Archive for March, 2010

Anti-Semitism – What is it?

March 24, 2010

By Jeff Gates, Information Clearing House, March 23, 2010

Several of  us among the incurably curious asked ourselves a simple question: what is anti-Semitism? That it must be written with a capital “S” says a lot.

Then we realized it also morphs. To that feature I can attest. In November 2002, I met a “John Doe” in London who proposed a research challenge. While meeting that challenge, I encountered various versions of anti-Semitism.

A colleague advised against this challenge. First he fretted at the criminal nature of what the research has since confirmed. Then he inquired about my safety. That said a lot.

The colleague was M.I.T. Professor Noam Chomsky. For his criticism of Israeli policy, he was attacked as a self-hating Jew. Were he not Jewish, doubtless he would have been an anti-Semite. For critics of Israel, those are the only two options. He cautioned me:

You’ll get the same thing: anti-Semitic, Holocaust denier, want to kill all the Jews, etc. It doesn’t matter what the facts are. Bear in mind that you are dealing with intellectuals, that is, what we call ‘commissars’ and ‘apparatchiks’ in enemy states.

Is anti-Semitism a geopolitical strategy? If so, for what purpose? Character assassination?

Continues >>

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Drone Wars, Without Any Rules

March 24, 2010

Dan Froomkin, The Huffington Post, March 24, 2010

The CIA’s extensive use of unmanned drones to kill alleged terrorists in Pakistan and elsewhere is arguably against international law and raises the possibility that top U.S. officials will someday be tried at the Hague for war crimes, a law professor told a congressional oversight panel on Tuesday.

Despite the rapidly increasing use of drones in warfare and anti-terrorism — and the legal and ethical issues their use raises — the U.S. government has never publicly advanced a legal justification for sending its drones on targeted killing runs overseas; up until Tuesday, Congress hadn’t even held a single hearing into the question.

Kenneth Anderson, an American University law professor, told the panel he believes there is legal justification for the U.S.’s use of drones, not just by the military but by the CIA, under the doctrine of self-defense.

But, he said, government lawyers “have not settled on what the rationales are, and I believe that at some point that ill serves an administration which is embracing this. Now, maybe the answer is: This is really terrible and illegal and anybody that does it should go off to the Hague. But if that’s the case, then we should not be having the president saying that this is the greatest thing since whatever. That seems like a bad idea.”

As HuffPost reported last week, the ACLU has filed a freedom of information lawsuit demanding that the government disclose the legal basis for its use of unmanned drones to conduct targeted killings overseas, as well as the ground rules regarding when, where and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and the number of civilian casualties they have caused. The initial response from the government was that some public legal justification was, indeed, forthcoming.

But many questions about drones aren’t just unresolved, they’ve never even been asked. Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.), chairman of the House oversight committee’s national security subcommittee, mentioned some of them in his opening statement:

[I]f the United States uses unmanned weapons systems, does that require an official declaration of war or an authorization for the use of force?Do the Geneva Conventions — written in 1949 — govern the prosecution of an unmanned war?

Who is considered a lawful combatant in unmanned war — the Air Force pilot flying a Predator from thousands of miles away in Nevada, or the civilian contractor servicing it in on an airstrip in Afghanistan?

Then there are questions about the civilian casualty rate; about how the U.S. maintains superiority in drone warfare; what happens when the bad guys get hold of them; and how do you defend against them.

Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) raised the concern that drones might make some of the Pentagon’s big-ticket purchases look less wise.

“What I’m worried about is, we’re at some point going to be asked to defend Taiwan, you know, with a set of aircraft carriers, and all of sudden, 10,000 Chinese-manufactured mass-produced drones will be coming at us,” Foster said. “And it’ll be game over. ”

And just wait until they start thinking for themselves.

“If trends in computer science and robotics engineering continue, it is conceivable that autonomous systems could soon be developed that are capable of making life and death decisions without direct human intervention,” said John Edward Jackson, professor of unmanned systems at the U.S. Naval War College.

“Would a self-conscious and willful machine choose its own ends, and even be considered a person with rights?” asked Edward Barrett, director of research for the Stockdale Center, the U.S. Naval Academy’s ethics and military policy think tank.

The troubling questions and scenarios were coming from a panel that was, nevertheless, largely pro-drone — to the consternation of a handful of protesters in the audience.

The panel’s head cheerleader was Michael S. Fagan, who chairs the Advocacy Committee for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

Fagan said there is “much more” that drones can do to protect the nation. He urged the Federal Aviation Administration to allow drone-makers access to more airspace and spoke of “other useful applications of unmanned technology” such as “civil unrest”.

Peter W. Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution, noted the the U.S. government isn’t the only one using drones. American border vigilantes have used them, as did Hezbollah during Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon, and, most recently, a gang of thieves in Taiwan.

Barrett, the ethicist, worried that drones make war too easy. “Favorable alterations to pre-war proportionality calculations,” he said, could “reduce the rigor with which non-violent alternatives are pursued, and thus encourage unnecessary — and therefore unjust — wars,” he said.

He also said the homeland could be at risk if, on the battlefield, there’s “no one for the enemy to shoot at.” He explained: “You don’t want to go just to unmanned, or they’re coming here.”

Several clear distinctions emerged between the military’s use of drones and the CIA’s. One of those distinctions is that we know almost nothing about what the CIA is really doing, and how. “We do know about the military’s use of these systems, and they’ve shown… exceptional respect for the laws of war,” said Singer. “My concern is with the CIA strikes.”

Instead of trained military strategists, it’s intelligence analysts planning air-war campaigns, and CIA lawyers deciding on when to launch;. Or maybe it’s not even the CIA itself, but its contractors. Who knows?

Are there any limits? How many civilian casualties have there been? Does what they’re doing even make sense?

“We may be sucking ourselves into a game of whack-a-mole,” Singer said. “Are we unwittingly aiding their recruiting?”

© 2010 Huffington Post

Dan Froomkin is Washington Bureau Chief for the Huffington Post. Previously, he wrote the White House Watch column for the Washington Post’s website.

Israeli Settlements: What Are They, Really?

March 24, 2010

Richard Greener, The Huffington Post, March 24, 2010

As citizens of the United States, whose government provides essential support to the State of Israel and also supports a two-state settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we must ask ourselves this important question: If we were Palestinians could we start our own nation in 2010 while 500,000 citizens of another country occupy our land and could we agree to watch helplessly as they grow in number to almost two million before the year 2050?

Americans know that the issue of Israeli settlements is an obstacle in the way of Middle East peace. But do we properly comprehend what Israeli settlements really are?

Continues >>

A stark truth: Israeli arms, U.S. dollars

March 24, 2010
By Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com, March 23, 2010

One does not normally see this truth stated so starkly in places like Time Magazine — from Michael Scherer’s interesting article on AIPAC’s current strategy to “storm Congress”:

The third “ask” that AIPAC supporters will make of Congress on Tuesday is to once again pass the $3 billion in U.S. aid provided annually to Israel. “It’s a very tough ask this year,” [AIPAC lobbyist Steve] Aserkoff admitted, noting the U.S. domestic budgetary and economic challenges. Among other major purchases, the Israeli government has announced plans to replace its aging fleet of F-16 fighter jets with new, American-made F-35 fighters, a major cost that Israel hopes will be substantially born for [sic] by American taxpayers.

Those would be the same “American taxpayers” who are now being told that they have to suffer cuts in Medicare and Social Security because of budgetary constraints, who are watching as the most basic social services (the hallmark of being a developed country) are being rapidly abolished (from the 12th Grade to basic care for children, the infirm and elderly), and are burdened with a national debt so large that America’s bond ratings are being degraded by the minute.  Why should those same American taxpayers bear the enormous costs of Israel’s military purchases (as Israel enjoys booming economic growth)?  Especially if the issue is presented as cleanly and honestly as Scherer did here, and especially if Israel continues to extend its proverbial middle finger to even the most basic U.S. requests that it cease activities that harm American interests, how much longer can this absurdity be sustained?

On a related note, a new Rasmussen Poll found that only 58% of Americans now view “Israel as an ally” — down from 70% just nine months ago.  The same poll found that 49% of Americans believe Israel should be “required” to stop building settlements, with only 22% disagreeing.  That’s why the primary objective now of AIPAC and its bipartisan cast of Congressional servants is — as Scherer put it — “to pressure the Obama Administration to avoid airing disagreements publically [sic].”  Indeed:  you can’t have the American people knowing anything about the U.S./Israel relationship and the ways in which the interests of the two countries diverge.

Having these issues discussed openly and having the American citizenry be informed might shatter all sorts of vital myths, which is exactly what has happened over the last month, which has, in turn, led to this change in public opinion (that, along with the fact that the Israeli Government, by being viewed as the opponent of Obama, has incurred the wrath of large numbers of Democrats who are loyal to Obama and automatically dislike any of his critics or opponents).  That’s why their overriding goal is to hide all these differences behind a wall of secrecy — “the Administration, to the extent that it has disagreements with Israel on policy matters, should find way[s] to do so in private,” demanded Democratic Rep. Steve Israel — because an open examination of this “special relationship,” how it really functions, and the costs and benefits it entails, is what they want most to avoid.  It’s common in a democracy for government officials to openly air their differences with allies; why should this be any different?

Saudi Arabia: Free Advocate for Shia Rights

March 24, 2010
Human Rights Watch, March 23, 2010

“Silencing Shia advocates will do nothing to hide the Saudi government’s record of harassment and discrimination against the group.  But jailing a peaceful critic for months on end shows just how far Saudi officials will go to avoid criticism.”

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director

(New York) – Saudi Arabia’s domestic intelligence service should immediately release Munir Jassas, an advocate for Shia rights, who has been detained without charge for over five months, Human Rights Watch said today.

“Silencing Shia advocates will do nothing to hide the Saudi government’s record of harassment and discrimination against the group,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “But jailing a peaceful critic for months on end shows just how far Saudi officials will go to avoid criticism.”

Continues >>

Trotsky the subject of cultural events in Russia

March 24, 2010

By Vladimir Volkov, wsws.org, March 24, 2010

Lithograph
Luri Annenkov’s lithograph of Trotsky

In recent months Leon Trotsky has been the subject of two cultural events in Russia—an exhibition at the State Museum of Political History in Saint Petersburg and a documentary film aired on television. Each of these presentations contained interesting material and provided a more objective evaluation of Trotsky’s historical role than is typically found in Russia today. This is particularly true when considered against the backdrop of the rampant nationalism promoted by Vladimir Putin and his regime’s open efforts to rehabilitate Joseph Stalin. Nonetheless, both the museum exhibition and the film had definite limitations and provided a forum for the repetition of old lies and slanders about Trotsky and the October Revolution.

Continues >>

The night a guru tried to kill me on TV

March 24, 2010

When Surender Sharma said he could kill me with magic, I had to put him to the test. The result was a triumph for rationalism

Sanal Edamaruku, The Guardian/UK, March 23, 2010

In different cultures, sense of humour varies. In the south Indian state of Kerala, from where I come, many people have great fun with this arguably shortest joke anywhere in circulation: A dog tried to open a coconut. And what happened? you may ask. Well, nothing; that’s the joke. It did not work, of course.

My encounter with Pandit Surender Sharma had something of a Kerala joke stretched out for hours. Nobody laughed, though, when he tried to kill me with tantric rituals on live TV. Except me, of course.

Continues >>

Who is Killing Whom? Pounding Gaza

March 24, 2010

Sonja Karkar, Counterpunch, March 23, 2010

One man dead in Israel and the whole world knows.  He actually was not Israeli, but an unfortunate immigrant worker from Thailand.  We have been told who killed him too: not by name, but by some shadowy nom de guerre, used by jihadist groups some claim to be loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq and elsewhere. The unknown group in Gaza, Ansar al-Sunna, claimed responsibility for the rocket fired into Israel that caused the man’s death by shrapnel.

The Hamas government has had its own problems with such groups, which have challenged its rule in Gaza. But, that is neither here nor there for Israel.

Israel has already said that its response will be strong.  And sure enough, Israeli bombers have pounded the southern-most part of Gaza, so far killing and wounding some fourteen Palestinian civilians including children, three of them critically.

Continues >>

Israel and American Aid

March 24, 2010
by Ralph Nader, CommonDreams.org, March 23, 2010

On July 10, 1996, at a Joint Session of the United States Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a standing ovation for these words: “With America’s help, Israel has grown to be a powerful, modern state. …But I believe there can be no greater tribute to America’s long-standing economic aid to Israel than for us to be able to say: we are going to achieve economic independence. We are going to do it. In the next four years, we will begin the long-term process of gradually reducing the level of your generous economic assistance to Israel.”

Continues >>

Mercenary Soldiers on Sale… Who’s In Charge of These Hired Killers?

March 23, 2010

Eric S. Margolis, Khaleej Times Online, March 22, 2010

A fascinating scandal has erupted in Washington over the use of mercenaries (‘private contractors’ in US terminology) that is exposing the dark underbelly of America’s foreign wars. It has been that the Pentagon and other US intelligence agencies secretly fielded mercenaries in Afghanistan, Pakistan (aka “Af-Pak”), and Iraq to assassinate tribal militants.

US law forbids murder or using mercenaries.  But, as the Roman jurist Cicero said, “laws are silent in times of war.”

A former senior Pentagon official specialising in clandestine operations, Mike Furlong, set up a shell company, International Media Ventures (IMV), to supposedly provide the US military with “cultural information” about Afghanistan’s Pashtun tribes.  Two obscure Pentagon outfits, the “Cultural Engineering Group” in Florida, and “Counter-Narco-terrorism Technology Programme” of Virginia funded Furlong with $24.6 million. Furlong hired a bunch of former Special Forces types and assorted thugs. These rent-a-Rambos’s real mission was to assassinate Pashtun leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and target tribal compounds for strikes by US Predator drones. Welcome to the modern version of the Mafia’s infamous contract killers, “Murder Inc.”

Thickening this plot, retired CIA types, including the flamboyant Dewey Clarridge, whom I well recall from the 1980’s Afghan war, were involved. So were other would-be bounty-hunters, eager to cash in one the Pentagon’s cash bonanza. It is uncertain if Furlong’s Murder Inc had time to go operational.  But its exposure is causing uproar.  In best US government tradition, the Pentagon denied backing Furlong and cut him adrift. He is now under criminal investigation. Shades of former CIA agent Edwin Wilson, whose frightful case I long followed. Wilson was set up as a deniable “independent” by CIA to supply arms and explosives to Libya and Angola in the 1980’s. When this intrigue blew wide open, Wilson was kidnapped by US agents and buried alive in federal prison for 27 years.

The Furlong scandal comes at a time of growing criticism of the US government’s use of over 275,000 mercenaries in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.   These hired gunmen and logistics personnel operate without any accountability, legal structure, or oversight. Lack of command and control of such free-lancers infuriates traditional military men, who detest US Special Forces and these hired gunmen as ‘cowboys.’

It certainly is no way to win over Muslim hearts and minds.

Private mercenary firms like Xe (formerly Blackwater) and DynCorp have raked in fortunes running private armies for the US. They are major donors to the far right of the Republican Party. Deeply worried civil libertarians call these private armies potential Brownshirts, after the Nazi Party’s private army in the late 1920’s.

Amazingly, US Special Forces in Af-Pak have not until this month been under the control of supreme commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. They apparently reported to his rival, Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus in Tampa, Florida.

To the Pentagons’s anger, CIA runs its own killer paramilitary units and drone assassination operations, 90 per cent of whose victims are civilians, according to Pakistani media investigations.   CIA’s paramilitaries report only to HQ in Langley —which does not talk to the Pentagon. Pakistan’s feeble government is not even informed in advance of Predator strikes and assassinations on its own territory.   How many of the 15 other US intelligence agencies and NATO forces are running their own little illegal private armies? US mercenaries are responsible for a growing number of civilian deaths. It’s only a matter of time before all these cowboys begin shooting at one another.  Reliable sources in Pakistan report that US-paid mercenaries are staging bombings there and in Afghanistan in an attempt to incite popular anger against Islamic or tribal militants, and draw Pakistan’s army deep into the fray.

Washington brands all Al Qaeda and Taleban “illegal combatants,” denying them due process of law and the Geneva Convention’s prisoner protections.  Murdering or torturing such “terrorists,” says Washington, is lawful.  So what about all the US mercenary Rambos running amok, who wear no uniform, kill at will, and have no legal oversight and, as we saw in Iraq, get away with murder?

Eric Margolis is a veteran US journalist who reported from the Middle East and Asia for nearly two decades