"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Thursday, December 23, 2004

For the Poor and Neglected

Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord.

source: Book of Common Prayer 1979

2004 Media Follies!

It's not the job of the U.S. media to worry about the consequences of failed U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. press should stop worrying about controversy and start doing its job: report the news, negative or not. Let the people decide. That's what real democracy is all about.

For the ninth consecutive year, here's my list of the most overhyped and underreported stories of the year. Given the amount of hype and missing reporting in mainstream American media, I'm sure to have forgotten a few; send in your suggestions, and I'll run them in a future column. These are my attempt to restore some balance to a badly flawed media performance.

The solution, happily, is as close as your computer. Virtually every country in the world now has an English-language edition of at least one major media outlet; in particular, web sites for British and European media (www.bbc.co.uk, www.guardian.co.uk, The Independent, the Daily Mirror, Le Monde, the Irish Times, and many others) often provide international and even domestic U.S. reporting far superior to the pablum we receive here at home. There's also a healthy and vibrant alternative media here in the U.S.: www.workingforchange.com, www.alternet.org, www.commondreams.org, www.znet.org, and many others. Seek out other sources, weigh the differences, and make up your own mind. Happy New Year!

The Year's Most Overhyped Stories

John Kerry as a viable candidate. He got the Democrats' nomination because he was the candidate who could beat George Bush - and then turned around and ran a stunningly inert campaign all the way through September. It cost him the election.

Ralph Nader as a Threat to the Democratic Presidential Ticket. Who were they kidding?

The Economy Is Improving. Then It's Not. Then It Is. Then It's Not. Then It Is. Then It's Not. But Alan Greenspan Says... and blah, blah, blah. Ah, stagnation. Only the U.S. media could make unemployment, high credit card debt, a sky-high federal deficit, kamikaze tax-cuts, a record trade imbalance, and sagging corporate profits appear rosy. Let's cut the crap: Capitalism is in a crisis that the Bush administration can't figure out how to fix. End of story.

The Scott Peterson Trial. Of all the murderers in the world, the U.S. media has obsessed over Peterson because he's photogenic, upper-middle-class, young, and white. The press should have given him one column inch, skipped the photo, and moved on to the next story. How about a nightly news story about a photogenic, white Mass-Murderer-in-Chief? Or some coverage of Pinochet's indictment by a Chilean court? Or any of the pandemic of other guys who killed their spouses, girlfriends, ex-spouses, ex-girlfriends, or fantasy lovers?

Ronald Reagan's Death. Forget Iran-Contra, illegal wars, administration corruption, AIDS, and the Me Decade. Just remember that he was a really nice guy. Oh, and he single-handedly ended Communism. But wait - Communism can't have ended, because this is exactly how such regimes rewrite history. All hail the Great Fallen Helmsman Comrade Leader Ronnie.

Foreign Terrorists. Because of constant repetition and misuse, this term is utterly devoid of meaning. Many Americans, however, now think that any foreigner is a terrorist. Mission accomplished.

Anything the White House Says about Iraq. It's time to stop treating these ridiculously optimistic, obtuse pronouncements as credible. "Freedom is on the march"?? Please.

Extreme Weather Hype. Get used to it. With global climate change, our future will be full of storms. Instead of hyping the storm-du-jour as a "once-in-a-lifetime" event, U.S. media outlets should be more honest. Local news shows ought to run regular features on how to prepare for this week's extreme weather challenge, with periodic tips on emergency preparedness. "And here's the phone number for Vice President Dick Cheney's office. Let him know what you think about global warming, climate change, and the administration's energy policy!"

The Year's Most Underreported Stories

Global Warming and Climate Change. No credible scientist disputes it any longer. Flooding, monsoons, droughts, intense heat waves, and the disappearance of fresh water sources will lead to the deaths of millions of people around the world - not some time in the distant future, but within our own lifetimes and the lifetimes of our children. The impact is not just a human one: it will also involve the extinction of nearly half the species that inhabit the planet, by some estimates. In addition, millions of people will become refugees, and these displaced populations will put a heavy toll on those of us who thought our wealth would protect us from the ravages of climate change.

The Global AIDS Pandemic. From the lack of U.S. press coverage, you'd think AIDS has been conquered. Nothing could be further from the truth. The West has largely shirked its responsibility for combating the worst epidemic since the Black Death killed much of the population of Medieval Europe, or the U.S. military deployed smallpox to wipe out the native population of the Americas.

The Bush administration has insisted that U.S. government funds be used only for programs that promote abstinence. In addition, the U.S. government has hindered efforts to use generic AIDS drugs in poor nations, in response to pharmaceutical companies who want to protect their profits. That's criminal behavior.

Meanwhile, 30 years of neoliberal economic policies have dismantled the healthcare systems of underdeveloped and industrial nations alike and are largely to blame for all the money that must now be poured into basic infrastructure, like re-building health clinics in African countries. The human race should be ashamed. We should admit the mistake, open our wallets, and begin to tackle another problem that has a whole variety of solutions, in particular: the use of condoms, the manufacture of generic AIDS drugs, and the funding of social welfare programs.

The Resurgence of Nuclear Power. Leave it to the Bush administration to promote nuclear power as its "green" solution to global warming, particularly in export to China and other developing countries. So far, the U.S. media has allowed this to sneak under the radar, in spite of well-established and long-standing public opposition to nuclear power and the costly problems entailed with nuclear waste disposal.

The Politics and Economics of Oil permeate everything from the economy to foreign policy, but are never discussed directly by the media. From major pipeline deals between Russia and Japan, to the influence of oil on U.S. intervention in the Middle East, to China cutting major deals with Latin American and African nations for long-term oil contracts, to the impact of burning fossil fuels on our environment, to misguided tax policies and our deteriorating highway system here at home, to massive oil spills in our increasingly polluted oceans and waterways, the U.S. press has managed to talk around the main topic: we are addicted to oil and something must be done to wean us off this drug. Let's declare a war on oil.

Continuing Corporate Scandals. The Enron and Worldcom scandals broke in the summer of 2001. Shortly thereafter, politicians and businessmen on Wall Street assured us that new regulations would make corporate scandals a thing of the past. Hah. Last week the SEC announced that the mortgage giant, Fannie Mae - - which, together with Freddie Mac, backs half of all the mortgages issued in the U.S. - is involved in a new corporate scandal. Fannie Mae will have to recognize $9 billion in losses that they've hidden from the public since 2001. Yes, this accounting fraud, which rivals anything Worldcom or Enron did, has occurred in the last three years, in spite of a so-called crack-down on corporate crime. And it's received zero press coverage, except for a few small articles in the Wall Street Journal. For shame!

Not Every Vote Counts. Miscounts and "accidents" (that may or may not have been accidental) have been steadily oozing out of Ohio and Florida since the election, but tampering with voter registration lists and voter suppression techniques have also been widely reported. What it adds up to is an election process so riddled with fraud and error that it would shame most Third World countries. And we're supposed to be a model for this stuff?

South America Stands Up to Washington. Additional elections this year have meant a near-clean sweep (the exception being Colombia) of South American governments by left-leaning candidates who have won office by campaigning against Bush and the neoliberal policies of the U.S. The result: an emerging Global South bloc, led by Brazil, Venezuela, and India, that has brought free trade expansion via the WTO and FTAA to a standstill.

Torture. The horrific Abu Ghraib scandal got plenty of attention - along with the Bush Administration's ridiculous assertion that it was the work of a few isolated soldiers - but the systemic use of torture and prison abuse at Guantánamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq has now been documented far beyond question. Even less examined: that many of the torture techniques, and not a few of their practitioners, have been borrowed directly from federal and state "control unit" prisons, where such practices have been decried by Amnesty International and others for years.

Anything that Happens on the Ground in Iraq: the use of napalm, white phosphorus, and cluster bombs in Fallujah; continuing evidence of prisoner abuse in U.S. detention centers in Iraq; the lack of foreign fighters among captured Iraqi insurgents; zero progress in reconstruction; major fraud and the misappropriation of reconstruction funds; bombing of voter registration centers and the assassination of candidates and party members; no voter registration at all in the Sunni triangle, including Iraq's third largest city, Mosul; the massacre of civilians by hastily-trained, poorly-equipped Iraqi security forces and the combat weary, stressed-out U.S. soldiers who oversee them; U.S. military policy that is copying failed tactics from the Israeli military's playbook for the West Bank and Gaza Strip; continued fighting in Fallujah, a relatively small city that was supposed to have been pacified three weeks ago - the list goes on and on.

If it's negative news, the U.S. press doesn't report it, on the assumption that telling the truth might make the American people demand a full and immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq. The U.S. media has swallowed the Bush administration argument, echoed by John Kerry, that we must "stay the course" in Iraq or the whole Middle East will go up in flames (and whose fault would that be, hmm?).

It's not the job of the U.S. media to worry about the consequences of failed U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. press should stop worrying about controversy and start doing its job: report the news, negative or not. Let the people decide. That's what real democracy is all about.

Geov Parrish

Thanks to Eat the State! co-editor Maria Tomchick for her help in selecting this year's list

Press Still Falling Down on Iraq

The ACLU's success at breaking news also raises the question of how aggressive our press has been in challenging military rationales and White House message points.

New York - Since when did the American Civil Liberties Union become a media organization? Or put another way: why have so much of our press fallen down on the job of pushing the Bush Administration to disclose information about its war-related practices, ranging from how it provides for our troops to detailing military abuse of prisoners and detainees?

Documents pried from the government by the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act , and disclosed this week, suggest that the abuse of detainees was more systematic than we knew and ordered from on high. One email even indicates that President Bush signed off on the policy. While the administration disputes the document, that famous question raised during the Watergate investigation comes around again in a different form: What did the President know and when did he forget he knew it?

The ACLU's success at breaking news also raises the question of how aggressive our press has been in challenging military rationales and White House message points.

Even as the frame and focus of coverage changed from liberation to occupation, from invasion to insurgency, the essential news dynamic remains the same. It's still AAU: "All About U.S."

Compare the number of stories devoted to the impact the war has had on the people of Iraq with the number on body armor and troop deployments. The destruction of Fallujah has slipped not only off the front pages, but every page. Not only is there no continuing reporting on civilian casualties (estimates range from 20,000 to 100,000 or more) but also few on why so many average Iraqis oppose the occupation.

Ironically the best mainstream account of on the ground realities remains the one by Farnaz Fassihi, the Wall Street Journal reporter whose gripping account was sent out in a private email, not a published story.

One of our best war reporters, Chris Hedges of The New York Times, seems to find it easier to get his perspective out in books and magazines than in his own newspaper. In his most recent piece he observes: "War is presented primarily through the distorted prism of the occupiers. The embedded reporters, dependent on the military for food and transportation as well as security, have a natural and understandable tendency, one I have myself felt, to protect those who are protecting them. And the reporting, even among those who struggle to keep some distance, usually descends into a shameful cheerleading."

Stories of abuse of detainees only became well known after photographs appeared on TV and in The New Yorker. But even then, when CBS did its story on Abu Ghraib in April 2004, the major media was late to the story.

We now have personal "trophy" photos of horrific abuse from service families dating back to May 2003. Amnesty International began campaigning on the story with videos in July 2003. And yet it only became a big deal in the late spring of 2004.

Then the major media filed it away again, until that famous news organization, the ACLU, gave them more fodder this week.

And even then, to this day, the focus has been on individuals who committed abuses, rather than those up the chain of command who ordered it, or knew about it and said nothing. To this day sanitized terms like "abuse" are frequently used to substitute for the more legally correct words like "torture" and "war crimes."

I recently made a documentary called "WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception," and one complaint by a critic really got my blood boiling: The public knows all this already. Yet fully 50% of the Bush voters told pollsters before the election they still believed there are WMD's in Iraq, even after the president himself said he no longer believes it.

If public opinion on the war is shifting - with 56% now saying the invasion was a bad idea - it can't be because of the media.

Danny Schechter is an Emmy Award-winning former ABC News and CNN producer. Besides making films, he is the "blogger-in-chief" at Mediachannel.org. This commentary appeared first in Editor & Publisher.

Path to Peace Runs Through Palestine

In a report flatly contradicting Bush administration orthodoxy, the Pentagon's Defense Science Board said Washington's problems in Iraq and elsewhere arose not from Muslims' hatred of American freedoms but of its policies and "what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights."

Iraq may grab the headlines, but conflict with Israel still drives Arab anger in the region.

Beirut - Since Yasser Arafat's death, there has been a shift of international attention away from Iraq to the other, older, most imperishable of Middle East crises. Tony Blair has urged the reelected President Bush to revitalize the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which he called "the single most pressing political challenge in our world today," while British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has called it more important than Iraq itself.

And the view that the two crises are malignantly linked found forceful corroboration in a surprising quarter. In a report flatly contradicting Bush administration orthodoxy, the Pentagon's Defense Science Board said Washington's problems in Iraq and elsewhere arose not from Muslims' hatred of American freedoms but of its policies and "what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights."

To Arabs and Muslims, this discovery is less than Archimedean. For them, it has always been self-evident: The Palestine problem, a legacy of Western colonialism as virulent today as it ever was, has always been the greatest single source of anti-Western sentiment in the region. So if terrorism now ranks as the greatest single contemporary threat to global order, and if Iraq is its most profitable arena, Palestine must have a great deal to do with it.

In a recent video address, Osama bin Laden said the spectacle of Israelis bombing Beirut during its 1982 invasion first inspired the idea of blowing up the World Trade Center towers; an afterthought perhaps, but one born of the shrewd realization that such support as he commands among Arab and Muslim masses comes less from his messianic ideology than his identification with this most emblematic of Arab causes.

For the people of the region, the remarkable thing is the way that, historically, the West has repeatedly ignored or overridden the centrality of Palestine in their psyche, with Iraq only the latest and most blatant example. True, the sickness that was Saddam Hussein's Iraq had its own specific origins and dynamics, and most Iraqis wanted by almost any means to be rid of him. But the more self-serving, badly managed, repressive, arrogant, bloody and chaotic this American-led "liberation" has turned out to be, the more it has come to be seen, first by Arabs at large and then by the Iraqis themselves, as another quasi-colonial aggression in the history of Western interference in the region - "another Palestine," in fact.

There were plenty of warnings before the invasion that it would only inflame the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Blair himself clearly saw it would have been a very good idea to pave the way for the invasion with a serious attempt to persuade the Palestinians that redress was finally at hand. But the neoconservative hawks who drove U.S. policy reversed these priorities; the road to Jerusalem, and peace in the Holy Land, lay through Baghdad. So what, for Blair, would have been merely prudent risk-avoidance before the war now, in his postwar revival of it, looks more like a desperate bid to salvage what can be salvaged from a grim predicament that seems to get grimmer by the day.

Bush did promise last month to invest political capital in the other Middle East crisis. But he was distinctly noncommittal about how. In any case, the whole history of Israeli-Palestinian peace-seeking suggests that of all American presidents, Bush - who has been blindly, unquestioningly supportive of Ariel Sharon's right-wing policies - is just about the least likely to listen, in a productive way, to what Blair or even his own Pentagon advisory board have to say.

It is not that presidents have ever underestimated the importance of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Given that, at its core, it involves a very small proportion of mankind, they have in fact lavished extraordinarily disproportionate amounts of time, energy and political resources on trying to resolve it.

The real trouble is that, thanks to the partisanship noted in the Pentagon report, the U.S. has never been able to acknowledge the real nature of the problem, which is essentially one of decolonization. So, far from opening up new opportunities, Arafat's death will only reconfirm that congenital flaw - though this time in more critical circumstances than ever before because of the ramifications of Iraq and Al Qaeda.

If the Palestinians were to secure the redress that other colonized peoples have, there would be either no Israel (as there is no Algerie francaise) or there would be a binational state (like South Africa).

But the Palestinians are not demanding that. They have formally committed themselves, via Oslo, to the loss of 78% of their original homeland. If there ever is a settlement, this concession, unique in the history of decolonization, will rank as by far the greatest single contribution to it.

It was under Arafat's auspices that they made it. Yet the Americans called him an "obstacle" to peace who - being corrupt and undemocratic to boot - had to be replaced by a "moderate," clean and democratic leadership that would persuade its people to give yet more than they already have on borders, Jerusalem, refugees and the attributes of statehood.

But a new Palestinian leadership won't do that - least of all if it is clean and democratic - because if it is to reflect the popular will at all, it simply cannot. That Sharon is no less an obstacle to peace than Arafat ever was, and Israeli "moderation" as necessary as Palestinian, is a thought that probably ought to occur to Bush, but it isn't one that is likely to.

Washington's Middle East policies have always been shaped more by domestic politics than realities on the ground. Bush was reelected in a campaign in which the candidates vied with one another in rejecting the very concept of U.S. "evenhandedness" as an affront to political morality and American devotion to Israel. Bush is deeply influenced by his neoconservative entourage, by a pro-Israel lobby now dominated by its right-wing Likudnik faction and by Christian fundamentalists who support as warlike and expansionist an Israel as possible, the faster to bring the Second Coming.

Arabs wonder anxiously whether, in the headiness of reelection, Bush will embark on more of the Iraq-like enterprises envisaged in the neocons' grand design for the region. Continued, incorrigible partisanship in Palestine, combined with remorseless deterioration in Iraq, certainly makes it more likely.

And, to Washington's growing exasperation, Iran now has two "colonial" situations to exploit: the old one in Palestine and the new - and better - one in Iraq.

David Hirst was the Guardian's correspondent in the Middle East from 1963 to 1997. He is the author of "The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East" (Nation Books, 2003).

Putin Slams West Over 'Double Standards' in Iraq and Ukraine

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites) hit out at the West's "double-standards" amid a Cold-War-style dispute over Ukrainian elections, accusing it of fomenting "permanent revolutions" in Moscow's backyard.

Putin again slammed US-led plans to press ahead with elections next month in Iraq (news - web sites) and said it was the height of hypocrisy for Western governments to criticise Russia for pursuing its interests in neighbouring former Soviet republics.

"Today according to our estimates there are nine cities in Iraq where there are hostilities but they still want to carry out elections," he said, condemning European elections monitors' plans to observe the poll from Jordan as a "farce".

"We do not understand how there can be an election in a country under conditions of total occupation... It's absurd. It's a farce. Everything is upside down."

The Russian leader said it was "complete nonsense" to accuse Moscow of trying to "devour" its smaller neighbours in the former Soviet sphere of influence, referring to countries such as Georgia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan during a wide-ranging annual press conference.

He said "permanent revolutions" such as the so-called "orange revolution" of West-leaning Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko risked plunging the region into "endless conflict".

Yushchenko is favoured to win a repeat presidential election on Sunday after an earlier poll which was clinched by Kremlin-backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich was annulled due to massive fraud.

"It's extremely dangerous trying to resolve political problems outside the framework of the law, first the 'rose revolution', then they'll think up of something like blue," Putin said.

"If you have permanent revolutions you risk plunging the post-Soviet space into endless conflict," he said, referring also to the so-called "rose revolution" in neighbouring Georgia in late 2003, won by US-educated President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Even so Putin said Moscow would "respect the will of the Ukrainian people" in Sunday's election.

"We hope that the national interests triumph over the political expediency of some," he said.

"We will work with any leader in Ukraine, but we expect that in the entourage of Viktor Yushchenko there will not be people who build their political ambitions on anti-Russian slogans."

Putin has previously accused the West of pursuing neo-colonialist objectives in eastern Europe and his latest comments mark an escalation in Moscow's rhetoric against perceived Western meddling in traditional Russian affairs.

He said he would raise concerns that the United States is trying to "isolate" Russia when he meets US President George W. Bush (news - web sites) early next year.

But the Russian president otherwise praised the strength of US-Russian relations, especially in the fight against terrorism.

"The United States is one of our high priority partners. We happen to be natural partners in resolving several acute problems these days, especially combating terrorism," he said.

"I would describe our relations not as a partnership but as an alliance."

Putin also defended Moscow's efforts to retake control of the country's energy sector amid international concerns that post-communist economic reforms were being rolled back.

State-owned firm Rosneft, in surprise late-night announcement Wednesday, revealed it had bought control of the major asset of the Yukos energy giant, owned by imprisoned billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his associates.

The deal -- the first renationalisation of the post-Soviet era -- cements Kremlin control of the strategic energy sector after almost 18 months of attacks on Yukos.

"Today the state, using absolutely legal market mechanisms, is protecting its interests. I consider that absolutely normal," Putin said.

He also dismissed fears from the liberal or free-market wing of his government that the Russian economy was slowing because of state intervention, saying it the outlook was "clearly positive."

Gross domestic product should grow by 6.8 percent this year and this would be "about in line with average growth in the last five years," he said.

Yahoo News

Blair's Peace Talks Take Back seat

PM tones down efforts after warning not to interfere by US and Israelis shun plan

TONY Blair was yesterday forced to tone down his plans for an international Middle East peace summit in London, after Israel and the United States warned him not to "interfere".

The Prime Minister yesterday declared that a "meeting" - rather than a conference - will be held in London which would be restricted to helping the new Palestinian government, due to be elected next month.

But Israeli officials have said they will not take part, and privately made clear Mr Blair had invited himself to Jerusalem. They earlier suggested the talks might be motivated by the coming UK general election.

Ending his whistle-stop tour of the Middle East, Mr Blair visited both Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister and Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate Palestinian leader expected to succeed the late Yasser Arafat.

For weeks, UK officials have been trying to raise support for a peace conference in London aimed at kick-starting the stalled "road map" to peace agreed in the run-up to the Iraq war last year.

The event, expected to take place weeks before a UK general election on 5 May, has been agreed by Russia, Canada, South Africa, Egypt, Norway, Jordan and Tunisia. But, crucially, Israel has refused to participate.

Standing next to Mr Sharon, Mr Blair stressed he had no intention of suggesting that the first phase of the road map - where Palestinians renounce terrorism - should be skipped. This is what Israelis suspect.

Instead, Mr Blair said, his conference would ensure "there are plans and proposals in place to allow the Palestinian side to become a real partner for peace with Israel".

Mr Sharon, in turn, said a London conference would be "important" but said there is little point in talks while suicide bombs continue. "As long as terror exists it is very hard to expect there to be any change," he said.

Israeli officials had earlier been dismissive about Mr Blair’s efforts - saying the Prime Minister invited himself to Jerusalem and was seeking a role in the peace process now expected to start moving in the wake of Arafat’s death.

Ehud Olmert, Mr Sharon’s deputy, also warned that attempts to stage a set-piece conference in London could "interfere" with Israel’s planned timetable to withdraw from the Gaza Strip within 13 months.

The Scotsman also understands that the White House has told Mr Blair not to force the pace of the peace process by attempting a set-piece conference similar to that held in Madrid in 1991.

But President George Bush’s officials remain deeply indebted to Mr Blair for his support in the Iraq war and have discussed sending Condoleezza Rice, the incoming US State Secretary, to the London event.

Mr Blair was feted in his visit to the West Bank, where he was greeted with a military salute on arrival at Mr Arafat’s old compound in Ramallah.

Mr Abbas heaped praise on the Prime Minister, saying he is "in a unique position to help us progress in our peaceful pursuit" and that a London conference would be "the first step towards consolidating the peace process".

At their joint press conference, Mr Blair spoke in upbeat terms.

But among independent Palestinian politicians and analysts the dismay was palpable at Mr Blair’s decision to restrict the conference’s agenda to Palestinian reform, and for urging the Palestinians to take security steps without making parallel demands on the Israelis.

Hassan Khreisheh, the acting speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, told The Scotsman: "I think the Israeli side has exercised more pressure on Blair than Blair did on the Israelis."

Hani Masri, a leading Palestinian analyst, said that by focusing exclusively on Palestinian reform, Britain was playing into what he said was Mr Sharon’s goal of consolidating Israel’s hold in the West Bank and foreclosing the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.

Bernard Reich, an expert on the Middle East, questioned the usefulness of the Blair conference. "A conference on the Arab-Israeli conflict without an Israeli presence is worthless. It makes no sense," he said.


Outside View: Israeli hubris vs. the U.S.

The latest spy tale in Washington, D.C., involving Larry Franklin, an intelligence analyst at the Defense Department, and some of Israel's most important lobbyists in America, is becoming deeper by the week.

Spy stories are always like that, but this one packs an intricate tale of a trusted ally betraying America, a White House intent on using the misstep to leverage its influence, and an American intelligence community that feels it has been made to wear horns.

Clearly Israel has aroused the formidable bull and will be made to pay a price. One can speculate from what we already know.

It started in late July this year, when a Catholic Pentagon analyst, Franklin, telephoned a Jewish acquaintance of his who worked at a pro-Israel lobbying group, the very influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The two men knew each other professionally. They spoke of U.S. policies on Iran and Iraq periodically. That call was monitored by American intelligence authorities who did not like what they heard, and it led to a chain of events including an investigation of passing secret intelligence information to Israel via intermediaries.

A report published by The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) last week asserts that matters have progressed to a point that a grand jury investigation is underway and may lead to the indictment of several prominent Jewish lobbyists in the United States on charges of passing secret information to Israel.

Other reports and leaks published in the U.S. media suggest that Franklin has been singing like a canary under questioning and has agreed to deliver facts and testimony against pro-Israeli lobbyist friends in return for some leniency.

Still more reports suggest that he was all along a plant, a tool, used by the American intelligence community to ensnare the Israelis and their network of spies among the vast community of 52 American Jewish organizations totally devoted to control American Middle East policies for the benefit of Israel.

The JTA report speaks of some serious damage already done. It states: "With senior officials at America's top pro-Israel organization facing the specter of federal indictments, staffers at other groups are beginning to waver in their support and are warning that the mounting legal scandal could damage the political credibility of the entire Jewish community."

You see, there is an iron-clad agreement that Israel shall never spy on its best friend and greatest financial backer in the world, America, particularly as American intelligence cooperates broadly with Israeli intelligence for free.

But whenever greed and hubris take over, Israelis have gotten themselves and their friends in trouble. With this particular White House of George W. Bush, which takes no prisoners, the price Israel may be forced to pay is make some concession to the Palestinians.

Immediately after his re-election, Bush said he had "accumulated enough capital" in his first term that he plans to use it in his second term to advance the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.

Among other things, he may indeed have been hinting, friends in the intelligence community tell me, at the "Franklin" affair.

Bush does not need to have an outcome to this investigation. He just needs to have a process whereby accusations keep hanging in the air, while he demands to cash in his capital. Bush is like that. He plays hard, even with friends. Even with Israel.

As usual, Israel is denying all charges, which is a mistake because in espionage and affairs of state, it is very important to manage a catastrophe once it has happened, not go into denial.

At the moment, the U.S. intelligence community -- including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and other counter-spying organizations -- are going for a kill, knowing their president needs to hold cards in hand against friends and foes.

For these guys this is also payback time, especially as the Israelis are once again caught with their hands inside American top-secret files.

The fierceness of their response was demonstrated back in 1985, when Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish American naval intelligence analyst, was arrested he was crying like a baby at the gate of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. Pollard had been an Israeli agent, meeting with Israeli handlers for years supplying super-secret documents from naval intelligence. When he was caught, and sought refuge with his wife, the Israelis would not even open the door for him in his hour of need. He was dragged away screaming and kicking, with his wife, to jail.

Pollard is now serving a life sentence without parole as a spy. Two American presidents, Bill Clinton and the current George Bush, have firmly rejected repeated Israeli and Jewish lobby requests to pardon him. The U.S. intelligence community has said, "No way." Scores of petitions and Web sites offering daily support and calls for a pardon have not made a dent in this seemingly iron will. And intelligence sources, to make sure Pollard stays in jail, periodically leak reminders to their media friends that he has done irreparable harm to the vital interests of the United States.

The real message to Israel and its supporters is: "Thou shall not spy against America." It seems to be the same message being delivered now over the Franklin affair to American Jewish Organizations.

But the episode also appears to have become a bargaining chip that the White House and the intelligence community will squeeze like a lemon to get Israeli concessions with the full support from a chastised American Jewish lobby. If no such support is forthcoming, the administration seems to signal more investigations, a trial, indictments etc.

Stay tuned.

Youssef M. Ibrahim, a former Middle East correspondent for the New York Times and Energy Editor of the Wall Street Journal, is Managing Director of the Dubai-based Strategic Energy Investment Group. He can be contacted at ymibrahim@gulfnews.com

This essay first appeared in Gulf News.

Poison Pen

According to agents of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, President George W. Bush has signed a secret executive order approving the use of torture against prisoners captured in his "war on terror" -- including thousands of innocent people rounded up in Iraq and crammed into Saddam Hussein's infamous Abu Ghraib prison.

FBI documents, obtained in a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and reported this week in the Los Angeles Times, detailed the agents' "disgust" at the "aggressive and improper" methods used by military interrogators and civilian contractors against prisoners, and the widespread, ongoing pattern of "serious physical abuses" they found at the American concentration camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Iraq.

Most of the offences occurred long after the initial public scandal over "a few bad apples" at Abu Ghraib. For example, in June 2004, an FBI agent informed top officials in Washington that he had witnessed such torture techniques as "strangulation, beatings, [and] placement of lit cigarettes into the detainees' ear openings." The agent added that military officials "were engaged in a coverup of these abuses."

Also in June, the FBI reported that a prisoner in Abu Ghraib was cuffed, trussed up in a "stress position," then "doused with cold water, dropped onto barbed wire, dragged by his feet and punched in the stomach."

In August 2004, the date of the latest reports, an FBI agent reported that detainees in the Guantanamo concentration camp were often kept chained in "stress positions" on the floor, "with no chair, food or water. Most of the times they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left for 18-24 hours or more." One detainee was found "almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him," said the agent. "He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night."

The Guantanamo abuses occurred in front of FBI witnesses at what is considered the showcase of the new worldwide prison system Bush has established to process his captives in the "terror war." But there are a number of "secret prisons" -- including a special enclosed facility at Guantanamo itself -- where "special" interrogations are carried out by the CIA without any outside witnesses, The Washington Post reports. By presidential order, the CIA does not have to say who these prisoners are, how or why or where they were taken prisoner, or what happens to them behind the impenetrable walls.

According to the official documents, FBI agents said that military interrogators and their corporate mercenaries in Guantanamo and Iraq routinely went "far beyond the restrictions of the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture," but were acting under an executive order signed by Bush authorizing the use of dogs and other aggressive physical and psychological techniques on prisoners.

Bush officials denied such an executive order exists; they say the agents confused it with an earlier order for "aggressive techniques" issued by Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, which was then supposedly rescinded and softened in March 2003 after complaints from military lawyers. But the abuses described in the new FBI memos occurred long after the first Rumsfeld order was invalidated. Thus the Administration's denial is based on a clear falsehood.

What's more, the FBI papers state repeatedly and unequivocally that Bush himself had authorized the aggressive techniques. They also note that in May 2004, after the scandal at Abu Ghraib, Bush had specified that "certain techniques can only be used if very high-level authority is granted." Thus some of the most disturbing abuses -- actions which the interrogators nonetheless felt comfortable enough to commit in front of FBI agents -- have been carried out with direct White House or Pentagon approval.

Earlier this year, a cache of White House memos was uncovered revealing a systematic effort to provide "legal" underpinning for the abrogation of the Geneva Conventions on treatment of prisoners and support for a deliberate policy of disregarding U.S. laws forbidding torture, kidnapping, assassination and indefinite detention, The Washington Post (and many others) report. These memos also claimed an unprecedented extension of presidential powers, arguing that the "Commander-in-Chief" cannot be constrained by any law whatsoever in the prosecution of a war. One main goal of this legal analysis, the memos admitted, was to help Bush and his top officials avoid prosecution for war crimes, since the actions being recommended by Bush and the Pentagon were clearly criminal under international and U.S. law.

When the memos surfaced, the White House declared that the Bush Administration would never do anything illegal. However, they never directly repudiated the memos -- which, after all, argue that nothing a president orders in wartime, including torture, is actually illegal. As the documentation of prisoner abuse grows larger and larger with each passing month, it is obvious that such a system of widespread -- and ongoing -- atrocities could not be sustained without approval at the very highest levels.

Now FBI agents, in official reports, have traced the responsibility for these crimes directly to the pen of George W. Bush. Despite the patently false White House denials, the torture directive cited by the FBI not only echoes the legal briefs cited above, it also perfectly complements Bush's earlier executive orders allowing the secret execution of anyone on earth, including American citizens, whom Bush or his designated agents arbitrarily declares a "terrorist" -- without charges, evidence or trial. These orders were first reported in November 2001 by The Washington Post and have been repeatedly confirmed by Administration officials.

The evidence is credible, compelling and abundant. The lines of authority are clear. The blood of the tortured is on Bush's hands.

Chris Floyd
Published: December 24, 2004

War Crimes

THANKS TO a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and other human rights groups, thousands of pages of government documents released this month have confirmed some of the painful truths about the abuse of foreign detainees by the U.S. military and the CIA -- truths the Bush administration implacably has refused to acknowledge. Since the publication of photographs of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in the spring the administration's whitewashers -- led by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld -- have contended that the crimes were carried out by a few low-ranking reservists, that they were limited to the night shift during a few chaotic months at Abu Ghraib in 2003, that they were unrelated to the interrogation of prisoners and that no torture occurred at the Guantanamo Bay prison where hundreds of terrorism suspects are held. The new documents establish beyond any doubt that every part of this cover story is false.

Though they represent only part of the record that lies in government files, the documents show that the abuse of prisoners was already occurring at Guantanamo in 2002 and continued in Iraq even after the outcry over the Abu Ghraib photographs. FBI agents reported in internal e-mails and memos about systematic abuses by military interrogators at the base in Cuba, including beatings, chokings, prolonged sleep deprivation and humiliations such as being wrapped in an Israeli flag. "On a couple of occasions I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water," an unidentified FBI agent wrote on Aug. 2, 2004. "Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18 to 24 hours or more." Two defense intelligence officials reported seeing prisoners severely beaten in Baghdad by members of a special operations unit, Task Force 6-26, in June. When they protested they were threatened and pictures they took were confiscated.

Other documents detail abuses by Marines in Iraq, including mock executions and the torture of detainees by burning and electric shock. Several dozen detainees have died in U.S. custody. In many cases, Army investigations of these crimes were shockingly shoddy: Officials lost records, failed to conduct autopsies after suspicious deaths and allowed evidence to be contaminated. Soldiers found to have committed war crimes were excused with noncriminal punishments. The summary of one suspicious death of a detainee at the Abu Ghraib prison reads: "No crime scene exam was conducted, no autopsy conducted, no copy of medical file obtained for investigation because copy machine broken in medical office."

Some of the abuses can be attributed to lack of discipline in some military units -- though the broad extent of the problem suggests, at best, that senior commanders made little effort to prevent or control wrongdoing. But the documents also confirm that interrogators at Guantanamo believed they were following orders from Mr. Rumsfeld. One FBI agent reported on May 10 about a conversation he had with Guantanamo's commander, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who defended the use of interrogation techniques the FBI regarded as illegal on the grounds that the military "has their marching orders from the Sec Def." Gen. Miller has testified under oath that dogs were never used to intimidate prisoners at Guantanamo, as authorized by Mr. Rumsfeld in December 2002; the FBI papers show otherwise.

The Bush administration refused to release these records to the human rights groups under the Freedom of Information Act until it was ordered to do so by a judge. Now it has responded to their publication with bland promises by spokesmen that any wrongdoing will be investigated. The record of the past few months suggests that the administration will neither hold any senior official accountable nor change the policies that have produced this shameful record. Congress, too, has abdicated its responsibility under its Republican leadership: It has been nearly four months since the last hearing on prisoner abuse. Perhaps intervention by the courts will eventually stem the violations of human rights that appear to be ongoing in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan. For now the appalling truth is that there has been no remedy for the documented torture and killing of foreign prisoners by this American government.

Thursday, December 23, 2004; Page A22
Washington Post

Prayer for Comfort and Hope

Grant unto us, Almighty God, in all time of sore distress,
the comfort of the forgiveness of our sins.
In time of darkness give us blessed hope,
in time of sickness of body give us quiet courage;
and when the heart is bowed down, and the soul is very heavy,
and life is a burden, and pleasure a weariness,
and the sun is too bright, and life too mirthful,
then may that Spirit, the Spirit of the Comforter, come upon us,
and after our darkness may there be the clear shining of the heavenly light;
that so, being uplifted again by Thy mercy,
we may pass on through this our mortal life
with quiet courage, patient hope, and unshaken trust,
hoping through Thy loving-kindness and tender mercy
to be delivered from death into the large life of the eternal years.
Hear us of Thy mercy, through Jesus Christ our Lord – Amen.

- George Dawson