"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

Friday, February 25, 2005

A Pattern of Deception...From Kiev to Damascus

Let's look at two recent instances of political violence directed against a popular figure who has come to symbolize the democratic hopes of his people: the similarities between the death of Rafik Hariri and the attempted assassination and disfigurement of Viktor Yushchenko are remarkable. In both cases, we have a plethora of non-evidence pointing to the preferred culprits: in the first case, the Syrian government (and its Lebanese allies), and in the second, Russia (and its Ukrainian allies).

In the case of the Yushchenko poisoning – which allegedly was a plot by the KGB to disfigure the Great Democratic Hope of Ukraine and somehow turn the election into a beauty contest – there never was a single bit of solid evidence tying Viktor Yanukovich and his fellow kleptocrats to the deed. But that didn't stop the international media from parroting the Washington line, and it even had Anne Applebaum and her fellow neocons braying about the "New Cold War." They wish.

A similar paucity of facts bedevils the case for pinning Hariri's murder on the Syrians, in spite of Reason magazine's mighty efforts – and also Debka's. Initial reports indicated a suicide bombing – hardly the preferred method of Syrian intelligence – but the Reason/Debka crowd soon constructed an entire alternate reality based on nonexistent underground tunnels beneath the road where Hariri was killed. The conspiracy theorists were off and running.

Of course, it is just a coincidence that both Russia and Syria are in the sights of the Bush administration: the former for being insufficiently "democratic," the latter for the same and also for occupying Lebanon (at the invitation of the Lebanese government, and with U.S. approval at the time). It's also pure coincidence that Russia is selling missile technology to Syria and nuclear technology to Iran, while Bashar Assad, Syria's strongman, has recently announced a defense pact with Tehran.

It really is amusing – if you like your humor dark – to witness the peregrinations of these twin narratives of conspiracy to commit murder. In Ukraine, the government "investigation" has taken on all the hallmarks of a farce: while the prosecutor avers that he knows who carried the poison into the country, but refuses to say, the story has taken another turn, as the Dallas Morning News reports:

"Prosecutors are following a new lead that might shed more light on the dioxin poisoning of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, an official said Wednesday. Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun has acquired audiotapes of what appeared to be a conversation between Russian secret service officials discussing the role of Moscow political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky in Mr. Yushchenko's poisoning, said Mr. Piskun's spokesman, Vyacheslav Astapov. 'The prosecutor said he knows whose voice is on the tapes,' Mr. Astapov said. The tapes were first aired last year on Kiev's pro-Yushchenko TV5 but were widely dismissed as a hoax. In the recordings, people described as Russian agents appeared to be discussing Mr. Pavlovsky's role in a plot aimed at damaging Mr. Yushchenko's ratings by ruining his good looks with toxic chemicals."

In Texas, they only get the Party Line, but the BBC includes Pavlovsky's denial:

"'For what reason anyone would do this is hard to imagine,' he told Newsnight. 'And how I could have come up with the idea … it's absurd, and absurd that in Kiev it's being discussed seriously.' When the tape of an apparently tapped telephone conversation mentioning Pavlovsky was first aired on Kiev's Channel 5 television, it was widely dismissed as a falsification. … The prosecution's decision to use it as evidence in their inquiry has surprised everyone – including Pavlovsky.

"'When the tapes appeared on Channel Five, I took it as a joke,' he told Newsnight. 'A bit vulgar for my taste … in the style of Orson Welles. … But when I heard the prosecutor-general had taken them, that turns a TV joke into a lie.'"

This nonsensical fiction, which sounds like some third-rate hack's rejected screenplay, is more than just a bit vulgar – but in the Age of Bush, no lie is too brazen. The more vulgar, the better: it's the only way to capture the attention of a people who require the crudest and strongest possible stimulus. That's what it means to be decadent. A short attention span is also part and parcel of this parlous condition: the "orange revolution" is yesterday's news-drama, and Americans mostly don't know or care about the aftermath, remembering only that the "good guy" was poisoned and wound up winning the election, anyway.

Yushchenko was widely hailed as the slayer of oligarchs, and, upon election, appointed one of them – Yulia Timoshenko, known as the "gas princess" – as his prime minister. Timoshenko then announced that the government would be reexamining 3,000 privatizations carried out by the former regime. The markets panicked: would the entire economic status quo be overturned, and former state assets redistributed – this time, to Timoshenko's friends?

When Putin did the same thing in Russia with a single corporate entity – Yukos Oil, and the empire of Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky – the West went ballistic, attacking the Russian president as a second Stalin and abhorring the return of Soviet-style "centralization." It didn't matter that the Yukos oil empire was created out of state assets by former Commies who looted the Evil Empire before they surrendered to the West. According to the U.S. government and its amen corner in the media, by challenging the circumstances under which this single company had acquired vast assets, Putin was ushering in a new era of authoritarian repression. But when the "orange revolutionaries" of Ukraine do the same in the wake of their election coup, they are patted on the back and showered with praise and U.S. "foreign aid."

Turning to the Middle East, the same story line prevails: a fallen leader, a media campaign based on conspiracy theories wild enough to qualify for Ripley's Believe It or Not, and the U.S. issuing open threats against an "undemocratic" foreign power that has the temerity to question our right to intervene anywhere and everywhere in the name of "freedom."

What a load of malarkey. We are being treated to a rerun of the same tactics used to gin up a war with Iraq: Saddam's alleged "links" to al-Qaeda and the perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks evaporated with the first dawning of our Pyrrhic "victory" in Iraq, along with any sign of the much-vaunted "weapons of mass destruction."

The only confession I want to hear is from the "special ops" smartass who thought up this cock-and-bull story and broadcast it at taxpayers' expense.

The Hariri murder mystery is taking a similarly bizarre turn, as the Beirut Daily Star reports:

"A furious row has erupted between the Saint George Yacht Club and Hotel and a Dignity Block MP over whether a tunnel exists near the hotel that could have housed the bomb that killed Rafik Hariri and 17 others. The Saint George owners have said no such tunnel exists, but Beirut MP Mohammed Qabbani insists the tunnel is real and has called for the police to investigate whether it was used during former Premier Rafik Hariri's murder."

Those who have a political interest in blaming Syria for the assassination are wedded to the idea that the bomb was planted under the road: on the other hand, suicide bombers are associated with terrorist groups rather than state intelligence agencies. The Lebanese government is so far sticking to the second scenario, but the War Party, which has Syria in its sights, is pushing the "under the road" theory for all it's worth. At a news conference, Qabbani insisted that the tunnel exists, averring that it measures "6 meters wide by 3-and-a-half meters high." He wielded what he described as "true maps" of the bomb site, showing a tunnel "running from the Saint George Hotel under the street where the explosion took place, to the other side."

Baloney, says the management of the Saint George: the whole story is made up from beginning to end. Those "maps" Qabbani is flashing around are evidence, not of a tunnel, but of the bureaucratic obstructionism of the local authorities, who refused to grant them permission to dig. Back in 1996, when they applied to build a tunnel, they had to provide the Beirut municipality with diagrams. "However," said the Saint George in a statement, "the project remained a stain of ink on papers as we were never granted the license."

Qabbani is insistent, however, that the tunnel is there:

"My sources and the information I have assure me that there is a tunnel under the street between the hotel and an opposite building."

One might think that this could be quickly cleared up by a simple examination of the Saint George and surrounding premises, but that fails to take into account the infinite inventiveness of this crowd: Qabbani and his Western counterparts would merely consult their "sources" and come up with new, even more complex explanations for why it had to be a bomb planted under the road.

What gets me about this "blame Syria" campaign is that it is premised on an absurdity: the conspiracy theorists reason that, since Syria is in complete control of everything that goes on in Lebanon, such an event as the Hariri assassination could not have occurred without the active assistance of the Syrian secret police. This is demonstrably false, however, given that Syria has only 14,000 troops in Lebanon, and especially since these same supposedly super-efficient secret police failed to prevent a mysterious terrorist attack in Syria last year – where their control is even more pervasive. Did the Syrians, then, bomb themselves?

The same argument could be made in the case of, say, 9/11: since the U.S. government is in control of New York City, and the territory surrounding the various airports where Mohammed Atta and his gang hijacked their planes and made for their targets, then the U.S. authorities must have allowed it to happen! Right? Well, at least one of the loudest of those accusing the Syrians of killing Hariri believes just that: Lebanese MP Walid Jumblatt, cited by Reason magazine's Michael Young and Charles Paul Freund as a good reason for taking the "Syria did it" line, "is also known for espousing conspiracy theories against America" (as reported by the New York Sun, via National Review):

"On April 28, 2004, he gave an interview to Al Arabiyya TV, in which he detailed how America was really behind September 11: 'Who invented Osama bin Laden?! The Americans, the CIA invented him so they could fight the Soviets in Afghanistan together with some of the Arab regimes. Osama bin Laden is like a ghost, popping up when needed. This is my opinion.'"

"Mr. Jumblatt was asked 'Even 9/11?' and answered: 'Even 9/11...Why didn't the sirens go off when the four hijacked planes took off?'"

While Jumblatt and his American promoters push one loony story – so obviously a transparent lie – the Ukrainian prosecutors push another fantastic tale of phony tape recordings and Byzantine plots, based on equally tenuous-to-nonexistent "evidence." Throw in the Chalabi-esque "intelligence" passed to the U.S. about Iran's alleged nuclear weapons facilities, and we have a three-ring circus – with the U.S. playing the role of ringmaster.

While the Western media interrogates the Russian leader as to his "democratic" bona fides, and falls for every propaganda ruse ever conjured in the White House basement, the real story of how Yushchenko was propelled into power by American tax dollars and dirty tricks goes unreported, and the disgraceful tactics of the Yushchenko regime in power are likewise ignored. The American media's key role in perpetuating the mythology marketed by the War Party is well-known, but unacknowledged by the culprits, who continue covering up their own gullibility (or complicity) by simply dropping any line of inquiry that becomes too inconvenient.

I once wrote a column in which I expounded on the thesis that "We are living in the Age of Malarkey, an era where no tale is considered too tall but that the authorities won't try it out on the American people" – and recent events seem to have confirmed this in spades. If enough lies are told in quick succession, and discarded as fast as they're disproved, then this is one way to create a general impression that is contrary to the known facts. A veritable blizzard of lies is enough to blind anyone to the truth. As we go chasing after secret tunnels and KGB poisoners, the real story of who killed Hariri – and what happened to Yushchenko – remains a mystery.

In both cases, we have only to ask the key question of who benefits to cast suspicion on the official story. Surely no one but Yushchenko – or, rather, the forces behind him – stood to gain politically from his horrible disfigurement. Certainly not the Ukrainians who supported the candidacy of Yanukovich – and, standing behind them, the Russians. As for the assassination of Hariri, Syria was the big loser, as any half-ass analyst could have predicted. Don't tell me the Syrians deliberately provoked an international outcry against Damascus and hoped for renewed focus on their occupation of Lebanon.

Instead of hectoring the Russian president and acting as an uncritical conduit for American war propaganda, the English-speaking media would do well to go back and check on their hero, Yushchenko – and maybe even pay a visit to the Saint George Yacht Club and Hotel for a good look at those "secret" tunnels. And how about some skepticism in the face of an administration that is addicted to lying? Is that really so much to ask?

Justin Raimondo

Pope 'Serene' Following Surgery

Pope John Paul II has spent the night in hospital after a tracheotomy to help him breathe more easily.
A Vatican spokesman said the operation, in which a tube was inserted into the Pope's throat, had been a success.

The 84-year-old Pope was admitted to Rome's Gemelli Hospital on Thursday. He spent 10 days there earlier this month with similar flu-related symptoms.

Italian envoy Gianni Letta said the pontiff was "serene and tranquil" after the surgery.

"Doctors are very satisfied with how the Pope withstood surgery and with the first few hours of the immediate post-operative period," he said.

Infection risk

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the tracheotomy, usually performed under general anaesthesia, was completed in "a positive way" and lasted 30 minutes.

Medical experts say the operation is routine, but will make it more difficult for the Pope to talk.


1 Feb: Rushed to hospital suffering from "breathing difficulties brought on by flu"

4 Feb: Health improving and he is eating normally, Vatican says

6 Feb: Appears at window of hospital room and reads the final lines of the Angelus blessing in hoarse voice

9 Feb: Misses Ash Wednesday services at the Vatican for first time in 26 years

10 Feb: Returns to Vatican in motorcade, waving to crowds

13 Feb: Appears at Vatican for Sunday blessing for first time since leaving hospital

22 Feb: Launches new book in which he compares abortion with the Holocaust

24 Feb: Returns to Gemelli hospital after suffering a relapse of his flu condition. Has tracheotomy

They also said an elderly man in John Paul's frail condition could be at risk of developing an infection after such an operation.

After being discharged from hospital two weeks ago, the Pope seemed to have been recovering well, appearing twice at his Vatican study window to greet pilgrims.

Mr Navarro-Valls said the Pope had suffered a return of flu symptoms on Wednesday afternoon and was admitted to hospital for further specialist treatment and checks on Thursday morning.

The BBC's Robert Pigott says the Vatican has been keen to show the Pope's health in the best possible light to dispel speculation he may not be able to continue in the role.

He says the pontiff has looked frailer since his admission to hospital earlier this month.

Ceremony missed

On Wednesday the Pope gave a "virtual" general audience, addressing thousands of pilgrims via a television link from his study.

Although he sounded hoarse, the 25-minute address was his longest public appearance since leaving hospital.

But the pontiff, who has Parkinson's disease and arthritis, failed to attend a scheduled Vatican engagement on Thursday morning to approve the declaration of new saints.
It was the first time he had missed the ceremony, known as a consistory, in his 26 years as Pope.

During his previous spell in hospital, he had also missed Ash Wednesday services at the Vatican for the first time while pontiff.

At times in the past three years he has had difficulty completing speeches and tires very quickly during public appearances.

The appearance of the pontiff, with his bent frame and trembling hands, sometimes shocks pilgrims who attend audiences at the Vatican.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2005/02/25 05:37:36 GMT


Bush: Arrogance Instead of Diplomacy Before Summit

Bush insinuates that Russia is not democratic

Enough. If George W. Bush is arrogant enough to speak about Russia's supposed lack of democratic processes on the eve of his summit with President Vladimir Putin in Bratislava, then let us treat this insult with the answer it deserves.

"I also believe that Russia's future lies within the family of Europe and the transatlantic community", said George W. Bush in his address at the Concert Noble, Belgium, today.

For the information of this President, who parachutes into Europe once every two years because he dare not step off an aircraft in most countries outside his own, Russia has always been part of Europe, while the USA has not. Therefore what authority does this citizen of the USA have in speaking about European affairs?

"Russia, to make progress as a European nation must renew a commitment to democracy and the rule of law".

Democracy? President Putin was elected by a democratic process, was he not? Rule of law? Did the Russian Federation break every rule in the book by breaching the Geneva Convention and UN Charter, launching an illegal war, based on barefaced lies, slaughtering tens of thousands of innocent people in a sovereign nation? No.

Therefore what authority does George Bush have to speak about the rule of law and a commitment to democracy?

"Our alliance stands for a free press", says Bush.

Well, let us be the judge of that. We are free to write what we want, when we want, where we want and as we want. We can criticize President Putin, we can praise President Putin. I have done both. Many times. But only when I criticize President Bush do I receive death threats in my private and personal e-mail account.

What is George W. Bush trying to do? Humiliate Russia? Expect Vladimir Putin to kiss his feet?

The rule of law depends on the respect for the legal mechanisms constituted by the collective will of the international community. The rule of law is neither about dropping cluster bombs on civilians nor about sending record numbers of people to their deaths, like a Nazi concentration camp. The rule of law is not about torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo or Baghram.

Russia respects the rule of law by insisting on following the UN Charter in all cases. Does the USA?

No? Then George W. Bush had better shut up and watch what he says. Who the hell does he think he is, anyway? He was elected by a percentage of his people to govern his country. Nobody asked for his opinion elsewhere and nobody accepts his authority outside the USA. He was not elected by Russians, after all.

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey