"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Thursday, January 06, 2005

Don't Torture Yourself (That's His Job)

You know how bad the situation is when the president's choice for attorney general has to formally pledge not to support torture anymore.

The Associated Press headline that came over the wire yesterday said it all: "Gonzales Will Follow Non-Torture Policies."

You know how bad the situation is when the president's choice for attorney general has to formally pledge not to support torture anymore.

Alberto Gonzales may have been willing to legally justify something that was abhorrent to everything America stands for, but it's all relative. Given that Mr. Gonzales is replacing the odious John Ashcroft, Democrats didn't seem inclined to try to derail the Hispanic nominee, even though his memo fostered the atmosphere that led to disgusting scandals in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.

Just to get things started on the right foot, though, Mr. Gonzales planned to go the extra mile and offer the quaint, obsolete Senate Democrats a more nuanced explanation of why he called the Geneva Conventions "quaint" and "obsolete."

Before he helped President Bush circumvent the accords and reserve the right to do so "in this or future conflicts," you had to tune in to an old movie with Nazi generals or Vietcong guards if you wanted to see someone sneeringly shrug off the international treaty protecting prisoners from abuse. ("You worthless running dog Chuck Norris! What do we care about your silly Geneva Conventions?")

How are you to believe Mr. Gonzales when he says he's through with torture? His mission is clearly to do whatever he thinks Mr. Bush wants.

All gall is divided into parts, so what's next?

The Commerce Department nominee promising that giveaways to big business will be done with subtlety?

The Environmental Protection Agency nominee promising that the toxin content in water will never rise to Yushchenko level?

It's comforting to start the new year in the hands of a party that cares so much about morals and values.

Tom DeLay and oily House Republicans inaugurated their new term by gutting ethics rules just in case any of them get caught in whatever misconduct they are plotting.

Rummy continued on his oblivious, dissembling path, refusing to admit that he's tapped out the Army and broken the Army Reserve with what Lt. Gen. James Helmly, the frustrated chief of the Army Reserve, calls "dysfunctional" policies. We've gotten so numb on Iraq that when eight American soldiers and over 80 Iraqi police officers get killed, when the governor of Baghdad gets assassinated, and when our puppets plead with Mr. Bush to delay the elections, it all seems like just another week of pre-election maneuvering.

In The Los Angeles Times, we learn that Bush fave Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas "has accepted tens of thousands of dollars worth of gifts since joining the high court, including $1,200 worth of tires, valuable historical items and a $5,000 personal check to help pay a relative's education expenses."

A guy we pay nearly $200,000 a year can't pop for his own tires? Whatever happened to the dignity of the robe? At least we know where our possible future chief justice stands: on the side of personal corruption.

"He also took a free trip aboard a private jet to the exclusive Bohemian Grove club in Northern California - arranged by a wealthy Texas real estate investor who helped run an advocacy group that filed briefs with the Supreme Court," the paper said.

The L.A. Times reviewed the disclosures of all nine justices for the years 1998 through 2003 and found that "Thomas accepted $42,200 in gifts, making him the top recipient. Next in that period was Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who accepted $5,825 in gifts, mostly small crystal figurines and other items."

Clarence Thomas follows Antonin Scalia's lead on the law. Why not also on ethics? Justice Scalia defended taking his relatives on a ride on Air Force Two to Louisiana with Dick Cheney to go duck hunting, even though the v.p. had an important case before the court, by saying that it would have been a "considerable inconvenience" to fly commercial.

Going through a blistering confirmation hearing where his inappropriate behavior was questioned didn't teach Clarence Thomas much. Can we hope for anything better from Mr. Gonzales after he's waved through to be the man in charge of enforcing our laws?

Published: January 6, 2005

Rethinking Middle East Security

The first years of this 21st century have seen a systematic assault on Arab sovereignty and independence. The assault has been direct, physical, and neo-colonial, inviting comparison with the restructuring of the region and the imposition of western Mandates after the First World War. As in the 1920s, the language today is of "redrawing" the geo-political map of the Middle East, of protecting western access to oil, and of imposing "democracy" by force of arms. Some 90 years ago, Britain and France were the major powers which conspired to subdue and reorder the region to suit their interests. Today, they have been replaced by a new imperial partnership of the United States and Israel, equally intent to take control of the Arabs and their resources. Europe has been virtually barred from the political affairs of the region, or has chosen to remain on the sidelines, although Britain continues to play a minor local role as America's "poodle".

The new imperialists are paying a heavy price for their arrogant overreach. Iraq is proving the graveyard of the US army, and also the graveyard of US-Arab relations. Israel, in turn, has been brutalised by its occupation, turning it into a racist, quasi-fascist state, in the grip of religious fanatics. But the problems which the oppressors have brought upon themselves offer little consolation to their Arab victims.

Future historians will debate the causes of the Iraqi and Palestinian catastrophes of this century. Why have the Arabs not managed to defend themselves better? Does the reason lie in the divisions of the Arab world, and in the petty rivalries of its insecure and unrepresentative regimes? Is the root cause of Arab vulnerability the implosion of the Soviet Union 15 years ago, and with it any semblance of balance in international affairs? The Soviet collapse also led, as is sometimes forgotten, to the emigration of more than a million Russian Jews to Israel - more than 30 per cent of them university graduates - greatly strengthening the scientific, industrial and military potential of the Jewish state, and thereby encouraging it to disregard the feelings and interests of its neighbours.

Another possible cause of the woes from which the Arabs suffer has been the capture of American foreign policy by pro-Israeli ideologues - the so-called Washington neo-conservatives - who pressed for war against Iraq and who encouraged Israel to continue seizing and settling Palestinian territory, regardless of the disastrous impact of this policy on the so-called peace process. Yet another cause of the present chaos has been the rise of various brands of militant fundamentalism - Christian in America, Jewish in Israel, and Islamic in the Arab and Muslim world - each making its contribution to hatred, violence and extremism in the world.

Shift in power

All these factors, and no doubt many others, have resulted in important changes in the internal Arab balance of power. There has been a shift over the last decade and more away from these traditional centres of Arab power towards new fast-growing poles of wealth, influence and modernity in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

For much of the past 35 years, ever since Britain withdrew from its bases "east of Suez" in 1967-1971, the Gulf has looked to the United States for protection. But America's invasion of Iraq and its tolerance of Israeli expansion have aroused fierce anti-Americanism throughout the region. At the same time, the ancient US-Saudi relationship, formerly based on confidence and mutual interests, has come under great strain, largely because of the role played by Saudis in the September 11 attacks.

In 1990-1991, several Arab states and much of the industrialised world joined the United States in expelling Iraq from Kuwait. In great contrast to that war, the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 has been widely condemned as unjustified and illegal. The radical change in the political climate from one Gulf war to the next has been striking. Some of these developments were reflected in a fresh vision of Gulf security set out in a major speech by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal in Manama, Bahrain, on December 5. The Gulf States Newsletter, an influential bi-monthly published in Britain (www.gulfstatesnews.com) described it as "potentially one of the most important international policy speeches by a senior Arab government figure in years".

In his speech, the Prince challenged the relevance and credibility of the western security blanket for the Gulf states, which has tended to take the form of bilateral agreements between western powers and regional states. Instead, he argued in favour of bringing Iraq, Iran and Yemen into partnership with the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council in order to build a new regional security structure. The GCC, he said, should itself seek to achieve "a strong, coherent and unified front not affected by trivial disputes or minor misunderstandings".

Perhaps his most radical recommendation was that the United Nations Security Council, rather than the United States, should act as the formal guarantor of Gulf security arrangements. "International guarantees cannot be provided unilaterally even by the only superpower in the world. They can only be provided by the collective will of the international community through a unanimous declaration of the Security Council guaranteeing the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all the countries of the Gulf and promising to act forcefully against any external threats," Prince Saud said.

These bold ideas, suggesting that Saudi Arabia is rethinking Gulf security, are bound to cause some unease in Washington. The speech is, in fact, the second major diplomatic initiative by the Saudi kingdom. The first was Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz's offer to Israel of peace and normalisation if it withdrew to its 1967 borders. Israel rejected it out of hand. As 2005 dawns, what seems clear is that the Arabs will need to close ranks if they are to protect themselves against the ambitions and aggressions of the new imperialists.

Patrick Seale is an eminent commentator and the author of several books on Middle East affairs. The writer can be contacted at: pseale@gulfnews.com

Copyright. Gulf News

Monkey Myth Trumped By Intelligent Design

District Defends Evolution Teaching Plan

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (Reuters) -- A Pennsylvania school district Wednesday rejected charges that plans to include references to an alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution in high school biology classes would be illegal.

The Dover Area School District near Harrisburg is the first in the United States to introduce "Intelligent Design," a theory that the natural world is so complex it must have been made by an intelligent being, rather than occurring by chance, as held by Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

The district was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State on December 14 over plans to teach the theory starting next week. The lawsuit is the first to challenge the teaching of Intelligent Design, which the groups say violates the Constitutional separation of church and state.

The civil rights groups argued that "Intelligent Design" is a thinly veiled version of creationism -- the belief that the earth was made by God. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1980s that teaching creationism in public schools would violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

The school district said in Wednesday's court filing that its "biology curriculum policy does not advance religion."

Instead, it informs "students about the existing scientific controversy surrounding Darwin's Theory of Evolution."

Christian conservatives, who played an important role in the re-election of President Bush, have been pressing for decades for creationism to be taught in schools.

Lawyers for the school board said that neither creationism nor "Intelligent Design" will be taught to students, and that no religious beliefs will be taught.

Intelligent Design does not presuppose any supernatural being, and is not creationism, the school district said in its response, saying the school district will also continue to teach evolution.

On January 13, teachers will be required to read a statement saying that Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view, and that if students want to read more about it, they can read a book called "Of Pandas and People" which they can find in the school library.

Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU in Pennsylvania, said the plaintiffs will not seek an order to stop the policy being implemented next week and hope the case will go to trial in the coming months.

"This is the first legal challenge to Intelligent Design, and that alone makes it important," Walczak said. "If we lose, we really fear that you will see school districts all across the country teaching Intelligent Design."

Thursday, January 6, 2005 Posted: 9:05 AM EST (1405 GMT)

NPR Hides An Atrocity But Highlights The Reaction

Dear National Public Radio,

NPR's Morning Edition today featured a report by Peter Kenyon about the upcoming election for Palestinian Authority president in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Kenyon's report was informative but did little to challenge the dull conventional wisdom that Palestinian reform rather than an end to Israel's military tyranny is the key to peace, and failed to address in any detail the substantial obstacles Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the international peace process industry have placed in the way of genuinely free and fair elections. Nor did NPR pay attention to the reality that the majority of Palestinians, who live in forced exile, have been denied the opportunity to vote or to return home and participate, while Afghan refugees were allowed to vote outside their country, and Iraqi exiles are also scheduled to vote if their country's elections are held. Why does no one involved in the peace process industry want Palestinian refugees to have a say in their own future? Hmmm....

Most disturbing, however, was Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep's lead-in to Kenyon's report. Inskeep introduced the report thus:

"Sunday's election for Palestinian president could provide clues to the future of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The frontrunner is Mahmoud Abbas. He's seen in the west as a potential partner for peace talks. He's calling for demilitarizing the struggle against Israeli occupation and he criticized some violence just today, but also today Abbas described Israel as the "Zionist enemy." He has to appeal to Palestinian voters, many of whom recently supported the Islamist Hamas in municipal elections."

This intro highlighted the phrase "Zionist enemy," and suggested that it was a deliberate appeal to Palestinian extremism. But Inskeep did not mention the shocking context in which Abbas used this, for him, uncharacteristic language. What Abbas actually said, at a campaign appearance was, "We came to you today, while we are praying for the souls of the martyrs who were killed today by the shells of the Zionist enemy in Beit Lahiya."

The "martyrs" he was referring to were seven Palestinian children, the youngest of them aged 10, murdered by Israeli occupation forces in the northern Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza reported today:

"According to preliminary investigations conducted by PCHR, at approximately 07:45 on Tuesday, 4 January 2005, [Israeli Occupation Forces] positioned in military posts between "Elli Sinai" and "Nissanit" settlements to the north of Beit Lahia fired a tank shell at Palestinian agricultural areas located to the south of the fence separating the two settlements and Beit Lahia. The shell directly hit a number of Palestinian children who were farming their land. Seven children, including 2 brothers, were killed."

PCHR gave the names and ages of the dead as follows:

Their names are: Hani Mohammed Kamel Ghaben, 17; Mohammed Hassan Mousa Ghaben, 17; Rajeh Ghassan Kamel Ghaben, 10; Jaber 'Abdullah Ghaben, 16; Bassam Kamel Mohammed Ghaben, 17; Mahmoud Kamel Mohammed Ghaben, 12; and Jibril 'Abdul Fattah al-Kaseeh, 16.

In addition, PCHR reported that two more children, aged 15 and 17, and a 41 year-old male were injured in the attack. Israel, as usual, justified the massacre as self-defense and claimed it was firing at a "rocket-launching terror cell" and that the dead and injured were members of Hamas.

NPR often uses lead-ins to reports which have been filed earlier to provide updated information. But Inskeep made absolutely no mention of this atrocity, and NPR apparently decided that Abbas' comment rather than the killing of seven children was the "news."

Once again we are faced with the question: if seven Jewish children had been murdered in cold blood in this way would NPR have simply ignored it? Would it have reported that Israelis chanted "Death to the Arabs" (as they often do), without mentioning a minor detail like the killing of seven children?

From many long years of experience, we know the answer. Consistently, year after year, we have documented that NPR is able to ignore the daily deaths of Palestinians, while carefully reporting on much rarer Palestinian violence against Israel. It is amazing that after years and years, NPR continues to willfully devalue Palestinian lives with such bias. Is the fear of being labeled pro-Palestinian now so great at NPR that it has lost all integrity and perspective?


Ali Abunimah

Update: 6 January 2005:
Following communication between EI and the NPR ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin, NPR aired the following statement on Morning Edition on 6 January 2005:

"In a story about upcoming Palestinian elections, Presidential candidate Mahmoud Abbas was quoted as labeling Israel as the "Zionist enemy." We could have given more context for his statement. We said it was in response to violence, but did not specify that the violence was an Israeli tank shell that killed seven Palestinians."

The Electronic Intifada, 4 January 2005

Degenerating Wermacht

General Says Army Reserve Is Becoming a 'Broken' Force

The head of the Army Reserve has sent a sharply worded memo to other military leaders expressing "deepening concern" about the continued readiness of his troops, who have been used heavily in Iraq and Afghanistan, and warning that his branch of 200,000 soldiers "is rapidly degenerating into a 'broken' force."

In the memo, dated Dec. 20, Lt. Gen. James R. "Ron" Helmly lashed out at what he said were outdated and "dysfunctional" policies on mobilizing and managing the force. He complained that his repeated requests to adjust the policies to current realities have been rebuffed by Pentagon authorities.

The three-star general, who has a reputation for speaking bluntly, said the situation has reached a point at which the Army Reserve is "in grave danger of being unable to meet" its operational requirements if other national emergencies arise. Insistence on restrictive policies, he continued, "threatens to unhinge an already precariously balanced situation in which we are losing as many soldiers through no use as we are through the fear of overuse."

His pointed remarks represent the latest in a chorus of warnings from military officers and civilian defense specialists that the strains of overseas missions are badly fraying the U.S. Army. The distress has appeared most evident in reservist ranks. Both the Army Reserve and the National Guard last month disclosed significant recruiting slumps.

Helmly's memo was addressed to Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, and was sent up the command chain through the office of Gen. Dan K. McNeill, who oversees the Army Forces Command. It surfaced yesterday in the Baltimore Sun.

A senior Army spokesman, Col. Joseph Curtin, said Helmly's concerns are "not new" and are being taken seriously. "The Army is moving to resolve them," he said, citing a task force that is looking at ways to improve benefits for reservists and streamline procedures for activating them.

On Capitol Hill, Helmly's memo drew expressions of surprise and alarm. Several lawmakers predicted that the general's blunt comments would fuel an already charged debate over whether the United States has enough forces in Iraq and enough in the Army generally.

"By consistently underestimating the number of troops necessary for the successful occupation of Iraq, the administration has placed a tremendous burden on the Army Reserve and created this crisis," Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.

"The memo presents more questions than answers," said Rep. Victor F. Snyder (D-Ark.), who deals with reservist issues in the House. "I think he's really making a plea to the Pentagon to change some of their practices or let him do some things he wants to do."

Helmly declined through a spokesman yesterday to discuss his memo, but he told the Sun on Tuesday that he had intended it to promote a frank exchange among Army leaders in advance of congressional hearings.

"The purpose of this memorandum is to inform you of the Army Reserve's inability . . . to meet mission requirements" associated with Iraq and Afghanistan "and to reset and regenerate its forces for follow-on and future missions," he wrote.

"I do not wish to sound alarmist," he added. "I do wish to send a clear, distinctive signal of deepening concern."

Designed to fill key support roles during wartime, the Army Reserve has been heavily taxed by the demands of Iraq and Afghanistan. About 50,000 Reserve members are now on active duty, the majority of them in the United States freeing up other forces for overseas assignments. But many Reserve troops are abroad -- 17,000 total in Iraq and Kuwait, 2,000 in Afghanistan -- serving as military police, truck drivers, engineers, medics and civil affairs specialists.

In many instances, the Reserve soldiers were plucked individually from their normal units and sent to round out active-duty ones. This practice, Helmly said, has "broken" some Army Reserve units.

He also faulted a number of "peacetime" personnel policies that he said needed to change -- among them, one that delays training of Reserve members who have returned from overseas duty, and another that sets mandatory retirement dates for Reserve officers.

He complained as well that the Army has refused to exercise all its authority to compel certain Reserve soldiers to go on active duty.

For instance, in the Army Reserve, members can choose between the Selected Reserve, which has specific units and requires at least one weekend a month of training, and the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), which has no training obligation and a reduced chance of being called to duty. Although the Pentagon started dipping into the IRR last summer, calling about 4,600 soldiers for duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, Helmly said regulations that allow the shifting of soldiers from the IRR to Reserve units are not being used as much as they could be.

He also said the Army is relying too much on "volunteers" from the Reserve force rather than requiring individuals or units to serve. This threatens "to distort the very nature of service" and tends to draw those who "enjoy lesser responsible positions in civilian life," he wrote. He sounded especially incensed about the current practice of paying volunteers an extra $1,000 a month, saying this sets a precedent and risks blurring the line between "volunteer" and "mercenary."

Highlighting the dwindling number of Reserve troops available for future deployments, Helmly included computations showing that only 37,515 remain out of 200,366 soldiers in the Army Reserve.

Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 6, 2005; Page A01