Archive for November, 2005

Hostage video accuses snatched peace activists of spying on Iraq

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

Four peace activists, including a Briton, taken hostage in Iraq were accused of being spies in a video released last night by a previously unknown group of insurgents.
Unknown insurgent group releases tape of captives

In a development which one terrorism expert said was “ominous” the kidnappers, who called themselves the Swords of Righteousness brigade, said Norman Kember and the three other men held with him had been masquerading as Christian peace activists in the country to work as spies.

Mr Kember, 74, was pictured in the video seated next to three other men, who are believed to be an American and two Canadians taken with him from western Baghdad on Saturday. Their identities have yet to be confirmed.

Unlike in some previous videos released by kidnappers in Iraq, Mr Kember and his colleagues were not caged and were not made to wear orange overalls like those worn by terror suspects held by the US at Guantánamo Bay.

Christian Peacemaker Team website

We are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. governments due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people. Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) has worked for the rights of Iraqi prisoners who have been illegally detained and abused by the U.S. government. We were the first people to publicly denounce the torture of Iraqi people at the hands of U.S. forces, long before the western media admitted what was happening at Abu Ghraib. We are some of the few internationals left in Iraq who are telling the truth about what is happening to the Iraqi people We hope that we can continue to do this work and we pray for the speedy release of our beloved teammates.

A photo on their homepage shows some of their members ‘get in the way’ of Israeli soldiers preparing to fire on Palestinian protesters. These ‘kidnappers’ have an uncanny knack for snatching people who want the truth of Iraq to be told.

Spain agrees £1.2bn defence deal with Chavez

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

Spain agreed to sell 12 military planes and eight patrol boats to Venezuela yesterday in its largest ever defence deal, worth $2bn (£1.2bn).

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez criticised Washington for trying to hold up the sale. “Venezuela was a colony of the US empire for a long time. Today we’re free, and the world should know it,” Mr Chavez said.

He appeared to be speaking figuratively; Spain ruled Venezuela’s territory until the early 19th century. Mr Chavez has said the vessels and planes will be used to combat the drug trade in Venezuela, which borders Colombia, the world’s top cocaine producer.

In Desire to Grow, Colleges in South Battle With Roots

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

EWANEE, Tenn. – The flags from Southern states disappeared from the chapel. The ceremonial baton dedicated to a Confederate general who helped found the Ku Klux Klan vanished. The very name of the University of the South was tweaked, becoming Sewanee: The University of the South, with decided emphasis on Sewanee.

It all seemed eminently sensible to university administrators looking to appeal beyond the privileged white children of the South, who have long been the university’s base, and become a more national, selective and racially diverse university.

But the changes have sparked a passionate debate among alumni, many of whom view them as a betrayal of their history.

Some traditionalists say they fear that the name of the university’s guest house, Rebel’s Rest, will be next to go and that a monument donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy commemorating Edmund Kirby-Smith, a Confederate general who taught at the university for nearly 20 years, will be removed.

“I think they ought to leave it the way it is,” said Dr. David W. Aiken, an alumnus who is an orthopedic surgeon in Metairie, La. “I wouldn’t be for changing anything. I think they’re doing quite well. What is the purpose of making it a more national school? Do I want kids from California, New York coming there? Not really.”

Shake and Bake

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

…But white phosphorus has made an ugly comeback. Italian television reported that American forces used it in Falluja last year against insurgents. At first, the Pentagon said the chemical had been used only to illuminate the battlefield, but had to backpedal when it turned out that one of the Army’s own publications talked about using white phosphorus against insurgent positions, a practice well known enough to have one of those unsettling military nicknames: “shake and bake.”

The Pentagon says white phosphorus was never aimed at civilians, but there are lingering reports of civilian victims. The military can’t say whether the reports are true and does not intend to investigate them, a decision we find difficult to comprehend. Pentagon spokesmen say the Army took “extraordinary measures” to reduce civilian casualties, but they cannot say what those measures were.

They also say that using white phosphorus against military targets is legal. That’s true, but the 1983 convention bans its use against “civilians or civilian objects,” which would make white phosphorus attacks in urban settings like Falluja highly inappropriate at best. The United States signed that convention, but the portion dealing with incendiary weapons has been awaiting ratification in the Senate.

These are technicalities, in any case. Iraq, where winning over wary civilians is as critical as defeating armed insurgents, is no place to be using a weapon like this. More broadly, American demands for counterproliferation efforts and international arms control ring a bit hollow when the United States refuses to give up white phosphorus, not to mention cluster bombs and land mines.

The United States should be leading the world, not dragging its feet, when it comes to this sort of issue – because it’s right and because all of us, including Americans, are safer in a world in which certain forms of conduct are regarded as too inhumane even for war. That is why torture should be banned in American prisons. And it is why the United States should stop using white phosphorus.

Now there’s journalistic courage for you: 3 weeks later the Times lamely weighs in.

Able Danger: Uncovering the 9/11 Cover-up

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

November 21, 2005 – Writing for the Wall Street Journal’s opinion page, former FBI Director Louis Freeh has become the most recent critic of the 9/11 Commission’s investigation into the terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 Americans. He also leveled criticism at the 9/11 Commission Report, which he says is flawed because it is incomplete.

Able Danger, a relatively small data-mining operation, claims it identified several terrorist cells in this country and elsewhere before the 9/11 attacks. It also claims that members identified Mohammed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers in mid-2000. They further claim that they warned defense officials about activity in Aden, Yemen. They advised against entering the Port of Aden two days before the attack on the U.S.S. Cole on October 12, 2000, which left seventeen American sailors dead.

According to Able Danger participants, this vital information about terrorists in our midst was never allowed to get to those who may have used it to thwart the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They claim they tried three separate times to present it to the FBI and were barred three separate times from doing so by attorneys for the Clinton administration.

…Congressman Weldon has called for a criminal investigation into what he says is the most important story of our lifetime. He says he has support from 202 fellow lawmakers from both parties, noting on Thursday, November 17, that their goal was to force Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to allow “former participants in the intelligence program-known as Able Danger-to testify in an open hearing before the United States Congress.” However, Congressman Weldon has encountered resistance for such a criminal investigation from some on the 9/11 Commission. Slade Gorton appeared on Lou Dobbs Tonight to say there is nothing to the reports about Able Danger and they are not important enough to consider further action. Tim Roemer has chimed in that Able Danger presented no helpful information for the 9/11 Commission to consider.

Lieberman: `We Do Have A Plan’

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

…”If all goes well, we could be in a position to draw down a significant number of forces by the end of 2006, the beginning of 2007,” Lieberman said.

The senator said he hopes Bush will emphasize details of progress Wednesday.

“There are more cars on the street and an amazing number of satellite dishes on rooftops,” the senator said, “and what seems like millions of cellphones.

“Most exciting is the political stuff. … There is a campaign going on there for the Dec. 15 National Assembly elections and there are a lot of independent television stations and newspapers covering it.”

Lieberman acknowledged that the United States should have had more troops available after Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003.

“But what’s happening on the ground now shows those leading our effort now have learned from our mistakes,” he said, “and they’re going with what works.”

Free wireless in New Orleans, cellphones and satellite dishes in Iraq…gosh this is great!

Rumsfeld’s War On ‘Insurgents’

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

…Encouraging reporters to consult their dictionaries, the defense secretary said: “These people aren’t trying to promote something other than disorder, and to take over that country and turn it into a caliphate and then spread it around the world. This is a group of people who don’t merit the word ‘insurgency,’ I think.”

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, standing at Rumsfeld’s side, evidently didn’t get the memo about the wording change. Describing combat in Iraq, he paused and said, “I have to use the word ‘insurgent’ because I can’t think of a better word right now.”

” ‘Enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government’ — how’s that?” Rumsfeld proposed.

“What the secretary said,” Pace continued, to laughter. But Rumsfeld’s new description — ELIG, if you prefer an acronym — didn’t stick with the general. Smiling, he uttered the forbidden word again while discussing explosive devices.

The secretary recoiled in mock horror. “Sorry, sir,” Pace explained. “I’m not trainable today.”

It was not the first time the defense secretary sought to reorder the world according to his tastes. Also not for the first time, the world wasn’t following his plan. This summer Rumsfeld tried to change the “war on terror” to the “global struggle against violent extremism,” or GSAVE. President Bush ended that plan.

This time, it’s the Joint Chiefs chairman, still new to the job, who isn’t marching to Rumsfeld’s orders.

When UPI’s Pam Hess asked about torture by Iraqi authorities, Rumsfeld replied that “obviously, the United States does not have a responsibility” other than to voice disapproval.

But Pace had a different view. “It is the absolute responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene, to stop it,” the general said.

Rumsfeld interjected: “I don’t think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it’s to report it.”

But Pace meant what he said. “If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it,” he said, firmly.

Rumsfeld was defense secretary in 2003 when the United States invaded Iraq, and he has remained in that job for the occupation of the past 32 months. But in his briefing yesterday, he at times sounded as if he were merely observing the Iraq war on television.

On a question about banning white phosphorous on the battlefield, Rumsfeld turned to his briefing partner and asked, “General Pace?”

Asked how widespread the abuse in Iraq was, he replied: “I am not going to be judging it from 4,000 miles away.” Asked about the “uneven performance” of Iraqi police, Rumsfeld pointed out that the police until recently “had been reporting up through the Department of State.”

Reuters’s Charlie Aldinger asked about “uniformed death squads” in Iraq. Rumsfeld replied: “I’m not going to comment on hypothetical questions.”

When Aldinger protested that the question was not hypothetical, Rumsfeld replied that Iraq is “a sovereign country” and suggested the death-squad allegations could be politically motivated. “I just don’t know,” he said. “I can only talk about what I know.” With an exaggerated shrug, he added: “That’s life.”

CIA Director Says Agency Working to Infiltrate Terrorist Strongholds

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

…”We know a great deal more about bin Laden, Zarqawi and [bin Laden aide Ayman] Zawahiri then we’re able to say publicly,” Goss said. He said the men had not been found “primarily because they don’t want us to find them and they’re going to great lengths to make sure we don’t find them.”

Goss would not discuss the agency’s interrogation techniques, but steadfastly refused to call them torture.

“… I define torture probably the way most people would — in the eye of the beholder,” he said. “What we do does not come close because torture in terms of inflicting pain or something like that, physical pain or causing a disability, those kinds of things that probably would be a common definition for most Americans, sort of you know it when you see it, we don’t do that because it doesn’t get what you want.

“We do debriefings because debriefings are the nature of our business, is to get information,” he said. “We want accurate information and we want to make sure that we have professional people doing that work, and we do all that, and we do it in a way that does not involve torture because torture is counterproductive.”

Atomic hypocrisy

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

Neither Bush nor Blair is in a position to take a high moral line on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Britain has played a leading role in the negotiations with Iran about its nuclear programme and the risk that it might lead to the development of an atomic bomb, and may well seek to take the matter to the UN security council.

Given that the prime minister himself is determined to upgrade Trident and appears to be committed to a new series of nuclear power stations, his position as the defender of the non-proliferation treaty is not very credible, and if we are to understand the depth of western hypocrisy on this question we should look back at the history, which has been conveniently forgotten.

Wanted: a debate not a fix

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

…The public has good reason to be very sceptical about the claim that there is no alternative to a massive increase in nuclear power station construction if our targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are to be met. In addition to the usual objections to nuclear power – that it has proved far more expensive and less safe than proponents promised – there is a new one, that they will be a prime target for terrorists. Think not just of Britain but of hundreds of nuclear stations scattered around the world from Zimbabwe to China. Nevertheless we cannot dismiss the new claim – that however unsafe or expensive the nuclear option seems to be, the risks are far less than the alternative of allowing greenhouse gases to erode the viability of the planet itself. When environmentalists such as the Guardian’s columnist George Monbiot – hardly Tony Blair’s spin doctor – do the sums and find that “renewable” energies cannot save the world on present evidence without consideration of nuclear, it may be time to start examining some prejudices.

It is amazing that after all these years it is still possible to say that nuclear power would enhance the ‘viability of the planet.’