Wednesday, October 31, 2007
The Lobby, Unmasked: "We have an 'unwritten contract' with the American media"
Attacking Iran for Israel?
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is at her mushroom-cloud hyperbolic best, and this time Iran is the target. Her claim last week that “the policies of Iran constitute perhaps the single greatest challenge to American security interests in the Middle East and around the world” is simply too much of a stretch.
To gauge someone’s reliability, one depends largely on prior experience. Sadly, Rice’s credibility suffers in comparison with Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Basing his judgment on the findings of IAEA inspectors in Iran, ElBaradei reports that there is no evidence of an active nuclear weapons program there.
If this sounds familiar it is, in fact, déjà vu. ElBaradei said the same thing about Iraq before it was attacked. But three days before the invasion, American nuclear expert Dick Cheney told NBC’s Tim Russert, “I think Mr. ElBaradei is, frankly, wrong.”
Here we go again. As in the case of Iraq, US intelligence has been assiduously looking for evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran; but, alas, in vain. Burned by the bogus “proof” adduced for Iraq-the uranium from Africa, the aluminum tubes-the administration has shied away from fabricating nuclear-related “evidence.” Are Bush and Cheney again relying on the Rumsfeld dictum, that “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence?” There is a simpler answer.
Cat Out of the Bag
The Israeli ambassador to the US, Sallai Meridor, let the cat out of the bag while speaking at the American Jewish Committee luncheon on Oct. 22. In remarks paralleling those of Rice, Meridor said Iran is the chief threat to Israel. Heavy on the chutzpah, he then served gratuitous notice on Washington that countering Iran’s nuclear ambitions will take a “united United States in this matter,” lest the Iranians conclude, “come January ‘09, they have it their own way.”
Meridor stressed that “very little time” remained to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. How so? Even were there to be a nuclear program hidden from the IAEA, no serious observer expects Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon much sooner than five years from now.
Truth be told, every other year since 1995 US intelligence has been predicting that Iran could have a nuclear weapon in about five years. It has become downright embarrassing-like a broken record, punctuated only by so-called “neo-conservatives” like James Woolsey, who in August publicly warned that the U.S. may have no choice but to bomb Iran in order to halt Tehran’s nuclear weapons program.
Woolsey, self-described “anchor of the Presbyterian wing of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs,” put it this way: “I’m afraid that within, well, at worst, a few months; at best, a few years; they [the Iranians] could have the bomb.”
The day before Ambassador Meridor’s unintentionally revealing remark, Vice President Dick Cheney reiterated, “We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.” That remark followed closely on President George W. Bush’s apocalyptic warning of World War III, should Tehran acquire the knowledge to produce a nuclear weapon.
The Israelis appear convinced they have extracted a promise from Bush and Cheney that they will help Israel nip Iran’s nuclear program in the bud before they leave office. That is why the Israeli ambassador says there is “very little time”-less than 15 months.
Never mind that there is no evidence that the Iranian nuclear program is any more weapons-related than the one Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld persuaded President Gerald Ford to approve in 1976. Westinghouse and General Electric successfully lobbied for approval to sell the Shah for $6.4 billion the kind of nuclear facilities that Iran is now building, but the deal fell through when the Shah was ousted in 1979.
With 200-300 nuclear weapons in its arsenal, the Israelis enjoy a nuclear monopoly in the Middle East. They mean to keep that monopoly and Israel’s current leaders are pressing for the US to obliterate Iran’s fledgling nuclear program.
Anyone aware of Iran’s ability to retaliate realizes this would bring disaster to the whole region and beyond. But this has not stopped Cheney and Bush in the past. And the real rationale is reminiscent of the one revealed by Philip Zelikow, confidant of Condoleezza Rice, former member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, and later executive director of the 9/11 Commission. On Oct. 10 2002, Zelikow said this to a crowd at the University of Virginia:
“Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I’ll tell you what I think the real threat is-it’s the threat to Israel. And this is the threat that dare not speak its name…the American government doesn’t want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell.”
The political offensive against Iran coalesced as George W. Bush began his second term, with Cheney out in front pressing for an attack on its nuclear-related facilities. During a Jan. 20, 2005 interview with MSNBC, just hours before Bush’s second inauguration, Cheney put Iran “right at the top of the list of trouble spots,” and noted that negotiations and UN sanctions might fail to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Cheney then added, with remarkable nonchalance:
“Given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might decide to act first, and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards.”
Does this not sound like the so-called “Cheney plan” being widely discussed in the media today? An Israeli attack; Iranian retaliation; the United States springing to the defense of its “ally” Israel?
A big fan of preemption, the vice president was the first U.S. official to speak approvingly of Israel’s air attack on Iraq’s reactor at Osirak in 1981. He included that endorsement in his important speech of Aug. 26, 2002, in which he set the terms of reference for the subsequent campaign to persuade Congress to approve war with Iraq.
Cheney has done little to disguise his attraction to Israel’s penchant to preempt. Ten years after the attack on Osirak, then-Defense Secretary Cheney reportedly gave Israeli Maj. Gen. David Ivri, commander of the Israeli Air Force, a satellite photo of the Iraqi nuclear reactor destroyed by U.S.-built Israeli aircraft. On the photo Cheney penned, “Thanks for the outstanding job on the Iraqi nuclear program in 1981.”
Nothing is known of Ivri’s response, but it is a safe bet it was along the lines of “we could not have done it without your country’s help.” Indeed, although the U.S. officially condemned the attack (the Reagan administration was supporting Saddam Hussein’s Iraq at the time), intelligence and operational support that the Pentagon shared with the Israelis made a major contribution to the success of the Israeli raid. With Vice President Cheney now calling the shots, similar support is a virtual certainty in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran.
It is no secret that former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was already pressing in 2003 for an early preemptive strike, insisting that Iran was likely to obtain a nuclear weapon much earlier than the time forecast by U.S. intelligence. Sharon even brought his own military adviser to brief Bush with aerial photos of Iranian nuclear-related installations.
More troubling still, in the fall of 2004 Gen. Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush and as Chair of the younger Bush’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, made some startling comments to the Financial Times.
A master of discretion with the media, Scowcroft nonetheless saw fit to make public his conclusion that Sharon had Bush “mesmerized;” that he had our president “wrapped around his little finger.” Needless to say, Scowcroft was immediately ousted from the advisory board and is now persona non grata at the White House in which he worked for so many years.
An Unstable Infatuation
George W. Bush first met Sharon in 1998, when the Texas governor was taken on a tour of the Middle East by Matthew Brooks, then executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. Sharon was foreign minister at the time and took Bush on a helicopter tour of the Israeli occupied territories. An Aug. 3, 2006 McClatchy wire story by Ron Hutcheson quotes Matthew Brooks:
“If there’s a starting point for George W. Bush’s attachment to Israel, it’s the day in late 1998, when he stood on a hilltop where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and, with eyes brimming with tears, read aloud from his favorite hymn, ‘Amazing Grace.’ He was very emotional. It was a tear-filled experience. He brought Israel back home with him in his heart. I think he came away profoundly moved.”
Bush made gratuitous but revealing reference to that trip at the first meeting of his National Security Council on Jan. 30, 2001. After announcing he would abandon the decades-long role of “honest broker” between Israelis and Palestinians and would tilt pronouncedly toward Israel, Bush said he had decided to take Sharon “at face value” and unleash him.
At that point the president brought up his trip to Israel with the Republican Jewish Coalition and the flight over Palestinian camps, but there was no sense of concern for the lot of the Palestinians. In Ron Suskind’s Price of Loyalty, then-Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, who took part at the NSC meeting, quotes Bush: “Looked real bad down there,” the president said with a frown. He then said it was time to end America’s efforts in the region: “I don’t see much we can do over there at this point.”
O’Neill reported that Colin Powell, the newly minted but nominal secretary of state, was taken completely by surprise at this nonchalant jettisoning of more nuanced and balanced longstanding policy. Powell demurred, warning that this would unleash Sharon and “the consequences could be dire, especially for the Palestinians.” According to O’Neill, Bush just shrugged, saying, “Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things.” O’Neill says that Powell seemed “startled.”
It is a safe bet that the vice president was in no way startled.
The only thing that seems to be standing in the way of a preemptive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is unusual-but-sensible foot-dragging by the U.S. military. It seems likely that the senior military leadership has told the president and Cheney: This time let us brief you on what to expect on Day 2, on Week 4, on Month 6-and on the many serious things Iran can do to Israel, and to us in Iraq and elsewhere.
CENTCOM commander Admiral William Fallon is reliably reported to have said, “We are not going to do Iran on my watch.” And in an online Q-and-A on Sept. 27, award-winning Washington Post reporter Dana Priest spoke of a possible “revolt” if pilots were ordered to fly missions against Iran. She added:
“This is a little bit of hyperbole, but not much. Just look at what Gen. Casey, the Army chief, has said…that the tempo of operations in Iraq would make it very hard for the military to respond to a major crisis elsewhere. Besides, it’s not the ‘war’ or ‘bombing’ part that’s difficult; it’s the morning after and all the days after that. Haven’t we learned that (again) from Iraq?”
How about Congress? Could it act as a brake on Bush and Cheney? Forget it. If the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) with its overflowing coffers supports an attack on Iran, so will most of our spineless lawmakers. Already, AIPAC has succeeded in preventing legislation that would have required the president to obtain advance authorization for an attack on Iran.
And for every Admiral Fallon, there is someone like the inimitable retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, a close associate of James Woolsey, “cakewalk” Ken Adelman and other “neo-cons.” The air campaign “will be easy,” says McInerney, a FOX pundit who was a rabid advocate of shock and awe over Iraq. “Ahmadinejad has nothing in Iran that we can’t penetrate,” he adds, and several hundred aircraft, including stealth bombers, will be enough to do the trick:
“Forty-eight hours duration, hitting 2,500 aim points to take out their nuclear facilities, their air defense facilities, their air force, their navy, their Shahab-3 retaliatory missiles, and finally their command and control. And then let the Iranian people take their country back.”
And the likely White House rationale for war? Since, particularly with the fiasco of Iraq as backdrop, it will be a hard sell to promote the idea of an imminent threat from a nuclear-armed Iran, the White House PR machine has already begun focusing on other “evidence”- amorphous so far-indicating that Iran is supporting those who are “killing our troops in Iraq.”
The scary thing is that Cheney is more likely to use the McInerneys and Woolseys than the Fallons and Caseys in showing the president how “easily” it can all be done-Cakewalk II.
It is not as though our country has lacked statesmen wise enough to warn us against foreign entanglements and about those who have difficulty distinguishing between the strategic interests of the United States and those of other countries:
“A passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation facilitates the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, infuses into one the enmities of the other, and betrays the former into participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.”
(George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796)
* * *
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. He was a CIA analyst for 27 years and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
Poll: Majority of Voters Support Iran Strike
A new Zogby poll out today shows that 52% of likely voters would support a strike against Iran to prevent them from building nuclear weapons. Another 53% believe it "likely" that such an attack will take place before the next election:
Democrats (63%) are most likely to believe a U.S. military strike against Iran could take place in the relatively near future, but independents (51%) and Republicans (44%) are less likely to agree. Republicans, however, are much more likely to be supportive of a strike (71%), than Democrats (41%) or independents (44%). Younger likely voters are more likely than those who are older to say a strike is likely to happen before the election and women (58%) are more likely than men (48%) to say the same – but there is little difference in support for a U.S. strike against Iran among these groups.Surprisingly, Hillary Clinton is seen as the candidate best able to deal with the Iranians followed by Giuliani and John McCain:
When asked which presidential candidate would be best equipped to deal with Iran – regardless of whether or not they expected the U.S. to attack Iran – 21% would most like to see New York U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton leading the country, while 15% would prefer former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and 14% would want Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain in charge. Another 10% said Illinois Sen. Barack Obama would be best equipped to deal with Iran, while Republican Fred Thompson (5%), Democrat John Edwards (4%) and Republican Mitt Romney (3%) were less likely to be viewed as the best leaders to help the U.S. deal with Iran.
It appears that Hillary Clinton's transition from soft on defense liberal to hawk is complete - at least as far as the perception of her candidacy is concerned. Her initial support for the war and perhaps more importantly, her refusal to apologize to the hard left for voting for it in the first place may have helped change that perception.
Zogby's automated telephone polling has its detractors so it might be best to take this news with a grain of salt. But clearly a significant portion of the electorate appears ready to bite the bulllet on Iran and don't mind the idea of Hillary leading that effort.
Finally, Action! Ron Paul Introduces Bill to Defend Constitution!
It's not every day that there is something concrete you can do to save democracy in one powerful stroke and make sure your kids don't come of age in an American in which we are no longer protected by the rule of law. I have been writing about the terrifying and precipitous assault on our liberties and our very system of checks and balances; I have crossed the country with this message -- today I am in Boston -- and I have heard across the nation that (as usual) the people are ahead of the leaders and the pundits. Americans of all backgrounds are alarmed and outraged and ready to take action against these vicious assaults on the rule of law. But what I hear again and again is: "What can we do?"
Here is what you can do, and it is big, big news. If we do this together in our millions we are safer; and if we fail to act we miss an historic opening and risk far worse to come.
There are two new organizations that are driving a grassroots push to restore the rule of law: the American Freedom Agenda was started by leaders who are conservative: Bruce Fein, who was a Reagan administration official in the Department of Justice, and others. The American Freedom Campaign was started by progressives. Both groups advance comparable 10 point legislative agendas that would stabilize democracy long enough for us to forestall the worst and regroup for more long-term reparation of the Constitution and the rule of law. Both would, if passed, protect Americans from the scary stories of abuse and recrimination I am hearing every single day -- journalists intimidated, prisoners tortured, innocent citizens spied on by the State in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Both would make it illegal for any administration to commit the kinds of crimes against America and its constitution that we have seen under this one: the innocent lawyer Brandon Mayfield's home broken into, the innocent software engineer Maher Arar kept prisoner by U.S. agents in an interrogation cell in a U.S. airport and prevented from calling his lawyer, and journalists reporting on abuses by the government threatened by the state with prosecution that could keep them in jail for a decade. Urgently it would close the horrific legal possibility for the president to call you or me an "enemy combatant" tomorrow -- JUST BECAUSE HE SAYS SO -- and lock us up in solitary confinement for years.
Passing the legislative agenda of either group would make it clear that American citizens -- in spite of a heretofore craven and compliant Congress -- refuse to stand by silently while a group of criminals systematically violates the core structure of the democracy our Founders put in place for us.
The big news is that this idea can now become a law and a law creates a reality.
On Monday, Rep. Ron Paul, the outsider Republican presidential candidate who has long upheld these values and who was an early voice warning of the grave danger to all of us of these abuses, introduced the AFA's legislative package into Congress. (The mainstream press has an irrational habit of disparaging outsider candidates -- as if corrupt money and machine endorsements equal seriousness of purpose -- even though the Founders hoped that the system they established would lead citizens, ideally those unembedded in the establishment, to offer their service to the nation.) It is the American Freedom Agenda Act of 2007 [PDF], and you should read it in its entirety: just as accounts of the recent abuses send chills down your spine, this beautifully argued document feels historic and has the ring of great power to correct great injustice.
What does it do? According to an alert put out by the American Freedom campaign, it would accomplish the following:
"The American Freedom Agenda Act would bar the use of evidence obtained through torture; require that federal intelligence gathering is conducted in accordance with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA); create a mechanism for challenging presidential signing statements; repeal the Military Commissions Act, which, among other things, denies habeas corpus to certain detainees; prohibit kidnapping, detentions, and torture abroad; protect journalists who publish information received from the executive branch; and ensure that secret evidence is not used to designate individuals or organizations with a presence in the U.S. as foreign terrorists."
Ron Paul was the first of all the presidential candidates, red or blue, to step up in this way -- and all credit is due to him for getting there first. May the others of both parties race to follow his lead. These days, as we have seen from how reluctant some candidates have been -- even on the Democratic sign -- even to sign a mere pledge to uphold the Constitution, it takes some courage to stand fast against the assaults of this administration -- and their manipulations of the terms "patriotism" and "terror threat" -- and insist with legislation on the Founders' vision and on restoring democracy.
A groundswell of millions of Americans of all parties rising up to insist on passage of the AFA legislation means that we are awake -- we get it -- and that we assert that an alert citizenry, not a whipped-dog Congress or a violently abusive executive, decides what happens in this nation still. I am not a voter on his side of the ballot -- but I will move heaven and earth to support the passage of this lifesaving agenda. (Interestingly when I run into Paul's supporters -- who are deeply alert to the abuses of democracy -- and I demur by saying I am a Democrat, it is they who rightly assure me that these issues transcend party).
There is no way to overstate how crucial this piece of legislation is. We are at a turning point, and without the restoration of the rule of law the "blueprint" for what I have called a "fascist shift" -- the closing down of democracy -- calls for scarier recriminations against citizens, greater tightening of social controls -- the ever-growing, disturbingly political TSA watch list is, alarmingly, due to go from the airlines' administration to that of the TSA itself -- and more corruptions of the electoral process. Blackwater is a truly terrifying wild card. Without the rule of law we will be powerless as each of these assaults on liberty continue to escalate. With it we can fight back.
This is the answer both to those who say "What we can do?" and to those who claim (actually, sometimes whine) "there is nothing we can do." And if we don't act on this now we will get the democracy we deserve -- which is no democracy at all.
Put aside your partisan ideal world -- sometimes issues simply transcend partisanship -- and if ever there is an issue that is above and separate from party politics, it is the restoration of the democratic system we inherited. There are good people and passionate patriots across the political spectrum.
We at the AFC are putting out a call to pass this set of laws. Pick up the phone -- every day. Email your representative -- every day. Let them hear from millions of Americans a day. Let them hear from twenty. Please play hardball -- the times demand it and nice girls and boys have managed to get this Congress to do literally nothing at all to protect liberty.
Congressmen and women say off the record that they can't support liberty, much as they'd like to, because they are scared of "looking soft on terror" and they want to run out the clock -- a naive and self-serving posture in a time of crisis. Make them more scared of you if they don't. Tell them you will bombard their donors with the message that they have sold out liberty. Tell them you will denounce them as traitors to the Constitution in your local and regional letters to the editor and op-eds. Tell them they are unpatriotic to stand by while liberty is disemboweled. Tell them you will stop at nothing to ensure their future defeat unless they support this and make it the law of the land.
Let's do it. There is no excuse now. The restoration of democracy is up to you -- as the Founders intended it should be.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Ron Paul on US policies towards Cuba
by Rep. Ron Paul
Since Raul Castro seems to be transitioning to a more permanent position of power, the administration has begun talking about Cuba policy again. One would think we would be able to survey the results of the last 45 years and come to logical conclusions. Changing course never seems to be an option, however, no matter how futile or counterproductive our past actions have been.
The Cuban embargo began officially in 1962 as a means to put pressure on the communist dictatorship to change its ways. After 45 years, the Cuban economy has struggled, but Cuba's dictatorship is no closer to stepping to the beat of our drum. Any ailments have consistently and successfully been blamed on U.S. capitalism instead of Cuban communism. They have substituted trade with others for trade with the U.S., and they are "awash" in development funds from abroad. Our isolationist policies with regard to Cuba, meanwhile, have hardly won the hearts and minds of Cubans or Cuban-Americans, many of whom are isolated from families because this political animosity.
In the name of helping Cubans, the U.S. administration is calling for multibillions of taxpayer dollars in foreign aid and subsidies for Internet access, education, and business development for Cubans under the condition that the Cuban government demonstrates certain changes. In the same breath, they claim lifting the embargo would only help the dictatorship. This is exactly backward. Free trade is the best thing for people in both Cuba and the U.S. Government subsidies would enrich those in power in Cuba at the expense of already overtaxed Americans!
The irony of supposed free-marketeers inducing communists to freedom with government handouts should not be missed. We call for a free and private press in Cuba while our attempts to propagandize Cubans through the U.S.-government-run Radio/TV Marti have wasted $600 million in American taxpayer dollars.
It's time to stop talking solely in terms of what's best for the Cuban people. How about the wishes of the American people, who are consistently in favor of diplomacy with Cuba? Let's stop the hysterics about the freedom of Cubans – which is not our government's responsibility – and consider freedom of the American people, which is. Americans want the freedom to travel and trade with their Cuban neighbors, as they are free to travel and trade with Vietnam and China. Those Americans who do not wish to interact with a country whose model of governance they oppose are free to boycott. The point being: it is Americans who live in a free country, and as free people we should choose whom to buy from or where to travel – not our government.
Our current administration is perceived as irrelevant, at best, in Cuba and the message is falling on deaf ears there. If the administration really wanted to extend the hand of friendship, they would allow the American people the freedom to act as their own ambassadors through trade and travel. Considering the lack of success government has had in engendering friendship with Cuba, it is time for government to get out of the way and let the people reach out.
Hariri unveils bid on his life, meets Aoun in Paris
The head of the Change and Reform parliamentary bloc MP General Michel Aoun will meet in Paris with the head of the Future Movement bloc MP Saad Hariri, the elnashra news site said Tuesday. The site quoted a senior French diplomatic source as saying that preparations for this meeting had been ongoing in secret. The source added that when the security threat to both leaders reached a high level, it was decided to hold the meeting in Paris.
Hariri – Saniora Assassination Plot
Hariri is in Egypt for talks with President Hosni Mubarak over the Lebanese political crisis. He said he had evidence of assassination plots against himself and head of the unconstitutional government Fouad Saniora. Hariri made the claim in response to a question about alleged assassination plots by Syrian head of intelligence Assef Shawqat.
"We have intelligence about this and we are following it up," he told reporters. "The intelligence is correct and our security services are working on it. There is cooperation between Lebanese security services and Arab security services to avoid such assassinations," he said, without specifying which countries were helping in the investigations. Asked about Hariri's comments, an official at the Beirut office of the unconstitutional government said: "It is true and we have been informed about it." Hariri said his talks with Mubarak in Cairo focused on the vote and "the interference of certain states to prevent the holding of these elections." He added that Mubarak had promised to help prevent "any interference in the Lebanese presidential election or anything that might prejudice the stability of Lebanon."
Sfeir Criticizes Washington
The February 14 political bloc however continues to campaign for a presidential vote with the half-plus-one MPs formula; the core of the political crisis with the opposition, which wants elections to take place with the two-third quorum in harmony with the constitution.
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir had said he adhered to the two-third quorum formula. He criticized Washington's indefinite position over the presidential vote. "Sometimes they tell us they are with the two-third formula and at other times they tell us they support the half-plus-one formula and that they back Saniora's government to rule in case of political void," Sfeir was quoted by Assafir daily.
Khoja Meets Saniora, Berri
Meanwhile, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Abdul Aziz Khoja held a surprise meeting with House Speaker Nabih Berri after meeting with Saniora at the Grand Serail. In a joint press conference with Saniora, Khoja stressed Lebanon will have a new president and expressed confidence in the political players in Lebanon.
The Central News Agency quoted a source in the Saudi embassy as saying that the Saudi role did not retract. The source added that the instructions of King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz on how to deal with the Lebanese file are fixed. He also said that Saudi Arabia maintains its position that a Lebanese president should be made in Lebanon in harmony with the constitution without foreign pressure.
Israel can hit Iran’s nuclear sites, general says
Israel can deal a crushing blow to Iran’s budding nuclear program, an Israeli general says.
At an Oct. 22 press briefing in Toronto for a small group of Jewish journalists, the high-ranking Israel Defence Forces officer warned that Israel has the military capabilities to destroy or damage it.
“We have to be prepared for any eventuality,” the brigadier general said.
He said Israel would even be content with damaging Iranian nuclear sites.
“Delay can also be helpful,” he noted, delivering these threatening comments against the backdrop of mounting tensions with Iran.
Last week, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called for additional United Nations economic sanctions to be imposed on Iran, while Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Sallai Meridor, said Israel should always be ready “to pre-empt, to deter, to defeat” threats to its existence.
For more than a year now, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has openly called for Israel’s destruction. Repeating his mantra most recently, he described Israel as a “fake state.”
The general acknowledged that UN sanctions have had “some positive effects,” but they have not deterred Iran from moving closer to acquiring a nuclear arsenal.
Claiming that Iran is very close to crossing the technical threshold that will enable it to build an atomic device, he cited Western estimates that Iran will be a nuclear power anywhere between 2010 and 2015.
“We don’t see anyone trying to stop Iran,” he declared, adding that diplomatic measures have neither been sufficient nor effective.
“There is another option,” he said in an allusion to military means.
The officer admitted that, compared to Israel’s bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981, hitting Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would be a far more formidable challenge, since it is widely dispersed and buried deep underground in bunkers.
But Israel could overcome these disadvantages by detecting “weak points” in Iran’s defences, he said without elaborating.
Israel’s policy until now has been to support international efforts to contain Iran, he said. “We preferred to play a background role.”
But Israel’s patience is wearing thin, he observed, saying that Iran should not only be its problem.
If Iran goes nuclear, allies like Hezbollah and Hamas would feel emboldened, while Arab states would try to match Iran’s achievement, he predicted.
Accusing Iran of meddling in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli officer said, “Iranian fingerprints are all over the Middle East.”
He charged that Iran is attempting to dominate the region. “Iran is leading the radical resistance movement,” he said in a reference to Hezbollah and Hamas.
Iran is also trying to undermine western influence in the Middle East and sabotage a possible Israeli rapprochement with the moderate wing of the Palestinian movement, he added.
Turning his attention to the Palestinians, the general expressed doubt whether Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, is strong enough to implement a peace agreement with Israel.
Hamas, which already controls the Gaza Strip, would seize the West Bank from Fatah should Israel withdraw from the West Bank, he said.
The general allowed that Israel might well be able to deal with Hamas politically if it abides by international conditions and recognizes Israel’s existence, disavows terrorism and accepts agreements that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have signed since the mid-1990s.
Charging that Egypt is not doing nearly enough to staunch the flow of smuggled arms into Gaza, he said, “Gaza is not only Israel’s problem, but a problem for the Palestinians and Egyptians.”
He said the Israeli army may yet be forced to launch a massive incursion into Gaza in an attempt to eradicate the Palestinian network responsible for firing short-range Qassam missiles into Israel.
Asked whether such a raid would be on the scale of Operation Defensive Shield, carried out five years ago in the West Bank, the general agreed that the possibility remains high.
“But not now,” he said, explaining that Israel has no intention of undertaking a big military operation on the eve of the regional Mideast peace conference, set to take place later this month in Annapolis, Md., under the sponsorship of the United States.
The Israeli general said that Hezbollah, 15 months after the end of the Second Lebanon War, is rebuilding its military infrastructure in southern Lebanese villages, which are off limits to United Nations peacekeeping troops.
“Hezbollah is building capabilities for the future.”
But due to the presence of the Lebanese army and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, Hezbollah doesn’t have the same freedom of movement it enjoyed before the summer of 2006, he noted.
Nonetheless, Iran and Syria have both transferred advanced anti-tank and surface-to-surface missiles to Hezbollah since the ceasefire in Lebanon.
Asked if Israel and Hezbollah will fight a second round, the general replied, “It’s very difficult to say.”
He would not be drawn into a discussion regarding reports that the Israeli Air Force bombed a partially built, North Korean-manufactured nuclear reactor in Syria on Sept. 6.
“To keep a secret in Israel is a great challenge, and I’m not going to break it now.”
Hezbollah, PKK and American Hypocrisy
Fifteen months ago, the armed wing of Lebanon’s Hezbollah party, listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and most other Western countries, attacked Israel’s northern border, capturing two Israeli soldiers and killing eight more. Israel replied with a month of massive air attacks all across Lebanon that destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, leveled a good deal of south Beirut, and killed around a thousand Lebanese civilians.
Washington, London, Ottawa and some other Western capitals insisted that this was a reasonable and proportionate response, and shielded Israel from intense diplomatic pressure to stop the attacks even when Israel launched a land invasion of southern Lebanon in early August, 2006. The operation only ended when Israeli casualties on the ground mounted rapidly and the Israeli government pulled its troops back.
So what would be a reasonable and proportionate Turkish response to the recent attacks by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and most other Western countries, from northern Iraq into southeastern Turkey? More than forty Turkish civilians and soldiers have been killed in these attacks over the past two weeks, and a further eight Turkish soldiers were captured.
Well, it would be unreasonable for Turkey to bomb Iraq, where the PKK’s bases are, for any more than one month. It would be quite disproportionate for the Turkish Air Force to level more than a small part of Baghdad — say, 15,000 homes. Ideally, it should leave Baghdad alone and restrict itself to destroying some Kurdish-populated city in northern Iraq near Turkey’s own border. Moreover, when the Turks do invade Iraq on the ground, they should restrict themselves to the northern border strip where the PKK’s bases are.
What’s that? Washington is asking Turkey to show restraint and not attack Iraq at all? Even after the Kurdish terrorists killed or kidnapped all those Turkish people? Could it be that Turkish lives are worth less than Israeli lives?
Never mind. At least the United States officially classes the PKK as a terrorist organization and refuses to let its officials have any contact with it. But what’s this? There is a parallel terrorist organization called the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), essentially a branch office of the PKK, also based in northern Iraq, which carries out attacks into the adjacent Kurdish-populated region of Iran, and the United States does not condemn the PJAK? It even sends its officials to have friendly chats with the PJAK terrorists? How odd!
The PJAK’s leader, Rahman Haj-Ahmadi, paid an unofficial visit to Washington last summer. One of his close associates, Biryar Gabar, claims to have “normal dialogue” with US officials, according to a report last Tuesday in the New York Times — and the American military spokesman in Baghdad, Cmdr. Scott Rye, issued a carefully structured nondenial saying that “The consensus is that US forces are not working with or advising the PJAK.”
Biryar Gabar also said that PJAK fighters have killed at least 150 Iranian soldiers and officials in the past three months. That’s a lot more people than the PKK have killed in Turkey in the same time, and yet neither Washington nor any other Western country has expressed sympathy for Iran. Could it be that Iranian lives are worth even less than Turkish lives?
And here’s something even more peculiar. Iran, like Turkey, is already shelling Kurdish villages on the Iraqi side of the frontier that it suspects of sheltering or supplying the PKK/PJAK. How come President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney simply ignore these actions, when they have been working hard for the past year to build a case for attacking Iran? As Pat Buchanan noted on MSNBC’s “Hardball” last week: “Cheney and Bush are laying down markers for themselves which they’re going to have to meet. I don’t see how.”
The US military “assets” for an attack on Iran are all in place, so it can’t be that. Maybe the delay means that Bush and Cheney are having difficulty in persuading the military professionals to go along with this hare-brained scheme. Most senior American military officers see an attack on Iran as leading to inevitable failure and humiliation for the United States, and the last thing the White House wants is a rash of US generals resigning in protest when it orders the attack.
On the other hand, Bush is still the commander-in-chief, and how many American generals resigned when he committed the somewhat lesser folly of invading Iraq? Only one, and he did it very quietly.
Note: I have yet to see any logical and fact-based argument which would justify the label "terrorist" for either Hezbollah or the PKK. However, setting aside the issue of whether the PKK and Hezbollah deserve to be called "terrorist" or not, this article does raise the pertinent issue of the double standards systematically applied by the Imperial High Command. One could also note here that the IRA did bomb the UK on many occasions and kidnap British citizens without the UK ever carpet-bombing or invading Ulster or the Irish Republic. Israeli and Turkish responses to the attacks on their soldiers are totally out of any reasonable proportion and the label "terrorist" is far more appropriate to the regimes in Jerusalem and Ankara then to any of their opponents.
Monday, October 29, 2007
The American Police State
While terrorists can wound and disrupt our democracy, only we can kill it
By Chris Hedges
A Dallas jury, a week ago, caused a mistrial in the government case against this country’s largest Islamic charity. The action raises a defiant fist on the sinking ship of American democracy.
If we lived in a state where due process and the rule of law could curb the despotism of the Bush administration, this mistrial might be counted a victory. But we do not. The jury may have rejected the federal government’s claim that the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development funneled millions of dollars to Middle Eastern terrorists. It may have acquitted Mohammad el-Mezain, the former chairman of the foundation, of virtually all criminal charges related to funding terrorism (the jury deadlocked on one of the 32 charges against el-Mezain), and it may have deadlocked on the charges that had been lodged against four other former leaders of the charity, but don’t be fooled. This mistrial will do nothing to impede the administration’s ongoing contempt for the rule of law. It will do nothing to stop the curtailment of our civil liberties and rights. The grim march toward a police state continues.
Constitutional rights are minor inconveniences, noisome chatter, flies to be batted away on the steady road to despotism. And no one, not the courts, not the press, not the gutless Democratic opposition, not a compliant and passive citizenry hypnotized by tawdry television spectacles and celebrity gossip, seems capable of stopping the process. Those in power know this. We, too, might as well know it.
The Bush administration, which froze the foundation’s finances three months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and indicted its officials three years later on charges that they provided funds for the militant group Hamas, has ensured that the foundation and all other Palestinian charities will never reopen in the United States. Any organized support for Palestinians from within the U.S. has been rendered impossible. The goal of the Israeli government and the Bush administration—despite the charade of peace negotiations to be held at Annapolis—is to grind defiant Palestinians into the dirt. Israel, which has plunged the Gaza Strip into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, has now begun to ban fuel supplies and sever electrical service. The severe deprivation, the Israelis hope, will see the overthrow of the Hamas government in Gaza and the reinstatement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has become the Marshal Pétain of the Palestinian people.
The Dallas trial—like all of the major terrorism trials conducted by this administration, from the Florida case against the Palestinian activist Dr. Sami al-Arian, which also ended in a mistrial, to the recent decision by a jury in Chicago to acquit two men of charges of financing Hamas—has been a judicial failure. William Neal, a juror in the Dallas trial, told the Associated Press that the case “was strung together with macaroni noodles. There was so little evidence.”
Such trials, however, have been politically expedient. The accusations, true or untrue, serve the aims of the administration. A jury in Tampa, Chicago or Dallas can dismiss the government’s assaults on individual rights, but the draconian restrictions put in place because of the mendacious charges remain firmly implanted within the system. It is the charges, not the facts, which matter.
Dr. al-Arian, who was supposed to have been released and deported in April, is still in a Virginia prison because he will not testify in a separate case before a grand jury. The professor, broken by the long ordeal of his trial and unable to raise another million dollars in legal fees for a retrial, pleaded guilty to a minor charge in the hopes that his persecution would end. It has not. Or take the case of Canadian citizen Maher Arar, who in 2002 was spirited away by Homeland Security from JFK Airport to Syria, where he spent 10 months being tortured in a coffin-like cell. He was, upon his release, exonerated of terrorism. Arar testified before a House panel this month about how he was abducted by the U.S. and interrogated, stripped of his legal rights and tortured. But he couldn’t testify in person. He spoke to the House members on a video link from Canada. He is forbidden by Homeland Security to enter the United States because he allegedly poses a threat to national security.
Those accused of being involved in conspiracies and terrorism plots, as in all police states, become nonpersons. There is no rehabilitation. There is no justice.
"He was never given a hearing nor did the Canadian consulate, his lawyer, or his family know of his fate,” Amnesty International wrote of Arar. “Expulsion in such circumstances, without a fair hearing, and to a country known for regularly torturing their prisoners, violates the U.S. Government’s obligations under international law, specifically the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.”
You can almost hear Dick Cheney yawn.
The Bush administration shut down the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development six years ago and froze its assets. There was no hearing or trial. It became a crime for anyone to engage in transactions with the foundation. The administration never produced evidence to support the charges. It did not have any. In the “war on terror,” evidence is unnecessary. An executive order is enough. The foundation sued the government in a federal court in the District of Columbia. Behind closed doors, the government presented secret evidence that the charity had no opportunity to see or rebut. The charity’s case was dismissed.
The government has closed seven Muslim charities in the United States and frozen their assets. Not one of them, or any person associated with them, has been found guilty of financing terrorism. They will remain shut. George W. Bush can tar any organization or individual, here or abroad, as being part of a terrorist conspiracy and by fiat render them powerless. He does not need to make formal charges. He does not need to wait for a trial verdict. Secret evidence, which these court cases have exposed as a sham, is enough. The juries in Tampa, Chicago and Dallas did their duty. They spoke for the rights of citizens. They spoke for the protection of due process and the rule of law. They threw small hurdles in front of the emergent police state. But the abuse rolls on. I fear terrorism. I know it is real. I am sure terrorists will strike again on American soil. But while terrorists can wound and disrupt our democracy, only we can kill it.
Turkish Foreign Minister meets with Iranian President
In a meeting with visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, Ahmadinejad also said that the Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish nations have friendly and brotherly relations, IRNA reported.
He added that enemies are bent on dominating the region and that they are against regional countries, including Iran, Turkey and Iraq, living in peace and security.
Referring to the presence of occupiers in the Middle East as a cause of instability, the president said they endanger the security of the whole region.
“The Iraqi president and prime minister are opposed to terrorist acts and will spare no efforts to suppress terrorism in northern Iraq,“ he said.
Babacan, for his part, outlined the latest regional developments, particularly in Iraq, and underscored the necessity of preserving the country’s stability and territorial integrity.
He further assessed Iran-Turkey ties as historical, friendly and brotherly, calling for expanding cooperation with Iran in all fields.
Referring to the fact that the campaign against terrorism is the absolute right of every country, he praised efforts by Iran to fight terrorist groups.
In a telephone conversation with President Ahmadinejad late Saturday, Turkish President Abdullah Gul informed him of the latest developments on Turkey-Iraq borders.
Both Ahmadinejad and Gul underlined the necessity of maintaining Iraqi unity and territorial integrity.
The two presidents agreed that “occupiers have prepared the ground for disunity and are supporting terrorists with their double standards“, adding that terrorists are not friends of any nations in the region, including Turkey, Iran and Iraq.
In separate telephone conversations with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki late Saturday, Ahmadinejad discussed the latest developments on Iraq-Turkey border.
The two sides underlined the importance of continuing consultations over the current situation along Iraqi border areas.
Also on Sunday, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki met with his Turkish counterpart Ali Babacan and called for intensifying the campaign against terrorism and condemned terrorist acts from Iraqi soil against the regional countries.
Mottaki added that Iran believes in campaign against terrorism.
Babacan, for his part, pointed to consolidated relations between Iran and Turkey, which date back to 400 years ago, saying that Ankara prioritizes ties with Tehran.
Pointing to his country’s campaign against terrorists who attack the Turkish people and soldiers from the Iraqi soil, he noted that confronting PKK does not mean confronting Iraq.
“Ankara seriously opposes the intervention of foreign powers in northern Iraq,“ he said.
Who's Behind the PKK? In a word: Washington
Barzani Defies Turkish Invasion Plans
By Patrick Cockburn in Iraqi Kurdistan
Masoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurds of northern Iraq, expressed defiance yesterday in the face of a threatened invasion by 100,00 Turkish troops, and was scornful of Turkey's claim that it wants only to pursue Turkish-Kurd rebels.
"We are not a threat to Turkey and I do not accept the language of threatening and blackmailing from the government of Turkey," he said from his mountain fortress of Salahudin 10 miles north of Arbil. "If they invade there will be war."
Mr Barzani is President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, the autonomous Kurdish area in northern Iraq which enjoys quasi-independence from Baghdad and has stronger military forces than half of the members of the UN.
He was in no mood to buckle under Turkish pressure to take military action against the guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) who have their hideouts in the mountain ranges along Iraqi Kurdistan's borders with Iran and Turkey. "My main mission would be not to allow a Kurdish-Kurdish fight to happen within the Kurdish liberation movement," he declared.
Mr Barzani said Turkey's attempt to solve its Kurdish problem by military means alone had not worked in the past 23 years and would not work now. It was in 1984 that the PKK took up arms, seeking independence or autonomy from theTurkish state that refused to admit that it had a Kurdish minority of 15 million.
Mr Barzani also said that he was increasingly convinced that the Turkish objective was not the PKK but Iraqi Kurdistan, which has achieved near-independence since 2003. He said he was convinced Turkey's claim that its target was the PKK "is only an excuse and the target is the Kurdistan region itself". When the KRG put its peshmerga (soldiers) on the border with Turkey to control the areas where the PKK has sought refuge, Turkish artillery had shelled them, he said.
Mr Barzani appears to believe there is no concession he could offer to Turkey which would defuse the crisis because he himself and the KRG are the true target of Ankara.
Turkish military action might be largely symbolic with ground troops not advancing very far, but even this would have a serious impact on the economy of the KRG. The Iraqi Kurds would also be badly hurt if Turkey closed the Habur Bridge, the crossing point near Zakho through which passes much of Kurdistan's trade. Some 825,000 trucks crossed the bridge in both directions last year. Asked what the impact of the closure of Habur Bridge would be on Iraqi Kurdistan, Mr Barzani said determinedly: "We would not starve."
Turkish artillery is already firing shells across the border in the high mountains around Kani Masi, a well-watered border village in western Kurdistan, famous for its apple orchards. The shelling is persistent and is evidently designed as warning to the Iraqi Kurds. "We are afraid but we have nowhere else to go," said Mohammed Mustafa, an elderly farmer.
For the moment, the villagers are staying put. Many of them in this area are Syriac Christians whose parents or grandparents emigrated to Baghdad but had returned recently because of fear of sectarian killing in the capital. Omar Mai, the local head of Mr Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party in Kani Masi, said that seven villages in the area had recently been shelled.
He said that there were no PKK in the villages and that they stayed permanently in the high mountains. Another reason for the PKK guerrillas making themselves scarce in this area is that there are Turkish outposts and garrisons already inside Iraq, set up during previous incursions. At one point near the village of Begova the snouts of Turkish tanks point menacingly down the road.
Driving to the top of a mountain where peshmerga were dug in, Mr Mai explained with some pride the intricate geography of the frontier. On one hilltop below us was the Turkish army, identifiable by the red Turkish flag, while a few hundred yards below the hill, separated by a flimsy fence, were Iraqi Kurdish frontier guards living in a long white barracks. In a grove of trees behind this building was a villa that was also occupied by Turkish troops.
Further north, hidden by folds in the mountains, are the Turkish guns that intermittently bombard this area. If the Turkish army does want to advance here there is not much to stop them, but it is unlikely that they would find any PKK, scanty in number and well-hidden in caves, in this vast range of mountains and valleys.
Patrick Cockburn is the author of 'The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq', a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006.
ElBaradei: No Evidence That Iran is Building Nuclear Weapons
Mohamed ElBaradei: "I very much have concern about confrontation, building confrontation, Wolf, because that would lead absolutely to a disaster. I see no military solution. The only durable solution is through negotiations and inspections… My fear if that we continue to escalate from both sides from both sides that we would end up into a precipice, we would end up into an abyss. As I said, the Middle East is in a total mess, to say the least. And we cannot add fuel to the fire."
Earlier this month President Bush warned that World War III could begin if Iran obtains the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. But on Sunday Mohamed ElBaradei said the UN has no evidence that Iran is running a nuclear weapons program.
Mohamed ElBaradei: "But have we seen having the nuclear material that can be readily used into a weapon? No. Have we seen an active weaponization program? No. So there is a concern, but there is also time to clarify these concerns."
Rumsfeld flees France fearing arrest
US embassy officials whisked Rumsfeld away yesterday from a breakfast meeting in Paris organized by the Foreign Policy magazine after human rights groups filed a criminal complaint against the man who spearheaded President George W. Bush’s “war on terror” for six years.
Under international law, authorities in France are obliged to open an investigation when a complaint is made while the alleged torturer is on French soil.
According to activists in France, who greeted Rumsfeld shouting “murderer” and “war criminal” at the breakfast meeting venue, US embassy officials remained tight-lipped about the former defense secretary’s whereabouts citing “security reasons”.
Anti-torture protesters in France believe that the defense secretary fled over the open border to Germany, where a war crimes case against Rumsfeld was dismissed by a federal court. But activist point out that under the Schengen agreement that ended border checkpoints across a large part of the European Union, French law enforcement agents are allowed to cross the border into Germany in pursuit of a fleeing fugitive.
“Rumsfeld must be feeling how Saddam Hussein felt when US forces were hunting him down,” activist Tanguy Richard said. “He may never end up being hanged like his old friend, but he must learn that in the civilized world, war crime doesn’t pay.”
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) along with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), and the French League for Human Rights (LDH) filed the complaint on Thursday after learning that Rumsfeld was scheduled to visit Paris.
Iran says documents show U.S. backing "terrorists"
Iran's new chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, made the allegation in comments to visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, whose country may soon send troops to hunt down Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq.
Tehran says the rebels are operating in Iraq with U.S. forces present in the country and this shows Washington is refraining from tackling them.
Like Turkey, Iran also has faced cross-border attacks by Kurdish rebels and has shelled targets inside Iraq in response.
"Escalation of terrorism in the region is one of the direct results of the presence of occupiers in Iraq, particularly America," Jalili, an ally of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said according to the country's state broadcaster.
"And there are documents and information available proving America's support for terrorist groups in the region," he said, without giving details. Jalili is also the new secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.
The United States often accuses Iran of backing and training militias responsible for some of the bloodshed threatening to tear Iraq apart. Tehran denies the charge and blames the violence in Iraq on the presence of U.S. forces.
The two countries are also locked in a stand-off over Tehran's nuclear programme, which Western powers suspect is aimed at developing bombs. Iran says it only wants to generate electricity.
Washington last week dubbed Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and accused its Qods force of backing terrorists. It also imposed sanctions on more than 20 Iranian companies, major banks and individuals.
At a joint news conference with Babacan, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Sunday also accused the United States and Israel of involvement in terrorism in the region.
"We see ... their hand behind some of the regional terrorist activities," Mottaki said.
Babacan, whose country's ties with the United States have deteriorated sharply in recent weeks, thanked Iran for helping Turkey fight the PKK guerrillas and said the two sides had talked about continuing their cooperation.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched its campaign for a Kurdish homeland in southeastern Turkey in 1984. More than 30,000 people have been killed in the conflict since then.
Jalili on October 20 replaced Ali Larijani as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, a move analysts saw as signalling a toughening of Tehran's position in the atom row.
Secret move to upgrade air base for Iran attack plans
The US is secretly upgrading special stealth bomber hangars on the British island protectorate of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean in preparation for strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities, according to military sources.
The improvement of the B1 Spirit jet infrastructure coincides with an "urgent operational need" request for £44m to fit racks to the long-range aircraft.
That would allow them to carry experimental 15-ton Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) bombs designed to smash underground bunkers buried as much as 200ft beneath the surface through reinforced concrete.
One MOP - known as Big Blu - has already been tested successfully at the US Air Force proving ground at White Sands in New Mexico. Tenders have now gone out for a production model to be ready for use in the next nine months.
The "static tunnel lethality test" on March 14 completely destroyed a mock-up of the kind of underground facility used to house Iran's nuclear centrifuge arrays at Natanz, about 150 miles from the capital, Tehran.
Although intelligence estimates vary as to when Iran will achieve the know-how for a bomb, the French government recently received a memo from the International Atomic Energy Agency stating that Iran will be ready to run almost 3000 centrifuges in 18 cascades by the end of this month. That is in defiance of a UN ban on uranium enrichment and would be enough to produce a nuclear weapon within a year.
Diego Garcia, part of Britain's Indian Ocean Territory, has several current missions. US Air Force bombers and Awacs surveillance planes operate from its 12,000ft runway and the USAF Space Command has built a satellite tracking station and communications facility.
The Ministry of Defence says the US government would need Britain's permission to use the island for offensive action. It has already been used for strategic strike missions during the 1991 and 2003 Gulf wars against Iraq.
The UK "sovereign territory" has a garrison of 50 British and 3200 US military personnel.
The atoll, the largest in the Chagos Archipelago chain, lies about 1000 miles from the southern coasts of India and Sri Lanka. It is ideally placed for strategic missions in the Middle East.
The US Department of Defence request for special bomb racks was hidden in a £95bn request to the US Congress last week for extra emergency funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The new Big Blu bomb is 20ft long, weighs 30,000lb and carries 6000lb of high explosives. It is designed to go deeper than even existing nuclear bunker-busting weapons.
The bomb is designed to be dropped from as great a height as possible to achieve maximum velocity and penetrating power, guided on to target by satellite and accurate to within a few feet.
Each B2 bomber would be able to carry only one weapon because of its weight. The B2s, normally based at Barksdale, Missouri, flew round-trip strikes against Baghdad in 2003, but would ideally be positioned closer to its targets for missions against Iran.
The Pentagon has drawn up contingency plans for a range of attacks on Iran. The likeliest is a five-day bombardment, aiming to disable nuclear facilities and all major airbases and radar facilities; the most devastating would involve air and cruise missile attacks on 1000 targets, including headquarters and barracks of the Iranian Republican Guard Corps, over more than a month.
The US branded the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organisation last week in the latest round of diplomatic sanctions against Tehran.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Donald Rumsfeld Hit with Lawsuit for Ordering, Authorizing Torture
The complaint was filed with the Paris prosecutor’s office as Rumsfeld arrived in France for a visit. This is the fifth time Rumsfeld has been charged with direct involvement in torture since 9/11. We speak with two attorneys with the plaintiffs -- Center for Constitutional Rights president Michael Ratner and Jeanne Sulzer of the International Federation of Human Rights
U.S. and European human rights groups filed a lawsuit in France today charging former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with ordering and authorizing torture. The plaintiffs include the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights and the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights. They say Rumsfeld authorized interrogation techniques that led to abuses at US-run prisons in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.
The complaint was filed with the Paris prosecutor’s office as Rumsfeld arrived in France for a visit. This is the fifth time Rumsfeld has been charged with direct involvement in torture since 9/11. Michael Ratner is the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He joins me in the firehouse studio. Jeanne Sulzer is a French attorney with the International Federation of Human Rights. She joins me on the line from Paris.
* Michael Ratner. President of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
* Jeanne Sulzer. French attorney with the International Federation of Human Rights.
JUAN GONZALEZ: US and European human rights groups filed a lawsuit in France today charging former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with ordering and authorizing torture. The plaintiffs include the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights and the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights. They say Rumsfeld authorized interrogation techniques that led to abuses at US-run prisons in Iraq and Guantanamo.
The complaint was filed with the Paris prosecutor’s office as Rumsfeld arrived in France for a visit. This is the fifth time Rumsfeld has been charged with direct involvement in torture since 9/11.
Michael Ratner is the president for the Center for Constitutional Rights; he joins me in our firehouse studio. Jeanne Sulzer is a French attorney with the International Federation of Human Rights. She joins me on the line from Paris. Welcome to both of you to Democracy Now!
JEANNE SULZER: Good morning.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Jeanne, I’d like to ask you, what happened this morning in France?
JEANNE SULZER: Well, the complaint was filed yesterday before the Paris prosecutor around 5:00 p.m. Paris time. This morning, Rumsfeld was present at the conference where he was scheduled. So what we are awaiting now is signs from the prosecutor to know whether an investigation has been opened or not. So what we needed here in France was to make sure that Rumsfeld was actually present on the French territory, which is the case. He’s still here in Paris.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And now, was he actually served with any papers there, or what happened when he actually spoke?
JEANNE SULZER: Well, actually, the information we have is that the complaint has not been served on him. He has not been yet asked to account for the accusations in the complaint. So, as of now, again, we are waiting to see whether the prosecutor is still reviewing the complaint, and hopefully he will not wait too long, because our fears are that Rumsfeld will escape as soon as he can. So now the big issue is the pressure on the prosecutor and, of course, the higher-ups of the French authorities to take a decision on the complaint. But France has a very clear obligation to investigate and prosecute into this case under the torture convention, as Rumsfeld is present on the French territory.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But my understanding is the place that he is speaking has a direct connection to the US embassy, a direct physical connection?
JEANNE SULZER: What I can tell you is that he came walking on the sidewalk this morning and went to the conference, and he never reappeared. So there are indications, it’s true, that the conference place is actually linked to the US embassy.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Michael Ratner, this is now the fifth case against Rumsfeld. Could you talk about some of the others and the difference between this particular one and the others that have been filed against him?
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, hello, Jeanne, and congratulations. This was really a great effort by all of us, but I know you, in particular. And I’m really excited by it. I mean, the big difference here with --
JEANNE SULZER: Thank you. Fingers crossed now.
MICHAEL RATNER: What? I’m sorry, Jeanne. What?
JEANNE SULZER: I said, “Thank you. Fingers crossed now.” I hope France will take the responsibility to move on.
MICHAEL RATNER: The big difference with this case and the other cases is Rumsfeld is actually in France. And when an alleged torturer goes into a country, but particularly France, the obligation on the prosecutor to begin an investigation is much stronger than in other cases of so-called universal jurisdiction. We brought two cases in Germany; one of those is still on appeal. There’s a case in Argentina, and there’s a case in Sweden.
I think the point of all of this is to really give Rumsfeld no place to hide. And the French case, really, because he is there, is extraordinary. I mean, that he was, in my -- in a sense, Juan, dumb enough to go to France, knowing that they have this kind of jurisdiction, is shocking.
And, you know, I think one of the things that people can do right now is to put pressure on the French prosecutor to make sure he opens an investigation. We’re going to have that fax number, etc., on our website, which the Center has a new website now: ccrjustice.org, ccrjustice.org, which in a couple of hours you can go to to fax materials. So this is a very, very exciting effort, and I think we’re going to really pin Rumsfeld in in this.
I have a question, Jeanne: if they somehow don’t open the prosecution and he leaves, do they still have an obligation to open the prosecution, even after he’s gone?
JEANNE SULZER: In theory, there is, because what you need is, when the complaint is being filed, that the person, the alleged person, is present on the territory, and he was when the complaint was filed. So, yes, but they could, of course, say that now that he is not present on the territory anymore, there is no jurisdiction. But, yes, they should -- actually, the investigation should be opened now. If he escapes today, there is still basis for the French jurisdiction.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Michael, what does this particular case charge him with?
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, he’s charged with torture. I mean, he’s charged that he basically was both directly involved in torture, which is to say he wrote memos, he set down the Rumsfeld techniques, which are all those techniques we’ve talked about at Guantanamo and other places, of chaining to the floor, stripping, hooding, dogs, etc. So he’s charged with the memos, the techniques, and actually personally involvement in torture, and particularly in Mohamed Al-Kahtani’s case, who’s currently at Guantanamo and who was tortured, as far as we understand, under his direction.
We also have in this case Janis Karpinski, who, as people may remember, was in charge of the prisons in Iraq, was willing to be a witness against Donald Rumsfeld in this case. So it’s a very strong case. This is not -- the evidence here -- I don’t think there’s an issue, Juan. I mean, this guy is a torturer-in-chief. And the only question is whether the French, with their heavy obligation now to either prosecute or extradite Rumsfeld to a place where he can be prosecuted or should be, will actually comply with the law.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Jeanne Sulzer, did his visit to France get much attention beforehand in the press there?
JEANNE SULZER: No, it was very confidential. His visit was very confidential. He was invited by Foreign Policy, the newspaper, and it was very confidential; not many people knew about it. So, apparently he did not really want to make a big thing out of his visit. Maybe he was afraid of something happening to him.
But I just want, too, to stress what Michael just said. It’s an extremely strong case. And legally, legally, there should be absolutely no obstacle for opening an investigation. France has an obligation, and the investigation should be opened, and he should be prosecuted. Now, the issue is essentially a political issue now with the French authorities.
MICHAEL RATNER: Jeanne, I have a question: were you there when he actually showed up at the conference, or were others there? And what happened in front?
JEANNE SULZER: I wasn’t there. I arrived five minutes later, but I know that he arrived alone or with just one person, walking quietly in the street, which may indicate that he did not know about the complaint, because after that he actually never really showed up again.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Michael, I’d like to ask you on another issue, the Michael Mukasey nomination -- Patrick Leahy, the head of the Judiciary Committee, has said he’s going to hold up a vote on him until he adequately answers his position on whether waterboarding is torture, constitutes torture. Your assessment of what’s going on there?
MICHAEL RATNER: Right, you know, what’s going on there, as I’ve said on this program before, is the Democrats have essentially caved in. Finally, Mukasey, when he made an answer to the question of waterboarding, you know, that “Well, I’m not sure what the technique is.” And then he says, “Well, you know, I don’t really know. If it’s torture, then, yes, I’m against it,” which is, you know, a ridiculous comment. And even then, the Democrats, like Leahy, you know, then have to say, “Well, if he’s not going to say waterboarding is torture, you know, how can we really go forward?” because that’s just too embarrassing for the Democrats.
So the question is how he answers that letter. He’ll probably evade it, much like he did there, which it’s just to say, “I don’t really know how it’s being done. It’s national security,” etc., which, as I said to you when we started, that’s like saying to somebody, “Well, is crucifixion torture?” and then they’re saying, “Well, it depends on how it’s done. It’s classified. I don’t know how it’s done.” So it’s an outrageous thing, and if he’s not held up for this, Juan, you have to say -- when the New York Times starts saying we have one party in the country, you realize that this sadly may be the case.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I’d like to thank you, Michael Ratner, for being with us, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Jeanne Sulzer, a French attorney with the International Federation of Human Rights, joining us on the phone from Paris.
Israeli Foreign Minister and ex-Mossad Chief: "no existential threat"
By Gidi Weitz and Na'ama Lanski, Haaretz Correspondents
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said a few months ago in a series of closed discussions that in her opinion that Iranian nuclear weapons do not pose an existential threat to Israel, Haaretz magazine reveals in an article on Livni to be published Friday.
Livni also criticized the exaggerated use that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is making of the issue of the Iranian bomb, claiming that he is attempting to rally the public around him by playing on its most basic fears. Last week, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy said similar things about Iran.
(read the full article in Ha'aretz)
Kurdish fighters defy the world from mountain fortress as bombing begins
Turkey used its helicopters and artillery to attack Kurdish guerrillas inside northern Iraq yesterday as the Turkish army massed just north of the border. The helicopter gunships penetrated three miles into Iraqi territory and warplanes targeted mountain paths used by rebels entering Turkey.
Guerrilla commanders of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) were defiant in the face of an impending invasion. In an interview high in the Qandil mountains, Bozan Tekin, a PKK leader, said: "Even Alexander the Great couldn't bring this region under his rule." The PKK has its headquarters in the Qandil mountains, one of the world's great natural fortresses in the east of Iraqi Kurdistan, stretching south from the south-east tip of Turkey along the Iranian border. If Turkey, or anybody else, is to try to drive the PKK out of northern Iraq they would have to capture this bastion and it is unlikely they will succeed.
Despite threats of action by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, the PKK leaders give no sense of feeling that their enemies were closing in.
For a guerrilla movement awaiting assault, the PKK's leaders are surprisingly easy to find. We drove east from Arbil for two-and-a-half hours and hired a four-wheel drive car in the village of Sangassar. Iraqi police wearing camouflage uniform were at work building a new outpost out of cement blocks beside the road leading into the mountains but only took our names.
In fact the four-wheel drive was hardly necessary because there is a military road constructed by Saddam Hussein's army in the 1980s which zig-zags along the side of a steep valley until it reaches the first PKK checkpoint. The PKK soldiers with Kalashnikovs and two grenades pinned to the front of their uniform were relaxed and efficient. In case anybody should have any doubt about who was in control there was an enormous picture of the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan picked out in yellow, black, white and red painted stones on a hill half a mile away and visible over a wide area.
There were no sign that threats from Mr Maliki in Baghdad or from the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, were having an effect. The PKK soldiers at a small guest house had not been expecting us but promptly got in touch with their local headquarters.
For all its nonchalance the PKK is facing a formidable array of enemies. The Iraqi government in Baghdad has no direct influence over the Kurdistan Regional Government, led by President Massoud Barzani whose administration is made up of his own Kurdistan Democratic Party and President Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. This is the only force capable of trying to eject the 3,000 PKK fighters.
So far the KRG shows no sign of doing so. One reason is that, paradoxically, the Turkish government will not talk to the KRG although it is the only Iraqi institution that might help it – Ankara is fearful of the growing strength of the KRG as a quasi-independent state on its borders.
So far the PKK is benefiting substantially from the crisis which started this summer when it began to make more attacks within Turkey. Instead of being politically marginalised in its hidden valleys, it is suddenly at the centre of international attention. This will help it try to rebuild its battered political base within Turkey where it suffered defeat in the 1990s and where its leader Abdullah Ocalan has been imprisoned since 1999.
Asked if the Turkish forces could inflict damage on the PKK, one of its fighters, called Intikam, said: "Three out of five of our fighters are hiding in the mountains in Turkey and, if the Turkish army cannot find them there, it will hardly find them in Iraq."
Bozan Tekin and Mizgin Amed, a woman who is also a member of the leadership, hotly deny they are "terrorists" and ask plaintively why there is not more attention given to Kurds who have been killed by the Turkish army. They add that they have been observing a ceasefire since since 1 October 2006 and fight in retaliation for Turkish attacks.
"Since then the Turks have launched 485 attacks on us," says Bozan Tekin. "Even an animal – any living thing – will fight when it feels it is in a dangerous situation," said Mizgin Amed. Both the PKK leaders were chary of giving details of last Sunday's ambush in which at least 16 Turkish soldiers were killed and eight captured. This is because the ambush is a little difficult to square with their defensive posture. But Bozan Tekin said that in reality "35 Turkish soldiers were killed and only three PKK fighters were lightly wounded. We did not lose anyone dead." He claimed that an attack on a minibus, which Turkey blamed on the PKK, was in fact carried out by Turkish soldiers on a Kurdish wedding party.
Overall, although it does not say so openly, the PKK would welcome a Turkish military invasion of northern Iraq because it would embroil Turkey with the Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi army. It would also pose almost no threat to the PKK.