6,000 Cuban exiles. JM/WAVE engaged in a series of terrorist attacks on Cuba, targeting sugar and oil refineries and factories. It also continued the assassination campaign begun earlier under Operation 40.

In 1965, JM/WAVE was disbanded, as a direct result of the discovery that its aircraft were engaged in narcotics smuggling, leaving thousands of highly-trained, politically fanatic Cuban exiles in place in the United States. The "blowback" from JM/WAVE was considerable. Some of these CIA- trained exiles turned to terrorism, engaging in 25-30 bombings in Dade County, Florida, alone in 1975 and assassinating diplomats around the world (Herman, 1982). Other JM/WAVE participants, having been trained in smuggling techniques and violence by the CIA, turned to organized crime, creating large gambling syndicates in New Jersey and Florida and forming the infrastructure for massive cocaine trafficking by Cuban and Colombian organized crime groups.

Chile: In 1972 the CIA targeted yet another democratically- elected government for overthrow, presumably as part of America's overall foreign policy commitment to democracy around the world. This time the target was the elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende. (Beirne and Messerschmidt, 1991: 263; Simon and Eitzen, 1986). In 1970 Allende had been elected president, and immediately IT&T. which had significant mining investments in Chile, and the CIA worked to destabilize the economy and his government. Their plans did great damage to the Chilean economy but failed to bring the Allende government down. In 1973, the tactics changed when the CIA conspired with the Chilean military to overthrow Allende in a coup d'etat. Allende, along with 30,000 Chilean citizens, was killed in the coup. The democratic institutions Allende had created were dismantled, and General Pinochet, a man who saw himself as the successor to Adolph Hitler, began an unprecedented regime of repression. The Pinochet regime incarcerated over 100,000 Chileans and murdered another 20,000.

Operation Condor: In one of the most disturbing examples of state-organized crime involving the U.S. government, the CIA, along with secret police agencies from six Latin American countries, entered into a conspiracy to identify, monitor, and assassinate political dissidents in those countries. The terror campaign was orchestrated by Pinochet's secret police, the DINA, but was abetted by the governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and the United States. Hundreds of people were abducted and murdered during Operation Condor (Herman, 1982).

U.S. Intelligence Agency Collaboration with Organized Crime

Active alliances between various organized crime groups and the U.S. government can be traced, at least, to World War II, when the Office of Naval Intelligence asked new York organized crime figures Meyer Lansky, Albert Anastasia, and "Lucky" Luciano to assist them with counter-intelligence operations on the New York waterfront:

Such escapades allegedly began during World War II when the underworld figures in control of the New York docks were contracted by navy intelligence officials in order to ensure that German submarines or foreign agents did not infiltrate the area. It was thought that waterfront pimps and prostitutes could act as a sort of counter- intelligence corps. The man whose aid was sought for this purpose was Lucky Luciano; he was reportedly quite successful in preventing sabotage or any other outbreak of trouble on the New York docks during the war. Despite his arrest and conviction for compulsory prostitution in 1936, Luciano was granted parole and given exile for life in 1954 in exchange for the aid he provided from his prison cell during the war (Simon and Eitzen, 1993: 81).

The OSS in Italy and Marseilles: The military also sought assistance from organized crime during World War II in the invasion of Sicily. New York organized crime syndicates sent their members door-to-door in Italian neighborhoods collecting recent letters, maps, photographs, and postcards from Sicily to assist military intelligence (Messick, 1976). In addition, Vito Genovese, who was living in self-imposed exile in Italy, decided to play both sides against the middle. While he had spent a great deal of money and effort currying favor with Mussolini, he now saw an opportunity to ingratiate himself to the U.S. government. Genovese acted as an "unofficial advisor to the American military government," following the invasion (Pearce, 1976: 149; Simon and Eitzen, 1993: 81). Genovese assisted the military in finding and installing right-wing politicians loyal to organized crime in official positions in Italy as a buffer against popular support for socialist political parties. This collaboration continued in the post-war 1950s, as the government perceived a new threat on the horizon - Communism. Both organized crime and U.S. foreign policy interests were well-served by this alliance with Genovese. Italian politicians opposed to the socialists and Communists were assisted in maintaining power by organized crime, and organized crime was virtually given a "crime-committing license" by the government for almost four decades.

In the early 1950s, the intelligence community once again sought the assistance of organized crime figures, this time in France. France was engaged in a war to prevent its colony of Vietnam from gaining independence. However, socialist dockworkers in Marseilles refused to load ships with military supplies bound for Vietnam. U.S. foreign policy was threatened in two ways. First, policies dedicated to the containment of communism would be impaired in the French did not resist Ho Chi Minh and Viet Minh in Vietnam. Second, the government of France, a major U.S. ally was itself threatened by a possible socialist-Communist electoral alliance, and Communist Party domination of the trade unions. Attacking the French longshoremen, one of the most powerful leftist unions, served both ends. U.S. intelligence officers contacted Corsican organized crime syndicates heavily involved in prostitution and waterfront corruption to assist them in breaking the French dockworkers union. The Corsicans created "goon squads," which attacked union picket lines, harassed and even assassinated union leaders, and eventually broke the union, thereby allowing the French to resume their war in Vietnam and providing the prologue for their own involvement a decade later. The payoff to the Corsican gangsters was of enormous value. They were granted the right to use Marseilles as a center for heroin trafficking, not only giving Corsican crime groups a new and very profitable enterprise, but creating the infamous "French Connection," which would supply much of America's heroin needs for the next twenty years (Pearce, 1976: 150).

The CIA in Southeast Asia: Links between U.S. intelligence agencies and drug smugglers occurred at least as early as the 1950s. The CIA provided direct support to Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist) opium growers in Thailand and Burma. Ostensibly this aid was given in the hope that these small scattered armies would someday attack Communist China. The CIA set up two front-companies to provide air support for the Kuomintang opium trade - - Civil Air Transport and Sea Supply Corporation. These companies supplied military aid to the Nationalist Chinese and flew their opium out of the Golden Triangle to Thailand or Taiwan. CIA assistance for these opium-growing warlords was largely responsible for the explosion of heroin addiction in the United States in the 1960s when the number of known addicts grew from about 65,000 to over 500,000 (McCoy, 1972; Kwitny, 1987). The world's largest opium merchant, Chang Chi-fu, has operated for several decades as a CIA "client." Another Golden Triangle heroin czar, Li Wen-huan, has been given direct financial, military, and logistical assistance by the CIA. A third major heroin traffickers Lu Hsu-shui was protected from a DEA investigation on orders from the CIA (Mills, 1986).

During the Vietnam War, the CIA supplied, financed, and supported a renegade Laotian army made up of members of the Hmong (or Meo) tribe. General Vang Pao commanded this 36,000 man secret army in a war against the Pathet Lao in an attempt to disrupt North Vietnamese supply routes to Viet Cong guerrillas in South Vietnam. Vang Pao's army was under the command of veteran CIA officers and was totally supplied, financed, and equipped by U.S. funds. As part of his "assistance" to U.S. intelligence, Vang Pao's army carried out a brutal assassination program of village leaders. Vang Pao's Hmong tribesmen were traditionally opium poppy farmers. The war interfered with their opium trade, so the CIA supplied them with aircraft from a CIA proprietary company called Air America to transport their opium from the Laotian hills to a massive CIA base at Long Tieng, Laos. At Long Tieng, Vang Pao had established a massive heroin refinery. DEA's Far East regional director, John J. O'Neill, said, "I have no doubt that Air America was used to transport opium" (Kwitney, 1987: 51). Some of the Laotian heroin was transported to South Vietnam, where it was sold to U.S. troops, 20% of whom came home addicted to heroin.

The CIA in Southwest Asia: In the 1980s the CIA also began operations in support of the Mujahadeen, a fundamentalist Moslem group of rebels fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Like his Nicaraguan "freedom fighters" (discussed below), Reagan's Mujahadeen allies financed their war through drug trafficking, in this case heroin. Mujahadeen leaders supervised the growing of the opium poppy and with the assistance of the CIA, which had reopened trade routes to supply the Mujahadeen with weapons, smuggled the drug onto the world market. The net result of CIA assistance to the Afghani rebels was that the areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan they control had become "the world's leading source of heroin exports to the United States and Europe" by 1986, according to a State Department report.

The CIA and Money Laundering in Florida and the Caribbean Basin: CIA associates in the Caribbean, including the paymaster for the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, played key roles in the operations of Castle Bank, a Florida money laundry for organized crime's drug money. Another Florida bank with strong intelligence-community connections, the Bank of Perrine, has been used by Colombians to launder money from their burgeoning cocaine business. In the early 1970s, the CIA and organized crime played a key role in establishing and operating the World Finance Corporation, a Florida-based company involved in laundering drug money and supporting terrorist activities (Lernoux, 1984).

The Nugan-Hand Bank: Much of the opium profits from CIA involvement with drug traffickers in the Golden Triangle were laundered through the Nugan Hand Bank in Australia. A network of high-ranking U.S. military officers and intelligence officers had links to the Nugan-Hand Bank, which was charged by an Australian commission of investigation with narcotics trafficking, gun-running, money laundering, and massive fraud (Kwitny, 1987, New York Times, March 8, 1987). In his investigation of the Nugan- Hand Bank, Jonathan Kwitny charges that the bank laundered billions of dollars, helped finance the heroin trade in the Golden Triangle and engaged in tax fraud and theft (Kwitny, 1987: 76). Who were the officers of this "heroin" bank? The president of Nugan-Hand was retired U.S. Admiral Earl F. Yates. Its legal counsel was former CIA director William Colby. Consultants for the bank included former deputy CIA director Walter McDonald; former National Security Council advisor Guy Parker, and Andrew Lowe, one of Australia's largest heroin traffickers.

The Bank of Credit and Commerce International: The close relationship between the U.S. government, the financial community, and organized crime is nowhere clearer than in the activities of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) (Kappeler, Blumberg, and Potter, 1993: 237-238). BCCI was the seventh-largest privately owned bank in the world. It had over four hundred branch offices operating in seventy-three countries. Among its many criminal activities was the laundering of at least $14 billion for the Colombian cocaine cartels; the facilitating of financial transactions for Panamanian president Manuel Noriega and international arms merchant Adnan Khashoggi; the funneling of cash to the contras for illegal arms deals and contra-backed drug trafficking; and the assisting of Phillipine President Ferdinand Marcos in transferring his personal fortune, accrued through corruption and graft, out of the Philippines.

Despite the enormity of BCCI's crimes and its vital role in drug trafficking, the U.S. Justice Department was more than reluctant to investigate. In fact, the Justice Department had complete information on BCCI's drug and arms operations and its illegal holdings in the United States for over three years before it even initiated an inquiry. Perhaps the reluctance of American law enforcement to interfere with such a major organized crime entity can be explained by the proliferation of what some have perceived as BCCI's "friends" in the U.S. government holding high office.

Cuban Organized Crime Groups: When the Cuban dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista was overthrown by Fidel Castro in 1959, U.S. intelligence agencies began a massive covert operation to remove Castro from power. To assist in military and terrorist attacks on Cuba, the U.S. government recruited former Batista allies in the Cuban refugee community in the U.S. and members of organized crime. Organized criminals had a major stake in Cuba. Prior to the revolution, they had operated in a partnership with Batista which had made Havana a major haven for gambling, prostitution, and drug trafficking. After the revolution organized crime figures were imprisoned and/or exiled from Cuba, thereby costing organized crime millions of dollars in illicit revenue.

At first the CIA, anti-Castro Cubans, and the mob collaborated on plans for an invasion of Cuba by Cuban refugees. The clandestine army created for this purpose was known as Brigade 2506 and was placed under the direction of Manuel Artime, an anti-Castro Cuban leader in Miami. In 1962, Brigade 2506 launched a disastrous invasion at the Bay of Pigs. With their invasion force shattered and defeated, the CIA and its allies turned to other tactics to destablize the Cuban government.

The anti-Castro Cubans were reorganized in several secret operations whose main objective was to conduct acts of terror aimed at Cuba. Oil refineries and sugar refineries were bombed, sugar shipments poisoned, and the Cuban infrastructure disrupted through terrorist attacks. But the public participation of Batista allies and organized crime figures in these efforts were a source of major embarrassment to the U.S. government. In the early 1970s, the anti-Castro terror campaign was called off when one of the planes being used by the anti-Castro Cubans crashed in California with several kilos of cocaine and heroin abroad (New York Times, January 1, 1975).

Organized Crime, The CIA and the Savings and Loan Scandal
The savings and loan scandal of the 1980s has been depicted in a myriad of ways. To some, it is "the greatest ... scandal in American history" (Thomas, 1991: 30). To others it is the single greatest case of fraud in the history of crime (Seattle Times, June 11, 1991). Some analysts see it as the natural result of the ethos of greed promulgated by the Reagan administration (Simon and Eitzen, 1993: 50). And to some it was a premeditated conspiracy to move covert funds out of the country for use by the U.S. Intelligence Agency (Bainerman, 1992: 275). All of these depictions of the S & L scandal contain elements of truth. But to a large degree, the savings and loan scandal was simply business as usual. What was unusual about it was not that it happened, or who was involved, but that it was so blatant and coarse a criminal act that exposure became inevitable. But with its exposure, three basic but usually ignored "truths" about organized crime were once again demonstrated with startlingly clarity:

There is precious little difference between those people who society designates as respectable and law abiding and those people society castigates as hoodlums and thugs.

The world of corporate finance and corporate capital is as criminogenic and probably more criminogenic than any poverty-wracked slum neighborhood.

The distinctions drawn between business, politics, and organized crime are at best artificial and in reality irrelevant. Rather than being dysfunctions, corporate crime, white-collar crime, organized crime, and political corruption are mainstays of American political-economic life.

It is not our intent to discuss the unethical and even illegal business practices of the failed savings and loans and their governmental collaborators. The outlandish salaries paid by S & L executives to themselves, the subsidies to the thrifts from Congress which rewarded incompetence and fraud, the land "flips" which resulted in real estate being sold back and forth in an endless "kiting" scheme, and the political manipulation designed to delay the scandal until after the 1988 presidential elections are all immensely interesting and important. But they are subjects for others' inquiries. Our interest is in the savings and loans as living, breathing organisms that fused criminal corporations, organized crime, and the CIA into a single entity that served the interests of the political and economic elite in America. Let us begin by quickly summarizing the most blatant examples of collaboration between financial institutions, the mob, and the intelligence community.

First National Bank of Maryland: For two years, 1983-1985, the First National Bank of Maryland was used by Associated Traders, a CIA proprietary company, to make payments for covert operations. Associated traders used its accounts at First National to supply $23 million in arms for covert operations in Afghanistan, Angola, Chad, and Nicaragua (Bainerman, 1992; 276-277; Covert Action 35, 1990).

The links between the First National Bank of Maryland and the CIA were exposed in a lawsuit filed in Federal District Court by Robert Maxwell, a high-ranking bank officer. Maxwell charged in that suit that he had been asked to commit crimes on behalf of the CIA. Specifically, he charged that he was asked to conceal Associated Traders' business activities, which by law he was required to specify on all letters of credit. Maxwell alleged that he had been physically threatened and forced to leave his job after asking that his superiors supply him with a letter stating that the activities he was being asked to engage in were legal. In responding to Maxwell's lawsuit, attorneys for the bank state that "a relationship between First National and the CIA and Associated Traders was classified information which could neither be confirmed nor denied (Bainerman, 1992: 276-277; Washington Business Journal, February 5, 1990).

Palmer National Bank: The Washington, D.C.-based Palmer National Bank was founded in 1983 on the basis of a $2.8 million loan from Herman K. Beebe to Harvey D. McLean, Jr. McLean was a Shreveport Louisiana businessman who owned Paris (Texas) Savings and Loan. Herman Beebe played a key role in the savings and loan scandal. Houston Post reporter Pete Brewton linked Beebe to a dozen failed S & L's, and Stephen Pizzo, Mary Fricker, and Paul Muolo, in their investigation of the S & L fiasco, called Beebe's banks "potentially the most powerful and corrupt banking network ever seen in the U.S." Altogether, Herman Beebe controlled, directly or indirectly, at least 55 banks and 29 S & L's in eight states. What is particularly interesting about Beebe's participation in these banks and savings and loans is his unique background. Herman Beebe had served nine months in federal prison for bank fraud and had impeccable credentials as a financier for New Orleans-based organized crime figures, including Vincent and Carlos Marcello (Bainerman, 1992: 277-278; Brewton, 1993: 170- 179).

Harvey McLean's partner in the Palmer National Bank was Stefan Halper. Halper had served as George Bush's foreign policy director during the 1980 presidential primaries. During the general election campaign, Halper was in charge of a highly secretive operations center, consisting of Halper and several ex- CIA operatives who kept close tabs on Jimmy Carter's foreign policy activities, particularly Carter's attempt to free U.S. hostages in Iran. Halper was later linked both to the "Debategate" scandal, in which it is alleged that Carter's briefing papers for his debates with Ronald Reagan were stolen, and with "The October Surprise," in which it is alleged that representatives of the Reagan campaign tried to thwart U.S. efforts to free the Iranian hostages until after the presidential election. Halper also set up a legal defense fund for Oliver North.

During the Iran-Contra Affair, Palmer National was the bank of record for the National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty, a front group run by Oliver North and Carl "Spitz" Channell, which was used to send money and weapons to the contras.

Indian Springs Bank: Another bank with clear connections to the CIA was the Indian Springs Bank of Kansas City, Kansas (Bainerman, 1992: 279-280; Brewton, 1993: 197-200). The fourth largest stockholder in Indian Springs was Iranian expatriate Farhad Azima, who was also the owner of an air charter company called Global International Air. The Indian Springs bank had made several unsecured loans to Global International Air, totaling $600,000 in violation of the bank's $349,00 borrower limit. In 1983 Global International filed for bankruptcy, and Indian Springs followed suit in 1984. The president of Indiana Springs was killed in 1983 in a car fire that started in the vehicle's back seat and was regarded by law enforcement officials as of suspicious origins.

Global International Air was part of Oliver North's logistical network which shipped arms for the U.S. government on several occasions, including a shipment of 23 tons of TOW missiles to Iran by Race Aviation, another company owned by Azima. Pete Brewton, in his investigation of the Indian Springs bank collapse was told that FBI had not followed up on Indian Springs because the CIA informed them that Azima was "off limits" (Houston Post, February 8, 1990). Similarly the assistant U.S. Attorney handling the Indian Springs investigation was told to "back off from a key figure in the collapse because he had ties to the CIA."

Azima did indeed have ties to the CIA. His relationship with the agency goes back to the late 1970s when he supplied air and logistical support to EATSCO (Egyptian American Transport and Services Corporation), a company owned by former CIA agents Thomas Clines, Theodore Shackley, and Richard Secord. EATSCO was prominently involved in the activities of former CIA agent Edwin Wilson, who shipped arms illegally to Libya. Azima was also closely tied to the Republican party. He had contributed $81,000 to the Reagan campaign.

Global International also had other unsavory connections. In 1981, Global International made a payment to organized crime figure Anthony Russo, a convicted felon with a record that included conspiracy, bribery, and prostitution charges. Russo was the lawyer of Kansas City organized crime figures, an employee of Indian Springs, and a member of the board of Global International. Russo later explained that the money had been used to escort Liberian dictator Samuel Doe on a "goodwill trip" to the U.S.

Global International's planes based in Miami were maintained by Southern Air Transport, another CIA proprietary company. According to Franck Van Geyso, an employee of Global International, pilots for Global International ferried arms into South and Central America and returned to Florida with drugs. Indian Springs also made a loan of $400,000 to Morris Shenker, owner of the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas, former attorney for Jimmy Hoffa, and close associate of Nick Civella and other Kansas City organized crime figures. At the time the loan to Shenker was made, he, Civella, and other Kansas City mobsters were under indictment for skimming $280,000 from Las Vegas' Tropicana Casino.

Vision Banc Savings: In March, 1986, Robert L. Corson purchased the Kleberg County Savings and Loan of Kingsville, Texas, for $6 million, and changed its name to Vision Banc Savings (Bainerman, 1992: 280-281; Brewton, 1993: 333-351). Harris County, Texas, judge Jon Lindsey vouched for Corson's character in order to gain permission from state regulators for the bank purchase. Lindsey was the chairman of the Bush campaign in 1988 in Harris County and later received a $10,000 campaign contribution and a free trip to Las Vegas from Corson (Houston Post, February 11, 1990).

Corson was well-known to federal law enforcement agents as a "known money launderer" and a "mule for the agency," meaning that he moved large amounts of cash from country to country. When Corson purchased Vision Banc, it had assets in excess of $70 million. Within four months it was bankrupt. Vision Banc engaged in a number of questionable deals under Corson leadership, but none more so that its $20 million loan to Miami Lawyer Lawrence Freeman to finance a real estate deal (Houston Post, February 4, 1990). Freeman was a convicted money launderer who had cleaned dirty money for Jack Devoe's Bahamas-to-Florida cocaine smuggling syndicate and for Santo Trafficante's Florida- based organized crime syndicate. Freeman was a law partner of CIA-operative and Bay of Pigs paymaster Paul Helliwell. Corson, in a separate Florida real estate venture costing $200 million, was indicted on a series of charges.

Hill Financial Savings: Vision Banc was not the only financial institution involved in Freeman's Florida land deals. Hill Financial Savings of Red Hill, Pennsylvania, put in an additional $80 million (Brewton, 1993: 346-348) . The Florida land deals were only one of a series of bad investments by Hill Financial which led to collapse. The failure of Hill Financial, alone, cost the U.S. treasury $1.9 billion.

Sunshine State Bank: The cast of characters surrounding the Sunshine State Bank of Miami also included spies, White House operatives, and organized criminals (Bainermann, 1992: 281; Brewton, 1993: 310- 312, 320-323). The owner of the Sunshine State Bank, Ray Corona, was convicted in 1987 of racketeering, conspiracy, and mail fraud. Corona purchased Sunshine in 1978 with $1.1 million in drug trafficking profits supplied by Jose Antonio "Tony" Fernandez, who was subsequently indicted on charges of smuggling 1.5 million pounds of marijuana into the U.S.

Among Corona's customers and business associates were Leonard Pelullo, Steve Samos, and Guillermo Hernandez-Cartaya. Pelullo was a well-known associate of organized crime figures in Philadelphia, who had attempted to use S & L money to broker a major purchase of an Atlantic City Casino as a mob frontman. Pelullo was charged with fraud for his activities at American Savings in California. Steve Samos was a convicted drug trafficker who helped Corona to set up Sunshine State Bank as a drug money laundry. Samos also helped set up front companies that funneled money and weapons to the Contras. Guillermo Hernandez-Cartaya was a veteran CIA operative who had played a key role in the Bay of Pigs of invasion. He also had a long career as a money launderer in the Caribbean and in Texas on behalf of both the CIA and major drug trafficking syndicates.

Mario Renda, Lender to the Mob: Mario Renda was a Long Island money broker who brokered deposits to various savings and loans in return for their agreement to loan money to phony companies (Brewton, 1993: 45-47; 188-190; Pizzo et al. 1989: 466-471). Renda and his associates received finders fees of 2 to 6 percent on the loans, most of which went to individuals with strong organized crime connections who subsequently defaulted on them. Renda brokered deals to 160 Savings and Loans throughout the country, 104 of which eventually failed. Renda was convicted of $16 million from an S & L and for tax fraud.

Renda also served CIA and National Security Council interests as a money broker helping arrange for the laundering of drug money through various savings and loans on behalf of the CIA. He then obtained loans from the same S & L's, which were funneled to the Contras. An organized crime-related stockbroker, a drug pilot, and Renda were all convicted in the drug money laundering case.

Full-Service Banking: All told at least twenty-two of the failed S & L's can be tied to joint money laundering ventures by the CIA and organized crime figures (Glassman, 1990: 16-21; Farnham, 1990: 90-108; Weinberg, 1990: 33; Pizzo, et al., 1989: 466-471). If the savings and loan scandals of the 1980s reveal anything, they demonstrate what has often been stated as a maxim in organized crime research: that corruption linking government, business, and syndicates is the reality of the day-to-day organization of crime. Investigations of organized crime in the United States, Europe, and Asia have all uncovered organized crime networks operating with virtual immunity from law enforcement and prosecution. Chambliss' study of organized crime in Seattle exposed a syndicate that involved participation by a former governor of the state, the county prosecutor, the police chief, the sheriff, at least 50 law enforcement officers, leading business people, including contractors, realtors, banks, and corporation executives, and, of course, a supporting cast of drug pushers, pimps, gamblers, and racketeers (Chambliss, 1978). The Chambliss study is not the exception but the rule. Other sociological inquires in Detroit, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York have all revealed similar patterns (Albini, 1971; Block, 1984; Block and Chambliss, 1981; Block and Scarpitti,1985; Jenkins and Potter, 1989; 1986; Potter and Jenkins, 1985; Potter, 1994). As Chambliss comments:

In the everyday language of the police, the press, and popular opinion, "organized crime" refers to a tightly knit group of people, usually alien and often Italian, that run a crime business structured along the lines of feudal relationships. This conception bears little relationship to the reality of organized crime today. Nonetheless, criminologists have discovered the existence of organizations whose activities focus on the smuggling of illegal commodities into and out of countries (cocaine out of Colombia and into the United States and guns and arms out of the United States and into the Middle East, for example); other organizations, sometimes employing some of the same people, are organized to provide services such as gambling, prostitution, illegal dumping of toxic wastes, arson, usury, and occasionally murder. These organizations typically cut across ethnic and cultural lines, are run like businesses, and consist of networks of people including police, politicians, and ordinary citizens investing in illegal enterprises for a high return on their money.

The Unfeeling President

I fault this president for not knowing what death is. He does not suffer the death of our 21-year-olds who wanted to be what they could be. On the eve of D-Day in 1944 General Eisenhower prayed to God for the lives of the young soldiers he knew were going to die. He knew what death was. Even in a justifiable war, a war not of choice but of necessity, a war of survival, the cost was almost more than Eisenhower could bear.

But this president does not know what death is.. He hasn't the mind for it. You see him joking with the press, peering under the table for the weapons of mass destruction he can't seem to find, you see him at rallies strutting up to the stage in shirt sleeves to the roar of the carefully screened crowd, smiling and waving, triumphal, a he-man.

He does not mourn. He doesn't understand why he should mourn. He is satisfied during the course of a speech written for him to look solemn for a moment and speak of the brave young Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

But you study him, you look into his eyes and know he dissembles an emotion which he does not feel in the depths of his being because he has no capacity for it. He does not feel a personal responsibility for the 1,000 dead young men and women who wanted to be what they could be.

They come to his desk not as youngsters with mothers and fathers or wives and children who will suffer to the end of their days a terribly torn fabric of familial relationships and the inconsolable remembrance of aborted life . . . they come to his desk as a political liability, which is why the press is not permitted to photograph the arrival of their coffins from Iraq.

How then can he mourn? To mourn is to express regret and he regrets nothing. He does not regret that his reason for going to war was, as he knew, unsubstantiated by the facts. He does not regret that his bungled plan for the war's aftermath has made of his mission-accomplished a disaster. He does not regret that, rather than controlling terrorism, his war in Iraq has licensed it. So he never mourns for the dead and crippled youngsters who have fought this war of his choice.

He wanted to go to war and he did. He had not the mind to perceive the costs of war, or to listen to those who knew those costs. He did not understand that you do not go to war when it is one of the options but when it is the only option; you go not because you want to but because you have to.

Yet this president knew it would be difficult for Americans not to cheer the overthrow of a foreign dictator. He knew that much. This president and his supporters would seem to have a mind for only one thing -- to take power, to remain in power, and to use that power for the sake of themselves and their friends.

A war will do that as well as anything. You become a wartime leader. The country gets behind you. Dissent becomes inappropriate. And so he does not drop to his knees, he is not contrite, he does not sit in the church with the grieving parents and wives and children. He is the president who does not feel. He does not feel for the families of the dead, he does not feel for the 35 million of us who live in poverty, he does not feel for the 40 percent who cannot afford health insurance, he does not feel for the miners whose lungs are turning black or for the working people he has deprived of the chance to work overtime at time-and-a-half to pay their bills - it is amazing for how many people in this country this president does not feel.

But he will dissemble feeling. He will say in all sincerity he is relieving the wealthiest 1 percent of the population of their tax burden for the sake of the rest of us, and that he is polluting the air we breathe for the sake of our economy, and that he is decreasing the quality of air in coal mines to save the coal miners' jobs, and that he is depriving workers of their time-and-a-half benefits for overtime because this is actually a way to honor them by raising them into the professional class.

And this litany of lies he will versify with reverences for God and the flag and democracy, when just what he and his party are doing to our democracy is choking the life out of it.

But there is one more terribly sad thing about all of this. I remember the millions of people here and around the world who marched against the war. It was extraordinary, that spontaneous aroused oversoul of alarm and protest that transcended national borders. Why did it happen? After all, this was not the only war anyone had ever seen coming. There are little wars all over he world most of the time.

But the cry of protest was the appalled understanding of millions of people that America was ceding its role as the last best hope of mankind. It was their perception that the classic archetype of democracy was morphing into a rogue nation. The greatest democratic republic in history was turning its back on the future, using its extraordinary power and standing not to advance the ideal of a concordance of civilizations but to endorse the kind of tribal combat that originated with the Neanderthals, a people, now extinct, who could imagine ensuring their survival by no other means than pre-emptive war.

The president we get is the country we get. With each president the nation is conformed spiritually. He is the artificer of our malleable national soul. He proposes not only the laws but the kinds of lawlessness that govern our lives and invoke our responses. The people he appoints are cast in his image. The trouble they get into and get us into, is his characteristic trouble.

Finally, the media amplify his character into our moral weather report. He becomes the face of our sky, the conditions that prevail. How can we sustain ourselves as the United States of America given the stupid and ineffective warmaking, the constitutionally insensitive lawgiving, and the monarchal economics of this president? He cannot mourn but is a figure of such moral vacancy as to make us mourn for ourselves.
September 9, 2003 - Easthampton (NY) Star

Edgar Lawrence Doctorow was born in New York City on January 6, 1931. He attended the Bronx High School of Science, received his B.A. in 1952 with honors from Kenyon College, and continued his study with graduate work at Columbia University.

In addition to being a major novelist, E. L. Doctorow served as senior editor for New American Library from 1959-1964 and editor in chief of Dial Press from 1964-1969. Since 1969, Doctorow has devoted his time to writing and teaching. He has been associated with several colleges and universities, including the University of California, Irvine; Sarah Lawrence College; Yale University Drama School; Princeton University, and, currently, New York University where he holds the Glucksman Chair in American Letters. In 1984 he was made a member of the American Academy and National Institute of Arts and Letters.

What is Yom Kippur?

Jewish 'Day of Atonement' considers spiritual well-being
Yom Kippur, which in 2004 begins at sunset Sept. 24, and lasts until sunset Sept. 25, is one of the most serious Jewish holidays. Jews who do not regularly observe other holidays often make an exception for Yom Kippur, which occurs on the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tishri. Yom Kippur observances can vary. Some non-Orthodox Jews might not follow the following outline exactly.

This is judgment day. Many Jews practice repentance, say prayers, and give charity to obtain God's forgiveness for any sins made in the past year. Yom Kippur is the culmination of a process that began a month earlier, during the Hebrew month of Elal. It follows Rosh Hashanah and the New Year's activities.

Days of Awe

After Rosh Hashanah and before Yom Kippur are ten days known as the Days of Awe, or Ten Days of Repentance. They offer a chance for spiritual renewal and repentance before Yom Kippur, which is to atone for sins between man and God.

Some Orthodox Jews hold a live fowl over their heads as atonement for sin. The fowl is killed and given to the poor. Instead of an actual bird, some Jews use a bag of money symbolizing the price of the bird. This is the ancient custom of kapparot, or atonements, and is practiced during the afternoon before Yom Kippur begins.

A confession, a special meal

During the afternoon prayers on the day before Yom Kippur, a viddui, or confessional, is said. It is repeated during Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur requires a fast of about 25 hours. The final meal before is a somewhat festive occasion, including soup, chicken, and challah, traditional Jewish bread. Salty foods, which may make fasting more difficult, are generally avoided. Participants are advised to drink plenty of water and to brush their teeth before the fast begins. Those who usually drink a lot of caffeine are advised to start cutting down days before to avoid the headache associated with caffeine withdrawal.

Yom Kippur Dates
2004 Sept. 24
2005 Oct. 12
2006 Oct. 1
2007 Sept. 21

Candles and a blessing

Two holiday candles are blessed and then lit. This signals the beginning of Yom Kippur. There is no more eating or drinking. Other prohibitions are: no bathing, no using creams and oils, no wearing of leather shoes, and no sexual relations. There are exceptions. Children who have not yet had their bar or bat-mitzvah, pregnant women, and people who are sick or infirm may eat or drink as needed. Some Reform Jews might not follow these prohibitions precisely.

A series of prayers is said during Yom Kippur. The Kol Nidrei is the first prayer, and should be recited before sunset. It is written in Aramaic, an ancient language. The Maariv is an evening service and includes the viddui.

Prayers for those who have died

In the morning, the Shaharit begins the day. It is similar to other morning services but includes additional poems, known as piyutim. Next is the Yizkor, a memorial prayer for those whose parents have died. Those with parents still living leave the main sanctuary while it is being said. The Musaf is the longest service of the year. It contains two parts: one which recounts the temple service, and the second describes the ten Jewish wise men tortured to death by the Romans.

Locking of the gates of heaven

Most synagogues take a break following the Musaf to allow worshippers to take a rest. In the afternoon, the Minhah, which includes the reading of the Book of Jonah, takes place. It is the briefest Yom Kippur service. It is followed by the Neilah, meaning "locked." It refers to the locking of the gates of heaven. The congregation stands during the Neilah. At the end of the afternoon service, the shofar, a ram's horn, is blown. Today various types of horns are used.

Families "break the fast," when they return home and eat a light meal often prepared in advance. This usually includes dairy products. Bagels and lox, noodle kugel, juice, and coffee are apt to be included.

David Johnson

The Persecuted, in Chains

In jails and prisons across the United States, thousands of people are detained who have never been accused of crimes. The guards treat them like criminals, and the criminals they bunk with often abuse them. They are held for months, sometimes even years, but unlike the criminals, they do not know when their sentences will end. They receive this treatment because they are foreigners who arrived in the United States saying that they were fleeing persecution at home.

The United States did not always lock up the huddled masses. Until 1997, when security concerns began to rise, asylum seekers could live like normal people while awaiting their hearings. Today, thousands wait in detention. Some go to immigration centers that greatly resemble prisons, but more than half are sent to actual jails and prisons.

The Homeland Security Department, which took over immigration matters from the Immigration and Naturalization Service 18 months ago, says it detains only those who pose a security threat or who intend to disappear. But there are countless cases of asylum seekers who are detained even when they clearly pose no risk, have friends or relatives in America who will post bond, and are unlikely to skip out on their asylum hearings. They include Tibetan nuns, religious minorities from Africa, an Afghan woman persecuted by the Taliban for running a girls' school, Ukrainian grass-roots activists and others. These people are often the most noble in their society. They come here chasing America's promised liberty, and they end up in chains.

The rules have become harsher since Sept. 11. An asylum seeker landing at an American border post or airport speaks to an asylum officer, who determines whether the person poses a security risk or has ties to the community. Those who fail those tests are deported, and those who pass are detained. A majority of the detainees are then paroled to await their hearings. But the decisions of Homeland Security vary hugely by region. The regions based in Miami, Texas and San Diego release 81 percent of their detainees; New York releases 8 percent, and New Jersey only 4 percent.

In addition, the United States seems to be using harsh detention to discourage people from fleeing to America. In the case of Haitians, this is an explicit policy. Attorney General John Ashcroft ruled that all people arriving by boat - a vast majority of them Haitians - should be detained because freeing them would encourage others to come. An exception is made for the Cubans who arrive by boat. They get parole and a green card, by law.

Decisions on how to handle each immigrant should be based on individual circumstances, according to clear rules that apply to all regions equally. The United States must obviously be careful with people who come here and say they are seeking asylum. But locking up thousands of people who pose no risk and are accused of no crimes is expensive, unnecessary and a betrayal of America's commitment to the persecuted.

Hepatitis Outbreak Laid to Water and Sewage Failures

A virulent form of hepatitis that is especially lethal for pregnant women has broken out in two of Iraq's most troubled districts, Iraqi Health Ministry officials said in interviews here this week, and they warned that a collapse of water and sewage systems in the continuing violence in the country is probably at the root of the outbreak. The disease, called hepatitis E, is caused by a virus that is often spread by sewage-contaminated drinking water. The officials said they had equipment to test only a limited number of people showing symptoms, suggesting that only a fraction of the actual cases have been firmly diagnosed. In Sadr City, a Baghdad slum that for months has been convulsed by gun battles between a local militia and American troops, the officials said as many as 155 cases had turned up.

The second outbreak is in Mahmudiya, a town 35 miles south of Baghdad that is known for its kidnappings and shootings as well as for its poverty, where there are an estimated 60 cases. At least nine pregnant women are believed to have been infected, and one has died. Five deaths have been reported over all.

"We are saying that the real number is greatly more than this, because the area is greatly underreported," said Dr. Atta-alla Mekhlif Al-Salmani, leader of the viral hepatitis section at Health Ministry's Center of Disease Control.

The World Health Organization is rushing hepatitis E testing kits, water purification tablets, informational brochures and other materials to Iraq, said Dr. Naeema Al-Gasseer, the W.H.O. representative for Iraq, who is now based in Amman, Jordan.

But viral hepatitis comes in many forms, and another ominous set of statistics suggests that the quality of water supplies around the country has deteriorated since the American-led war began last year, Dr. Salmani said. In 2003, 70 percent more cases of hepatitis of all types were reported across Iraq than in the year before, he said. During the first six months of 2004, as many cases were reported as in all of 2002.

In yet another indication of the deteriorating safety of water and food in Iraq, the number of reported cases of typhoid fever is up sharply this year, said Dr. Nima S. Abid, the ministry's director general of public health and primary health. Hospitals across the country are also full of children with severe forms of diarrhea, Dr. Abid said.

Those reports come as the Bush administration has proposed shifting $3.46 billion in reconstruction money for Iraq to programs that would train and equip tens of thousands of additional police officers, border guards and national guardsmen in hopes of regaining control of the security situation. The shift, which needs approval by Congress, would gut what had been an ambitious program to rebuild Iraq's crumbling water and sewage systems, forcing the cancellation or delay of most of the projects. Last fall, Congress approved $18.4 billion for Iraq's reconstruction; so far, only about $1 billion has been spent.

"The problem is the whole infrastructure," Dr. Abid said of the mounting health problems, adding that many of the difficulties stemmed from neglect that began long before the invasion. But he said, "Definitely no major intervention has been done in this last one and a half years to repair the problem."

Viral hepatitis comes in numerous forms and with a variety of consequences, from benign to fatal. The most common type, hepatitis A, can be spread from person to person or through contaminated water. Like all forms of the disease, it infects liver cells and can cause jaundice and other symptoms, but there is often no permanent damage after recovery, said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

Though it is also spread through water, hepatitis E, for reasons that are not well understood, is most dangerous for pregnant women, who can lose their unborn children and die, Dr. Schaffner said. He said the disease was found mainly in Central America, India and the Middle East.

There is no vaccine to prevent the disease or standard drug regimen to treat it.

The immediate reason for the outbreaks in Sadr City and Mahmudiya appear easy to pin down, Dr. Abid said. The lack of infrastructure induces families to tap into water mains with improvised hoses, he said, citing his own visits to the communities. Small electric pumps are then used to suck water into homes. But in these same communities, sewage either seeps from damaged pipes into the ground or runs freely in the streets, then through cracks and holes into people's houses. Sewage is sucked in too, becoming mixed with the drinking water and spreading the virus.

An assistant to the director general for water for the Baghdad municipality, who asked to be identified only as Khalid, said that a major water project had been under way for Sadr City, but that poor security had made it impossible to proceed.


Allawi, the Cheerleader

He's a prop, not a player.

Was Iyad Allawi, America's Iraqi sock-puppet and the country's unelected "prime minister," lying when he told the U.S. Congress:

"In Samarra, the Iraqi government has tackled the insurgents who once controlled the city. Following weeks of discussions between government officials and representatives, coalition forces and local community leaders, regular access to the city has been restored. A new provincial council and governor have been selected, and a new chief of police has been appointed. Hundreds of insurgents have been pushed out of the city by local citizens, eager to get with their lives. Today in Samarra, Iraqi forces are patrolling the city, in close coordination with their coalition counterparts."

I guess that's why American forces had already sealed off the city and launched air strikes, killing at least one child and one older woman, even before Allawi had opened his mouth. Nothing succeeds like success.

I doubt Allawi was consciously telling an untruth. The poor guy probably had no idea what was going on, and why should the Americans tell him? After all, he's a general without an army. Does the quarterback huddle with the head cheerleader?

Allawi's speech to the assembled dignitaries even had the cadences of a cheer, the kind your little sister practices in front of the mirror before the Big Game:

"My friends, today we are better off, you are better off and the world is better off without Saddam Hussein."


Are better off!


Are better off!

And the WORLD

Is better off!

With - OUT Sad – DAM!

Rah, rah, sis-boom BAH!

Fight, team, fight!

It's just background noise. Nobody cares what Allawi says, because, if truly free and fair elections are ever held in Iraq, he'll be gone, and if they aren't held, and, instead, the country dissolves into civil war, he'll be gone anyway. In any case, his government is officially characterized as "interim," and the idea that he is going to come out ahead at the polls in January is just not credible – unless he manages to somehow manipulate the process, or else postpone the election on the grounds that the security situation requires it.

These two prospects clearly worry the real ruler of Iraq, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, as the New York Times reports this [Wednesday] morning. It was the Ayatollah, you'll remember, who insisted on moving up the elections to begin with. As American forces consolidated their "victory," and "mopped up" the "dead-enders," the Coalition Provisional Authority was all set to impose a "caucus" system, in which their handpicked Iraqi servitors would come out the winners. They wrote a constitution, dictated by neocon ideologues in Washington, and the pro-war pundits hailed Iraq as a political laboratory in which a great experiment was proving that the neoconization of Iraq would be a successful model for the entire region. But Sistani, whose every word is listened to by Iraq's Shi'ite majority as if it were holy writ, would have none of it: the caucus plan was shelved, and the final drafting of the constitution was put on hold. The Grand Ayatollah had spoken.

In the original plan, as conceived by the neoconservative authors of this misadventure, elections weren't supposed to happen for years, or at least until the country was so totally pacified that they would even tolerate the installation of Ahmed Chalabi, but that changed, too, at Sistani's insistence. A January date was set, but still Sistani is not satisfied, and he's holding the threat of a boycott over the heads of the Americans, demanding an end to the advantages given to the exile parties – including huge subsidies from the U.S., and a ceiling of 55 percent on Shi'ite representation in the new government.

The Americans have little choice but to accede to his demands.

It was Sistani who intervened to save the holy city of Najaf, and placed himself between the American occupiers and the forces of Muqtada al-Sadr, the rebel firebrand the U.S. has vowed to capture and prosecute. Because of Sistani, Muqtada and his Sadrists have lived to fight another day. And that day may be coming sooner than the Americans imagine, even in their darkest prognostications.

In his speech to Congress, Allawi characterized the opposition to the U.S. occupation as follows:

"But there are the tiny minority who despise the very ideas of liberty, of peace, of tolerance, and who will kill anyone, destroy anything, to prevent Iraq and its people from achieving this goal. Among them are those who nurse fantasies of the former regime returning to power. There are fanatics who seek to impose a perverted vision of Islam in which the face of Allah cannot be seen. And there are terrorists, including many from outside Iraq, who seek to make our country the main battleground against freedom, democracy and civilization."

To begin with, Allawi, as a "former" Ba'athist who only turned against Saddam when he fell out of favor, can fairly be identified with those nurturers of fantasy. Iraqis who would like to see some successor to the secularized Sunni Ba'athist party come into existence have only to look to the Iraqi National Accord, founded by Allawi and a few other dissident Ba'athist officers disenchanted with the cult of Saddam.

Furthermore, if any single group in Iraq can be characterized as a tiny minority, then surely it is the pro-Western, pro-occupation parties, including the National Accord, Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, and the Iraqi Communist Party. Sistani's objection that the seculars will come to dominate the Shi'ite majority, and create an illegitimate government, is enough to sweep them aside, and threatens to derail the entire process.

A "tiny minority?" Every poll since last year has shown the overwhelming majority of Iraqis want us out, and the sooner the better. Sistani, reflecting the popular will, has the same view, but has so far refrained from demanding an American exit, leaving the Sadrists to take the path of jihad, or holy war.

So let Allawi blather on all he wants. While he is given standing ovations in Washington by our clueless and completely bought-off Congress, the real players are huddling on the field in Iraq, deciding the fate of that unfortunate nation. And Allawi, like the president he owes his office to, was never a player, only a cheerleader.

Some cheerleaders are prettier than others, and Allawi, it must be admitted, is decidedly indecorous. A ponderous speaker, he looks like a Soviet-era thug: yet another confirmation of George Orwell's axiom that, after 40, everyone has the face they deserve. I wonder if any American reporters will be so bold as to ask Allawi, during his visit, about how it felt to shoot as many as six helpless prisoners, who were handcuffed and blindfolded. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Allawi personally executed them with a pistol in a courtyard next to the Al-Amariyah security center in southwestern Baghdad. The deed was done days before his American patrons elevated him to power: the detainees, he declared on the spot, "deserved worse than death."

Allawi is a smalltime hood, of no consequence other than being the temporary beneficiary of Washington's factional wars: Chalabi, as the neocons' pet, lost out when his patrons fell out of favor at the White House, and Allawi was the best we could do in a pinch. But make no mistake about it: the real center of power in Iraq is not Allawi's government, or the political parties that join it, but in the office of the Grand Ayatollah. Even the Americans must come to Sistani on bended knee. Having made implacable enemies of the Sunni minority, they cannot afford to alienate the Shi'ite majority.

In 1935, when French Prime Minister Pierre Laval urged Joseph Stalin to go easy on the Church in Russia so as to enlist the Pope's aid against the rising threat of Hitler, the Soviet dictator is said to have replied with derision: "The Pope? How many divisions has he got?"

Today, the Pope's divisions, having run the Red Army out of Poland, are rightly given much of the credit for destroying the Evil Empire that Stalin extended into Eastern Europe, and ultimately overthrowing his successors in the Kremlin.

Will America's Middle Eastern Empire suffer the same fate at the hands of a Muslim Pope? The power of religion has lately been underestimated in the West, enamored as it is with the alleged invincibility of "modernity." The Americans, already burdened with an unwillingness to learn from history, show every sign of repeating Stalin's fatal error.

Justin Raimondo