Monday, August 31, 2009

Obama and America's Empire

Author, journalist, film maker John Pilger speaks at Socialism 2009; Filmed by Paul Hubbard at the Womens Building in San Francisco 7-4-09.

Religious Fundamentalism In Israel

Since the origin of the Zionist enterprise, fundamentalism has been part of the Jewish state project. Until now, this largely goes unacknowledged.
By Stephen Lendman
20 - 26 August 2009
Issue No. 961
Courtesy Of Al-Ahram Weekly Online

In the book Jewish History, Jewish Religion, by Israel Shahak (1933-2001), it is argued that while Islamic fundamentalism is vilified in the West, comparable Jewish extremism is largely ignored. In the book's foreword, Edward Said wrote: "... Shahak's mode of telling the truth has always been rigorous and uncompromising. There is nothing seductive about it, no attempt made to put it 'nicely,' no effort expended on making the truth palatable... For Shahak killing is murder is killing is murder: his manner is to repeat. (He) shows that the obscure, narrowly chauvinist prescriptions against various undesirable Others are to be found in Judaism (as in other monotheistic religions) but he always goes on to show the continuity between those and the way Israel treats Palestinians, Christians and other non-Jews. A devastating portrait of prejudice, hypocrisy and religious intolerance emerges."

Shahak's Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel picked up on the theme in explaining its pervasive, destructive influence in Israeli politics, the military and society. He noted that substituting German or Aryan for Jewish and non-Jews for Jews makes it easy to see how a superiority doctrine made an earlier genocide possible and is letting another happen now. Shahak called all forms of bigotry morally reprehensible and said: "Any form of racism, discrimination and xenophobia becomes more potent and politically influential if it is taken for granted by the society which indulges in it." For Israeli Jews, he believed, "The support of democracy and human rights is... meaningless or even harmful and deceitful when it does not begin with self-critique and with support of human rights when they are violated by one's own group. Any support of human rights for non-Jews whose rights are being violated by the 'Jewish state' is as deceitful as the support of human rights by a Stalinist..."

THE BIRTH OF MESSIANIC ZIONISM: As a leading Israeli human rights activist and Holocaust survivor, Shahak reviewed Jewish fundamentalist history, examined its currents, and explained the dangers of extremist messianic ones. They oppose equality of Jews and non-Jews and destroy democratic values by espousing dogma, calling Jews superior to all others.

The earlier influence of fundamentalist Rabbi Abraham Kook (1865-1935), or Kuk, was significant. He preached Jewish supremacy and said: "The difference between a Jewish soul and souls of non-Jews -- all of them in all different levels -- is greater and deeper than the difference between a human soul and the souls of cattle." His teachings helped create the settler movement, and his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, founded the extremist Gush Emunim (GE) under the slogan: "The Land of Israel, for the people of Israel, according to the Torah of Israel."

Like the elder Kook, GE sees state power as a way forward to a new messianic era. It believes that God created the world for Jews. Others are lesser beings. Greater Israel belongs to Jews alone, and holy wars are acceptable to attain it.

Kook was Israel's first chief rabbi. In his honour, and to continue his teachings, the extremist Merkaz Harav (the Rabbi's Centre) was founded in 1924 as a yeshiva or fundamentalist religious college. It teaches that, "non-Jews living under Jewish law in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) must either be enslaved as water carriers and wood hewers, or banished, or exterminated."

It gets no more extremist than that, and highlights the dangers for Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories. Their lives and welfare are being sacrificed for a Greater Israel of Jews alone.

THE RELIGIOUS WAR: Gush Emunim adherents and other Israeli religious zealots plan it. They're active in politics, hold seats in the Knesset, are Netanyahu government coalition partners (including Shas, United Torah and Yisrael Beiteinu) and are prominently represented in Israel's military throughout its ranks and rabbinate. Chief military rabbi, Brigadier General Avichai Rontzki, called Operation Cast Lead a "religious war" in which it was "immoral" to show mercy to an enemy of "murderers". Many others feel the same way, prominently among them graduates of Hesder Yeshivat schools that combine extremist religious indoctrination with military service to defend the Jewish state.

In 1981, Rabbi Harav Lichtenstein's article, "The Ideology of Hesder: The View from Yeshivat Har Etzion", explained that: "Hesder... seeks to attract and develop bnei torah (religious individuals) who are profoundly motivated by the desire to become serious and talmidei machamim (religiously knowledgeable) but who concurrently feel morally and religiously bound to help defend their people and their country; who... regard this dual commitment as both a privilege and a duty... it thus enables them to maintain an integrated Jewish experience." Nearly all Hesder graduates perform combat service for up to six years. Today 41 schools operate throughout Israel. In 1991, Hesder was awarded the Israel Prize (the state's highest honour) for its exceptional service to the nation.

One commander expressed how many feel in explaining the military's mission: "We are the Jewish people. We came to this land by a miracle. God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the Gentiles who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land."

Extremist Israeli rabbis teach this ideology, and in 2003 Rabbi Saadya Grama, in Romemut Yisrael Ufarashat Hagalut (The Majesty of Israel and the Question of the Diaspora), argued that non-Jews are "completely evil" while Jews are genetically superior. Reform and conservative rabbis condemned it. Extremist orthodox ones endorsed it. More moderate rabbis said Grama advocates separating Jews from an intrinsically hostile anti-Semitic world. Rabbi Yosef Blau called the book "a call for a superior people to withdraw from the world and live in isolation while submitting to its enemies and placing trust in God."

THE NEAR THREAT OF EXTREMISM: Others in Israel teach the extremist notion that the 10 Commandments don't apply to non-Jews. So killing them in defending the homeland is acceptable, and according to Rabbi Dov Lior, chairman of the Jewish Rabbinic Council: "There is no such thing as enemy civilians in war time. The law of our Torah is to have mercy on our soldiers and to save them... A thousand non-Jewish lives are not worth a Jew's fingernail."

Rabbi David Batsri called Arabs "a blight, a devil, a disaster... donkeys, and we have to ask ourselves why God didn't create them to walk on all fours. Well, the answer is that they are needed to build and clean." Extremist zealots want them for no other purpose in Jewish society.

In 2007, Israel's former chief rabbi, Mordechai Elyahu, called for the Israeli army to mass murder Palestinians. In fanatical language he said: "If they don't stop after we kill 100, then we must kill 1,000. And if they don't stop after 1,000, then we must kill 10,000. If they still don't stop we must kill 100,000. Even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop."

In March 2009, Safed's chief rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu called for "state-sponsored revenge" to restore "Israel's deterrence... It's time to call the child by its name: revenge, revenge, revenge. We mustn't forget. We have to take horrible revenge for the terrorist attack at Mercaz Harav yeshiva," referring to an earlier incident in which eight students died. "I am not talking about individual people in particular. I'm talking about the state. (It) has to pain them where they scream 'Enough,' to the point where they fall flat on their face and scream 'help!'"

In June 2009, US Hasidic Rabbi Manis Friedman voiced a similar sentiment in calling on Israel to kill Palestinian "men, women and children". "I don't believe in Western morality, ie don't kill civilians or children, don't destroy holy sites, don't fight during the holiday seasons, don't bomb cemeteries, and don't shoot until they shoot first because it is immoral. The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle)."

Views like these aren't exceptions. Though a minority, they proliferate throughout Israeli society, and are common enough to incite violence against Palestinians, even when they rightfully defend themselves as international law allows.

THE BROADER THREAT OF EXTREMISM: Israeli extremists are a minority but influential enough to make policy, and therein lies the threat to peace and likelihood of a sovereign Palestinian state. In his book, A Little Too Close to God, David Horovitz recalled that before prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination he attended a Netanyahu-sponsored anti-Rabin rally he described as follows: "I felt as if I were among wild animals, vicious, angry predators craving flesh and scenting blood. There was elation in the anger, elation bred of the certainty of eventual success."

In his book, Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, Professor Mark Juergensmeyer compared the similarities among religious-motivated extremists, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or others. He related a conversation with Yoel Lerner who was imprisoned for trying to blow up the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim holy site, because he believed that an ancient Jewish temple stood there before it was destroyed. He expressed messianic Zionism in saying the "Messiah will come to earth only after the temple is rebuilt and made ready for him," so Jews must assure it's done. These views are prominent in high places and throughout Israeli society -- that is, religious fervour for a Greater Israel for Jews only, a Jewish state excluding all Arabs with violence an acceptable tool to remove them, and conflict will continue until they're gone.

REPORTS ON JEWISH EXTREMISTS: On 24 June, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency wrote a special report on Jewish extremists in which it described, "the face of radical Jewish nationalism in Israel... a movement of settler youths, rabbis, leaders and supporters determined to hold onto the West Bank at any cost." They represent a minority, but are a "vocal and increasingly violent constituency of the Jewish settler movement" rampaging against Palestinians and Israelis, confident that God is on their side, and that one day a "Torah-based theocracy (will) triumph over the State of Israel."

Rabbi Yisrael Iriel is one of its adherents, preaching Jewish superiority and unwillingness to cede any part of biblical Israel to non-Jews. He is one of a "small group of (extremist) rabbis who provide the theological and ideological underpinnings for radical settlers." The Israeli human rights group Yesh Din believes they number about 1,000 but exert considerable influence nonetheless. They constitute an extremist fringe element, determined to use violence to achieve their goals, and are supported by other West Bank settlers. One young adherent expressed their agenda by saying, "I think God chose a good and beautiful land for us," and we'll fight to keep it. If so, it makes peaceful resolution harder than ever to achieve, especially with political hard-liners in charge and most Israelis supporting them.

HATE LITERATURE TO ISRAELI SOLDIERS: Until discontinued on 20 July, a booklet published by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, in cooperation with Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, entitled, "On Either Side of the Border" was given to Israeli army soldiers containing hateful fiction purported to be true. It suggested that the Pope and Vatican cardinals sympathised with Hizbullah's struggle and conspired with the organisation to kill Jews. It claimed that the Vatican organised Auschwitz tours to teach its members how to do it, and that Hizbullah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, was invited to join a delegation to tour France, Poland, Italy and the Vatican.

The booklet also accused European politicians and journalists of conspiring against Israel. Rabbi Eliahu's aide, David Menahemov, claimed the booklet's material was true, even though the account portrayed was preposterous. Yet one Israeli soldier said everyone in the ranks reads and believes it. Many soldiers told him, "Read this and you'll understand who the Arabs are [and why the Israeli cause is just]."

During Operation Cast Lead, 10,000 mp3s were also distributed to Israeli forces with recorded extremist sermons. Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger urged soldiers to "trust in God and know that war is being waged for the sanctification of His name ... and not to fear. [Soldiers] should not think of [their] wi(ves) or children or [their] mother (s) and father(s)."

Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar called the Gaza conflict "a holy mission that is being waged in the name of the entire Jewish people." Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu said, "Our intention is to uplift soldiers' spirits" in battle against Hamas terrorists. The Israeli army rabbinate division, Jewish Consciousness Field (JCF), also distributed a pamphlet entitled "Jewish Consciousness Emphases for Cast Lead" calling military rabbis "Anointed Priests of War."

A JCF officer, Shmuel Yurman, explained the pamphlet's purpose as follows: "This is the hour to strengthen our fighters in this heavenly commanded war that they have the merit to wage. Each (rabbi) has the knowledge and skills needed to contribute to the IDF battle spirit. Nevertheless, in order to enlighten and focus the spiritual message, JCF learned and prepared itself for this war before the operation began and as it was being fought. In meetings with soldiers and officers on the southern front we listened to the spiritual needs."

The head of JCF head, Rabbi Tzadok Ben-Artzi, justified the war saying: "We, the people who contributed to the world the book of books, who want to build a society based on creativity and peace, love of mankind and faith in good, find ourselves chased by blind hatred that is motivated by 'religious' terminology and aspires to bloodshed and cruelty." He advised Israeli army rabbis to say that the war's aim is "to save the Jewish people from its enemies" and eradicate evil in the world. Other extremist rabbis voiced the same sentiment, and, under Brigadier General Avichai Ronzki's command, the Israeli army's rabbinate theologised military missions and fed messianic dogma to young minds. Many in the ranks are already zealots enough to make spreading this gospel all the easier.

DIFFERENT SIDES OF ISRAEL'S RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY: Ronzki explains his actions and those of the military rabbinate by saying that "[we're] supposed to deal with helping soldiers to internalise Jewish values, spirit and consciousness as presented in Jewish sources. This is our main function as rabbis... (to) teach... what Judaism is." He and other zealots represent one side of Israel's religious community, comprised of two major groups -- religious Zionists and Charedim. Governed by their ideology, the former believe in the special relationship between God and Jews and see Israel from that perspective. They comprise about two-thirds of the religious community and eight per cent of the population.

Representing the other third and about 4.5 per cent of the population, the Charedim see Israel as a secular state, like most others in the country.

Ethnicity also defines religious segments. Sephardic Jews originated from the Middle East, North Africa and Spain. Ashkenazi Jews are from Eastern Europe and differ in religious and cultural traditions. Both communities attend separate synagogues in different neighbourhoods, yet are represented in religious Zionist and Charedim camps. Israel has two chief rabbis, one Ashkenazi, the other Sephardic.

Though a minority, Israel's religious community wields considerable influence politically, in the military and society overall. Moreover, synagogues and yeshivas are popular places where people gather to discuss issues of common interest and hear the views of their rabbinical leaders. The most extreme believe in Jewish sovereignty over all biblical Israel, so foregoing any of it is unthinkable. Thirteenth century Rabbi Moses Ben Nachman was their spiritual godfather. He wrote that Jews "should settle in the land and inherit it, because He gave it to them, and they should not reject God's inheritance." Now rabbis say it is "a mitzvah (commandment) to settle in the land and it is forbidden to leave it."

THE MESSIANIC COMING: What Rabbi Avraham Kook preached on the dependence of the coming of the messiah with Jews claiming hold on Israel also stands today. Today's most extreme zealots believe that conceding any biblical land will delay or subvert messianic redemption, and so can't be tolerated. Palestinians are called enemies for wanting land of their own. Yielding violates Jewish law, zealots believe.

In contrast, secular Charedim accept land concessions for peace and want the government to make policy, not religious Zionists based on biblical law. They believe Israel should serve the interests of all Jews, not one segment over another, and feel no part of Israel is too sacred to concede (except Jerusalem) if it best serves the Jewish people overall. They also believe that the Torah promotes peaceful co-existence and, except for defence, conflict is counterproductive. Like religious Zionists, they feel all biblical Israel belongs to the Jews, yet they're willing to concede some in the interests of peace.

Most religious Israelis fall somewhere in- between these groups. They believe that biblical Israel was promised to Jews, yet accept compromise to one degree or another to preserve life and serve the best interests of all Jews. How the future balance of power shifts from one side to the other will greatly influence the makeup of future Israeli governments and determine whether peaceful co- existence can replace over six decades of conflict and repression. So far it hasn't, and nothing suggests it will any time soon; not while extremist Zionists run the government, serve prominently in the Israeli army, and -- according to critics -- are gaining more power incrementally.

* The writer is a research associate of the Centre for Research on Globalisation.

Israel Admitted To 1 Organ Harvesting

Report by Mazin Qumsiyeh
Published: 25/08/09

Courtesy Of
Labour Net

In this digest: I report on a 2002 Israeli admission that a pathologist in an Israeli hospital was harvesting organs without authorization, on the hopeful sign of the start of the academic year, the beginning of Ramadan in Palestine, a video on the free Gaza movement, on follow-up to Rafah clashes (in Arabic), and on growth of religious fundamentalism in Israel.

A big tempest in a tea pot is brewing as Israel and Sweden enter a diplomatic fray because a Swedish newspaper suggested investigations are needed on cases of removal of organs from Palestinians killed by Israeli forces. There has been thousands of Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli forces and families in many cases explain how the injured and killed are taken to medical facilities and returned ordered to be buried immediately without uncovering why their bodies were opened “for autopsies” and stitched back with missing organs.

Now there are so many documented Israeli atrocities and I do believe it is important that activists get their stories right before adding another to the long list of (far better) documented atrocities. There have been well-documented massacres, ethnic cleansing, use of white phosphorous on civilians, mass execution, torture, extrajudicial execution, bombing of crowded refugee camps, and many more. So I will not here add to this storm.

I did notice missing from the discussion the fact that Israeli authorities themselves have acknowledged at least one pathologist harvesting organs but that story from 2002 was never followed up and we do not know what happened to this investigations (like hundreds of other “investigations” before it):

Abu Kabir Operating Organ Warehouse. By IsraelNationalNews. com

My suggestion to the Swedish government is that it should respond to Israel by demanding that an independent commission look into the allegation and that Israel (for a change) stop stymieing International investigations into human rights abuses. If they have nothing to hide, let independent commissions look into the allegations.

On a more hopeful sign, schools started and Bethlehem University is full of life. Tuition was increased and some students cannot afford tuition. There are some very limited scholarships (more people of good should donate scholarship money). My wife is teaching in accounting and I teach molecular genetics. In the sciences, a study by one of our faculty members showed that most of our graduates do find jobs. I believe the same for accounting. This may not be true of all disciplines.

Israel still prevents projects that seek sustainable development in the Palestinian economy. International humanitarian aid is allowed because Israel gets a big cut of it and it pays for the occupation (per International law, an occupying power is responsible for the welfare of the occupied people). We need to continuously improve the quality of education because through that we can move our society further along towards liberation and return of the refugees.

Ramadan started here and the fast reminds all (especially those fasting) of the hunger and deprivation in the world. We are reminded of the 1. 5 million Gazans, more than 65% of them children. The Israeli siege denies them development and aid and has created massive poverty (70% below the poverty line of $2/day). 60% unemployment and so on. The situation is better here in the occupied West Bank but still I know of so many families (Muslim and Christian) that are desperately in need. Yet, Ramadan always brings camaraderie, joy, and blessings to all for Muslims are enjoined especially to increase their good deeds especially taking care of those most needy. The Muslim calls to prayer and the message of piety and service to needy people that echo from the mosques mix with church bells and similar Christian calls to remind us of our common responsibilities. The Christian community here shares their Muslim compatriots in the wonderful new sweets that show-up in Ramadan (like Qatayef) and in the more lively nightlife. I even know of a friendly competition in doing good deeds that sometime arise (and regardless of religion) during this blessed month!. So we should all (regardless of religion) intensify our efforts this month to serve God by serving fellow human beings in need. Activism provides a good way to feel part of the human community.

Video: Gaza we are coming!

Al Jazeera on Rafah clashes (Arabic)

Since the origin of the Zionist enterprise, fundamentalism has been part of the Jewish state project. Until now, this largely goes unacknowledged, writes Stephen Lendman

Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD
A Bedouin in Cyberspace, a villager at home

Insights Into The War ON Terror

An Interview With Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Part 1

By Andy Worthington,
August 24, 2009

Courtesy Of
The Future Of Freedom Foundation

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson served in the U.S. military for 31 years and was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from August 2002 until January 2005, two months after Powell’s resignation, when he left the State Department. He is now the chairman of the New America Foundation’s US-Cuba 21st Century Policy Initiative. In March, in a guest column for the Washington Note, he wrote an article criticizing some crucial aspects of the Bush administration’s detention policies in the “war on terror,” which, as I noted at the time, “are not as widely known as they should be, and which echo some of the important issues that I’ve tried to raise in my book The Guantánamo Files and my subsequent writing.”

Specifically, Col. Wilkerson wrote about “the utter incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan during the early stages of the U.S. operations there” and how “several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.” He also poured scorn on “the ad hoc intelligence philosophy that was developed to justify keeping many of these people, called the mosaic philosophy,” whose shortcomings were recognized, in May, by a District Court judge, Gladys Kessler, when she granted the habeas corpus petition of a Yemeni prisoner, Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed.

I recently approached Col. Wilkerson to ask if he would discuss some of these issues in greater detail, and was delighted when he agreed to be interviewed, as he provided some startling new insights into the conduct of the “war on terror.” Specifically, in this first part, he explained how the State Department had wondered whether the little-reported Dasht-i-Leili container massacre had involved war crimes, how the Bush administration had considered using the Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia (leased from the UK) instead of Guantánamo, and how Col. Wilkerson himself believed that some prisoners had been held on Diego Garcia.

He also spoke about the administration’s obsession with building a “mosaic” of intelligence from the prisoners to understand the workings of al-Qaeda and how, increasingly, this obsession shifted to a search for connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, to justify the planned invasion of Iraq. What I found particularly interesting at this point in the interview was Col. Wilkerson’s insistence that the administration’s fear of another terrorist attack subsided more rapidly than has been previously acknowledged, as the drive for war in Iraq took over.

Col. Wilkerson also spoke about the long-standing rivalry between the Pentagon and the CIA and how Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — albeit with the backing of Dick Cheney — infected the military with the kind of techniques authorized for use by the CIA on “high-value detainees,” and he also mentioned receiving reports from military personnel who refused to disobey the Geneva Conventions when it came to the humane treatment of prisoners, and from others who revealed the disturbing scale of the global detention policies implemented by both the Pentagon and the CIA.

Towards the end of this first half of the interview, he also explained how he believed that President Bush had no idea how dysfunctional his administration was, and reinforced his earlier claim that “no more than a dozen or two” of the prisoners held at Guantánamo had “any intelligence of significance” with a few pointed anecdotes about the administration’s overall failure to seize more than a handful of worthwhile prisoners.

Andy Worthington: I wanted to talk to you about the article you wrote about Guantánamo for the Washington Note in March, which was fascinating because you ointed out so many aspects of how the prison had come into being that had not been reported very well. I know that you received a certain amount of attention for it at the time, but I’m very interested in putting some of those comments that you made out there again, for some people who may have missed them the first time around, and also because I was hoping that maybe you could expand on a few of the themes that you wrote about.

In the first major point that you raised in your article, you talked about the incompetence of the battlefield vetting, and I know, from The Interrogators, a book by a former interrogator in Afghanistan, who wrote under the pseudonym Chris Mackey, that the orders came from Camp Doha in Kuwait, where the prisoner lists were being looked at, that every single Arab who came into U.S. custody had to be sent to Guantánamo, that there was effectively no screening process whatsoever.

And, of course, the Article 5 competent tribunals didn’t take place either. (Held close to the time and place of capture and designed to separate combatants from those caught up in the fog of war, these tribunals were established in the Geneva Conventions and were used by the U.S. military in every war from Vietnam onwards — until the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan). So I was wondering how you’d heard about the incompetence, if you’d heard this from military people in the field who’d complained that the competent tribunals didn’t take place, whether you’d been getting feedback from Kandahar and Bagram about how there was no screening. I wonder if you could explain a little bit more about that.

Lawrence Wilkerson: My initial source was immediate, and it was from the conversations that took place every morning without fail, sometimes at the weekend but always Monday through Friday, at 8.30, in the Deputy’s Conference Room in the State Department, with the Secretary [Colin Powell] and the Deputy [Richard Armitage] assembled and some 50-odd undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, office directors, etc. We went around the table with everyone with a dog in the fight, which was most of the undersecretaries and the assistants getting his or her three or four minutes, and the Secretary would get his five minutes or 30 minutes, depending on what the issues were that day — and of course the Deputy would get his time too. And immediately upon our commencing operations in Afghanistan — and when I say commencing operations, I mean the moment we had the first Special Operating Force team with the Northern Alliance, and we were getting actual reporting back from U.S. as well as CIA with Northern Alliance Forces (so, from U.S. military sources, CIA sources, and initially from others in-country, let’s put it this way, to whom we had access) — what I got immediately was that, with regard to the Northern Alliance taking prisoners, it was absolute chaos.

We got signs that they weren’t taking prisoners; that is to say, they were shooting them. We got signs that when they did take prisoners they would negotiate with them, get them to reconcile themselves, so to speak, and let them go. I mean, it was chaos. Everything you can possibly imagine that could be happening on a battlefield in Afghanistan was happening.

Andy Worthington: So this is presumably after the fall of Kunduz and the fall of the North, when there was the terrible container massacre.…

Lawrence Wilkerson: It grew particularly — how shall I say it? The volume [of information] increased remarkably right before, and then during and after the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Andy Worthington: OK. And then most of these people didn’t end up in American hands. To my knowledge, only dozens of the thousands of prisoners who made it alive to General Dostum’s prison in Sheberghan, near Mazar-e-Sharif were taken to Guantánamo.…

Lawrence Wilkerson: Right, and of course that was the subject of an intense period of discussion. If my memory serves, it was over several mornings with different questions from the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary of our war crimes envoy, Pierre Prosper — ambassador-at-large Pierre Prosper — and of other people like Beth Jones, who was assistant secretary for Eurasia. The appropriate functional and/or regional assistant secretaries would join in the discussion in the morning when the Secretary would ask questions, and I do remember several discussions about these prisoners who grew fairly visible there for a moment and then just seemed to fade from the scene as Dostum apparently had his people put them in containers. One story was that his people then ventilated the containers with AK47s in an attempt to give the prisoners some air, if you want to put a positive spin on it; if you want to put a negative spin on it, in an attempt to kill them. I mean, there are all kinds of stories associated with that, but that was sort of minor considering the chaos that, it seemed to me, existed on the battlefield of Afghanistan with regard to detainee management.

Then it faded for a bit and we didn’t get a lot until we began to hear that there were going to be some detainees that were going to be siphoned off, and were going to be brought back to either Diego Garcia or Guantánamo Bay, or some other place that would be essentially out of U.S. jurisdiction, and Guantánamo quickly took the most emphasis, because we had dealings with Guantánamo before, during the ’93, ’94 exodus of Haitians, when we had problems with immigration across the Florida Strait, and we needed a place to keep people in this instance, so that we could determine, on a very careful, methodical basis, whether they were economic asylum seekers, whether they were political asylum seekers, or whether they were just people trying to get away from wherever they were, and to do the vetting process, and so forth, and to do it out of the confines of the very precisely delineated American judicial procedures.

So Guantánamo was a place that we knew from past, what I would call altruistic uses of it — to allow the process to work, to keep people in a place where they weren’t harassed, where they were fed and looked after, and had medical attention and so forth — but it became a place where we were trying to detain people from the so-called “war on terror.”

And the reason for picking that place ultimately — and I still believe we had a few at Diego Garcia, and perhaps a few in other places too, but Guantánamo was the principal place — the motivation for picking it was familiarity, and the fact that we’d been through this before, with this sort of extra-territoriality, this being outside the U.S. court system and so forth, and it had met the test of time, if you will, during those episodes, and so it very quickly became the area of choice, I think, and before we knew it at the State Department we were getting cables saying that people were coming back, detainees were coming back from Afghanistan and coming back to Guantánamo.

We knew that these people probably included people captured in Pakistan, people captured under what was a bounty system, essentially, people captured perhaps in other areas, but we knew that the central flow point was going to be Afghanistan, and we also knew that because we were already getting signals from Foreign Minister Straw, the Foreign Minister in Spain, and different countries, who were alerting us to the fact that they knew that we had some of their citizens in these contingents, and they were making their early pleas to get their citizens repatriated, to get them back, under the guise that, of course, they could do as well determining their guilt or innocence, putting them through their judicial systems and incarcerating them if necessary.

And I remember Jack Straw being particularly adamant about this because he was one of the first to know, as you might expect, that British citizens were involved, and that went on, almost on a daily basis, to the point where it became exasperating for Powell and to a certain extent for Armitage, who would be there sometimes when Powell was traveling, and we’d ask these questions, with specific detainees in mind, with specific countries in mind, indeed often with specific foreign ministers in mind who had just called the Secretary that morning, and the Secretary or the Deputy would ask Pierre, “What’s the update?” and Pierre would, as happened almost every time, roll his eyes and report essentially the same thing: that the Secretary of Defense would not let them go.

We had made every plea, we had banged on doors, we had sent cables, the Secretary himself had called the National Security Advisor, Dr. Rice, the Secretary himself had brought it up with the President of the United States on one occasion, but the Secretary of Defense would not relent, these people were not going to be released. And that went on, and of course the Uighurs got into it, and we started a program to sort of shop the Uighurs around the world, and that went on and, as far as I remember, was never resolved in a way that the Secretary or Pierre was very happy with, and in fact we wound up placing a few Uighurs in Albania, that was the only country that would take them.…

Andy Worthington: And that took place in May 2006.

Lawrence Wilkerson: Yes, that was much later, but to return to Afghanistan, the regular meetings were one of my sources of knowing how chaotic the vetting was, and how chaotic the imprisonment was, and how adamant Rumsfeld was — and I’ve come to find now that Donald would not have been adamant without the Vice President’s cover — about not letting any of these guys go, for any reason whatsoever. I also know that one of the motivations for this was not just his obstreperousness, or his arrogance, which was manifested most of the time, but it was the fact that they wanted all of these people questioned vigorously, and they wanted to put together a pattern, a map, a body of evidence, if you will, from all these people, that they thought was going to tell them more and more about al-Qaeda, and increasingly more and more about the connection between al-Qaeda and Baghdad.

I even think that probably, in the summer of 2002, well before Powell gave his presentation at the UN in February 2003, their priority had shifted, as their expectation of another attack went down, and that happened, I think, rather rapidly. I’ve just stumbled on this. I thought before that it had persisted all the way through 2002, but I’m convinced now, from talking to hundreds of people, literally, that that’s not the case, that their fear of another attack subsided rather rapidly after their attention turned to Iraq, and after Tommy Franks, in late November as I recall, was directed to begin planning for Iraq and to take his focus off Afghanistan.

So those discussions that went on — the cables that came in, the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary, all the cognizant people in the Department of State, Pierre, and their discussions every morning, sidebar discussions in the corridors on the seventh floor, indeed, discussions with me in my office, once I became Chief of Staff in August 2002 — that was one source. Another source was military personnel whom I’d known in the past or who people I’d known in the past introduced to me as good sources, who reported to me from, essentially, all over the world, not just Afghanistan and Iraq, but places like Indonesia, places like Djibouti, and so forth, about what was going on with regard to what the Defense Department was calling “kinetic activity”; that is to say, Delta Force and the like, spread all over the world looking for al-Qaeda, and what was happening in the various countries and cities where they were doing this.

Other information came from other places like conventional formations in Afghanistan and Iraq, where I had people I knew in the military who were reporting back to me, usually by email, and also from the other side of the house, if you will, from the diplomats and the people in the embassies and the consulates and so forth in some of these countries, some of whom were much dismayed that they had, as one ambassador put it, 6’ 4” white males with 19-inch biceps walking around in their capital cities, and did anybody really think that they were fooling anyone, and when was somebody going to tell him why they were in his capital city? You know, these were forces that Rumsfeld and [Douglas] Feith [the undersecretary of defense for policy] spread across the world to go after everything from Abu Sayyaf to Jemaah Islamiyah to al-Qaeda, and our ambassadors knew nothing about it initially, but these people were very visible, and they were discovered, and calls began to come back from cities around the world to the Secretary of State and to others about who were these people and what were they doing.

And they were also detaining people, because I believe that Rumsfeld’s first goal there was — he didn’t trust the CIA, he didn’t trust their interrogation, he didn’t trust what they were doing — so he wanted his own activity, he wanted his own action. That’s one of the reasons that the procedures that the President, for example, had confined to a very select group of “high-value detainees” and to just the CIA as the instrument of interrogation — that’s how that migrated over to the Defense Department, essentially through Rumsfeld’s distrust of the CIA, and, frankly, bureaucratic jealousy, and a grab for power. And so Rumsfeld wanted his people doing the same thing, and Jim Haynes, his lawyer in the Defense Department, was perfectly willing to go over to David Addington, and [John] Yoo and [Jay] Bybee and the rest, and craft his own legal views for justifying what the Defense Department then struck out to do.

But much of the reporting that was coming back to me was coming back not just from this massive chaos in the battlefield areas, which Abu Ghraib, of course, with regard to Iraq, came to characterize most vividly, but also from these other detentions that were going on around the world, because, as I said, Rumsfeld’s first priority was to capture, not to kill. If they got in extremis, they were authorized to kill, as Seymour Hersh has stumbled onto, but their real goal was to capture them and to provide more intelligence for this “mosaic” that Rumsfeld and crew were building up, so that they could understand more about al-Qaeda, and more about terrorism in general, and go after these people.

So that was another source. Still another source was people who were involved in detainee management. These were contractors — CIA and military — who were a little bit uneasy about what they were being asked to do, and by whom they were being asked to do it, and without, in some cases, any paperwork to cover their butts, so to speak, and they were sending cables back, and they were talking to people, and people were talking to me, about the disquiet that was going on amongst people who were either seeing some of these things happen, or in some cases were actually involved in it, in some way, and weren’t happy about what they were doing.

I’ve said before that one of the things that, with regard to the armed forces, has made me proud of a lot of those young guys out there — and young gals out there — was that a lot of these people apparently refused to do this stuff, and their leaders, whether they were captains or lieutenants, or whether they were majors, lieutenant colonels, colonels, brigadier generals or whatever, were not eager to order them to, because they knew, from past experience, that when that happens, then you get whistleblowers, you get people who write their congressmen, and call their congressmen, and take pictures and so forth, so I was elated to hear that a lot of these young officers — in particular, young NCOs — were refusing to do this stuff, but nonetheless they were talking about what others were doing.

Andy Worthington: And, just to confirm, you’re talking about detention and interrogations in Afghanistan, Iraq and many other places, I mean, was this kind of across the board?

Lawrence Wilkerson: Yes, and it wasn’t just interrogation, as you indicated, it was some of the things that happened when they were detaining prisoners for the initial time on the battlefield, it was some of the other things that happened other than just officially sitting down in a room and being interrogated, the whole detention system and the management thereof.

Andy Worthington: Well, I’m very glad to hear you talk about that, and about the numbers of people refusing to take part in abusive behavior, because I realize that it was such a shock to so many serving military personnel that they were expecting the Geneva Conventions, and that was all stripped away, and suddenly they’re in a chaotic place, where, it seems, anything goes, and presumably, for so many of these people, the only rule seemed to be some kind of sadism, so I’m really pleased that you mentioned how much feedback was coming from people who were appalled by it and who refused to take part in it.

Lawrence Wilkerson: There was one young lieutenant, who happened to be a Pakistani American, who was fluent in Urdu and one of the Afghan languages, and who also spoke enough Arabic to get by in Iraq. He gave me some really electrifying vignettes, about leading his platoon the first year that he was over there, and some of the things that he had to do that made him feel like he was risking his life in order to, as he put it, obey the law.

Andy Worthington: You’ve made it very clear how much professional jealousy encouraged Donald Rumsfeld to drive the “CIA-ization” of the military’s way of treating prisoners, which is horrific really.…

Lawrence Wilkerson: It wasn’t a surprise to me, because I spent 31 years in the DoD, and I have to say that the entity we probably disliked the most during the majority of my years was the Central Intelligence Agency. I mean, we would sit out in the Pacific, when I was working out there, and our station chiefs then, we would mock them, you know: big fat dudes, making 120, 130 thousand a year, and all they did was sit there and read the newspapers in their capital cities and report it back to Langley as finished intelligence. I mean, we didn’t have much use for the CIA and that’s generally the way the rank and file in the Pentagon feels — and in the military in general. I remember in the first Gulf War, when Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell were on the phone at Colin Powell’s house — a secure phone; late in the evening for Powell, and early in the morning for Schwarzkopf — and Norm was threatening to come to Washington and shoot the DCI.

So I mean, there’s always been that institutional jealousy, hatred even between the Pentagon and the CIA, so I didn’t have much difficulty understanding that that was a part of what had happened, and you add Rumsfeld’s arrogance and his power play to it, and you’ve got a real, powerfully dysfunctional system there, in terms of — as Powell put it in his debrief to President Bush, January 13, 2005, if I recall, “Mr. President, you have no idea.” Bush had just said, “Well, you’ve lived through Weinberger and Shultz, you know that there’s always infighting,” and Powell’s response was, “Mr. President, you have no idea. This is an order of magnitude worse.” Frankly, I think that was the first time anybody had ever alerted the President to the fact that his wasn’t a normal administration.

Andy Worthington: And that’s important to raise, because so much of what went on focused on Cheney, obviously, and I was going to ask you a little bit about Cheney — and Addington, because I was particularly struck by a passage in Jane Mayer’s book, The Dark Side. Mayer was writing about when John Bellinger, legal counsel to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, had discovered, from intelligence reports, that a significant number of innocent men were being held at Guantánamo, but when he tried to approach the President about it (via Alberto Gonzales, who was then White House Counsel), they were met by Addington instead, who dismissed Bellinger’s concerns by declaring, “No, there will be no review. The President has determined that they are ALL enemy combatants. We are not going to revisit it!” After Bellinger fired back, pointing out that this was “a violation of basic notions of American fairness,” Addington replied, “We are not second-guessing the President’s decision. These are ‘enemy combatants.’ Please use that phrase. They’ve all been through a screening process. There’s nothing to talk about.”

Lawrence Wilkerson: I received one particular assessment from a person for whom I had no reason whatsoever to believe that he would give me an inaccurate portrayal — and one reason was, that was his character, but another reason was that he had no dog in the fight — and his estimate of the number of people — I think it was 741 or 742 that we suddenly had on a piece of paper somewhere — of any significance was as follows. He said, “I’ll tell you right now that 700 of them haven’t done a damn thing except get in the way of somebody capturing them.”

Andy Worthington: Right, and those are the kinds of figures that we’re down to. I mean, back in March, you stated that no more than a couple of dozen had any serious intelligence value.…

Lawrence Wilkerson: The other thing — I laughed at this when I first heard it, but now I realize it was probably closer to the truth than anything the administration said — when Bush announced in September 2006, with some degree of trepidation, that he’d transferred these 14 to Guantánamo out of the secret prisons. Now I realize that they made that transfer principally so they could get some hardcore terrorists to Guantánamo.

In the second part of this interview, Col. Wilkerson discusses, amongst other things, Barack Obama’s response to the legacy of the Bush administration, and the madness of Dick Cheney.

Part 1 | Part 2 [to be posted]

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press) and serves as policy advisor to the Future of Freedom Foundation. Visit his website at:

Flushing BlackWater

By Jeremy Scahill
August 26, 2009
Courtesy Of The Nation

Blackwater, the private mercenary company owned by Erik Prince, has been thrust back into the spotlight by a series of stunning revelations about its role in covert US programs. Since at least 2002, Blackwater has worked for the CIA in Afghanistan and Pakistan on "black" contracts. On August 19, the New York Times revealed that the company was, in fact, a central part of a secret CIA assassination program that Dick Cheney allegedly ordered concealed from Congress. The paper then reported that Blackwater remains a key player in the widening air war in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where it arms drone aircraft. These disclosures follow allegations--made under oath by former Blackwater employees--that Prince murdered or facilitated the murder of potential government informants and that he "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe."

In addition, Blackwater is being investigated by the Justice Department for possible crimes ranging from weapons smuggling to manslaughter and by the IRS for possible tax evasion. It is being sued in federal courts by scores of Iraqi civilians for alleged war crimes and extrajudicial killings. Two of its men have pleaded guilty to weapons-smuggling charges; another pleaded guilty to the unprovoked manslaughter of an Iraqi civilian, and five others have been indicted on similar counts. The US military is investigating Blackwater's killing of civilians in Afghanistan in May, and reports are emerging that the company may be implicated in the CIA's extraordinary rendition program.

And yet, despite these black marks, the Obama administration continues to keep Blackwater on the government's payroll. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, Blackwater still works for the CIA, the State Department and the Defense Department to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, and its continuing presence is an indicator of just how entrenched private corporations are in the US war machinery. The United States now deploys more private forces (74,000) than uniformed soldiers (57,000) in Afghanistan. While the majority of these contractors are not armed, a sizable number carry weapons, and their ranks are swelling. A recent Defense Department census reports that as of June 30, armed DoD contractors in Afghanistan had increased by 20 percent from the first quarter of 2009.

With the exception of a few legislators, notably Representatives Henry Waxman and Jan Schakowsky, Congress has left the use of private military contractors largely unmonitored. But the recent disclosures of Blackwater's covert activities may finally force Congress to take action. At the very least, the Obama administration should be required to disclose current and past federal contracts with all of Prince's companies and affiliates, including those registered offshore.

Congress can take Schakowsky's lead and ask the Obama administration why it is continuing to work with Blackwater. Schakowsky has called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to review all of the company's existing contracts and not to award any new ones to its many affiliates. Congressional intelligence committees should also conduct a wide-ranging investigation into Blackwater's involvement in the CIA assassination program. Were Blackwater operatives involved in actual killings? Who approved the company's involvement? Was Congress notified? How high up the chain of command did the covert relationship with the company go? Was Blackwater active on US soil? What role, if any, did/does Blackwater play in secretly transporting prisoners?

This investigation must include the sworn testimony of former top CIA officials who were later hired or paid by Blackwater. Among these are Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard, the former number-three man at the agency, who gave Blackwater its first CIA contract and then served on the company's board, and J. Cofer Black, the former head of the CIA's counterterrorism unit, which ran the assassination program. Black later became the vice chair of Blackwater and ran Total Intelligence Solutions, Prince's private CIA. Total Intelligence has been simultaneously employed by the US government, foreign governments and private companies, an arrangement that may have created conflicts of interest that the House and Senate intelligence committees are obliged to investigate. Congress should also ask if national security is compromised when the knowledge, contacts and access possessed by former high-ranking CIA officials like Black and Krongard are placed on the open market.

John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has questioned whether Blackwater used its State Department clearance as cover to gather information for targeted killings. Kerry should hold hearings in which Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice would be compelled to testify on the matter. The oversight committees should probe allegations that Blackwater was involved in arms smuggling and extrajudicial killings in Iraq, while committees dealing with military affairs should investigate what impact Blackwater's actions in Iraq have had on the safety of US troops. An invaluable asset for these investigations could be the Commission on Wartime Contracting, established by Senators Jim Webb and Claire McCaskill. Finally, the Justice Department should probe the murder, smuggling and other allegations against Prince and his executives.

In all of this, Blackwater has proved itself to be a whack-a-mole: it keeps popping up. Despite the Iraqi government's ban on the company, its operatives remain in Iraq a full two years after the September 2007 Nisour Square massacre, in which seventeen Iraqi civilians were gunned down in Baghdad. This resilience means that the investigations into the company must be comprehensive and coordinated.

Lastly, it is a mistake to think that Blackwater is the only problem. In Iraq, for example, the Obama administration is replacing Blackwater with the private contractor Triple Canopy, which, in addition to hiring some of Blackwater's men, has its own questionable history, including allegations of shooting civilians and hiring forces from countries with a history of human rights abuses. Blackwater is but one fruit on the poisonous tree of military outsourcing. It is imperative that Congress confront the intimate linking of corporate profits to US wars and lethal, covert operations.

Thugs Of Fortune

By Jeff Huber,
August 29, 2009
Courtesy Of Anti-War News

A singular absurdity of the 21st century is that the nation that spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined needs to hire mercenaries to fight wars against enemies who have no defense budget at all.

An August 19 New York Times article revealed that in 2004 the CIA hired Blackwater USA to help "locate and assassinate top operatives of al-Qaeda." This is the secret program that Dick Cheney ordered the CIA to not tell Congress about for seven years. "It is unclear," wrote Times reporter Mark Mazetti, "whether the C.I.A. had planned to use the contractors to actually capture or kill Qaeda operatives, or just to help with training and surveillance in the program." The program, says Mazetti, "did not successfully capture or kill any terrorist suspects," which makes it sound like they tried to kill terrorist suspects and blew it. There’s something about assassinating "suspects" that makes the mercenary aspect of the program seem trivial.

It was the mercenary facet, though, according to Mazetti, that led CIA director Leon Panetta to cancel the program in June and then tell Congress about it. Panetta would have been fine with assassinating suspects, I reckon, if only CIA types had been involved.

But wait a minute. An August 20 Times article by Mazetti and James Risen says the CIA is still using mercenaries to help them kill terror suspects. A "division" of "the company formerly known as ‘Blackwater’" is loading Hellfire missiles and guided bombs on drone aircraft at "hidden" bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Blackwater mercenaries, now known as "Xe" (pronounced "zee") mercenaries, also provide security at the bases. They don’t pull the trigger or pickle off bombs though; CIA "employees" do that by remote control from the agency’s Langley, Virginia headquarters. CIA types also pick which terror suspects to target.

How is this drone assassination program different from the assassination program Panetta cancelled in June? Both employ mercenaries. Both target "suspects." Both rely on iffy information; our intelligence in that part of the world amounts to beating people up or bribing them so they tell us what we want to hear.

Our intelligence is so bad that we don’t even know for certain if our drone assassination program has killed any suspects. We know for sure that we’ve killed a lot of people who aren’t terrorists through collateral damage though, so we can be fairly sure the drone assassination program — like the rest of our woebegone war on terror — creates two or more new terrorists for every one it eliminates.

In the assassination program that Panetta cancelled, operations to kill or capture suspects had to be approved by the CIA director and presented to the White House. Risen and Mazetti say that drones land or take off from the bases in the Bananastans "almost hourly," so it’s a good bet that nobody at the White House is getting told about the drone assissination missions, and the CIA director probably gets a weekly summary that he may or may not read. That means that "employees" are deciding when and where to create collateral damage.

The assassination program Panetta cancelled probably violated U.S. and international law. The drone assassination program does too. We’re running airstrikes, which are acts of war, against targets in Pakistan. Congress has not specifically approved combat operations in Pakistan, unless you consider the September 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force as a blank check for any president to apply military power anywhere at any time if it involves counterterrorism. If that’s the case, Mr. Obama can fire bomb Dresden and nuke Nagasaki if he thinks suspected terrorists are hiding there. Heck, he might delegate those decisions to CIA "employees," or even employees of Blackwater/Xe.

It speaks philosophical volumes about contemporary American values that an illegal secret assassination program that involved mercenaries had to be shut down, but an illegal overt assassination program involving mercenaries continues without objection.

In March 2009 Blackwater/Xe lost its billion-dollar contract to protect U.S. diplomats in Baghdad, a job normally done by the U.S. Marines. Blackwater had been under fire for a 2007 incident in which its security personnel killed 17 civilians in an unprovoked shooting. Another mercenary outfit, Triple Canopy, won the contract and hired the same security personnel who had just been fired to do the same job they’d been fired from. Some in the Iraqi government speculated that Triple Canopy subcontracted the job to an outfit called the Falcon Group, which was a Blackwater/Xe affiliate.

Two former Blackwater/Xe employees have filed sworn statements in a federal court alleging that company founder Erik Prince may have been involved in the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company’s actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The statements assert that Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," and that Prince’s companies "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life." There’s plenty more and it’s plenty sordid, and it’s mighty salacious stuff for people to swear to in front of a federal magistrate if it has no basis in truth. Prince is a former Navy Seal, he’s rich, and he’s politically connected. He probably knows a few good lawyers.

There are a number of reasons to hire mercenaries. Some of them are financial; it’s cheaper to rent a shooter for a short-term job than it is to train a career soldier or intelligence officer or torture specialist whom you have to provide with benefits and retirement pay. The main reason to use mercenaries, though, is that they exist in a legal twilight zone. If they operate overseas, they’re not exactly subject to U.S. law or host nation law or international law. They don’t operate under the Uniform Code of Military Justice or congressional oversight either. They can get away with shenanigans that even the CIA and Special Forces wouldn’t dirty their hands on. Nobody has to know how contract interrogators get information from prisoners, and the second the government pays a mercenary outfit the money vanishes from the books forever.

If, as Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker says, a certain former vice president formed death squads that answered directly to him, they likely contained mercenaries. Blackwater/Xe may not have been directly involved in any trigger pulling, but former Middle East CIA field officer Robert Baer noted recently at that "Blackwater was not the worst of the contractors, some of which did reportedly end up carrying out their assigned hits."

Doesn’t all this make you proud to be an American?

Read more by Jeff Huber

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Arabs Paying The Price Of The Holocaust

Tutu To Haaretz

By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondent
Last update - 14:18 29/08/2009

Courtesy Of
Haaretz NewsPaper

"The lesson that Israel must learn from the Holocaust is that it can never get security through fences, walls and guns," Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa told Haaretz Thursday.

Commenting on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statement in Germany Thursday that the lesson of the Holocaust is that Israel should always defend itself, Tutu noted that "in South Africa, they tried to get security from the barrel of a gun. They never got it. They got security when the human rights of all were recognized and respected."

The Nobel Prize laureate spoke to Haaretz in Jerusalem as the organization The Elders concluded its tour of Israel and the West Bank. He said the West was consumed with guilt and regret toward Israel because of the Holocaust, "as it should be."

"But who pays the penance? The penance is being paid by the Arabs, by the Palestinians. I once met a German ambassador who said Germany is guilty of two wrongs. One was what they did to the Jews. And now the suffering of the Palestinians."

He also slammed Jewish organizations in the United States, saying they intimidate anyone who criticizes the occupation and rush to accuse these critics of anti-Semitism. Tutu recalled how such organizations pressured U.S. universities to cancel his appearances on their campuses.

"That is unfortunate, because my own positions are actually derived from the Torah. You know God created you in God's image. And we have a God who is always biased in favor of the oppressed."

Tutu also commented on the call by Ben-Gurion University professor Neve Gordon to apply selective sanctions on Israel.

"I always say to people that sanctions were important in the South African case for several reasons. We had a sports boycott, and since we are a sports-mad country, it hit ordinary people. It was one of the most psychologically powerful instruments.

"Secondly, it actually did hit the pocket of the South African government. I mean, when we had the arms embargo and the economic boycott."

He said that when F.W. de Klerk became president he telephoned congratulations. "The very first thing he said to me was 'well now will you call off sanctions?' Although they kept saying, oh well, these things don't affect us at all. That was not true.

"And another important reason was that it gave hope to our people that the world cared. You know. That this was a form of identification."

Earlier in the day, Tutu and the rest of the delegation visited the village of Bil'in, where protests against the separation fence, built in part on the village's land, take place every week.

"We used to take our children in Swaziland and had to go through border checkpoints in South Africa and face almost the same conduct, where you're at the mercy of a police officer. They can decide when they're going to process you and they can turn you back for something inconsequential. But on the other hand, we didn't have collective punishment. We didn't have the demolition of homes because of the suspicion that one of the members of the household might or might not be a terrorist."

He said the activists in Bil'in reminded him of Ghandi, who managed to overthrow British rule in India by nonviolent means, and Martin Luther King, Jr., who took up the struggle of a black woman who was too tired to go to the back of a segregated bus.

He stressed his belief that no situation was hopeless, praising the success of the Northern Irish peace process. The process was mediated by Senator George Mitchell, who now serves as the special U.S. envoy to the Middle East.

Asked about the controversy in Petah Tikva, where several elementary schools have refused to receive Ethiopian school children, Tutu said that "I hope that your society will evolve."

We'll Always Stand by Israel's Side

Senior American officials attend farewell party for Israel's military attaché Major-General Benny Gantz, who will assume IDF deputy chief post in October
By Yitzhak Benhorin
Published: 08.27.09, 08:28

Courtesy Of
Y Net News

WASHINGTON – The US will always stand by Israel's side, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said overnight Thursday during a farewell party for Israel's military attaché in Washington Major-General Benny Gantz, who will be retuning to Israel following his appointment as IDF deputy chief of staff.

The event, which was held at the home of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, was attended by a number of senior American officials, including Dan Shapiro, who heads the Middle East desk at the National Security Council, and Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy.

The military attachés of Egypt and Morocco were also on hand.

Mullen said the attendance of top US military officials was a sign of the strong ties between the US and Israel.

Gantz, who is scheduled to return to Israel on Thursday, will be briefed on the responsibilities of his new position by outgoing Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Dan Harel on Sunday.

Gantz will officially assume the post of deputy IDF chief on October 1. He will be replaced in Washington by outgoing IDF Central Command chief Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni.

US Steps Up Its Central Asian Tango

By M K Bhadrakumar
August 25, 2009
Courtesy Of Asia Times Online

With the signing of military agreement between the United States and Uzbekistan at Tashkent last Thursday by the US Central Command chief General David Petraeus and Uzbek Defense Minister Kabul Berdiyev, Uzbekistan's geopolitical positioning has phenomenally shifted.

The agreement envisages "a program of military contacts, including carrying out educational exchanges and training in the future", according to the terse American Embassy statement. The embassy sidestepped Russian press reports that the US was seeking military bases in Uzbekistan, saying the information regarding "discussions on a military base does not correspond with reality". But speculation continues, especially as Petraeus held a meaningful discussion with Uzbek President Islam Karimov on "key regional issues" focusing on the situation in Afghanistan.

Karimov, who is careful with what he conveys, gave an upbeat account of his meeting: "Uzbekistan attaches great importance to further development of relations with the United States and is ready to expand constructive bilateral and multilateral cooperation based on mutual respect and equal partnership ... Relations between our countries are developing in an upward direction. The fact we are meeting again [second time in six months] shows that both sides are interested in strengthening the ties." (Emphasis added.)

According to Karimov's spokesperson, "Petraeus told Karimov that the current US administration is interested in cooperation with Uzbekistan in several areas. During the conversation, the sides exchanged opinions on perspectives for Uzbek-US relations, and also on other issues of mutual interest."

It is tempting to view the development as Tashkent's swift response to the Russian move to establish a second military base in Kyrgyzstan close to Ferghana Valley. But Uzbek foreign policy moves take place with deliberation. Quite clearly, when Tashkent aims at a military relationship with the US as well as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), it is more than a knee-jerk reaction.

There is growing disquiet in Tashkent that in the race for regional leadership, Kazakhstan has been upstaging Uzbekistan. Tashkent is also wary that Russia is strengthening its military presence in Central Asia. Meanwhile, the Central Asia policy of the Barack Obama administration has crystallized as a resolute agenda to roll back Russia's regional influence. Indeed, the US has repeatedly assured that it will not pursue intrusive policies regarding Uzbek internal affairs.

Tashkent sizes up the Taliban surge

Tashkent has factored in all this. Yet the crucial salient is the Afghan situation. Tashkent needs to quickly prepare itself to deal with the Taliban's reappearance in the Amu Darya region.

A situation comparable with 10 years ago is arising. Once again, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which is based in Afghanistan and armed and trained by the Taliban reportedly, is making incursions into Central Asia. Rashid Dostum used to act as the frontier guard of the Amu Darya until 1998. Tashkent funded him, equipped him and pampered him. But then in October 1998, when the Taliban marched into the Amu Darya region, he fled. Karimov never forgave him for the dereliction of duty. Dostum had to take shelter in Turkey.

Besides, there is the "Tajik factor". There are more Tajiks within Afghanistan than in Tajikistan. Tajik nationalism always worries Tashkent. Dostum used to keep the Tajik factor at bay. Occasionally, he interfered within Tajikistan, with Tashkent's covert support, to keep leaders in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe rattled. Tashkent also used to shelter the ethnic Uzbek rebel Mahmud Khudaberdiyev from Tajikistan and deploy him for cross-border attacks. But the Russian military presence in Tajikistan since April 1998 prevented Tashkent from bullying the neighboring country.

Thus, there is a sea-change today in the Amu Daya region. Essentially, Tashkent has to depend on NATO contingents to act as a buffer between the Taliban and Uzbek territory, which is not realistic. The German contingents of NATO, which are deployed in the Amu Darya region, operate within so-called "caveats". The futility of their presence is obvious from the fact that the Taliban have consolidated their presence in Kunduz province.

Above all, the Ferghana Valley is on the boil. But given the perceived Russia-Tajikistan nexus and the underlying tensions of the unresolved Uzbek-Tajik nationality question - Joseph Stalin's legacy - Tashkent cannot trust Moscow as the arbiter of regional stability. Also, Moscow supports Dushanbe in the latter's dispute with Tashkent on the sharing of water originating from the Pamir glaciers, which is an issue waiting to explode, fraught with immense consequences for regional security.

Tashkent's Timurid legacy

In the second half of 1999, when Tashkent began making peace with the Taliban regime in Kabul, diplomatic observers were taken by surprise - even as Uzbek rhetoric transformed from characterizing the Taliban as the "main source of fanaticism and extremism in the region" to "a partner in the struggle for regional peace" and Karimov began suggesting that recognizing the Taliban regime was worth considering.

Tashkent's volte face then and now bear striking parallels. In 1999, too, Karimov factored in that the Taliban were the lesser of the two evils threatening the Uzbek vision of Central Asia, in comparison with a strengthened Russian military presence. Ten years ago, in analogous circumstances, Moscow began robustly moving to tighten collective security between Russia and the Central Asian states.

In October 1999, Moscow signed a formal pact with several Central Asian states for rapid troop deployment, strikingly similar to the current Russian initiative of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) forming a rapid reaction force. Tashkent opted out of the collective security agreement under Russian leadership. By October 1999, Tashkent had already commenced talks with the Taliban.

Tashkent has always been wary of Russia's motives and its military presence in Central Asia, which, it believes, undermines Uzbekistan's position as the region's sole military power. Thus, all said, it shouldn't come as surprise that Tashkent decided it's best to make some political capital by resuscitating relations with the US.

Tashkent feels more threatened by the IMU than by the Taliban. Put another way, Tashkent wouldn't want to make an enemy of the Taliban. In 1999, Tashkent offered diplomatic recognition of the Taliban regime as a quid pro quo for the latter's renunciation of the IMU.

The Uzbeks harbor a historical sense of being the inheritors of Tamerlane's legacy. Reconciliation with the Taliban enables Tashkent to realize the ambitious goals of being the principal architect of peace in the region; of ejecting the Russian military presence in Central Asia; and of advancing Uzbek standing as the regional hegemon.

The complex Uzbek mindset offers productive opportunities for US regional policies. No doubt, the US will manipulate in the coming weeks the creation of a power equation in Kabul, which is completely amenable to Washington's agenda of reconciliation with the Taliban. As British Foreign Secretary David Miliband underscored in his recent speech at NATO headquarters in Brussels, the US and Britain are today open-minded about reconciling with the Taliban - even allowing Taliban cadres to retain weapons.

However, the Taliban's regional acceptability remains a contentious issue. There has to be a broad regional acceptability of the Taliban. This is where Tashkent's volte face becomes a strategic asset for Washington. Apart from Pakistan, which roots for the Taliban's reconciliation, Washington can now count on Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to acquiesce with the process.

Amu Darya region in flux

Uzbekistan is a key player in the Amu Darya region - no less than Pakistan in the Pashtun heartlands. An axis with Tashkent in northern Afghanistan and with Islamabad in south and southeastern Afghanistan will be the matrix the US needs as it addresses the Taliban's reconciliation and return to mainstream political life in Afghanistan.

Ideally, Washington would have wrapped up a similar axis with Dushanbe as well, but the Russian presence in Tajikistan precluded it. On the other hand, the US can derive comfort that the Afghan Tajiks are today a divided lot and the US has successfully kept the "Panjshiri" factions from uniting.

If the US manages to get Abdullah Abdullah elected to succeed President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, it will immensely help shackle irrendist elements fueling Tajik nationalism. But if Karzai gets elected, the US faces a potential challenger in Mohammed Fahim, his vice presidential nominee. Fahim, unlike Abdullah, who is a public relations man, has extensive intelligence and military background. Actually, Fahim and Dostum are the two "spoilers" that the US is most nervous about as it prepares to commence the reconciliation process with the Taliban.

Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - and China - had dealings with the Taliban in the 1990s and would have no qualms about reviving such dealings today if that would stabilize Afghanistan. China, in particular, has huge stakes in the opening up of Afghanistan as a transit route to world markets.

The robust US regional diplomacy in Central Asia has succeeded in weaning away Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan from Russian influence. Washington has negotiated transit corridor agreements with them and begun stationing military personnel in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat. (The deputy chief of general staff of the British armed forces, Jeff Mason, is currently visiting Ashgabat.) The US is promoting Turkmen-Uzbek amity (Karimov is preparing to visit Ashgabat). Washington has held out economic and business opportunities in the Afghan reconstruction. Last but not the least, the US is fostering NATO's ties with these countries.

It is a remarkable tally. The US can now work on a transit corridor for Afghanistan from Georgia and Azerbaijan via Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan that bypasses Russian territory. Writing for the New York Times, Andrew Kuchins of the Center for Strategic and International Studies recently underscored that skepticism of Russian intentions - "how much Russia wants to see the US succeed in Afghanistan" - runs high in Washington.

Iran a game changer

Kuchins wrote:
In our recent discussions in Tashkent with very high-level Uzbek government officials, this question came up repeatedly, and the answers we got were not reassuring ... Uzbek officials are deeply skeptical of Moscow. They believe the Russians see their interests best served by continued instability in Afghanistan. Instability will increase both the terrorist threat to Central Asia as well as the flow of drugs, and serve to justify a heightened Russian military presence in the region ...

Tashkent views the growing Russian military presence in the region as a security threat ... Uzbek skepticism about Russian goals is so deep that several key figures intimated that when it comes to Afghanistan, Iran would be a more reliable partner for Washington than Moscow.
Surely, the best means of tackling the "Tajik factor" in Afghanistan will be through Washington's engagement of Tehran. Iranian ambassador in Kabul, Fada Hossein Maleki, was quoted as saying last week that Tehran was prepared for talks with the US on Afghanistan provided Washington eschewed interference in Iran's internal affairs. Maleki said:
What was mentioned by Mr Obama after his election indicated a change of idiom in comparison with the previous US president. Unfortunately, after the victory of President Mahmud Ahmedinejad, we saw inconsiderate interferences by the Americans [in Iran's domestic affairs]. It is natural that if a unified and single approach is adopted, our officials would review it and there are many issues in Afghanistan on which we can cooperate with other countries.
Iran can be a game-changer. But it takes two to tango. The big question on the Afghan chessboard today is whether Obama will sidestep the pro-Israeli lobby within his administration and the US Congress and reach for the door that opens into vistas of engagement with Maleki's superiors in Tehran. Maybe Obama should pluck a leaf out of Karimov's chronicle.

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

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