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Monday, January 09, 2006

Palestinians Won’t Miss Sharon

Palestinians are not weeping for “the butcher of Beirut,” Ariel Sharon, as he battles for his life. One of the world’s most ruthless leaders, Sharon reminds this writer of the Assyrians of more than 3,000 years ago who made a point of carrying out bloodthirsty acts of terror. They then made sure that everyone knew the details of what they had done. As a result, their Near Eastern neighbors were so frightened and intimidated that they would do anything to keep the Assyrians out of their neighborhood.

Sharon’s activities over more than half a century have left behind him a wide swath of destruction. Early in his career he was given command of “counter terror” Unit 101, and directed a massacre in the West Bank village of Qibya in 1953. Sharon’s special forces slipped into the village, blocked the doors of the homes of sleeping villagers and then blew up the occupants. UN observers later counted 60 bodies.

The Israeli government later claimed that the massacre was committed by so-called “Israeli frontier settlers.” It was only after members of Unit 101 began boasting to other Israelis about what they had done, that they publicly acknowledged they had been carrying out terror raids throughout the West Bank.

In another Unit 101 terror raid against Palestinian civilians, Israeli commandos went to the West Bank border in 1955 and seized six young Palestinian shepherds, methodically stabbing five of them to death. They then released the youngest boy so that he would return to the village to tell what had happened to the others.

As Sharon helped prepare for the 1956 attack on the Suez Canal, he made extremely reckless decisions that nearly ended his military career. He led a series of bloody clashes against Arab forces, including a provocative 1955 attack on Egyptian troops in Gaza and a 1956 attack on Qalqilya. His aggressive policies in the north, on the border with Syria, so inflamed relations between the two countries that Sharon was ordered to limit his operations. Four young Israeli battalion commanders, including future chiefs of staff Mordechai Gur and Rafael Eitan, accused Sharon of exceeding his orders and needlessly sending Israeli military personnel to their deaths.

Some two decades later, Sharon nearly caused a disastrous confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. He already had taken his troops into a counterattack across the Suez Canal when Egypt and Israel, under pressure from their Soviet and American mentors, agreed to a cease-fire. Totally ignoring the agreement, Sharon continued to cut off Egyptian units from their supply lines. Moscow finally told Washington that if Israel did not stop this unauthorized war, Russian troops would.

Sharon began planning to invade Lebanon in 1981, when he was minister of defense. Ten months later, however, he had yet to find a pretext for an assault, since Palestinian forces were observing a cease-fire along the Lebanese-Israeli border guaranteed by the US in the summer of 1981. Sharon finally seized upon the excuse of an attempted assassination of Israel’s ambassador to London. He prevented an Israeli intelligence officer from informing Israel’s Cabinet that the thwarted assassins were not from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), so that the Israeli Cabinet would not abort what Sharon told them was merely a strike against the PLO in Lebanon.

Yacov Guterman, an Israeli whose only son was killed in the battle of Beaufort Castle at the beginning of Sharon’s invasion of Lebanon, has written: “If they [Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon] have only a spark of conscience and humanity, may my great pain pursue them forever, the suffering of a father in Israel whose world has been destroyed.”

From a military point of view, Sharon’s invasion of Lebanon was a seemingly brilliant campaign. He had assured Prime Minister Menachem Begin that he would stop after seizing PLO positions on the Lebanese border, moving no more than a few kilometers into Lebanon. He had no intention of following his stated plan, however, and, as the world knows, instead headed toward Beirut.

In an attempt to batter the Lebanese into submission, the Israeli siege of Beirut went on day and night. In the midst of it, an unexpected event interrupted Sharon’s plans. The reckless and conniving Lebanese President Bashir Gemayel was killed and his older and less audacious brother, Amin, took over. Sharon, who had been on good terms with both brothers, paid a condolence call on the Gemayel family, during which he appears to have suggested that the family avenge Bashir’s death. There was no written transcript of the discussion, but the following day Sharon’s forces moved forward to the edge of the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps.

Israeli forces had assembled 150 Lebanese Maronite militiamen and trucked them to the site. For two days, the militiamen slaughtered Palestinian men, women and children while the Israeli troops provided food, water and ammunition for the Maronites so they could continue the killing. When the Maronites needed illumination, the Israelis provided it. As word of the atrocity seeped out, members of the world press burst into the camps.

Newsmen saw that bodies of the victims were being bulldozed and covered up as rapidly as possible. The Israelis later said that 600 victims had been buried, but according to the International Red Cross, at least 2,000 Palestinians were dead. Hundreds of them are still buried in a mound that is now covered over by a soccer field and others may have been concealed elsewhere.

Israel’s Kahan Commission later found that Sharon had “indirect responsibility for failing to foresee and prevent the massacre” and banned him from serving again as defense minister.

Sharon set out to clear his name in an American court by filing a libel suit against Time magazine over its allegations of his conduct relating to the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. Although the jury did not find that the magazine had libeled Sharon, not waiting for a final verdict, the Israeli press declared Sharon had won a “moral victory.”

Meanwhile, Begin decided he had been deceived by Sharon into invading Lebanon and retired, spending the rest of his life in near-seclusion. More recently, Sharon incited the Al-Aqsa intifada with his Sept. 28, 2000 “visit” to Jerusalem’s Haram Al Sharif-on the eve of the election in which he was running for prime minister against the Labor incumbent, Ehud Barak.

Over the years, people seem to have forgotten the viciousness of Sharon’s military record. Even his sobriquet “the butcher of Beirut” has morphed into “the bulldozer,” or similar nicknames indicating courage and resolution. Even the bulldozer nickname, however, is the result of a chilling remark he made as candidate for prime minister. Asked what he would do about Palestinians from Beit Jala shooting at the illegal Jewish settlement of Gilo, Sharon replied, “I would eliminate the first row of houses in Beit Jala.” And if the shooting continued? “I would eliminate the second row of houses; and so on. I know the Arabs...For them, there is nothing more important than their house. So, under me you will not see a child shot next to his father. It is better to level an entire village with bulldozers-row after row.”

While once again on Jan. 4 President Bush called Sharon “a man of courage and peace,” in the past 50 years Palestinians have seen few peaceful acts by Israel’s prime minister. In fact, if Sharon had any intention of making peace with his neighbors, he would have accepted the olive branch Arab countries offered him in 2002. When King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was still Crown Prince, he convinced Arab League members meeting in Beirut that March to agree to grant Israel full recognition if the Jewish state would return to its 1967 borders-giving it 78 percent of historic Palestine. The Saudi peace plan, which basically reiterates the land-for-peace formula of UN Resolution 242, is the only solution upon which virtually the entire world has agreed.

The only countries to reject this Arab compromise are Israel itself, and by its silent acquiescence, the United States.

Richard H. Curtiss, DHanley200@aol.com

Richard H. Curtiss enlisted in the U.S. Army in World War II, and served as a military correspondent in Berlin, Germany after the war. After earning a B.A. in journalism from the University of Southern California and work on newspapers and for United Press in California, he served as a career foreign service officer with the Department of State and the U.S. Information Agency in Djakarta, Bonn, Stuttgart, Ankara, Beirut (three times), Baghdad, Damascus and Rhodes, Greece, where he headed the Arabic Service of the Voice of America, and in various positions in Washington DC


A Modern Star Chamber

"The FISA court may be the biggest bunch of lapdogs in the federal government. The court approved almost every one of the 15,000 search warrant requests the feds submitted between 1978 and 2002, and it continues to approve more than 99 percent of requests."

The FISA Farce

by James Bovard, January 9, 2006

President Bush proudly announced last month that he is violating federal law. He declared that in 2002 he ordered the National Security Agency to begin conducting warrantless wiretaps and email intercepts on Americans. He asserted that the wiretaps would continue, regardless of the law.

Bush claims that he must ignore the law because the secret federal court created to authorize such wiretaps moves too slowly to protect U.S. national security. Amazingly, his claim has been treated with respect, if not deference, by much of the nation’s media. Much of the media has groveled to his claim the same way that the special court grovels to federal agencies.

In 1978, responding to scandals about political spying on Americans in the name of counterespionage, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). FISA created a new “court” to oversee federal surveillance of foreign agents within the United States.

The FISA court may be the biggest bunch of lapdogs in the federal government. The court approved almost every one of the 15,000 search warrant requests the feds submitted between 1978 and 2002, and it continues to approve more than 99 percent of requests.

FISA provides a judicial process only in the sense that the room where the political appointees convene is called a “court.” As national security expert James Bamford observed, “Like a modern Star Chamber, the FISA court meets behind a cipher-locked door in a windowless, bug-proof, vault-like room guarded 24 hours a day on the top floor of the Justice Department building. The eleven judges (increased from seven by the Patriot Act) hear only the government’s side.”

Federal agencies can submit retroactive search warrant requests up to 72 hours after they begin surveilling someone. In 2002, for instance, Attorney General John Ashcroft personally issued more than 170 emergency domestic spying warrants — permitting agents to carry out wiretaps and search homes and offices for as many as 72 hours before the feds requested a search warrant from the FISA court. He used such powers almost a 100 times as often as attorneys general did before 9/11.

Congress set a very low standard for FISA search warrants. In federal criminal investigations, the government must show probable cause that a person is involved in criminal activity before being permitted to impose a wiretap. Under FISA, the government need show only that a person is suspected of being an agent of a foreign power or terrorist organization.

When FISA authorizes surveillance, the feds can switch on all the turbos. In a 2002 decision, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court noted that after it grants a surveillance request,

The FBI will be authorized to conduct, simultaneously, telephone, microphone, cell phone, e-mail and computer surveillance of the U.S. person target’s home, workplace and vehicles. Similar breadth is accorded the FBI in physical searches of the target’s residence, office, vehicles, computer, safe deposit box and U.S. mails.

After 9/11, the Justice Department vigorously lobbied for Congress to revise FISA to permit it to be used for spying on Americans with little or no relationship to foreign powers or terrorist plots. Ashcroft claimed that the reform was needed because FISA had impeded efforts to track terrorists. The dispute was not over whether foreign agents should be tracked: no one in Congress was opposed to that. The issue was whether the feds could launch massive surveillance operations against U.S. citizens on the pretext of fighting terrorism even though there was no evidence of their criminal wrongdoing. Congress acquiesced to Ashcroft’s demands.

The USA PATRIOT Act changed the law to make it far easier to use FISA search warrants against Americans. During the PATRIOT Act mini-deliberations, the Justice Department claimed that the FISA restrictions fatally delayed its efforts to secure a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui’s computer. Moussaoui is the suspected “twentieth hijacker,” who was arrested in Minnesota on August 16, 2001. But as a 2003 Senate Judiciary Committee report noted, the FBI had sufficient information to get a FISA wiretap before 9/11 but failed to do so because “key FBI personnel responsible for protecting our country against terrorism did not understand the law.” FBI headquarters agents believed that before a FISA wiretap could be requested, Moussaoui had to be linked to an organization that the U.S. government formally labeled as terrorist.

But that was not the case. The Senate report noted, “In the time leading up to the 9/11 attacks, the FBI and DOJ had not devoted sufficient resources to implementing the FISA, so that long delays both crippled enforcement efforts and demoralized line agents.” Eleanor Hill, the staff director for the Joint Intelligence Committee investigation into pre-9/11 failures, observed, “The lesson of Moussaoui was that F.B.I. headquarters was telling the field office the wrong advice.”

A few months after the PATRIOT Act was signed, Ashcroft proposed new regulations to “allow FISA to be used primarily for a law enforcement purpose.” The seven FISA judges unanimously rejected his power grab as contrary to federal law. The Bush administration appealed the decision, and a special FISA appeals court met in secret and only the Justice Department was permitted to argue its side. Steve Aftergood, editor of the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News, commented that the transcript of the hearing (released months after the fact) showed that “the judges generally assumed a servile posture toward the executive branch, even consulting the Justice Department on how to handle its critics.”

The FISA appeals court, in a November 2002 decision, unleashed the Justice Department and gave Ashcroft everything he wanted. He proclaimed that its decision “revolutionizes our ability to investigate terrorists and prosecute terrorist acts.”

But the FISA appeals court decision encourages federal agents to seek FISA warrants even in cases with very doubtful links to terrorism or terrorist activity. American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Ann Beeson observed that the FISA appeals court decision “suggests that this special court exists only to rubber-stamp government applications for intrusive surveillance warrants.”

Even though the FISA court is often a farce, providing only a façade of judicial procedure, any restriction on domestic spying was too much for the Bush administration. Or perhaps Bush believes that being obliged to request retroactive search warrants tarnishes his imperial majesty. It remains to be seen whether Congress or federal courts will hold the president liable for proclaiming that he is above the law.

James Bovard, January 9, 2006

James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy [2006] as well as The Bush Betrayal [2004], Lost Rights [1994] and Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice and Peace to Rid the World of Evil (Palgrave-Macmillan, September 2003) and serves as a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation.