Archive for June, 2008

US Congress approves Israel aid increase

June 30, 2008

AFP,

Fri Jun 27, 1:35 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US Congress has approved a 170 million dollar increase in security assistance to Israel as part of its new 10-year, 30 billion dollar defense aid commitment to the Jewish state.

The money for Israel was part of a larger supplemental spending bill that included 162 billion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The legislation gained final approval in a 92-6 Senate vote late Thursday.America’s pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, welcomed the congressional action, saying it would increase US aid to Israel to 2.55 billion dollars in fiscal year 2009, up from 2.38 billion dollars this year.

“The US commitment to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge is the cornerstone of American policy in the region,” AIPAC said in a statement Friday.

“This year’s package holds heightened significance for US security interests, as the US and Israel face new challenges from Iran‘s drive to acquire nuclear weapons as well as the growing influence of radical anti-western forces to Israel’s south in Gaza and to the north in Lebanon.”

The package was unveiled by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on July 30 as part of a new military pact with US allies in the Middle East in a bid to “counter the negative influences” of militant groups Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah as well as arch enemies Iran and Syria.

The aid includes a 20 billion dollar weapons package for Saudi Arabia, a 13 billion dollar package for Egypt, and reportedly arms deals worth at least 20 billion dollars for other Gulf states.

The military aid to Israel reflected an increase in value of more than 25 percent, Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said, describing the package as a considerable improvement and very important element for national security.

UN official: Afghan civilian deaths up 60 percent

June 30, 2008

UN official: Afghan civilian deaths up 60 percent in first half of 2008

Staff
AP News, Jun 29, 2008 10:10 EST

A senior U.N. official says the number of civilians killed in fighting in Afghanistan has soared by nearly two-thirds.

The top U.N. humanitarian official, John Holmes, said Sunday that the world body has recorded 698 civilian deaths for the first half of this year, compared to 430 in the first six months of 2007.

Holmes said militants caused most of the civilian casualties this year and that the figures reflected efforts by foreign troops to reduce civilian deaths in military operations.

Source: AP News

Preparing the Battlefield

June 30, 2008
The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran.

by Seymour M. Hersh | New Yorker, July 7, 2008

Operations outside the knowledge and control of commanders have eroded “the coherence of military strategy,” one general says.

Operations outside the knowledge and control of commanders have eroded “the coherence of military strategy,” one general says.

Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.

Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.

Under federal law, a Presidential Finding, which is highly classified, must be issued when a covert intelligence operation gets under way and, at a minimum, must be made known to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate and to the ranking members of their respective intelligence committees—the so-called Gang of Eight. Money for the operation can then be reprogrammed from previous appropriations, as needed, by the relevant congressional committees, which also can be briefed.

“The Finding was focussed on undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change,” a person familiar with its contents said, and involved “working with opposition groups and passing money.” The Finding provided for a whole new range of activities in southern Iran and in the areas, in the east, where Baluchi political opposition is strong, he said.

Continued . . .

Chaos in Afghanistan

June 30, 2008

Bad and Getting Worse

By BRIAN CLOUGHLEY | Counterpunch, June 27, 2008

Can anyone state exactly why foreign troops are fighting in Afghanistan? What is the collective aim, the specific mission, the ultimate objective, of the 60,000 soldiers there? I ask this because as I write the total of US deaths in Afghanistan “and region” is over 450, and news has come in of the killing of more British and American soldiers. And I wonder what all of them have died for.

There are three separate foreign military organizations in Afghanistan, and they conduct operations entirely differently. The International Security and Assistance Force, the NATO countries’ military contingents, and the independent US forces have no single overall headquarters ; they have entirely unrelated Rules of Engagement (a preposterous and almost unbelievable situation) ; and do not have a combined mission statement. If a young captain at any military college in the world were told to produce a planning paper for direction of military operations in a foreign country and came up with such a harebrained cockamamie muddle he would be laughed at and sent packing.

*****

The situation in Afghanistan is bad and getting worse, but before sketching the history of foreign military failure in that harsh and barbaric country it should be noted that its eastern neighbor, Pakistan, remains host to the largest number of refugees existing in any one country in our horrible world. There is no other nation that has accepted so many displaced people for so long – or has received less international gratitude for its generosity to foreign exiles. There has been attentive care, of course, from the saintly UN High Commission for Refugees whose staff around the world rarely receive the recognition they deserve. But Pakistan has not received any acknowledgment, either, for its hosting of millions of Afghans, some of whom are intent on wrecking the country that has given them haven.

Continued . . .

The ‘W.’ Stands for ‘War Criminal’

June 30, 2008

RiNF.COM, Sunday, June 29th, 2008

By Nat Hentoff | In a June 6 letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey—largely ignored by a press immersed in the future of Hillary Clinton—56 Democrats in the House of Representatives asked for “an immediate investigation with the appointment of a special counsel to determine whether actions taken by the President, his Cabinet, and other Administration officials are in violation of the War Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. 2441) . . . and other U.S. and international laws.”

This isn’t front-page news?

The letter began with a brief account of the notorious facts about Abu Ghraib (”sexual exploitation and torture”) and Guantánamo (”an independent investigation by the International Committee of the Red Cross documented several . . . acts of torture . . . including soaking a prisoner’s head in alcohol and lighting it on fire”). Nor was “coercive interrogation” in Afghanistan omitted: “In October 2005, The New York Times reported that three detainees were killed during interrogations in Afghanistan and Iraq by CIA agents or CIA contractors.”

This is not a call for articles of impeachment. Bush will soon be gone, and the new president and Congress have far too much to do to get mired in that quicksand. These are grave criminal charges, and since international crimes are involved as well as the U.S. War Crimes Act and the Anti-Torture Act, other nations whose laws include “universal jurisdiction” could prosecute.

But why would House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers Jr. and Intelligence Committee members Jerrold Nadler (my congressional representative) and Jan Schakowsky—among other signers—make such dramatic and historic charges of “war crimes” now, after most congressional Democrats have not shown the same interest? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for example, is not on the list of signers; she and Senate Democratic majority leader Harry Reid have never, in their opposition to the administration, come anywhere near these shocking accusations.

Continued . . .

U.S. escalating covert operations against Iran – report

June 29, 2008

Reuters
Raw Story: Sunday June 29, 2008

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. congressional leaders agreed late last year to President George W. Bush’s funding request for a major escalation of covert operations against Iran aimed at destabilizing its leadership, according to a report in The New Yorker magazine published online on Sunday.

The article by reporter Seymour Hersh, from the magazine’s July 7 and 14 issue, centers around a highly classified Presidential Finding signed by Bush which by U.S. law must be made known to Democratic and Republican House and Senate leaders and ranking members of the intelligence committees.

“The Finding was focused on undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change,” the article cited a person familiar with its contents as saying, and involved “working with opposition groups and passing money.”

Hersh has written previously about possible administration plans to go to war to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, including an April 2006 article in the New Yorker that suggested regime change in Iran, whether by diplomatic or military means, was Bush’s ultimate goal.

Funding for the covert escalation, for which Bush requested up to $400 million, was approved by congressional leaders, according to the article, citing current and former military, intelligence and congressional sources.

Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. U.S. Special Operations Forces have been conducting crossborder operations from southern Iraq since last year, the article said.

These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in Bush’s war on terrorism, who may be captured or killed, according to the article.

But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which include the Central Intelligence Agency, have now been significantly expanded, the article said, citing current and former officials.

Many of these activities are not specified in the new finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature, it said.

Continued . . .

Defending the President as Tyrant

June 29, 2008

Robert Parry | Consortium News, June 27, 2008

All over the world down through history, political leaders who have engaged in torture and other grotesque crimes of state have justified their actions as necessary to protect their governments or their people or themselves.

It was true when England’s King Edward I had William Wallace – “Braveheart” – drawn and quartered in 1305 for resisting the crown’s rule in Scotland, and a gruesome death was what King George III foresaw for America’s Founding Fathers in 1776 when they stood up to his abuses in the Colonies.

Kings and tyrants often inflicted special pain on people they viewed as challenging their authority and – at such times – they wiped away the rules of justice. But the United States was supposed to be different.

Indeed, reaction to tyrannical monarchs was what compelled the Founders to establish a government of laws, not men, based on “unalienable rights” for all mankind, including protection against arbitrary detention and prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Which is why it was stunning to watch the June 26 hearing before the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution as two representatives of George W. Bush’s presidency responded with disdain when pressed on the administration’s extraordinary vision of an all-powerful Executive operating without legal limits.

While Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington treated the committee Democrats with haughty contempt, former State Department lawyer John Yoo expressed the ultimate arrogance of power with his muddled responses and evasions of direct questions.

The soft-spoken Yoo, who authored some of the key legal opinions justifying the abuse of detainees, wouldn’t even give a clear answer to the simple question of what atrocity might be beyond President Bush’s power to inflict.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, cited a news report quoting an ambiguous response from Yoo, who is now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, about whether the President could torture the child of a “war on terror” suspect to induce the suspect to talk.

The Judiciary Committee chairman asked: “Is there anything, Professor Yoo, the President cannot order to be done to a suspect if he believes it’s necessary for national defense?”

When Yoo dissembled, Conyers posed the question more pointedly: “Could the President order a suspect buried alive?”

Yoo continued to fence with the congressman, avoiding a direct answer.

“I don’t think I ever gave advice that the President could bury somebody alive,” Yoo said, adding he believed that “no American President would ever have to order that or feel it necessary to order that.”

Pointedly, however, Yoo avoided a direct response to the question of whether he believed the President had the authority to do it.

Continued . . .

America Is the Rogue Nation

June 29, 2008
by Charley Reese | Antiwar, June 28, 2008

One gets the impression that there are some people in Washington who believe that Israel or the U.S. can bomb Iran’s nuclear reactors, fly home, and it will be mission complete.

It makes you wonder if perhaps there is a virus going around that is gradually making people stupid. If we or Israel attack Iran, we will have a new war on our hands. The Iranians are not going to shrug off an attack and say, “You naughty boys, you.”

Consider how much trouble Iraq has given us. Some 4,000 dead and 29,000 wounded, a half a trillion dollars in cost and still climbing, and five years later, we cannot say that the country is pacified.

Iraq is a small country compared with Iran. Iran has about 70 million people. Its western mountains border the Persian Gulf. In other words, its missiles and guns look down on the U.S. ships below it. And it has lots of missiles, from short-range to intermediate-range (around 2,200 kilometers).

More to the point, it has been equipped by Russia with the fastest anti-ship missile on the planet. The SS-N-22 Sunburn can travel at Mach 3 at high altitude and at Mach 2.2 at low altitude. That is faster than anything in our arsenal.

Iran’s conventional forces include an army of 540,000 men and 300,000 reserves, including 120,000 Iranian Guards especially trained in unconventional warfare. It has more than 1,600 main battle tanks and 21,000 other armored combat vehicles. It has 3,200 artillery pieces, three submarines, 59 surface warships and 10 amphibious ships.

It’s been receiving help in arming itself from China, North Korea and Russia. Unlike Iraq, Iran’s forces have not been worn down with bombing, wars and sanctions. It also has a new anti-aircraft defense system from Russia that I’ve heard is pretty snazzy.

So, if you think we or Israel can attack Iran and not expect retaliation, I’d have to say with regret that you are a moron. If you think we could easily handle Iran in an all-out war, I’d have to promote you to idiot.

Attacking Iran would be folly, but we seem to be living in the Age of Folly. Morons and idiots took us into an unjustified war against Iraq before we had finished the job in Afghanistan. Now we have troops tied down in both countries.

For some years now, I’ve worried that we seem to be more and more like Colonial England – arrogant, racist, overestimating our own capacity and underestimating that of our enemies. As the fate of the British Empire demonstrates, that is a fatal flaw.

The British never dreamed that the “little yellow people” could come ashore by land and take Singapore from the rear or that they would sink the pride of the British fleet, but they did both.

I suppose no one in Washington can imagine the Iranians sinking one of our carriers in the Persian Gulf. How’d you like to be the president who has to tell the American people that we’ve lost a carrier for the first time since World War II?

Exactly how the Iranians will respond to an attack, I don’t know, but they will respond. In keeping with our present policy, our attack on Iran would be illegal, since under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

Who would have thought that we would become the rogue nation committing acts of aggression around the globe?

Zionism’s Dead End

June 29, 2008

Separation or ethnic cleansing? Israel’s encaging of Gaza aims to achieve both
By Jonathan Cook in Nazareth | Information Clearing House, June 27, 2008
The following is taken from a talk delivered at the Conference for the Right of Return and the Secular Democratic State, held in Haifa on June 21.

In 1895 Theodor Herzl, Zionism’s chief prophet, confided in his diary that he did not favour sharing Palestine with the natives. Better, he wrote, to “try to spirit the penniless [Palestinian] population across the border by denying it any employment in our own country … Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.”
He was proposing a programme of Palestinian emigration enforced through a policy of strict separation between Jewish immigrants and the indigenous population. In simple terms, he hoped that, once Zionist organisations had bought up large areas of Palestine and owned the main sectors of the economy, Palestinians could be made to leave by denying them rights to work the land or labour in the Jewish-run economy. His vision was one of transfer, or ethnic cleansing, through ethnic separation.
Herzl was suggesting that two possible Zionist solutions to the problem of a Palestinian majority living in Palestine — separation and transfer — were not necessarily alternatives but rather could be mutually reinforcing. Not only that: he believed, if they were used together, the process of ethnic cleansing could be made to appear voluntary, the choice of the victims. It may be that this was both his most enduring legacy and his major innovation to settler colonialism.
In recent years, with the Palestinian population under Israeli rule about to reach parity with the Jewish population, the threat of a Palestinian majority has loomed large again for the Zionists. Not suprisingly, debates about which of these two Zionist solutions to pursue, separation or transfer, have resurfaced.
Today these solutions are ostensibly promoted by two ideological camps loosely associated with Israel’s centre-left (Labor and Kadima) and right (Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu). The modern political arguments between them turn on differing visions of the nature of a Jewish state orginally put forward by Labor and Revisionist Zionists.

To make sense of the current political debates, and the events taking place inside Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza, let us first examine the history of these two principles in Zionist thinking.

Continued . . .

RIGHTS-ZIMBABWE: Women Bear Brunt of Violence

June 29, 2008

By Ephraim Nsingo

HARARE, Jun 28 (IPS) – “We are too familiar with the violence that was meted upon numerous of us from 1890 when the colonialists came into our country right up to the most recent elections. Chief among these forms of violence is sexual violence, and it concomitant implication, HIV infection. Zimbabwean women now have the lowest life expectancy world wide because of HIV & AIDS — 34 years.”

This from statement issued by the Feminist Political Education Project (FePEP) on Apr. 10, when the country was still waiting for inexplicably-delayed results of the Mar. 29 presidential poll. FePEP expressed the view that regardless of who won, neither Tsvangirai nor Mugabe could bring all sides together and move forward in the interests of the whole country.

Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, a former MDC parliamentarian and one of FePEP’s coordinators, told IPS that Tsvangirai’s Jun. 22 withdrawal from the presidential run-off “was the right thing for him to do, albeit too late”.

“Our position has been consistent; the current problems in Zimbabwe cannot be resolved through an election,” said Misihairabwi-Mushonga. “Our society is divided right through the middle and any government would by nature have to be inclusive if we are to seriously work towards resolving the current impasse. The problems in this country will not go away. We should continue to press for dialogue.”

While ZANU-PF hastily prepares to swear 84-year-old Robert Mugabe in as president, Zimbabweans continue to count the cost of the party’s brutal fight to remain in power.

“Women have suffered most in this violence,” said Netsai Mushonga, the Coordinator of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, an umbrella body of Zimbabwean women’s organisations. From what we have gathered so far, we expect the number of rape cases to treble. We are yet to sit down as an organisation to do a detailed analysis of the situation.”

According to Alouis Chaumba, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Peace Project — an NGO that documents incidents of political violence — most male opposition supporters have fled rural areas; leaving women more vulnerable.

Continued . . .