Monday, November 30, 2009

Swiss Ban Mosque Minarets

UPDATED ON: Sunday, November 29, 2009 19:21
Mecca time, 16:21 GMT

Courtesy Of
Al Jazeera

Voters in Switzerland have approved a ban on the construction of minarets on mosques, official results show.

Of those who cast votes in Sunday's poll, 57.5 per cent approved the ban, while only four cantons out of 26 rejected the proposals.

The result paves the way for a constitutional amendment to be made.

"The Federal Council [government] respects this decision. Consequently the construction of new minarets in Switzerland is no longer permitted," the government, which had opposed the ban, said in a statement.

The Swiss People's Party (SVP) had forced a referendum on the issue after it collected 100,000 signatures within 18 months from eligible voters.

Unexpected result

Alan Fisher, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Bern, the Swiss capital, said: "There is concern in Switzerland undoubtedly about what is being seen as the spread of radical Islam, but the Muslim community here has always been regarded as fairly moderate.

in depth

Behind the Swiss minaret vote
"They were saying that they wanted to see this proposal defeated, so I'm sure it is a real shock to them that at the moment we are seeing that most of the people here have voted in favour of [the ban]."

After the official results were known, far-right politicians celebrated, while the government sought to assure the Muslim minority that a ban on minarets was "not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture".

Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, Switzerland's justice minister, said the result "reflects fears among the population of Islamic fundamentalist tendencies".

"These concerns have to be taken seriously ... However, the Federal Council takes the view that a ban on the construction of new minarets is not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies," she said.

Farhad Afshar, who heads the Co-ordination of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland, said that "the most painful for us is not the minaret ban, but the symbol sent by this vote."

'Anti-Islamic hate'

Supporters of the ban say minarets represent the growth of an alien ideology and legal system that have no place in the Swiss democracy.

"Forced marriages and other things like cemeteries separating the pure and impure - we don't have that in Switzerland, and we do not want to introduce it," Ulrich Schlueer, co-president of the Initiative Committee to ban minarets, said.

A shocking result
By Alan Fisher
"Therefore, there's no room for minarets in Switzerland."

But Switzerland's Muslims have said that the referendum is fuelling anti-Islamic feeling in the country.

"The initiators have achieved something everyone wanted to prevent, and that is to influence and change the relations to Muslims and their social integration in a negative way," Taner Hatipoglu, the president of the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Zurich, said.

"We are frightened, and if the atmosphere continues to be like this and if the anti-Islamic hate increases, then the Muslims indeed will not feel safe anymore. This of course is very unpleasant."

About 400,000 Muslims live in Switzerland, whose population is just under eight million. Most Muslim citizens are immigrants from the former Yugoslavia and Turkey.

Although Islam is the country's second largest religion after Christianity, there are only four mosques with minarets in the whole country.

'Know your place'

Posters have appeared in many Swiss cities showing a figure of a woman shrouded from head to foot in a burka. Behind her is the Swiss flag, shaped like a map of the country, with black minarets shooting up out of it like missiles.

The cities of Basel, Lausanne and Fribourg banned the billboards, saying they painted a "racist, disrespectful and dangerous image" of Islam.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee called the posters discriminatory and said Switzerland would violate international law if it bans minarets.

Al Jazeera's Fisher said that there was a political message behind Sunday's referendum.

"The reality is, as was described to me by a Swiss resident who is not a Swiss citizen, this is the right-wing Swiss People's Party sending out a message to Muslims: 'Know your place in Switzerland'," he said.

"They believe, the right-wing People's Party, that if the Muslims get their mosques and their minarets it will follow on that they will want, perhaps, separate schooling and there could be a campaign to turn Switzerland, of all places, into a place that practices Sharia [Islamic law]."

The Swiss government and business leaders have opposed a minaret ban, saying it would be harmful to the country's image abroad and disastrous for the Swiss economy.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

'Iran Less Of A Threat Than North Korea'

Nov 27, 2009 0:46
Updated Nov 27, 2009 9:51
Courtesy of The Jerusalem Post

Iran is not as great a threat to global security as other nuclear-proliferating countries such as North Korea and Pakistan, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told European Jewish leaders in a meeting in Moscow on Thursday afternoon.

World However, he added, Russia would agree to additional actions against the regime in Teheran if negotiations over Iran's nuclear program fail to bear fruit, Jewish leaders who attended the meeting told The Jerusalem Post.

"It's clear Russia is concerned about the Iranian threat," said European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor after the meeting, "but they do not see it as the greatest threat among other [nuclear] states, such as North Korea and Pakistan. Both President Medvedev and Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov think North Korea represents a more actual and vivid threat to global security."

According to Kantor, Medvedev said he was "'always opposed to sanctions because they are ineffective.' But he also said that 'Russia is watching Iran very carefully.'"

Official Russian government organs would not release details of the meetings, which are being held in Moscow between senior Russian officials and the heads of European Jewish communities, including those of Belgium, the UK and others. On Tuesday, the Jewish delegation met with Foreign Minister Lavrov, also in Moscow.

Despite apparent skepticism toward Israeli and Western concerns, the Jewish leaders said they heard from Medvedev and Lavrov a real understanding of their worries.

"Medvedev said he understands the concerns" over Iran's nuclear program, said Paul Edlin, vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. "But he also said he favors dialogue first, and Russia would reconsider this position only if a threat [from Iran] became evident."

The key point of disagreement between the Russian leaders and the Jewish representatives on Thursday was over the transfer to Iran of Russian-made S-300 surface-to-air missiles, which Israel fears would grant Teheran an effective air-defense capability against a possible Western or Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear installations.

"We asked that Russia stop supplying the S-300 to Iran," said Kantor. "Minister Lavrov told us the sale did not contravene international law. We were also told [by Medvedev] that while the system represents a sophisticated means of protection, Russia was within its rights in selling Iran a defensive system. It was not endangering global security."

But the Jewish leaders "disagree with this statement. We think a defensive weapon is a strong motivator for an aggressor to attack."

Kantor pointed out that the current Iranian regime "has declared openly that it wants to destroy other countries - not just Israel, but also the United States and Britain."

Meeting participants told the Postthat Medvedev warned that "a military strike [on Iranian nuclear installations] would be catastrophic, and that we must continue to negotiate and maintain constant contact with the Iranians in order not to push them into a corner, a situation that could lead to disastrous results."

Even so, the European Jewish leaders "are satisfied for the time being with Russia's answer," Kantor continued, because the Russian leaders "are ready to listen and to understand other perspectives, including that of Israel and NGOs such as ours."

According to Kantor, the Russian press is reporting that Iran is planning to sue Russia over delays in the shipment of S-300 systems that were ordered as far back as 2005. Iran believes the delays are deliberate; Russia has faced pressure from Israel and other countries to cancel the shipment altogether.

"I think we should encourage Russia's doubts, and support its delays [over the shipment]," Kantor said.

Speaking of American and European policy toward Iran, Kantor urged that the international community "respect Russian interests in other places in order to make it comfortable for Russia to make the correct and welcome decision."

What Is Totalitarianism?

By Michael Kleen
November 12, 2009
Courtesy Of Strike-The-Root

If the United States came under the control of a totalitarian regime, would we recognize it? This question is of utmost importance today, when many of us harbor fears that some time in the near future ideas such as freedom, liberty, and privacy will be alien to our society. But as we witness the regular passage of legislation designed to restrict and regulate, and the tendency of the Federal government to increase rather than decrease its power (with a handful of exceptions), we are struck by the uninterrupted routine of life in the USA . As the central government brings more and more of private society under its control, we continue to watch cable TV, shop at supermarkets overflowing with products, and eat at our favorite restaurants. Could it be that we have already passed that dreaded threshold and missed it?

The trouble with diagnosing our condition is that most people are unaware of what totalitarianism actually is. Among even the most politically astute, there is little mental room for the possibility that a state in the process of becoming totalitarian might lack the most brutal and outward signs of oppressive regimes portrayed in popular culture. Because of our rather simplistic frame of reference—picture black and white images of National Socialist Germany or the Soviet Union —we recognize a country as either being in the advanced stages of totalitarianism or not at all. But just because a state maintains the structures and language of democracy and continues to have elections, for instance, that does not preclude it from being totalitarian.

In fact, North Korea has a constitution and holds regular elections with three competing political parties—the Workers' Party of Korea , the Korean Social Democratic Party, and the Chondoist Chongu Party—all united under an organization called the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland. In April 2009, North Korea revised its constitution to include Article 8, which reads, “The State respects and protects the human rights of the workers, peasants and working intellectuals who have been previously freed from exploitation and oppression and have become masters of the State and society.” Yet North Korea is recognized as being one of the most oppressive totalitarian states in the world.

Totalitarianism and authoritarianism do not necessarily go hand in hand. Throughout human history, most governments have been authoritarian, but totalitarianism didn’t appear until the 20th Century. That is because until the birth of mass society, governments lacked the means to exercise total control over a large population. Tribes and municipalities may have sworn fealty to an overlord or emperor, for example, but beyond collecting taxes or levying armies, the monarch took very little interest in the personal lives of his or her subjects. Personal behavior was left to be governed by custom or religion. Totalitarianism is therefore not specifically a system of government, but a way of organizing society by means of a powerful, centralized modern state. It requires a mass media, education, and political culture in which the state—that is to say a class of bureaucrats and officials governing a large geographic area—takes over every aspect of civil society.

Totalitarianism, as succinctly defined by former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, is “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” The totalitarian mind views individuals not as citizens with their own interests, but as dependents with only one interest, and as such, it attempts to organize these masses around a particular ideology. Any thoughts, words, or actions that do not conform to this dominant ideology are made criminal or driven underground. In short, the state seeks total control over the people living within its jurisdiction. Totalitarian regimes attempt to achieve this control through personality cults, by mobilizing the population into national organizations, by censoring the media, through mass surveillance, and through various levels of state ownership of commerce and the means of production.

Traditionally, though with some exceptions, governments have recognized a distinction between public and private life. The earliest civil laws governed interactions between individuals that could result in material or physical harm. The totalitarian state, on the other hand, seeks to extend its authority not just over the public actions of a person, but to his or her own private associations, family life, and possessions as well. The individual interest thereby dissolves into the public interest, or in the words of radical leftist Carol Hanisch, “the personal is political.” Ultimately, the totalitarian goal is not just legal control over our actions, but our thoughts as well.

Finally, totalitarianism is a teleological worldview, meaning that the totalitarian mind sees all of history as unfolding toward an inevitable end—whether it be a communist state, a world government, or some other utopia. This end result, though never really achieved (thus the need for a “perpetual revolution”), is held up as a justification for every possible abuse, including mass murder. After all, opponents of the regime are simply getting in the way of historical progress.

Therefore, totalitarianism requires not only a belief in the power of the centralized state to eliminate all of humanity’s woes, but a belief in the inevitable victory of that state over private interests. As Mussolini inferred, there is nothing the totalitarian fears more than an individual acting outside the state. It is vitally important to understand that totalitarianism is not an exotic or abstract idea, but a reality of the contemporary world. It is something that we do not often recognize in our society, but is nevertheless an ever-present and growing danger.

Michael Kleen is the publisher of Black Oak Presents, a quarterly digital magazine of Middle American art and culture and proprietor of Black Oak Media. His columns have appeared in the Rock River Times, Daily Eastern News, World Net Daily, and Strike The Root. He is also the author of One Voice, a collection of columns regarding issues in contemporary America .

Michael Kleen Archive

Deception Is The Name Of Zionism’s Game

By Alan Hart
November 27, 2009
Courtesy Of "Information Clearing House"

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu described his offer to temporarily restrict construction of all-new Jewish settlements on the West Bank excluding Arab East Jerusalem as a “far-reaching and painful step", which was part of a policy he hoped would give a new impetus to peace talks.

Netanyahu is not stupid. He knows that some of us know he is not remotely interested in peace on terms the Palestinians could accept. So what then is his real game plan of the moment? Simple. He is seeking to make peace with the Obama administration. And its response suggests that with the help of the Zionist lobby and its stooges in Congress he’s got that matter firmly under control.

On 18 November President Obama himself expressed his dismay at Israel’s decision to approve 900 more housing units in East Jerusalem. He said it could lead to a “dangerous situation” because it made it harder for Israel to make peace in the region and “embitters the Palestinians.”

Eight days later the Obama administration says Netanyahu’s new offer, which stresses that there will be no restrictions, not even temporary ones, on new settlement development in East Jerusalem, will help "move forward" peace efforts.

What nonsense. It seems to me that the Obama administration doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going on the matter of how to deal with Netanyahu.

The response of senior Palestinian legislator Mustafa Barghouti was much more in tune with reality. “What Netanyahu announced today is one of his biggest attempts at deception in his history.”

It is, of course, a deception but nobody should be surprised. Not only has deception always been the name of Zionism’s game, it knows no other.

Its very first mission statement way back in 1897 was a deception. The previous year Zionism’s founding father, Theodore Herzl, had written and published Der Judenstaat, The Jewish State. It opened with these words: “The Jews who will it shall have a state of their own.” But as all of Zionism’s founding fathers gathered for their first Congress at Basel in Switzerland, Herzl was among the first to appreciate the need to drop the word state from all public policy pronouncements.

Thus it was that the first Congress of the World Zionist Organisation ended with a public statement that declared Zionism’s mission to be the striving “to create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law.”

The difference between “home” and “state” was great.

State would have signalled that what Zionism wanted (and was ruthlessly determined to get) was a sovereign entity, by definition one with full state powers backed by its own military. In other words, a sovereign, fully independent Jewish state would be one that could pose a threat to the rights and possibly even the existence of the Arabs of Palestine. At the time Zionism didn’t want the world, including most Jews of the world, to know that.

Home was a much softer, less disturbing term. It implied, and for propaganda purposes could be asserted to mean, that Zionism would be prepared to settle for an entity without sovereign powers and which therefore would not and could pose any kind of threat to the Arabs.

The proof that Zionism’s founding father knew the substitution of “home” for “state” in the first mission statement was a deception is in his diary, which was not published (was kept secret) for 63 years. Herzl’s entry for 3 September 1897, as published in 1960, included this:

Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word - which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly - it would be this: At Basel I founded the Jewish state... Perhaps in five years, and certainly 50, everyone will know it... At Basel then, I created this abstraction which, as such, is invisible to the vast majority of people.

It wasn’t only the Arabs and the major powers Zionism didn’t want to scare by using the term state. All of its founding fathers were fully aware that most informed and thoughtful Jews everywhere were opposed to the idea of creating a sovereign Jewish state in the Arab heartland. They believed it to be morally wrong. They feared it would lead to unending conflict. And most of all they feared that if Zionism was allowed by the major powers to have its way, it would one day provoke anti-Semitism.

As it happened, that Jewish concern and those Jewish fears were washed away by the obscenity of the Nazi holocaust, without which Zionism almost certainly would not have triumphed.

After its unilateral declaration of independence, the Zionist (not Jewish) state’s policy was to advance by creating facts on the ground. In effect its message to the world was, as it still is: “We know we should not have done this, but we’ve done it. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Alan Hart has been engaged with events in the Middle East and their global consequences and terrifying implications – the possibility of a Clash of Civilisations, Judeo-Christian v Islamic, and, along the way, another great turning against the Jews – for nearly 40 years.. More. Please visit his website

Mossad Spy Arrested Planting Bomb

Page last updated at 23:29 GMT, Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Courtesy Of BBC News

A trainee spy for Israel's secret service agency Mossad was arrested by Tel Aviv police while taking part in a training operation, media reports say.

The young trainee was spotted by a female passer-by as he planted a fake bomb under a vehicle in the city.

He was only able to persuade police he was a spy after being taken in by an officer for questioning on Monday.

The authorities have refused to comment on the story although Israeli media outlets have expressed their surprise.

'Just a drill'

Mossad does not tell local uniformed police about its training exercises.

The country's commercial Channel 10 said it hoped the agency's operatives were "more effective abroad", AFP news agency reported.

Niva Ben-Harush, the woman who reported the novice's suspicious behaviour to police, told Ynet News that 15 minutes after she made the call, Tel Aviv's port was closed and people evacuated.

She said police initially asked her to come with them and identify the suspect.

"But after a few minutes, they told me it was just a drill," she said.

Up to three agency employees were believed to have been suspended following the incident, Ynet reported.

It quoted the prime minister's office as saying it did "not respond to information about such activities undertaken by security agencies or attributed to them".

Mumbai Attacker A CIA Agent

Mumbai - Indian Newspaper: American Suspect Eyed In Chabad House Attack, Might Be A CIA Double Agent

Courtesy Of Vos Iz Neias

Mumbai - It's a plot that could be straight out of the bluff-and-double-bluff worlds created by John le Carre and Frederick Forsyth. Only, it seems to have played out in real life, to the tragic misfortune of hundreds of innocent people. The tantalising possibility that David Coleman Headley may have been a US undercover agent who turned rogue is vexing many here as American authorities keep the US-based Lashkar jihadi out of the reach of Indian investigators.

To make the tale even more dramatic, Headley may just have provided American intelligence agencies information that prevented a Lashkar attack on Mumbai in September. The theory -- and it's still a theory -- is that Headley was used to infiltrate the Lashkar, but gradually went astray under the influence of the very terrorists he was supposed to be spying upon.

Torn between conflicting loyalties, he may have continued to give information to his American handlers, and a tip-off by him may even have helped avert a Laskar attack orginally planned for September. But he seems to have commited fully to Lashkar shortly after that, which could be one reason why American agencies were caught napping by 26/11.

During his interactions in India, Headley frequently introduced himself as a CIA agent. But suspicions that he's a rogue agent stem more from the just-released information that Headley, a man with one green and one brown eye, could straddle America and Pakistan with ease despite a run-in with the law in the US.

A recent profile in the New York Times said that in 1998, Headley (then known as Daood Gilani) was convicted of conspiring to smuggle heroin into US from Pakistan. ``Court records show that after his arrest, he provided so much information about his own involvement with drug trafficking which stretched back more than a decade and about his Pakistani suppliers that he was sentenced to less than two years in jail and later went to Pakistan to conduct undercover surveillance operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)," the NYT report said.

This suggests that Headley had a deal with authorities in the US who allowed him to get away with mild punishment in exchange for a promise of cooperation.

To many here, that also implies that he was a known entity to the counter-terror and drug enforcement authorities in the US. After 9/11, the walls between these agencies had come down because of the links between drugs and terrorism, particularly in the context of Pakistan-Afghanistan where there is a huge overlap between the functions of the DEA and CIA. Surprisingly, the FBI affidavit against Headley doesn't mention his tryst with the DEA.

FBI's affidavit against Headley says that he changed his name from Daood Gilani to David Coleman Headley in 2006 to hide his history as an offender. As he told border police in August 2009, it was to give himself the freedom to travel undetected -- he said the new name aroused much less suspicion when he travelled.

It is a fact that terrorists are masking their religious identity to get past the counter-terror surveillance, with terror groups seeking to recruit Caucasians for fresh strikes. But many doubt here that the mere switching of names could have worked in Headley's case given his brush with law but more because of the destinations he was flying to.

Given Pakistan's unquestioned reputation as the hub of global terror, people travelling to and from the country automatically pop up on the scanner at airports across the globe. Headley, to boot, would often meet his contacts in UAE -- a known rezendevous for terrorists and smugglers and a place that is of immense interest to law enforcement agencies.

The doubters found it intriguing that ultra-sensitive agencies in the US did not find anything amiss about the entries on Headley's US passport. While the sceptics don't think they have an answer yet, they are inclined to look at the possibility of Headley being an undercover agent who, torn between the competing demands of the jihadi outfits he had been asked to infiltrate and his American handlers, went astray.

Headley, by his own confession, joined Lashkar-e-Taiba in 2006 and received training in one of the terror camps run by the jihadi outfit.

Those who subscribe to the "rogue agent" theory are inclined to believe that this was known to the Americans, always anxious to ferret out information from hard-to-penetrate terror groups. They also feel that US agencies were perhaps aware that last year, Headley was in India to recce targets for a Lashkar attack that it had originally planned for September -- as confirmed by Ajbal Kasab in his testimony -- and which was finally carried out on 26/11. Rather, they also suspect that Headley might have been the source of information that helped Americans warn of the attack planned for September last year.

In their warning, which was passed on to Maharashtra government by Intelligence Bureau, the Americans had said that prominent installations in Mumbai were on the jihadis' target. As a matter of fact, the FBI alert made a specific mention of Taj and other hotels -- Marriott, Land's End and Sea Rock.

It is felt that Headley's defection happened immediately afterwards and that is perhaps one of the reasons why Americans could not, unlike in September, sniff 26/11. The suspicion is reinforced by the fact that it was around this time that FBI put Headley under its surveillance, leading to his arrest on October 3 this year.

Suspicions are getting stronger as Americans delay giving Indian investigators access to Headley. The hope here is that Indian agencies would get their turn to talk to the terrorist after charges -- indictment in the American lexicon -- are framed against him on Jauuary 1. There is also the possibility that Headley has promised to sing on the condition that he is not exposed to interrogators from India.

But during interactions on the issue, FBI has been unusually cagey about discussing Headley in detail -- odd on the part of the agency which swiftly warned of the attack Lashkar had planned in September and without whose help the breakthrough in the 26/11 probe would not have happened.

Pscychological Warfare

By Ximena Ortiz
Courtesy Of The National Interest

The notion that political correctness facilitated the homicidal rampage of Maj. Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood is not merely the preferred theory of the right-wing. It is becoming the prevailing narrative and the thrust of news reports congressional inquiry, categorizing and summing up the horrific event for many Americans. And there may have been such political correctness at fault, creating an ideological blind-spot and contributing to a dereliction of duty and vigilance. If such institutional, self-imposed blindness did prevent preemptive action, it must be swiftly recognized and addressed.

But there is another plausible factor that much of the Right has not been so eager to appropriate and promote. Despite the pomp and pageantry bestowed upon American soldiers and the pledges of President Obama, U.S. troops are still subjected to substandard medical care, especially when it comes to mental-health. And though Hasan had committed multiple and serious breaches of professionalism and judgment, the military continued to offer his services to the most mentally battered of troops.

The broader context to that decision is a record number of soldier suicides and the military’s acknowledgement that it suffers a shortage of mental-health practitioners. In fact, Hasan was to assist the army’s ambitious plan to treat (or patch-up) U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Did the military continue to tolerate and try to cope with Hasan’s obvious faults due to its overextension and inability to keep up with the demands of two wars?

“As commander in chief, there is no greater honor, but also no greater responsibility for me than to make sure the extraordinary men and women in uniform are properly cared for and that their safety and security when they are at home is provided for,” said Obama, shortly after the Fort Hood slaughter. But the fact that military officials put traumatized troops in the hands of a psychologically turbulent Hasan—who received a dismal review at Walter Reed—is a potential indicator that care remains deficient. That report on Hasan cited “serious concerns” regarding his “professionalism and work ethic” and “a pattern of poor judgment and a lack of professionalism.” Hasan was “counseled for inappropriately discussing religious topics with his assigned patients” and “required a period of in-program remediation when he was discovered to have not documented appropriately an ER encounter with a homicidal patient who subsequently eloped from the ER.”

Amazingly enough, in light of those concerns, the report concluded that Hasan was competent enough to deliver safe care. And he was subsequently found fit for deployment to a war-zone. If one of the military’s motivations in retaining Hasan was an ability to process more health claims, then such a bargaining constitutes another kind of dereliction of duty and vigilance.

According to an army survey last year, one in three soldiers say they can’t reach a counselor when they need to. The data also shows the military lacks the personel required to address the health-care needs of veterans. The Government Accountability Office found that, even though the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has increased its processing of disability claims, a serious backlog persists. The number of initial disability claims that the VA completes annually increased about 60 percent from 1999 to 2008—from about 458,000 to about 729,000. But even so, the number of pending claims also increased to 65 percent to about 343,000. And this backlog is expected to get worse. The VA anticipates that the number of reopened claims will increase as current disability benefit recipients—many of whom suffer from chronic progressive ailments such as diabetes, mental illness and cardiovascular disabilities—submit claims for increased benefits as they age and their conditions worsen, said the GAO report.

The Hasan episode is another factor challenging prewar claims that America could easily absorb the cost and demands of fighting a war on two fronts. Those claims were often fanciful, conflicting with more serious studies that raised cautions, such as a February 2003 report co-sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the James A. Baker III institute for Public Policy of Rice University, which found that Iraq’s oil revenue would not suffice in covering the cost of stabilizing and rebuilding that country. The test of time has disproved much of the other facile promotion of the wars.

Ximena Ortiz is a freelance journalist.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Italy's White Christmas Campaign

A woman walks past Northern League election posters in Milan in 2008. The posters read: "They suffered through immigration; now they live on reservations."

Uproar Over Italian Town's Foreigner Registration Drive
Officials in the northern Italian town of Coccaglio are visiting the homes of foreign residents and expelling those with expired residency permits. The initiative, which is called "White Christmas," has caused a national uproar, but city officials claim their words have been taken out of context.
November 23, 2009
Courtesy Of Der Spiegel Online

An initiative dubbed "White Christmas" to check the residency status of immigrants in a small town in northern Italy has created an uproar. While some city officials defend the action as a census with merely a poorly chosen title, others see it as another in a long chain of events revealing the growing power of Italian xenophobia.

The "White Christmas" initiative was launched on Oct. 25 in Coccaglio, a town of fewer than 7,000 people about an hour's drive east of Milan, in Lombardy. As part of the campaign, city officials are going to the homes of about 400 of the town's roughly 1,500 foreigners between now and Dec. 25 to check their immigration status papers. The majority of these immigrants are from Morocco, Albania and the former Yugoslavia. According to Italian daily La Repubblica, those who are found with residence permits that expired six months ago or earlier will be expelled if they cannot prove that they attempted to renew them.

The city's town council, which is controlled by three members of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's conservative People of Freedom party and four members of the right-wing and anti-immigrant Northern League, including Mayor Franco Claretti, chose the English title "White Christmas" from the famous Bing Crosby song of the same name.

"We don't have a crime problem," Claretti, who took office in June, told La Repubblica. "We just want to start cleaning things up." Claudio Abiendi, the city official in charge of security and a member of the Northern League since it was founded in 1992, had the idea for the initiative. "For me, Christmas isn't the celebration of hospitality but, rather, of Christian tradition and our identity," he told the paper. Abiendi also noted that, of the 150 inspections already carried out, roughly 50 percent found that the person no longer had a right to reside in Italy.

Offensive and Defensive

Such comments have led to an uproar in Italy. "It makes you think of the sound of the boots of the fascist soldiers in the ghetto of Rome chasing after Jewish inhabitants," Kurosh Danesh, the national coordinator for immigrants for the CGIL, Italy's largest trade union, told La Repubblica. Anna Finocchiaro, the leader of the opposition Democratic Party in the Italian Senate, said: "The Northern League's vision for our country is xenophobic, racist, violent and backwards." She added that, in Coccaglio, "people want to hunt down all the immigrants whose residence permits are expiring as part of the Christmas celebrations."

Claretti defends the initiative by saying that Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, a member of the Northern League, had been "practical" in allowing town councils to implement measures related to checking the residency status of foreigners "without having to appeal, as usual, to the courts." He also conceded that the name selected for the operation might have been ill-chosen. "Maybe it was unfortunate," he told La Repubblica, "but that's the day the initiative ends on."

It's a sentiment that has been echoed by Italian Reform Minister Umberto Bossi, the head of the Northern League. "The municipality was just applying the law," Bossi told La Repubblica, "even if there was no need to call the initiative 'White Christmas.' They could have called it 'Christmas Regularity Control.'"

Taken Out of Context?

The controversy came to a head after an interview with Abiendi was published in the Giornale di Treviglio, a paper of a small town halfway between Coccaglio and Milan. In a follow-up interview with the ASCA news agency, Abiendi claimed that the earlier article took his words out of context. "It was not a 'cleaning' operation, as it was presented in the article," Abiendi told ASCA, "but a type of census to ascertain the situation in the area around Coccaglio."

"The 'white' in the 'White Christmas' slogan is not meant to refer to the skin color of whoever is celebrating it." Abiendi added. "Instead, it's simply quoting a lyric from a well-known song to indicate that time as the deadline for the final verification measure."

According to the local news Web site (Italian only), at a televised encounter between the mayor and his critics on Sunday in front of Coccaglio's town hall, Claretti told those gathered that: "I won't allow anyone to call us racists. We are just conducting an initiative based on a law of (former Italian Prime Minister Romano) Prodi." Claudio Rossi, the leader of a local left-wing political group, reportedly responded: "No one is saying that the controls you are conducting violate the law. What's unacceptable are the declarations that accompany them, such as the name you chose."

The turmoil has led to worry among the town's residents that they will become the new symbols of Italian xenophobia. Last week, Giovanni Gritti, the head of the local Catholic parish, published a letter repeating that "Coccaglio is not racist!" He admitted that calling the initiative "White Christmas" was a "gross oversight," but he also took the Giornale di Treviglio and other media sources to task for using headlines such as "A Christmas without Immigrants" as "completely out of line, as well as offensive to good taste."

"Of the people I know here," Gritti said, "not one is racist."


Dying To LIve In Europe

What Happens To Immigrants Who Don't Make It?
Not one single government in Europe registers how many immigrants die attempting to get across its borders. Nor do they try to find out who they were. But they have stories, if you know where to look.
November 24, 2009
Courtesy Of Der Spiegel Online

There were 18 people on board the Zodiac: 17 Afghans and one Turk who didn't know the way. In the last stretch of the 90-minute boat trip from the Turkish coast town Kucukkuyu to the Greek island Lesbos, the autumn wind threw them on the cliffs. Ten Afghans survived. The others, including a couple and their three children, ended up in the graves for the unknown refugees at Mytilini cemetery. They are buried at a distance from the flower-draped tombstones of the local Greek people, on the far end of the graveyard, close to the trash.

Few graves here carry names. Most only have numbers written on signs on top of the graves, themselves little more than molehills surrounded by bricks: Afghan 1, Afghan 5, Afghan 11. There are no names, no dates of birth, just the day they drowned off the coast: Oct. 29, 2009; Oct. 3, 2007; Nov. 25, 2007.

No one knows who they are, says an Afghan immigrant who survived the trip from Turkey on a rubber dinghy seven years ago. He is the only person who visits the anonymous graves on a weekly basis. "No one wants to know them," he says. "That is the problem."

He refuses to give his name. He has been staying in Greece illegally for seven years now and complaining is not a wise thing to do. But he is known to Afghans around the world as the only one of them who didn't travel on to other parts of Europe when he reached the continent, but stayed on Lesbos.

Self-Proclaimed Ambassador

He is now the self-proclaimed ambassador for boat refugees on the island. After each tragic accident, the next of kin find a way to reach him. Whenever news of drowning victims in the Aegean Sea gets out, he gets phone calls from Athens, Rome or Rotterdam. And there is always someone waiting in Afghanistan for the releasing call: "We've reached Lesbos, we're safe." If no one makes that call, those waiting phone him.

He tells those left behind what went wrong. Families ask him to take pictures of the grave, and of their faces. He takes pictures and mails them.

He doesn't always tell the families the whole truth. On Lesbos, Muslim immigrants are often buried without the Islamic burying rituals, without prayers, and with their feet rather than their heads facing Mecca.

"That is very painful," he says. "If I have to tell a mother her child did not just drown, but is buried in a way she wouldn't want him to be ..."

No Authority Knows How Many are Killed

No official records are kept of the migrants who die attempting to reach Europe. No government within the European Union is trying to discover their names; no authority knows how many are killed on the external borders of "Fortress Europe."

There are organizations that attempt to count the victims. United against Racism, a group that originated in the squatters movement, clips out reports from local papers and adds up the dead. They have counted 13,000 deceased migrants en route to Europe since 1994. Some died in shipwrecks off the Spanish coast of Lanzarote, some collapsed on their way through the Libyan desert, others stepped on Greek landmines near the Turkish border. The list is endless.

The Afghan living on Lesbos says many families try to get the bodies back home. "But it's an unwinnable battle. Repatriation costs thousands of euros. The trip from here to Athens, Athens to Kabul: unaffordable. And the Western embassies in Afghanistan don't give out visa to the bereaved to come pay their last respects to their loved ones."

As Though They Never Existed

As the only permanent Afghan resident of the island, he feels compelled to perform the burying rituals in the name of the families. If he is informed about a funeral in time, he will go and say the Islamic prayers. But he can't take on the imperative restrictions of the Greek law. Because of the distressing lack of burying grounds in Greece, all graves are cleared away after three years. In principle, the bones are then handed over to the family of the deceased.

"I have told the authorities this is against our religion, but nobody listens," he says. In all his years on Lesbos, he has not been able to find out what happens to the bones of his fellow countrymen after their graves are cleared. He fears they are destroyed. As though they never existed.

IMF Warns Second Bailout Would 'Threaten Democracy'

Angela Jameson and Elizabeth Judge
November 23, 2009
Courtesy Of The Times Online

The public will not bail out the financial services sector for a second time if another global crisis blows up in four or five years time, the managing-director of the International Monetary Fund warned this morning.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn told the CBI annual conference of business leaders that another huge call on public finances by the financial services sector would not be tolerated by the “man in the street” and could even threaten democracy.

"Most advanced economies will not accept any more [bailouts]...The political reaction will be very strong, putting some democracies at risk," he told delegates.

"I do believe that the financial sector needs to contribute both to the costs of the financial crisis and to reduce recourse to public funds in the future," he said.

Mr Strauss-Kahn said that imposing high capital ratio requirements on banks was one price the financial services sector must pay to prevent the threat of further multi-billion dollar bailouts.

He pointed to the debate in the US over the Troubled Asset Relief Programme and said that in many countries, including France and Germany, he doubted that politicians would secure the mandate needed to secure any further bail-outs if banks got in to trouble again, in several years' time.

Europe is in dispute over the spiralling cost of the global economic bailout, with Germany and France calling for a reduction in state support as their economies have shown signs of an upturn.

In September, George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, sided with Germany and France, accusing Gordon Brown of being in "complete denial" over the mounting bill of the financial rescue packages and agreed with Britain's neighbours that it was time to look for an exit strategy. Countries are recovering from recession at different rates, with Britain lagging behind.

Mr Strauss-Kahn said that while the global economy had made "remarkable" progress in exiting recession, and was on the cusp of recovery, it remained "highly vulnerable" to shocks.

He said state support for the world's battered economies must remain in place if a smooth recovery is to be achieved.

"We recommend erring on the side of caution as exiting too early is costlier than exiting too late."

Mr Strauss-Kahn is one of a series of high-profile speakers at the CBI conference, in Central London. Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg will all speak at the event as they seek to sway influential business leaders before a general election next year.

In his speech, Mr Strauss-Kahn also warned that the huge amounts of capital being pumped into China could fuel a pan-Asian bubble.

His comments come after warnings from economists that the economic conditions in China and the rest of Asia are such that asset prices could rip free of their fundamental values unless the bubble threat is addressed.

The Chinese banking sector is currently the scene of an unprecedented frenzy of new lending, which could reach up to 11,000 billion yuan (£97.7 billion) by the end of this year.

Mr Strauss-Khan said that the old paradigm of growth generation based on households in the US was dead. The future sources of growth and the recovery will "depend on a new balance between the US and deficit countries on one hand and emerging markets and surplus countries on the other".

Emerging markets will provide some of the growth that the US can no longer offer, however he warned that while China and other emerging Asian economies were shifting from exports to domestic demand, they still had some way to go.

Inside Israeli Jails

The Real Victims Of A Cry For Justice

By Jesse Rosenfeld
Last Updated: November 24. 2009 8:41PM UAE
November 24. 2009 4:41PM GMT
Courtesy Of The National

Amid the growing media fever over a possible prisoner swap involving the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas, another young captive has a less visible public profile – but personifies Israel’s chokehold on Palestinian self-expression.

Mohammad Othman, 33, from the West Bank town of Jayyous, and an activist with the grassroots Palestinian organisation Stop the Wall, was arrested on September 22 at the Allenby Bridge crossing on the Jordanian border. He was on his way home after a meeting in Norway with supporters of the global movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel (BDS). Adameer (Arabic for “conscience”), the Palestinian prisoners’ support and human rights organisation, contends that his arrest is a result of “his successful human rights advocacy and community activism”.

Mohammad was interrogated for two months at the Kishon detention centre in northern Israel. His lawyer told me he was repeatedly asked about his meetings, contacts and political activities in Europe. He alleges that Mohammad was kept in isolation, deprived of sleep, questioned round the clock, and threatened with death.

On Monday, Mohammad was formally placed in Israeli administrative detention for three months. He is the latest of more than 335 Palestinians held in this way, a practice based on a 1945 emergency British Mandate law and highlighted in a report last month by the Israeli human rights groups B’Tselem and HaMoked.

I first met Mohammad Othman in Jayyous a year ago, during a protest against the annexation of the towns’s farmland to build Israel’s wall. Residents had just had their permits to cross the wall to their farms revoked, and had rekindled their earlier campaign of resistance. He led me down an alley as soldiers began retaking the main street with tear gas and rubber bullets, forcing young boys to retreat from the barricades that were blocking the military jeeps from driving through the town. “We constantly worry about army raids and arrests, all the local activists do,” he told me after we were out of the line of fire.

On Sunday, almost exactly a year after that in Jayyous, I watched Mohammad stand in front of a military tribunal housed in a barracks that looked like an oversized chicken-coop inside Israel’s Ofer prison in the West Bank. His lawyers were appealing against his prolonged detention without charge.

Outside the court, family members of other detained Palestinians clung to the fence, waiting for news about their loved ones. British and German consular officials and representatives from Israeli and international NGOs filled the small courtroom. Shackled at the legs, and having only a fraction of the proceedings against him translated, Mohammad raised his fist twice to the gallery in a gesture of strength and resistance.

Across the West Bank, just as in that courtroom, Israel is trying to tighten its grip on expressions of Palestinian self-determination. The border village of Bil’in has captured the international eye with a forceful and well-documented resistance campaign against the dispossession caused by Israel’s wall. It is precisely such international calls from Palestinian society that Israel is targeting with a systematic campaign of violence and incarceration inside its controlled territory.

This summer a committee of representatives from Bil’in visited Canada to support a lawsuit against two Israeli settlement construction companies registered in Montreal. When they returned, their leader, Mohammad Khatib, was arrested by the Israeli army. And while those two companies continued to build illegal homes on the farmland of Bil’in, the military conducted systematic raids into the village for three months.

When I last spoke to Mohammad Khatib in September, he was exhausted from a combination of the Ramadan fast and constant night-time army invasions. He told me that young people arrested in Bil’in were severely beaten by the army on the way to interrogation, and then had confessions beaten out of them.

Last Thursday, pressure on the town again escalated again when undercover Israeli soldiers beat and arrested a 19-year-old village activist, Mohammed Yasin. Gaby Lasky, the lawyer for the Bil’in detainees, says she has been told by the military prosecution that the army intends to put an end to the village’s anti-wall demonstrations by using the full force of the law against protesters.

And that is the strategy of Benjamin Netanyau: hit all pressure points. On the diplomatic stage he is demanding acquiescence from the Palestinians’ official representatives, but that policy is not limited to a public-relations dance with a Palestinian Authority that a growing number of people are calling to be dissolved. The aim is to turn the Palestinians’ internationally heard call for solidarity into a cry for Israeli mercy. It is being expressed in military raids on Palestinian homes, and in political prisoners held without trial in Israeli jails and tied to chairs in interrogation rooms.

Jesse Rosenfeld is a Canadian freelance journalist working in Israel and the Occupied Territories since 2007, and currently based in Jaffa

Britain Rejected Regime Change As Illegal

Iraq Inquiry In 2001
British officials discussed toppling Saddam Hussein in 2001 but rejected a policy of “regime change” as illegal under international law, the Iraq war inquiry has heard.
By James Kirkup and Gordon Rayner
Published: 4:48PM GMT 24 Nov 2009

Courtesy Of
The Telegraph

On its opening day of public hearings, Sir John Chilcot’s public inquiry into the invasion heard that British diplomats heard the “drumbeat” of war emanating from Washington even before the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The inquiry into the war, which cost 179 lives, opened yesterday with a promise from Sir John, a former Whitehall mandarin, to "get to the heart of what happened" and "not shy away" from criticising anyone who made mistakes.

The first day of the inquiry in central London was attended by several relatives of service personnel killed in Iraq. Outside, a small number of protesters gathered, several with fake blood on their hands accusing Tony Blair, the former prime minister of war crimes.

Inside, the inquiry’s questioning focussed on British policy towards Iraq in 2001, the year George W Bush became US president.

Sir William Patey, head of Middle East policy at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at the time, told the inquiry that he wrote a briefing paper on the options for Iraqi policy.

“We had at the end the regime-change option,” he said, “We dismissed that at the time as having no basis in law.”

Sir William said that the UK knew that some in the new US administration wanted to topple Saddam. "We were aware of the drum beats from Washington. Our policy was to stay away from that," he said.

The inquiry heard that in 2001, the settled view of the UK government was that attacking Iraq would have been illegal under international law.

Sir Peter Ricketts, then the political director at the FCO, told the inquiry: "We quite clearly distanced our self from regime change. It was clear that was something there would not be any legal base for."

The diplomats’ evidence will focus attention on the decisions that led Mr Blair to change Britain’s policy and support the military action that removed Saddam in 2003.

Sir Peter, who also chaired the Joint Intelligence Committee, said that only weeks after the September 11 attacks, US officials began to discuss “phase two of the war on terrorism,” shifting their attention from Afghanistan to Iraq.

“We heard people in Washington suggesting that there might be some link between Saddam and [Osama] Bin Laden.” he said. “We began to get that sort of voice early on.”

Officials suggested that it was the September 11 attacks and the events that followed had ultimately shifted the British view.

In 2001, Britain and the US were committed to a policy of containing Saddam, through economic sanctions, restricting his oil sales through the oil-for-food programme, and the imposition of no-fly zones in southern and northern Iraq.

The diplomats told the inquiry that the containment policy was failing in 2001, but it could have remained viable if the United Nations had agreed to new "smart sanctions" on Saddam and the return of UN weapons inspectors.

The September attacks changed that, Sir Peter said. "I think if 9/11 had not happened, we would have remained convinced that a strengthened sanctions regime, tightened, narrowed, was the right way to go and we would have continued to push to get weapons inspectors back in.”

Simon Webb, the former policy chief at the Ministry of Defence, told the inquiry that the September attacks increased Britain’s concerns about the possibility of terrorist groups obtained weapons of mass destruction from a regime like Saddam’s.

After the attacks, he said, “the focus didn’t shift to regime change, the focus shifted to

WMD. In order to order to deal with the WMD problem in Iraq, you would probably end up having to push Saddam out. That was the sequence of events. It wasn’t hopping straight to regime change.”

Related Articles

Blair Told Saddam Had No Chemical Weapons 10 Days Before Invasion

By Doireann Ronayne and Alex Stevenson
Wednesday, 25, Nov 2009 04:51
Courtesy Of Politics UK

Tony Blair received intelligence that Iraq's chemical and biological weapons had been dismantled just days before the invasion of Iraq, it has been revealed.

Giving evidence to the Iraq inquiry, Sir William Ehrman, director general of defence and intelligence in the Foreign Office from 2002 to 2004, said: "On March 10th we got a report saying that the chemical weapons might have remained disassembled and that Saddam hadn't yet ordered their re-assembly and he might lack warheads capable of effective dispersal of agents."

Ten days later the invasion of Iraq began.

Meanwhile, the inquiry heard that evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq was "pretty sparse".

Tim Dowse, head of counter-proliferation at the Foreign Office from 2001 to 2003, told Sir John Chilcot's committee he agreed that a "particular mindset" about Iraq had been adopted and that more care could have been taken with the intelligence received.

But he pressed that while most WMD were built for defence, Saddam's intention "with his history of aggression" was clearly offensive.

Sir William emphasised that other Middle Eastern countries posed a greater threat than Iraq.

"In 2001 Libya and Iran were ahead of Iraq in terms of being more threatening about WMD," he said.

Sir William confirmed that contact between Iraq and al-Qaida existed but said Saddam was not "in any way responsible" for the September 11th 2001 terror attacks against New York.

The Iraqi dictator's government supported Palestinian terrorist groups and the MEK terror group directed against Iran, however.

Mr Dowse said Saddam Hussein's government had contacts with al-Qaida but Iraq and the terrorist organisation were not "natural allies".

He also argued the infamous 45-minute deployment claim for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction "didn't seem out of line".

It had taken on an "iconic status" because of media reports, Mr Dowse argued.

Committee member Lawrence Freedman concluded the 45-minute claim had got "lost in translation" because the public understood it referred to nuclear weapons, not chemical battlefield weapons.

On the French proposal for a different type of inspection, Mr Dowse said that this would have been a "hiatus" and had little confidence it would have produced a different outcome.

"The liar was telling the truth," Sir John concluded on the actual findings of weapons in Iraq.

Ballistic missiles – that have a range well beyond 150km – were found, while chemical munitions were also discovered in small numbers in the south of Iraq. The chemical weapons appeared to be left over from the 1991 Gulf war, however.

"What we had was a 20,000 piece jigsaw, of which 15,000 pieces had been hidden," Mr Dowse said.

He was concerned that ministers should not declare success too rapidly on the discovery of weapons. Sir Roderic Lyne questioned whether the prime minister's statement in September 2004 that the Iraq Survey Group "had already found massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories" corresponded to that advice.

Mr Dowse replied that he had not advised Mr Blair, before Sir William defended the response of the UK government.

"We removed the long-term threat to Iraq by the action that was taken. We disrupted but did not remove the Al Quaeda threat in Afghanistan and we removed the treat to Iran through diplomatic action and an agreement to suspend enrichment activities," he said.

The chair concluded by observing the lack of WMDs found in Iraq was a "rather embarrassing outcome” for the government.

Tomorrow Sir Christopher Mayer – UK ambassador to Washington in 2003 - will speak at the inquiry on US foreign policy priorities and US decision-making.

'We're Not in Afghanistan to Build a Perfect Democracy'

Interview with US Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke
The US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, spoke to SPIEGEL about
November 24, 2009
Courtesy Of Der Spiegel Online

You were part of President Johnson's Vietnam team, you even wrote some parts of the Pentagon Papers, which uncovered the real history of the Vietnam War. What have you learnt from that experience and can you draw it in your current job?

Richard Holbrooke: I was a very young man when I worked on Vietnam between 1963 and 1969. I worked in the field and in the Johnson White House, as well as being a member of the negotiating team in Paris. I watched people confront great decisions, and from that close observation, I think I learned how to approach such difficult moments and try to analyze them.

SPIEGEL: With that experience in the back of your mind, do you think it really pays for the United States to fight wars in far-off and unstable lands, especially those that have acquired a reputation for being a "graveyard of empires?"

Holbrooke: Of course it's difficult to fight in Afghanistan. But it's necessary because of 9/11. That is the core difference between Afghanistan and Vietnam. We're not in Afghanistan to build a perfect democracy. We know these were not perfect elections. But we must go ahead, we must help the Afghans strengthen their own capabilities. We're not there to take over the country, we're there to help the Afghans build their own capacity so that their security forces can replace the international forces over an acceptable period of time.

SPIEGEL: Has the thought crossed your mind, even for a brief moment, that American troops might leave Afghanistan the way the Soviets left Afghanistan, namely defeated?

Holbrooke: No. I have talked to the former Russian ambassador in Kabul, who has the wonderful name of Zamir Kabulov. He is now my counterpart in Moscow. As a young Soviet diplomat he participated in the entire drama, and he saw it all.

SPIEGEL: And what was the most important thing you learned from speaking to him?

Holbrooke: Well, don't do what the Soviets did, which was to strafe and kill an incredible number of people with their strikes. The American forces and our allies in Afghanistan do not do that. General Stanley McChrystal has issued very careful guidelines on the use of force. And the civilian casualties issue is not remotely the same as it was then. The Soviets were hated. NATO is not.

SPIEGEL: How serious is the situation? McChrystal insists on 40,000 additional troops. He has even said that anything else would amount to a call for the "helicopter on the roof of the embassy" -- an analogy to Vietnam.

Holbrooke: I'm not going to comment on the internal discussions, but General McChrystal's public assessment of the situation is similar to my own assessment.

SPIEGEL: You were part of President Johnson's Vietnam team, you even wrote some parts of the Pentagon Papers, which uncovered the real history of the Vietnam War. What have you learnt from that experience and can you draw it in your current job?

Richard Holbrooke: I was a very young man when I worked on Vietnam between 1963 and 1969. I worked in the field and in the Johnson White House, as well as being a member of the negotiating team in Paris. I watched people confront great decisions, and from that close observation, I think I learned how to approach such difficult moments and try to analyze them.

SPIEGEL: With that experience in the back of your mind, do you think it really pays for the United States to fight wars in far-off and unstable lands, especially those that have acquired a reputation for being a "graveyard of empires?"

Holbrooke: Of course it's difficult to fight in Afghanistan. But it's necessary because of 9/11. That is the core difference between Afghanistan and Vietnam. We're not in Afghanistan to build a perfect democracy. We know these were not perfect elections. But we must go ahead, we must help the Afghans strengthen their own capabilities. We're not there to take over the country, we're there to help the Afghans build their own capacity so that their security forces can replace the international forces over an acceptable period of time.

SPIEGEL: Has the thought crossed your mind, even for a brief moment, that American troops might leave Afghanistan the way the Soviets left Afghanistan, namely defeated?

Holbrooke: No. I have talked to the former Russian ambassador in Kabul, who has the wonderful name of Zamir Kabulov. He is now my counterpart in Moscow. As a young Soviet diplomat he participated in the entire drama, and he saw it all.

SPIEGEL: And what was the most important thing you learned from speaking to him?

Holbrooke: Well, don't do what the Soviets did, which was to strafe and kill an incredible number of people with their strikes. The American forces and our allies in Afghanistan do not do that. General Stanley McChrystal has issued very careful guidelines on the use of force. And the civilian casualties issue is not remotely the same as it was then. The Soviets were hated. NATO is not.

SPIEGEL: How serious is the situation? McChrystal insists on 40,000 additional troops. He has even said that anything else would amount to a call for the "helicopter on the roof of the embassy" -- an analogy to Vietnam.

Holbrooke: I'm not going to comment on the internal discussions, but General McChrystal's public assessment of the situation is similar to my own assessment.

SPIEGEL: For weeks the president's security team has very openly thought and talked about the new strategy for Afghanistan. Why has it taken so long to reach a decision?

Holbrooke: I've been privileged to participate in most of these discussions. This is the most careful, methodical approach that I have ever seen.

SPIEGEL: Are there any right ways to move forward in this war? Many experts are already putting it into the category of "unwinnable" wars.

Holbrooke: We have to define what our goals are. We're not seeking to destroy every person who supports the Taliban, that's not a credible goal. Our goal is to destroy al-Qaida, a terrorist organization with global reach which attacked the United States, which conducted attacks in London, Madrid and Bali, and Mumbai and Islamabad, which supports attacks in Afghanistan through other groups.

SPIEGEL: So you want to distinguish between extremist Taliban and those who are merely hangers-on?

Holbrooke: Secretary of State Clinton laid out in July very clearly that the majority of the Taliban do not support Mullah Omar's extreme views and that there is room for them to rejoin the social and political fabric of Afghanistan if they renounce al-Qaida and reintegrate peacefully into Afghanistan. And that is a major part of our policies.

SPIEGEL: But there is still the question of the additional troops. National Security Adviser General James L. Jones has told SPIEGEL that even 200,000 troops would get "swallowed up" in that country. He drew the conclusion that there cannot be an exclusively military solution to the problem.

Holbrooke: I agree with General Jones. I just said the same thing. The whole goal here is to create enough time and space for the Afghans to take over their own security responsibility. That is the core of the strategy.

SPIEGEL: What is enough time and space?

Holbrooke: I'm not going to give you a specific timetable.

SPIEGEL: Is this the beginning of America's retreat?

Holbrooke: I don't understand that question. This administration has committed 21,000 additional troops and they are considering sending more. The president has said publicly that we are not going to abandon Afghanistan. Our allies, including Germany, Great Britain and France and others are increasing their commitments. Japan just announced a $5 billion aid program. So why would people think that we are retreating when, in fact, we are increasing our efforts to help the Afghans and resist the al-Qaida and keep the Taliban off-balance so that the government can now do its job?

SPIEGEL: Nonetheless, you hear a lot less about nation-building these days and more and more about exit strategies.

Holbrooke: Our concept includes that the United States and its allies will help the Afghans on the civilian side to build up their capacity. It's not nation-building, there is a nation in Afghanistan and it's been there for a long time.

SPIEGEL: The West was so proud about all those girls' schools that sprang up with international help. Can you guarantee that those girls' schools will still be there in 10 years?

Holbrooke: Can I guarantee it? I can't, but I hope they will be.

SPIEGEL: When the US has talked about handing over the responsibility for a war to local forces in the past, it represented the final stage before a complete collapse.

Holbrooke: You keep going back to the wrong war and I would rather just focus on Afghanistan.

SPIEGEL: Giving responsibility to local forces sounds nice but can be difficult. Take police training. First, the Germans trained too few police officers well and then the Americans trained a lot of police officers, too quickly and too poorly. Is that really a success?

Holbrooke: Nobody can call the training of the police a success in the last five or six years. We are changing the entire approach to police training. American military units especially trained to train the police and the army are coming in now to work on that and we recognize that that is probably the weakest link in the chain.

SPIEGEL: You talked about the allies in this war. Some countries, among them the Germans, announced sending more troops. But others are withdrawing, for example Canada and the Netherlands. What will Obama demand from his allies in the future?

Holbrooke: The European contributions have been extremely important and I hope they will continue. I just talked about it with London, Paris and Berlin. Those were good talks, but each country has to make its own decisions.

SPIEGEL: In the past German forces in Afghanistan were sometimes ridiculed because of their strict rules of engagement.

Holbrooke: Germany has had over 30 soldiers killed, I don't think that's anything to laugh about. I used to serve as ambassador in Germany. I was there when the Karlsruhe decision of July 1994 opened the door for deploying Germans outside of Germany for the first time since the end of World War II and I saw how difficult it was. Then there was Kosovo and now you have Germans risking their lives in Afghanistan. Moreover, the Germans are giving a lot of economic aid. We should respect that.

SPIEGEL: For the first time Chancellor Angela Merkel and the new Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg have spoken about "warlike circumstances"…

Holbrooke: … but there is a war going on in Afghanistan.

SPIEGEL: Until now German politicians were very successful in avoiding that word.

Holbrooke: What does SPIEGEL say?

SPIEGEL: SPIEGEL says it is a war.

Holbrooke: Just so.

SPIEGEL: Is the Afghan President Hamid Karzai still America's partner in this war?

Holbrooke: Karzai is the re-elected president of Afghanistan. We respect that and we look forward to working with him very closely. Yes, he is our partner.

SPIEGEL: You are on your way to Kabul -- are you going to tell him who he can appoint as governors and ministers in his government?

Holbrooke: We are going to urge him to pick competent people who are up to the job, who are strong leaders. Afghanistan suffers from a tremendous lack of strong leadership talent after 30 years of continuous war. But there are some very good people in the country and we're going to encourage him to appoint strong province governors and good ministers.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Holbrooke, thank you very much for the interview.

Interview conducted by Hans Hoyng

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Whatever Happened To The CIA's Black Sites?

The CIA ordered its secret prisons closed, but lawyers for terrorism suspects want them preserved as possible evidence—and the CIA won't say what's going on.
By David Corn Tue
November 24, 2009 2:50 AM PST

Courtesy Of
Mother Jones

Whatever happened to the so-called "black sites," where suspected terrorists were held overseas by the CIA and submitted to harsh interrogations that included torture? On April 9, CIA chief Leon Panetta issued a statement notifying CIA employees that the agency "no longer operates detention facilities or black sites"—which were effectively shut down in the fall of 2006—"and has proposed a plan to decommission the remaining sites." In the months since then, lawyers for several terrorism suspects have been trying to determine the status of these sites, as they seek evidence for their cases. But the US government has refused to disclose anything about what it has done with these facilities.

In his statement, Panetta noted, "I have directed our Agency personnel to take charge of the decommissioning process and have further directed that the contracts for site security be promptly terminated." (He added that the suspension of these private security contracts would save the agency up to $4 million.) Though Panetta's order might have seemed like good news to civil libertarians and critics of the Bush-Cheney administration's detention policies, lawyers for several detainees who had been held in such sites immediately worried about one thing: "We thought they would be destroying further evidence," says George Brent Mickum IV, a lawyer for Abu Zubaydah, a captured terrorism suspect whom President George W. Bush described (probably errantly) as "one of the top three leaders" of al Qaeda. (In 2007, the CIA disclosed that it had destroyed videotapes of interrogations of Zubaydah, who was waterboarded 83 times.)

Four days after Panetta announced the decommissioning of the black sites, Paul Turner and Gerald Bierbaum, two public defenders in Las Vegas representing Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, an al Qaeda leader accused of plotting the USS Cole bombing, filed an emergency motion in federal court requesting the "preservation of CIA secret detention facilities." Attorneys for Zubaydah—whose significance as a terrorism suspect has been hotly debated—filed a similar motion, asking a federal court judge in Washington DC to preserve the black sites where Zubaydah was held and the interrogation instruments used at these facilities. "It's a crime scene," says Joseph Margulies, an attorney for Zubaydah. Margulies says that his intent is to obtain evidence that will allow him to reconstruct what occurred when Zubaydah was held: "to recreate the stress the person was under." He is particularly interested in obtaining access to the "dog box," a small cage in which Zubaydah says he was kept for a prolonged period.

Turner and Bierbaum, who in July 2008 filed a habeas case on behalf of al-Nashiri, are also seeking evidence regarding the interrogation of their client. "Physical evidence matters," says Turner. "It's pretty good proof that what happened did happen. It's better validation of a client's story."

Al-Nashiri and Zubaydah are two of the three detainees whom the CIA has acknowledged were waterboarded. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, was the third. All three are now imprisoned at the Guantanamo camp. When Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced that Mohammed will be transfered to New York City to stand trial in a civilian court, he said that al-Nashiri would be tried in a military commission. He said nothing about Zubaydah. As one of the first suspected al Qaeda operatives nabbed--and Zubaydah's standing as a senior al Qaeda operative is now uncertain--he was treated to particularly tough interrogations, which has made his case especially hard for the Obama administration to resolve.

Lawyers for another terrorism suspect, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a former Guantanamo detainee now being tried in civilian court in New York City for allegedly participating in the plot to blow up US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, have also asked a federal court judge to order the US government to preserve black sites where their client was held.

Many of the filings in cases related to the black sites have been stamped secret and kept out of the public record. Gregory Cooper, a lawyer for Ghailani, citing classification restrictions, won't say what he's hoping to find at any black sites where his client was held: "I can't tell you."

Lawyers representing al-Nashiri and Zubaydah say that no decisions related to their requests to preserve the covert facilities have been issued. In the al-Nashiri case, Justice Department attorneys noted that the request to preserve the secret detention facilities involves "highly sensitive issues affecting critical national security interests"—without spelling out the issues or the interests. Government lawyers in these two cases, though, have promised that the status quo at the secret prisons would be preserved until further notice is given to the legal team for these detainees, but they have not provided any information about the current condition of the black sites. It could be that the facilities were decommissioned before the promise to preserve the status quo was made. "They could have destroyed the sites before the motion," says Bierbaum. Mickum adds, "If they already destroyed the stuff, preserving the status quo is meaningless." He notes that Justice Department lawyers have filed a secret motion in response to Zubaydah's lawyers' request to preserve the black sites—and the Zubaydah attorneys don't know what it said.

Was anything left at these black sites to preserve? No doubt, some of these facilities were makeshift and could have been packed up rather quickly and their equipment destroyed or shipped off. If records existed at these facilities, they could have been easily shredded. In any case, even though Panetta has publicly discussed the sites, the CIA is refusing to discuss them. "Because this involves a matter before the court, it's not something on which I can comment publicly," remarks CIA spokesperson Paul Gimigliano. That is, he won't confirm or deny if Panetta's public decommission order has been carried out. The final status of these facilities remains in the dark.


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