Clinton Ends US Visa Ban on Tariq Ramadan

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

swissinfo.ch and agencies

ramadan-709854 The United States has lifted a ban on Swiss Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan entering the country.

Ramadan has had his US visa revoked several times since 2004 when he was due to take up a university teaching post. He was banned from the US over alleged ties to terrorism.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has signed orders enabling the re-entry of Ramadan and Adam Habib, a professor at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, once they obtained required admittance documents, department spokesman Darby Holladay said on Wednesday.

He said Clinton “has chosen to exercise her exemption authority” for the pair’s benefit. “Both the president and the secretary of state have made it clear that the US government is pursuing a new relationship with Muslim communities based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” Holladay said.

Both professors, who are frequently invited to the US to lecture, were critics of the war in Iraq.

Government lawyers have said Ramadan was barred because he gave money to a Swiss-based charity, the Association de Secours Palestinien (ASP), between 1998 and 2002. Washington listed ASP as a banned group in 2003, saying it supported terrorism and had contributed funds to the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas.

“The decision brings to an end a dark period in American politics that saw security considerations invoked to block critical debate through a policy of exclusion and baseless allegation,” Ramadan said in a statement.

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America’s Credibility Takes Another Blow

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By David Rothkopf

court_front_med It’s ironic. At precisely the moment that Secretary of State Clinton was rightly striking out at the Chinese for their infringement of the rights of their own citizens to open Internet access, democracy was dying in America.

In fact now, following an era that might well be defined by America’s twin credibility crises of the past decade, another looms.

The first two blows — blows that have left America’s standing in the world weaker today than it has been at any time in the past half century, even with the many steps President Obama has taken to reverse the missteps of the Bush era — undercut two of what might be seen as the three pillars of American standing on the planet.

The initial credibility crisis was triggered by the Bush administration’s reckless disregard for the values upon which the republic was founded. >From Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, from the illegal invasion of Iraq to the rendition and torture of prisoners, America’s role as a leader by virtue of our moral standing was called into question. The champions of the rule of law were now seen, rightfully, as one of its enemies, arguing as we were that there were two standards: that to which we held the rest of the world and that we chose for ourselves.

Next, America’s role as an economic model for the world, champion of free markets and opportunity for all came under fire. In the run up to the economic crisis of 2008-2009, growing inequality in the United States was leading many critics to question our “leave it to the markets” approach. But then came the crisis and once again, the United States demonstrated that the doctrine we had preached worldwide were not going to be applied at home and moreover, that our system was deeply and fundamentally flawed. Doubt about “American capitalism” were only amplified in the aftermath of the crisis, in which middle class victims of the crisis were hardly helped and many were hurt but in which Wall Street fat cats called the tune, reaped the rewards of government intervention and then flouted their power by shrugging off the government when it was no longer necessary to their business plans.

What was left for Americans to cling to? Our moral standing and our fundamental message to the world had been built on the ideas of respect for the rule of law and free markets. And now the world was left to wonder, if not America, then to whom do we turn? Should we embrace other models?

Admittedly, the Chinese model, which might have had a shot at greater influence given the damage done to the U.S. brand, wasn’t doing itself any favors with its attempt to deny its people both basic rights of all international citizens of the 21st Century … which would also have the effect of making Chinese workers less competitive in the global economy. Hillary Clinton’s speech attacking this was forceful and utterly appropriate. The Chinese whining in response to it was a sign of weakness and with some luck, the Obama administration will ignore it, shrug off the Chinese threats of consequences in other areas of the bilateral relationship, and continue to press home this essential point.

But the argument on behalf of the American way was made immeasurably harder recently by the Supreme Court’s devastating blow to several of the most fundamental precepts of American society — equal rights, for example, or truly free speech (which is to say the right speak and be heard, without having to pay for it).

By a 5-4 vote the justices of the court, with the Republican right in the majority, struck down limits on corporate campaign spending. Further building on the dangerous fiction in American law that corporations ought to have rights akin to those of individuals, the decision effectively unleashes the floodgates of corporate and union money into the political arena.

This is certainly a more powerful threat to democracy than terrorism. It may well be a more powerful threat to democracy than was the fatally-flawed Soviet Union. Because to the extent to which politicians depend on donations to remain in power, they are inevitably influenced by those who have the most money. Not surprisingly, corporate entities, representing many people and often vast economic enterprises, have vastly more financial resources than individuals. Arguing, as American right wingers do, that campaign donations are form of free speech and thus cannot be constrained, ignores the reality that by equating money with free speech we effectively say that those with more money have more free speech, are entitled to greater influence within our society.

The implications are stark. Should this decision go unreversed by subsequent action of the Congress, a future court or a future constitutional amendment, it tips the balance of power in the United States even farther away from average people and in the direction of elites. Since campaign donations do not flow from companies primarily for ideological reasons but rather to advance narrow self-interests, the business of U.S. political class will necessarily be driven by the politics of the business class.

In a nutshell, yesterday’s Supreme Court decision made it very likely that America will not be an effective leader in combating global warming or preserving global resources, it will not be able to effectively resolve the internal threats to its own society like a failing health care system, and it will pursue international policies that are driven less by the broad national interest and more by the agenda of companies that in fact, have increasingly little national identity.

In this respect, this compromise of the third and most important pillar of U.S. international leadership-democracy, may be the most damaging of all. We can repair, as the Obama administration has attempted to do, the abuses of the Bush years. But if the court’s action does in effect institutionalize Calvin Coolidge’s old idea that “the business of America is business” it will be impossible to either effectively redress the flaws in the American economic model or for us to continue to argue that the nation that was the most important pioneer of representative democracy will continue to be able to play that role.

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Interfaith Singing Event in Ann Arbor

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

ScreenShot106

Three members of the Threshold Choir of Ann Arbor sing at the East West Center on Airport Rd. in Ann Arbor. 

Photo by Steve Lyskawa

Ann Arbor–January 24–Three very different singing groups performed together at a Divine Language of Music Chanting special at the Interfaith Center for Spiritual Growth at 704 Airport Rd. in Ann Arbor Sunday night.

An audience of about 120 people packed a beautiful room lit by candles, with paintings on the walls designed to represent spiritual teachings, and symbols around the room of cosmological things like the stars and moon.

Norma Gentile sang first–she is a recording artist of four solo musical CDs, 10 Meditation and teaching CDs.  She sings in a way designed to connect to spiritual powers.

Also singing were The Threshold Choir, which may be of slightly more interest to a Muslim audience.  The Threshold Choir, represented Sunday by about 15 singers, sings at the bedsides of people–sometimes bedsides of people who are dying, sometimes bedsides of people who are sick or in comas.  The Threshold Choir actually has branches all over the United States and in Canada as well, although they began in the Bay Area of California (where they now have several branches).

“We sing in small pairs or small groups in hospices, hospitals, nursing homes, and private homes when we are invited by family or caregivers,” explains their website.

At the Center for Spiritual Growth the Ann Arbor brach of the choir did a demonstration of several of their songs, including a rehearsed bedside singing ceremony.

The songs they sang at the event were all in English, including one called “Breathe in, cherish yourself, breathe out, cherish the world,” and another one which is a Navajo prayer, “When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced, live your life so that when you die, you rejoice and the world cries.”

The Threshold Choir is a women’s only choir which is in fact a kind of spiritual guidance–beginning singers are welcomed from all faith backgrounds but are trained for a period of months before they actually perform for people at their bedsides.

Finally there was a Sufi chanting group which chanted the Shahada and Allah’s Holy Names, and there was a drum accompaniment and also there were whirling dervishes; Mr. Kamau Ayyubi explained the dervishes hold their right hand up high and extend their left down, representing bringing Divine benefits to this world.

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Case Against Aafia Siddiqui Begins to Unravel

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

PressTV

The case against Pakistani citizen Aafia Siddiqui, who is charged with attempted murder of FBI agents and US military personnel, is beginning to unravel as witnesses have offered conflicting accounts in testimony delivered at her trial.

The long-awaited trial of Siddiqui began in a federal courtroom in New York on Tuesday.

On January 21, which was the second day of the trial, Assistant US Attorney Jenna Dabbs showed jurors numerous photographs of the room of the Afghan police station where the shooting allegedly took place, and a photo of the cell where Siddiqui was held when she was first brought to the station on July 17, 2008, the independent online news network Mathaba reported.

But Carlo Rosati, an FBI firearms expert who testified in the federal court on Friday, expressed doubts whether the M-4 rifle, which was allegedly grabbed by Aafia Siddiqui to attack US interrogators in Ghazni, Afghanistan, was ever fired at the crime scene, the Associated Press of Pakistan said.

In addition, on the third of the trial, an FBI agent testified that the FBI did not find Aafia Siddiqui’s fingerprints on the rifle.

No Pakistanis reporters were granted press credentials when opening statements began on Tuesday.

The MIT-educated neuroscientist is currently on trial, facing charges of trying to kill US soldiers and FBI agents in Afghanistan in 2008 and connections with Al-Qaeda operatives.

She insisted on the first day of the trial that she knew nothing about a plan to carry out terrorist attacks on targets in New York, The New York Daily News reported.

“Give me a little credit, this is not a list of targets of New York,” she said. “I was never planning to bomb it. You’re lying.”

Siddiqui told jurors at her trial on Tuesday that she was held in a secret prison in Afghanistan, her children were tortured, and the case against her is a sham.

She was ejected from the federal court on the first day of here trial after her shouting outburst.

Siddiqui vanished in Karachi, Pakistan with her three children on March 30, 2003. The next day it was reported in local newspapers that she had been taken into custody on terrorism charges.

US officials allege Aafia Siddiqui was seized on July 17, 2008 by Afghan security forces in Ghazni province and claim that documents, including formulas for explosives and chemical weapons, were found in her handbag.

They say that while she was being interrogated, she grabbed a US warrant officer’s M-4 rifle and fired two shots at FBI agents and military personnel but missed and that the warrant officer then fired back, hitting her in the torso.

She was then brought to the United States to face charges of attempted murder and assault. Siddiqui faces 20 years in prison if convicted.

However, human rights organizations have cast doubt on the accuracy of the US account of the event.

Many political activists believe she was Prisoner 650 of the US detention facility in Bagram, Afghanistan, where they say she was tortured for five years until one day US authorities announced that they had found her in Afghanistan.

JR/HGL

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Assassination of Martin Luther King

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

www.ratical.com

martin-luther-king-and-malcolm-x1 The story of Martin Luther King’s assassination, and the 1999 trial where the truth of this event was finally revealed in a court of law is now encapsulated in Dr. William F. Pepper’s new book, released by Verso this month: An Act of State – The Execution of Martin Luther King. The dust jacket summarizes what many have intuitively known for more than thirty years:

“William Pepper, attorney and friend of Dr. King and the King family, became convinced after years of investigation that not only was Ray not the shooter, but that King had been targeted as part of a larger conspiracy to stop the anti-war movement, and to prevent King from gaining momentum in his promising Poor People’s Campaign. Ten years into his investigation, in 1988, Pepper agreed to represent Ray.

While he was never able to successfully appeal the sentence before Ray’s death, he was able to build an air-tight case against the real perpetrators. In 1999, Loyd Jowers and co-conspirators were brought to trial in a wrongful death civil action suit on behalf of the King family. Seventy witnesses set out the details of the conspiracy in a plot to murder King that involved J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, Richard Helms and the CIA, the military, the local Memphis police, and organized crime figures from New Orleans and Memphis. The evidence was unimpeachable. The jury took an hour to find for the King family. But the silence following these shocking revelations was deafening. Like the pattern during all the investigations of the assassination throughout the years, no major media outlet would cover the story. It was effectively buried.

“Until now, the details, evidence, and personalities of all these nefarious characters have gone unreported. In An Act of State, you finally have the truth before you — how the United States government effectively shut down one of the most galvanizing movements for social change by stopping its leader dead in his tracks.”

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Pentagon Report Calls for Office of ‘Strategic Deception’

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Noah Shachtman

The Defense Department needs to get better at lying and fooling people about its intentions. That’s the conclusion from an influential Pentagon panel, the Defense Science Board (DSB), which recommends that the military and intelligence communities join in a new agency devoted to “strategic surprise/deception.”

Tricking battlefield opponents has been a part of war since guys started beating each other with bones and sticks. But these days, such moves are harder to pull off, the DSB notes in a January report (.pdf) first unearthed by InsideDefense.com. “In an era of ubiquitous information access, anonymous leaks and public demands for transparency, deception operations are extraordinarily difficult. Nevertheless, successful strategic deception has in the past provided the United States with significant advantages that translated into operational and tactical success. Successful deception also minimizes U.S. vulnerabilities, while simultaneously setting conditions to surprise adversaries.”

The U.S. can’t wait until it’s at war with a particular country or group before engaging in this strategic trickery, however. “Deception cannot succeed in wartime without developing theory and doctrine in peacetime,” according to the DSB. “In order to mitigate or impart surprise, the United States should [begin] deception planning and action prior to the need for military operations.”

Doing that will not only requires an “understanding the enemy culture, standing beliefs, and intelligence-gathering process and decision cycle, as well as the soundness of its operational and tactical doctrine,” the DSB adds. Deception is also “reliant … on the close control of information, running agents (and double-agents) and creating stories that adversaries will readily believe.”

Such wholesale obfuscation can’t be done on an ad-hoc basis, or by a loose coalition of existing agencies. The DSB writes that ”to be effective, a permanent standing office with strong professional intelligence and operational expertise needs to be established.” I wonder: what would you call that organization? The Military Deception Agency? Or something a bit more … deceptive?

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U.S. Drone Missile Kills Filipino Bomber in Pakistan

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Inquirer.net, News Report, Philippine Daily Inquirer

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — An alleged Abu Sayyaf demolition expert wanted by the United States for $1M is believed to have been killed in an American drone strike close to the Afghan border earlier this month, Pakistani intelligence officials said Thursday.

If confirmed, the death of Abdul Basit Usman would represent another success for the U.S. covert missile program on targets in Pakistan. There have been an unprecedented number of attacks this month following a deadly Dec. 30 bombing of a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) base in Afghanistan.

There had been no previous indication that Usman, who was captured by Philippine authorities in 2002 but escaped months later, was in Pakistan.

If the reports of his death are true, it may indicate stronger ties between the worldwide terror group al-Qaida and Southeast Asian extremist groups than previously thought.

In Manila, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it was verifying the report.

AFP spokesperson Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. told reporters military intelligence was still checking if indeed it was Usman who was killed in Pakistan.

Brawner said an intelligence report “sometime last year” indicated Usman was still in Mindanao. “We are still waiting for the report from our intelligence,” he said.

But if the report of Usman’s death was true, it would “to some extent” cripple the capability of the Abu Sayyaf, Brawner said.

MILF Welcomes Report

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) expressed relief at the report.

“We are happy and we welcome the report. We hope it is true,” Eid Kabalu, MILF civil-military affairs chief, said.

Kabalu said Usman’s death vindicated the MILF, which had been accused by the military of coddling the alleged bomber.

Usman was linked to a series of attacks in Mindanao, including the 2006 bombing in Makilala, North Cotabato, that killed half a dozen people.

In 2002, cohorts sprang him from the Sarangani provincial jail. He escaped along with Pentagon gang leader Alonto Tahir.

Maguindanao Tribe

Kabalu said Usman belonged to the Maguindanao tribe, having been born and raised in Ampatuan town.

There were also reports that Usman was involved in extortion activities of the Abu Sofia and the al-Khobar gangs, which have been linked to the Abu Sayyaf.

Kabalu said Usman had never been an MILF member but that his brother, Ustadz Mohiden, belonged to the MILF’s religious committee. Mohiden disappeared in 2004 after government agents seized him, Kabalu said.

“He (Usman) was not a member (of the MILF) but he trained many MILF members in bomb-making,” said Maj. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command.

On Most-Wanted List

Two military intelligence officers in northwestern Pakistan said Usman was believed killed on Jan. 14 on the border of Pakistan’s South and North Waziristan tribal regions. Another 11 militants were also killed in the strike on an extremist compound.

The US State Department’s list of most-wanted terrorists identifies Usman as a bomb-making expert with links to the Abu Sayyaf bandit group and the Southeast Asian Jemaah Islamiyah network.

The State Department has put a bounty of $1 million for information leading to Usman’s conviction, and says he is believed responsible for bombings in the southern Philippines in 2006 and 2007 that killed 15 people.

Home to Terrorists

Waziristan and other parts of Pakistan’s border region have long been home to militants from all over the world, primarily Arabs and central Asians.

Up to several hundred Filipino and other Southeast Asian militants traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1980s and ’90s to fight the Soviets and attend al-Qaida-run camps, but they are no longer believed to be in the region in significant numbers.

The apparent presence of Usman in Waziristan may raise fresh questions as to links between al-Qaida in Pakistan and extremists in Southeast Asia, which has seen several bloody bombings and failed terror plots since 2000. Many were carried out by extremists who had returned from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Pakistani officials cited extremist informers as the source of the information on Usman’s death—which could not be independently confirmed. One of them said Usman had been in Waziristan for one year after arriving from Afghanistan.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media on the record.

Pakistani government officials rarely confirm the identities of those killed in US attacks.

Unmanned Planes

Islamabad publicly complains about the US missile strikes because admitting to cooperating with the United States would be politically damaging, but it is believed to provide intelligence for many of them.

US officials, also, do not often talk about the missile strikes or their targets, but they have in the past confirmed the deaths of several mid- and high-level al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.

Most of the missiles are fired from unmanned drone aircraft launched from Afghanistan.

Asked about the drone program during an interview with local Express TV, visiting US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said: “I’m not going to discuss operations but I will say this: These unmanned aerial vehicles have been extremely useful to us, both in Iraq and in Afghanistan.”

Shadow Aircraft

Gates said he was expanding the program by buying more of the aircraft. He also said the United States was considering ways to share intelligence with the Pakistani military, including possibly giving it US-made drones for intelligence and reconnaissance purposes.

U.S. officials said Gates was referring to a proposed deal for 12 unarmed Shadow aircraft.

With reports from AP; Jocelyn R. Uy, in Manila; and Allan Nawal, Inquirer Mindanao

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U.S. Bangladeshis Track Climate Changes Back Home

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By New America Media, Ngoc Nguyen

Mohammed Khan was a child when the deadliest cyclone ever recorded struck Bangladesh (at the time East Pakistan) in 1970. The cyclone brought torrential rains and winds stronger than those seen during Hurricane Katrina. As many as half a million people were killed. Then river waters rose and claimed the land.

“My family lives on an island called Bhola,” Khan recalls. “They have some land, but a lot of the land was taken by the river during a great flood.”

Khan, 51, who now lives in Queens, N.Y., has a daughter and more than 200 family members in Bangladesh. He’s worried about how his large extended family will fare when the next cyclone strikes, and he fears climate change will worsen such disasters.

“As the water levels rise in the next few years, much of southern Bangladesh will go into the womb of the river,” he says.

Concern about climate change among the public has waned, but the issue is foremost among many Bangladeshi Americans, because of the vulnerability of Bangladesh to climate change. Some community members are organizing seminars to learn about how rising seas and extreme weather will play out in their home country, and they’re making their voices heard on the political front.

Bangladesh is often considered ground zero for climate change. Crisscrossed by hundreds of rivers, much of the country is a massive flat delta, extremely vulnerable to sea-level rise. As global warming pushes sea levels higher, Bangladesh would have the most land inundated among its South Asian neighbors, according to the World Bank. If sea levels rise by one meter, as much as a fifth of the country could be submerged, displacing about 20 million people.

In the last few years, awareness about climate change has grown among Bangladeshi Americans.

Hasan Rahim, a software engineering consultant based in San Jose, says Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” was a wake-up call for him and many Bangladeshis in Silicon Valley. Rahim, who also teaches math and statistics at San Jose City College, says he organized screenings of the film in his community.

Rahim connected the film’s dire predictions about climate change to his homeland. “We live here, but we have roots there,” he says. “We are connected and we have got to become more aware of [climate change impacts].”

More than a dozen rivers, including the mighty Ganges, Brahmaputra, Jamuna and Meghna, flow across Bangladesh, emptying into the Bay of Bengal. The southern part of the country is a massive delta, with its fertile land known as the country’s rice bowl.

“It’s really a concern. We’re a small country with 150 million people, so lots of people would lose their houses, land, and become homeless,” says Abu Taher, editor of the newspaper Bangla Patrik, in New York. He says people want to know the future consequences of climate change on the country so they can tell family members to take precautions.

When he travels to Bangladesh, Khan says he notices changes in the environment. There used to be three crop seasons, he says, but now there’s one. “Normally, we would have floods during the rainy season, but now there is no one season for floods anymore,” Khan adds.

A construction worker, Khan also heads up a group made up of immigrants from Barisal, a southern province that is frequently hard hit by cyclones and flooding. The group has organized seminars to learn more about how climate change will affect Bangladesh. From the United States, Khan says he sometimes feels powerless to help his family back home.

“There’s nowhere for them to go. Bangladesh is a small country,” he says. “Where would they get the land? Who will give us the money? I can just advise them to use the deep tube wells to get clean water.”

Khan says his group wants to share the information with U.S. elected officials, and tell them they want the United States to curb its own pollution and help vulnerable nations.

“America as a leader should help all the poor and affected countries, including Bangladesh,” Khan says. “Affected families are dying without food, without a roof over their heads. We should provide financial assistance and even bring them here.”

In the last two decades, Bangladesh suffered the most deaths and greatest economic losses as a result of extreme weather events, according to Germanwatch’s Global Climate Risk Index 2010.

At the climate change summit in Copenhagen in December, the United States and other developed nations pledged $100 billion in aid to countries most vulnerable to climate change impacts.

“It would make all the difference in the world if the aid were used not to buy finished products like solar panels, but to develop local indigenous talent,” says Rahim.

Bangladeshis have already had to adapt to higher sea levels, Rahim says.

“People who raised chickens are now raising ducks,” he says, and farmers are experimenting with “floating seed beds” to save crops during floods.

Until more funds are directed to helping people adapt to climate change, more frequent and more intense storms and floods will create more environmental refugees.

Queens resident Sheikh Islam says refugees have already poured into the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, which the World Wildlife Federation ranked as the city most vulnerable to climate change impacts out of 11 Asian coastal cities.

Islam says there’s more recognition now that climate change is causing the refugee surge into the city.

“They thought the migrants who came to the city were just jobless and landless. Now, the government is mentioning that they are jobless and landless because of climate change,” he says.

Islam says there’s also a growing perception that Western developed countries bear more responsibility for the problem because they contribute the most to carbon emissions blamed for global warming.

“Now, people know about climate change and they are talking about it,” Islam says. “Three to five years ago they don’t talk about it. They thought it was our problem. Now they think it is a global problem.”

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Israel and Egypt Continue to Squeeze Gaza

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ann Wright, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

Two weeks ago, almost 2,000 internationals came to Egypt and Gaza in a massive show of civil society’s support for the people of Gaza. Nearly 1,400 persons representing 44 countries in the Gaza Freedom March and over 500 persons with the Viva Palestina Convoy let the people of Gaza know of their concern for the tragic consequences of their governments’ support of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade.

Yet, two weeks later, with the apparent approval of governments (United States, European Community and Canada) that support the quarantine, blockade and siege of Gaza, Israel and Egypt have tightened the squeeze to wring the lifeblood out of the people of Gaza.

US Military Team Visits Underground Wall Construction

The US government continues to assist Egypt in building an underground wall to cut off tunnels under the border of Gaza and Egypt. According to Reuters, on January 14, 2010, three US military personnel from the US embassy in Cairo visited Rafah to follow up on the barrier project. According to security sources in Rafah, visits by US military have been taking place monthly.

In a press conference this week in Washington, US State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said, “What we’d like to see is for Hamas to stop using the border crossings as methods for smuggling in weapons and let’s get the weapons smuggling stopped.” Duguid did not address the use of the tunnels to get life-saving food and materials prohibited by Israel.

In December 2009, three Palestinians were killed after a tunnel collapsed beneath the Egypt-Gaza border. The three were reported missing, and later found by rescue workers.

Deadliest Week Since Last Year’s Israeli Attack

Last week, January 6-12, was the deadliest week for the Gaza Strip in the past year since the January 18, 2009, ceasefire that ended Israel’s “Cast Lead” offensive.

According to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israeli air force bombing attacks killed seven Palestinians in Gaza, including three civilians. The attacks came in response to an increase in the number of mortar shells and rockets fired by Palestinian factions from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel that caused no injuries or property damage.

Since the ceasefire a year ago, a total of 84 Palestinians, including at least 27 civilians, and one Israeli (a soldier) have been killed. Another 160 Palestinians and seven Israelis were injured in Gaza and southern Israel.

On January 8, 2010, US aircraft flown by Israeli air force personnel bombed tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border, killing three Palestinians, including a 15 year-old boy, and wounding another two. Another Palestinian was hurt in a separate airstrike. In two other incidents, on January 6 and 10, Israeli aircraft targeted and killed four Palestinian militants, three of them in one airstrike. Five additional airstrikes, resulting in no casualties, were carried out during the week. Also this week, on four separate occasions, Israeli forces drove tanks into Gaza and conducted land-leveling operations.

Israelis Increase Border Zone Into Gaza

On January 7 this year, the Israeli air force dropped leaflets into areas next to the border fence with Gaza, warning residents to keep a distance of at least 300 meters from the border with Israel and to avoid cooperating with “smugglers” in the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border. This doubled the buffer zone along the border from 150 meters to 300 meters, but Israeli forces have opened “warning” fire at farmers as far as 1,000 meters (3,200 feet) from the border.

A parallel ban for Gaza fishermen is applied to sea areas beyond three nautical miles from the coast, though often this distance is less in practice. This week, in nine separate incidents, Israeli naval forces opened “warning” fire at Palestinian fishing boats along Gaza’s coast, forcing them to return to shore.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) reported that on January 6 and 9 this year, unknown persons detonated bombs in a pharmacy and two coffee shops in Gaza City; no one was hurt, but property damage was reported.

Two Killed in January in Tunnels and Seven Youths Burned in Tunnel Fire

In January 2010, two Palestinians died in two separate incidents involving the collapse of a tunnel under the Gaza-Egypt border while they were working inside it. At least 70 people have died and 123 others have been injured in the tunnels since the end of the “Cast Lead” Israeli attack on Gaza.

On January 16 this year, seven Palestinians from Gaza were burned in a fire that broke out in one of the tunnels connecting the border towns of Rafah, Gaza and Rafah, Egypt. The seven burned tunnel workers were treated at An-Nasser and Ash-Shifa hospitals in Gaza City.

Digging tunnels and working in them is one of the few jobs available for Palestinian youth in Gaza. Tunnel workers reportedly earn $25 per day, a huge sum in the current Palestinian economy. However, they are subjected to daily bombings by US F-16 aircraft flown by the Israeli Air Force, plus tunnel collapses and fires.

Accidents in the tunnels are frequent. According to the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Mezan, 120 people have been killed working in the tunnel trade in the past three years.

According to OCHA, no commercial gasoline or diesel fuel entered Gaza via Kerem Shalom during last week. Egyptian gasoline and diesel, which is transferred through the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, remains available on the open market, with nearly 100,000 liters of diesel and 100,000 liters of gasoline transferred into Gaza per day.

Israeli Tanks Shell Beit Hanoun

Israeli tanks operating near the northern Gaza border near Beit Hanoun targeted civilian properties with heavy artillery fire on January 15, 2010. Tank shells hit civilian homes on the outskirts of the town, causing material damages but no injuries.

Egypt Builds Anchorage for Border Patrol Boats

Egypt is continuing fortification of its borders with Gaza, this time by sea. According to Reuters, Egypt is constructing a port for patrol boats that will block sea routes into Gaza for merchandise, food and weapons.

The border patrol boats will keep Palestinian fishing boats in Gazan coastal waters. Egypt has said it believes the boats are being used to carry out smuggling operations, though there have never been reports of such incidents. “It is to secure the area. It will be used to direct fishing boats in the area to ensure they do not cross the Israeli sea border and risk getting fired at,” the security sources told Reuters.

As Egypt completes the 14-kilometer underground wall along the Rafah border, Egyptian surveillance of the Mediterranean Sea increases the strangling of Gaza. The tunnels are the only way Gazans can bring goods into the Strip. Israel has maintained a tight blockade of the area, letting in only 36 types of goods for the past three years.

Future Aid Missions Must Go Through Red Crescent

On January 6, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrators, protesting Egypt’s delay in allowing the aid convoy Viva Palestina into Gaza, as well as Egypt’s plans to build the underground steel wall, clashed with Egyptian forces at the Gaza-Egypt border. As a result, an Egyptian soldier was shot dead and 13 Palestinians were injured, including six who suffered gunshot wounds. Eventually, the convoy entered on the same day, carrying food and medical supplies.

However, in response to the clashes, Egypt introduced a new mechanism, through which future aid convoys into Gaza will go through the Egyptian Red Crescent.

No Internationals Allowed Into Gaza

During December, no internationals were allowed into Gaza through the Rafah crossing, until 92 persons from the Gaza Freedom March were allowed in for 48 hours on December 30. During January, only the Viva Palestina convoy personnel were allowed in for 24 hours. Many international persons have letters of invitation from non-governmental organizations to assist in a variety of ways. Only one other international has been allowed into Gaza in January. Egypt has denied the requests for all other internationals. The ability of citizens of the world to assist Gaza when their governments will not is tragically being strangled.

12-4

Don’t Panic. Fear Is Al-Qaeda’s Real Goal

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Fareed Zakaria

In responding to the attempted bombing of an airliner on Christmas Day, Sen. Dianne Feinstein voiced the feelings of many when she said that to prevent such situations, “I’d rather overreact than underreact.” This appears to be the consensus view in Washington, but it is quite wrong. The purpose of terrorism is to provoke an overreaction. Its real aim is not to kill the hundreds of people directly targeted but to sow fear in the rest of the population. Terrorism is an unusual military tactic in that it depends on the response of the onlookers. If we are not terrorized, then the attack didn’t work. Alas, this one worked very well.

The attempted bombing says more about al-Qaeda’s weakened state than its strength. In the eight years before Sept. 11, al-Qaeda was able to launch large-scale terrorist attacks on several continents. It targeted important symbols of American power — embassies in Africa; a naval destroyer, the USS Cole; and, of course, the World Trade Center. The operations were complex — a simultaneous bombing of two embassies in different countries — and involved dozens of people of different nationalities who trained around the world, moved significant sums of money and coordinated their efforts over months, sometimes years.

On Christmas an al-Qaeda affiliate launched an operation using one person, with no special target, and a failed technique tried eight years ago by “shoe bomber” Richard Reid. The plot seems to have been an opportunity that the group seized rather than the result of a well-considered strategic plan. A Nigerian fanatic with (what appeared to be) a clean background volunteered for service; he was wired up with a makeshift explosive and put on a plane. His mission failed entirely, killing not a single person. The suicide bomber was not even able to commit suicide. But al-Qaeda succeeded in its real aim, which was to throw the American system into turmoil. That’s why the terror group proudly boasted about the success of its mission.

Is there some sensible reaction between panic and passivity? Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission and later a senior State Department official in the Bush administration, suggests that we should try to analyze failures in homeland security the way we do airplane catastrophes. When an airliner suffers an accident, major or minor, the National Transportation Safety Board convenes a group of nonpartisan experts who methodically examine what went wrong and then issue recommendations to improve the situation. “We approach airline security with the understanding that it’s a complex problem, that we have a pretty good system, but that there will be failures — caused by human beings, technology, or other factors. The point is to constantly fix what’s broken and keep improving the design and execution,” says Zelikow.

Imagine if that were the process after a lapse in homeland security. The public would know that any attack, successful or not, would trigger an automatic, serious process to analyze the problem and fix it. Politicians might find it harder to use every such event for political advantage. The people on the front lines of homeland security would not get demoralized as they watched politicians and the media bash them and grandstand with little knowledge.

Overreacting to terrorist attacks plays into al-Qaeda’s hands. It also provokes responses that are likely to be large-scale, expensive, ineffective and possibly counterproductive. More screening for every passenger makes no sense. When searching for needles in haystacks, adding hay doesn’t help. What’s needed is a larger, more robust watch list that is instantly available to all relevant government agencies. Almost 2 million people travel on planes in the United States every day. We need to isolate the tiny percentage of suspicious characters and search them, not cause needless fear in everyone else.

As for the calls to treat the would-be bomber as an enemy combatant, torture him and toss him into Guantanamo, God knows he deserves it. But keep in mind that the crucial intelligence we received was from the boy’s father. If that father had believed that the United States was a rogue superpower that would torture and abuse his child without any sense of decency, would he have turned him in? To keep this country safe, we need many more fathers, uncles, friends and colleagues to have enough trust in America that they, too, would turn in the terrorist next door.

Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International. His e-mail address is comments@fareedzakaria.com.

12-3

Russia, China, Iran Redraw Energy Map

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By M K Bhadrakumar

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The inauguration of the Dauletabad-Sarakhs-Khangiran pipeline on Wednesday connecting Iran’s northern Caspian region with Turkmenistan’s vast gas field may go unnoticed amid the Western media cacophony that it is “apocalypse now” for the Islamic regime in Tehran.

The event sends strong messages for regional security. Within the space of three weeks, Turkmenistan has committed its entire gas exports to China, Russia and Iran. It has no urgent need of the pipelines that the United States and the European Union have been advancing. Are we hearing the faint notes of a Russia-China-Iran symphony?

The 182-kilometer Turkmen-Iranian pipeline starts modestly with the pumping of 8 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Turkmen gas. But its annual capacity is 20bcm, and that would meet the energy requirements of Iran’s Caspian region and enable Tehran to free its own gas production in the southern fields for export. The mutual interest is perfect: Ashgabat gets an assured market next door; northern Iran can consume without fear of winter shortages; Tehran can generate more surplus for exports; Turkmenistan can seek transportation routes to the world market via Iran; and Iran can aspire to take advantage of its excellent geographical location as a hub for the Turkmen exports.

12-3

Iran Blames US Agents for Scientist’s Murder

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Fredrik Dahl

2010-01-13T123250Z_01_BTRE60C0YUZ00_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-IRAN-BOMB-USA

An undated image released by Iran’s Fars News Agency of Tehran University professor Massoud Ali-Mohammadi who was killed by a bomb in front of his home in north Tehran January 12, 2010.

REUTERS/FARS NEWS

TEHRAN (Reuters) – A remote-controlled bomb killed a Tehran University scientist on Tuesday, official media reported, in an attack Iran blamed on the United States and Israel.

Iranian officials and state media described professor Massoud Ali-Mohammadi as a nuclear scientist, and Iran’s cabinet said agents of the United States were behind his murder.

A State Department official in Washington said charges of U.S. involvement were absurd.

Western sources said Ali-Mohammadi, a physics professor, worked closely with Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi and Fereydoun Abbassi-Davani, both subject to U.N. sanctions because of their work on suspected nuclear weapons development.

The U.N. nuclear agency is investigating Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran says is for generating electricity and not for building nuclear bombs as the West suspects.

Ali Shirzadian, a spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said Ali-Mohammadi, 50, had not played a role in the activities of the organization, which is at the center of the disputed nuclear program.

Shahram Amiri, a university researcher working for the atomic body, disappeared during a pilgrimage to Mecca in June, three months before Iran disclosed the existence of its second uranium enrichment site near the city of Qom. In December, Tehran accused Saudi Arabia of handing Amiri over to the United States.

“America’s spying and intelligence agents from one side abduct some Iranian citizens … and on the other side their treacherous agents kill an Iranian citizen inside the country,” an Iranian cabinet statement said, reported by the semi-official Fars news agency.

A list of Ali-Mohammadi’s publications on Tehran University’s website suggested his specialism was theoretical particle physics, not nuclear energy, a Western physics professor said.

The bombing — a rare attack in the Iranian capital — occurred at a time of heightened tension in the Islamic Republic seven months after a disputed presidential election plunged the oil producer into turmoil.

It also coincided with a sensitive juncture in Iran’s row with the West over its nuclear ambitions, with global powers expected to meet in New York on Saturday to discuss possible new sanctions on Tehran over its refusal to halt its atomic work.

Earlier, Iran’s Foreign Ministry blamed Israel and the United States.

“Signs of the triangle of wickedness by the Zionist regime (Israel), America and their hired agents, are visible in the terrorist act,” it said.

“Such terrorist acts and the apparent elimination of the country’s nuclear scientists will definitely not obstruct scientific and technological processes,” it said.
White House spokesman Bill Burton said the accusations were absurd. A senior Israeli official said Ali-Mohammadi was not known to have been a significant figure in any military nuclear program.

BOOBY-TRAPPED MOTORBIKE

English-language Press TV said Ali-Mohammadi was killed in a northern part of the capital by a booby-trapped motorcycle as he was leaving his home. It showed footage of blood stains, broken glass and other debris at the scene, with what appeared to be the dead man in a body bag taken away on a stretcher.

Fars said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had ordered the intelligence and security services to use all their capabilities to find those behind the killing.

State broadcaster IRIB described al-Mohammadi as a “committed and revolutionary” professor, suggesting he backed Ahmadinejad’s government. Fars quoted one of his students as saying he had worked with the elite Revolutionary Guards until 2003.

But an opposition website, Jaras, said he was an opposition supporter whose name was among hundreds of academics who issued a statement in favor of moderate candidate Mirhossein Mousavi during the campaign for last June’s election.

Even if he had worked on Iran’s nuclear program, analysts doubted his death could set back Tehran’s aspirations.

“I have no reason to think that this is part of an Israeli or American strategy to deprive Iran of the brains of the enrichment process,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, chief proliferation analyst at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies. “There are by now too many scientists and engineers with the requisite expertise”.
STRATFOR, a global intelligence firm, said Ali-Mohammadi was unlikely to have been a key figure in nuclear activities since his publishing record pointed to purely academic research.

“The relatively high visibility and volume of work in academia suggests that Ali-Mohammadi’s role, if any, in the nuclear program was not very significant,” STRATFOR said in an analysis. “Critical scientists involved in nuclear weapons programs usually are sequestered carefully and provided more security than Ali-Mohammadi was given.”

Fars quoted a foreign-based group, the Iran Monarchy Association, as claiming responsibility for Tuesday’s bombing. It did not say how it obtained the statement.
Iran has been convulsed by its most serious domestic unrest since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 as protests by opposition supporters against the election result have turned violent. Authorities deny opposition allegations that voting was rigged.

(Additional reporting by Mark Heinrich in Vienna; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Mark Trevelyan)

12-3

Cancer – The Deadly Legacy of the Invasion of Iraq

January 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

New America Media, News Digest, Jalal Ghazi

Forget about oil, occupation, terrorism or even Al Qaeda. The real hazard for Iraqis these days is cancer. Cancer is spreading like wildfire in Iraq. Thousands of infants are being born with deformities. Doctors say they are struggling to cope with the rise of cancer and birth defects, especially in cities subjected to heavy American and British bombardment.

Here are a few examples. In Falluja, which was heavily bombarded by the US in 2004, as many as 25% of new- born infants have serious abnormalities, including congenital anomalies, brain tumors, and neural tube defects in the spinal cord.

The cancer rate in the province of Babil, south of Baghdad has risen from 500 diagnosed cases in 2004 to 9,082 in 2009 according to Al Jazeera English.

In Basra there were 1885 diagnosed cases of cancer in 2005. According to Dr. Jawad al Ali, director of the Oncology Center, the number increased to 2,302 in 2006 and 3,071 in 2007. Dr. Ali told Al Jazeera English that about 1,250-1,500 patients visit the Oncology Center every month now.

Not everyone is ready to draw a direct correlation between allied bombing of these areas and tumors, and the Pentagon has been skeptical of any attempts to link the two. But Iraqi doctors and some Western scholars say the massive quantities of depleted uranium used in U.S. and British bombs, and the sharp increase in cancer rates are not unconnected.

Dr Ahmad Hardan, who served as a special scientific adviser to the World Health Organization, the United Nations and the Iraqi Ministry of Health, says that there is scientific evidence linking depleted uranium to cancer and birth defects. He told Al Jazeera English, “Children with congenital anomalies are subjected to karyotyping and chromosomal studies with complete genetic back-grounding and clinical assessment. Family and obstetrical histories are taken too. These international studies have produced ample evidence to show that depleted uranium has disastrous consequences.”

Iraqi doctors say cancer cases increased after both the 1991 war and the 2003 invasion.

Abdulhaq Al-Ani, author of “Uranium in Iraq” told Al Jazeera English that the incubation period for depleted uranium is five to six years, which is consistent with the spike in cancer rates in 1996-1997 and 2008-2009.

There are also similar patterns of birth defects among Iraqi and Afghan infants who were also born in areas that were subjected to depleted uranium bombardment.

Dr. Daud Miraki, director of the Afghan Depleted Uranium and Recovery Fund, told Al Jazeera English he found evidence of the effect of depleted uranium in infants in eastern and south- eastern Afghanistan. “Many children are born with no eyes, no limbs, or tumors protruding from their mouths and eyes,” said Dr. Miraki.

It’s not just Iraqis and Afghans. Babies born to American soldiers deployed in Iraq during the 1991 war are also showing similar defects. In 2000, Iraqi biologist Huda saleh Mahadi pointed out that the hands of deformed American infants were directly linked to their shoulders, a deformity seen in Iraqi infants.

Many US soldiers are now referring to Gulf War Syndrome #2 and alleging they have developed cancer because of exposure to depleted uranium in Iraq.

But soldiers can end their exposure to depleted uranium when their service in Iraq ends. Iraqi civilians have nowhere else to go. The water, soil and air in large areas of Iraq, including Baghdad, are contaminated with depleted uranium that has a radioactive half-life of 4.5 billion years.

Dr. Doug Rokke, former director of the U.S. Army’s Depleted Uranium Project during the first Gulf War, was in charge of a project of decontaminating American tanks. He told Al Jazeera English that “it took the U.S. Department of Defense in a multi-million dollar facility with trained physicists and engineers, three years to decontaminate the 24 tanks that I sent back to the U.S.”

And he added, “What can the average Iraqi do with thousands and thousands of trash and destroyed vehicles spread across the desert and other areas?”

According to Al Jazeera, the Pentagon used more than 300 tons of depleted uranium in 1991. In 2003, the United States used more than 1,000 tons.

12-2

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

January 9, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Berkeley–Your author takes his title from John LeClare; a popular British spy novel by that new title above for the subject today is a former Central Intelligence (CIA) operative, Robert Baer, who had come in from the “Cold” for the purpose of promoting his book The Devil We Know.  Baer was an operative in the Middle East with an expertise with Iran shortly before the Iranian Embassy crisis had begun.  His career with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) spanned twenty-five years before he began to have second thoughts.  He had come to the University of California, one of his alumna maters, campus to talk about his book, and to comment on the Obama’s Administration’s intensely controversial policy relationship with Tehran.

Early in his career he was part of the team to determine who was responsible for the Embassy take over.  During this period, Lebanon was to become part of Persia’s sphere of influence.  “Iran is not so much an opponent to the States than with Israel.”  After the 2006 War with Hezbollah, both the United States and Israel’s influence was driven out of Beirut’s territory.  Iran, thus, has become hegemonic in the eastern reaches of the Middle East.  Essentially, Iran had beaten Israel through proxy (Hezbollah).   Effectively, Tel Aviv did not know what “hit it!”   They were unable to comprehend their own intelligence — which they had been fundamentally at War which they lost.  

Baer considers the Anti-Zionist Shia much more discipled than the Sunni.  Robert Baer has a great deal of respect geopolitically for the Iranians.  “We need Iran…for a peaceful Middle East!”  To come to blows with their million man army, would be suicidal.  According to Bob Baer, their armed forces consume up to 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  Further, culturally, they are a more culturally sophisticated than us, for Islam is more flexible than the Occident. 

As Iran backs Hamas, “Al-Qaida is an ideanot an org” as R. Baer, also, stated on the BBC today (January 5th).”  For peace we require Iran!  We have to treat them as a power, hegemonic within their region.  “We can’t use the Bush [Utopian] Doctrine.”  For one thing, “Tehran is in competition with Saudi Arabia.”  Further, “Khomeini isn’t a true Ayatollah.”  His support is in the army.  Washington respects the Iranians as a dynamic power for a peace between us.

“The greatest threat [to Persia] is demographic.”  That is, the imbalance between the growth of the younger generations and the middle and senior age groups.  We should be looking as a partner with them within the Gulf instead of being competitors.  “Iran can become troublesome.”  Therefore, we should “…talk to our opponents…or fail.”

12-2

Nigerians Parents Fear for Students Studying Abroad

January 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

New America Media, Commentary, Olugu Ukpai

My dear God, has it now become a crime to be a Nigerian? The headlines tell me so over and over again. Mutallab: Man Who Shamed Nigeria. Mutallab: The Nigerian Agent of Al Qaeda. The Boy Who Blew Nigeria’s Image.

Umar Faruq Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner has just landed Nigeria, my country of birth, on the list of 14 nations whose nationals are going to be singled out for special checks if they want to fly to the United States. Nigeria has become a uniquely insecure travel terrorism hub, they say.

But Abdulmutallab never studied in Nigeria. He did not have “terror connections” in Nigeria. Instead his initiation into terror clubs happened abroad in the countries where he was sent to study to become a better person.

Abdulmutallab went to a British high school in Togo. He studied in Dubai, Yemen and Egypt. Above all, he studied mechanical engineering at University College, London, one of the oldest in England. It makes me wonder how Nigerian parents who have sent their children to study abroad, and those children studying abroad, are looking at the story of “the boy who blew Nigeria’s image.”

I, too like Abdulmutallab, am a Nigerian student studying in the United Kingdom. I can understand the concerns of Nigerian parents like mine who sent their children abroad in hopes for a better education – a Western style education. Now there is a deep concern among the same parents, especially those at home who are skeptical of the kind of “cults” their children are being exposed to abroad in the name of acquiring “the white man’s” education. A study by the University of Notre Dame in 2009 found that parents tended to know only 10 percent of what their children were doing abroad.

Foreign education is no longer a safe haven. On the other hand fearful parents cannot bring their children back home either. After all, American media reports paint Nigeria as a hotbed of Al Qaeda terror. When I come back to the U.K. after Christmas break I do not know what will befall me. Will I be treated as a terror suspect because I am Nigerian? Will the U.K. government just wash its hands off me while it pockets my high tuition?

Nigerian parents and students worry whether the U.K. government is living up to its promises to protect the students in its charge. Has it allowed terrorist groups to penetrate its universities so that unsuspecting students can fall prey to their wiles? Already there is a systemic breakdown of security in U.K. institutions of higher learning. A King’s College, London report says more and more women are reporting rapes. Nigerian parents worry about their children abroad.

Instead of demonizing Nigeria, the international press and the world at large should be honoring and celebrating the alleged terror suspect’s 70-year-old father, who set aside blood bonds to report his son’s newfound religious extremism to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria. I contend that he deserves a Global Citizen Award, and Nigeria should honor him with a National Merit Award. He is an exemplary Nigerian whose act of integrity should be rewarded and recognized. This might help fight terrorism by encouraging others who might have similar useful information.

Instead of ganging up on Nigeria, world powers would do well to review security policies to better protect the lives of international students. Our parents sell their pound of flesh to provide a brighter future for us. No parent would ever dream their “well-behaved and humble” child — as many have described Abdulmutallab — would turn into a terrorist and end up in Guantanamo Bay, all in the name of acquiring the “white man’s” education.

Olugu Ukpai is a Ph.D student at School of Law at the University of Reading, U.K. He can be reached at oluukpaiolu@yahoo.com.

12-2

Al-Qaeda Using U.S. to Accomplish Goals — and U.S. Is Playing Along

January 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

William Pfaff, Chicago Tribune

PARIS — It is not widely understood that the policy objective of Al Qaeda is not to attack the Western countries, which in itself accomplishes nothing. Bringing down a Western airliner or blowing up a building in the United States or Britain is of no interest in itself, since the Islamic radical does no good by simply killing unbelievers. The ultimate purpose of Al Qaeda is to bring about an upheaval in the Islamic world in which Islam can be rescued from corrupted governments and degenerate practices.

When Gordon Brown or Barack Obama say that Western soldiers have to fight terrorists abroad so that they will not have to fight them in their own hometowns, they’re being silly, as such sophisticated men ought to know.

Why should Al Qaeda or the Taliban wish to fight in Peoria, Illinois, or a garden suburb of London? There are no recruits to be made there, and nothing to be gained in the real battle that the Muslim extremists are waging: to radicalize the Muslim world, and to rescue their co-religionists from heretical beliefs and Western practices.

The real reason for attacking Westerners in the West, or in airplanes on the way there, is to provoke the Western governments to send more Western soldiers to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere in the Muslim world to attack Muslim jihadists on the Islamists’ own ground, where the latter have tactical and human advantages that Western soldiers can never overcome.

Instead, attack by Western soldiers and the building of Western military bases on the soil of Muslim countries radicalizes and scandalizes ordinary people, and undermines the governments of those countries that choose to align themselves with the invaders — thereby, in the eyes of Islamic true believers, revealing themselves as traitors to orthodox Muslim belief.

The United States and the NATO countries are playing Al Qaeda’s game with every planeload of troops they dispatch to the Arab world and to Central Asia.

A headline in the Paris press says: “The CIA and U.S Special Forces lend a powerful hand to the government of Yemen.” The front-page headline in Tuesday’s International Herald Tribune says: “Yemen corruption blunts Qaeda fight.” This report explains that the Yemeni president’s government “is filled with members of his family and . . . wants to ensure that his son, Ahmed, 38, succeeds him.” The story goes on to say that “the economy has collapsed, with oil revenues down and oil and water running out.” This is the American-allied regime.

At the end of last year, we read about allegations of corruption in Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s own family, and the results of a national election were challenged as falsified. The president of Afghanistan has just ordered the nation’s parliament back from vacation in order to vote on his new cabinet nominees. These are to take the place of 17 of his 24 previous cabinet appointments, all rejected by parliament. Mr. Karzai is, of course, the man the United States put in place in Kabul to bring democracy to Afghanistan, so as to save it from the Taliban and al-Qaida.

No American who witnessed the waltz of U.S. senators with the health industry’s lobbyists during the ongoing effort to legislate health reform in the U.S. is in a position to be condescending about foreign corruption. If the United States has an occupying army that put in place, or sustains, the Afghan, Pakistani or Yemen government, then the ordinary citizen in those countries will see Americans and NATO as sources of their nation’s corruption, and perhaps the main one.

Moreover, the Taliban and al-Qaida are not fighting against corrupt governments in order to reform them. They want to destabilize and eventually destroy all of them so as to clear a political space in which 40 million Pashtuns and their fellow Sunni Arabs can create a new political dispensation of true believers, while the West declines.

That is fantasy, but it is a fantasy in which the United States and NATO are unwittingly playing leading roles.

(Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.)

Joe Sacco’s New Book

January 4, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Graphic novel on IDF ‘massacres’ in Gaza set to hit bookstores

By The Associated Press

selfportrait_sacco Fans say graphic novelist Joe Sacco has set new standards for the use of the comic book as a documentary medium. Detractors say his portrayals of the Palestinian conflict are filled with distortion, bias and hyperbole.

One thing is certain – the award-winning author of “Palestine” leaves few readers indifferent.

Sacco’s work has more in common with gonzo journalism than your Sunday comic strip: He travels to the world’s hot spots from Iraq to Gaza to Sarajevo, immerses himself in the lives of ordinary people, and sets out to depict their harsh realities – in unflinching ink and paper.

One of his biggest supporters is award-winning Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman, who directed the 2008 Golden Globe winning cartoon ocumentary “Waltz for Bashir.”

“Whenever I’m asked about animation that influences me, I would say it’s more graphic novels. A tremendous influence on me has been Sacco’s ‘Palestine,’ his work on Bosnia and then Art peigelman’s ‘Maus,’” he said in a telephone interview.

“His work quite simply reflects reality.”

The American-Maltese artist’s latest book, “Footnotes in Gaza,” chronicles two episodes in 1956 in which a U.N. report filed Dec. 15, 1956 says a total of 386 civilians were shot dead by Israeli soldiers – events Sacco said have been “virtually airbrushed from history because they have been ignored by the mainstream media.”

Israeli historians dispute these figures.

“It’s a big exaggeration,” said Meir Pail, a leading Israeli military historian and leftist politician. “There was never a killing of such a degree. Nobody was murdered. I was there. I don’t know of any massacre.”

Sacco’s passion for the Palestinian cause has opened him up to accusations of bias.

Jose Alaniz, from the University of Washington’s Department of Comparative Literature, said Sacco uses “all sorts of subtle ways” to manipulate the reader.

“Very often he will pick angles in his art work that favor the perspective of the victim: He’ll draw Israeli soldiers or settlers from a low perspective to make them more menacing and towering.”

Alaniz also said Sacco draws children “in such a way to make them seem more victimized.”

Sacco himself admits he takes sides.

“I don’t believe in objectivity as it’s practiced in American journalism. I’m not anti-Israeli … It’s just I very much believe in getting across the Palestinian point of view,” he said.

In “Palestine,” which won the 1996 National Book Award, Sacco reported on the lives of West Bank and Gaza inhabitants in the early 1990s. “Safe Area Gorazde,” which won the 2001 Eisner Award for Best Original Graphic Novel, describes his experiences in Bosnia in 1995-96.

Sacco has been lauded by Edward Said, the renowned literary scholar and Palestinian rights spokesman, who said in his foreword to “Palestine”: “With the exception of one or two novelists and poets, no one has ever rendered this terrible state of affairs better than Joe Sacco.”

“Footnotes” – to be released in the United States on Tuesday – sees Sacco’s cartoon self, with the now trademark nondescript owlishly bespectacled eyes, plunge into the squalid trash-strewn, raw concrete alleys of Rafah, and its neighboring town of Khan Younis.

Sacco draws crowded narrow streets, full of prying schoolchildren and unemployed men. His desperate characters – fugitives, widows and sheiks – mix long past fact with fiction.

“What I show in the book is that this massacre is just one element of Palestinian history … and that people are confused about which event, what year they are talking about,” he said.

“Palestinians never seem to have had the luxury of digesting one tragedy before the next is upon them.”

Sacco said in doing so he is trying to create a balance to what he calls the United States’ pro-Israeli bias.

A scene in “Palestine” shows an Israeli woman asking: “Shouldn’t you be seeing our side of the story?” Sacco’s cartoon self replies: “I’ve heard nothing but the Israeli side most of my life.”

Sacco says he puts himself into his comics because he wants his readers to see and feel what he does.

“I’m not pretending to be the all powerful, all knowing journalist god … I’m an individual who reacts to people who are sometimes afraid … On a human level, of course that colors the stories I’m telling.”

Folman, who both wrote and directed the 2008 animated documentary film about a 19-year-old Israeli soldier still troubled by nightmares about the Lebanon War, says Sacco has brought something rare to the cartoon genre.

“The way he illustrates says everything about the writing – it’s so unique, there is nothing quite like him,” he explained.

“I really admire the guy … And I feel from his work that we share exactly the same opinions about what’s happening in the Middle East … The day will come when I will meet him and hopefully work with him.”

12-1

The Next Step: A Stealth Drone

January 4, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

AFP

beastofkandahar2 WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US Air Force on Tuesday confirmed for the first time that it is flying a stealth unmanned aircraft known as the “Beast of Kandahar,” a drone spotted in photos and shrouded in secrecy. The RQ-170 Sentinel is being developed by Lockheed Martin and is designed “to provide reconnaissance and surveillance support to forward deployed combat forces,” the air force said in a brief statement.

The “RQ” prefix for the aircraft indicates an unarmed drone, unlike the “MQ” designation used for Predator and Reaper aircraft equipped with missiles and precision-guided bombs. Aviation experts dubbed the drone the “Beast of Kandahar” after photographs emerged earlier this year showing the mysterious aircraft in southern Afghanistan in 2007.

The image suggested a drone with a radar-evading stealth-like design, resembling a smaller version of a B-2 bomber.

A blog in the French newspaper Liberation published another photo this week, feeding speculation among aviation watchers about the classified drone. The air force said the aircraft came out of Lockheed Martin’s “Skunk Works,” also known as Advanced Development Programs, in California — the home of sophisticated and often secret defense projects including the U-2 spy plane, the F-22 fighter jet and the F-117 Nighthawk.

The photo of the drone in Afghanistan has raised questions about why the United States would be operating a stealth unmanned aircraft in a country where insurgents have no radar systems, prompting speculation Washington was using the drones for possible spying missions in neighboring Iran or Pakistan.

The Sentinel was believed to have a flying wing design with no tail and with sensors built into the top side of each wing, according to published photos.

The RQ-170 is in line with Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ request for more intelligence and surveillance resources and with the Air Force chief of staff’s plans to expand the fleet of unmanned aircraft, the air force said.

The new drone is flown by the 30th Reconnaissance Squadron out of Tonopah Test Range in Nevada, which is under Air Combat Command’s 432nd Wing at Creech Air Base, also in Nevada. The United States has carried out an extensive bombing campaign against Al-Qaeda figures in Pakistan using the Predator and larger Reaper drones.

Robots or “unmanned systems” in the air and on the ground are now deployed by the thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan.

12-1

No-Fault Espionage

December 31, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Philip Giraldi

It is interesting to note what happens to espionage cases in the United States. If you spy for China, or Cuba, or Iran you will be exposed, excoriated in the media, locked up and denied bail, convicted, and sentenced to many years in a federal prison. Spying is serious business and the harsh punishment most often fits the crime because when spies steal highly sensitive defense and policy information they are not only betraying their fellow citizens, they are also making all Americans less secure. And the spying is only slightly less serious when American technology is being targeted. When spies acting for a foreign country steal sensitive technology with commercial applications that is developed at great cost either by the US government or private companies, their betrayal is also taking away the livelihoods of thousands of American workers who rely on the competitive edge of US technology to keep their jobs.

Spies are traitors in every sense of the word, unless, of course, if one is spying for Israel. Israel aggressively spies on the US both to influence policy and steal high technology, but getting caught only very rarely has any consequences. Leading neoconservatives like Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and Stephen Bryen have all been detected in flagrante providing classified information to Israel but the investigations were halted and their security clearances were godfathered so they could continue to hold high office. FBI counter intelligence officer John Cole has reported on the frustration of his colleagues over the many cases of Israeli espionage that are dropped under orders from the Justice Department. He provides a “conservative estimate” of 125 worthwhile investigations into Israeli espionage in the US involving both American citizens and Israelis stopped due to political pressure from above. Israeli citizens and diplomats who are caught in the act spying are routinely freed without criminal charges and allowed to return home.

If you are an American who spies for Israel, a separate and unequal criminal justice system kicks in and the media quickly excuses your actions and then makes the story go away just as fast as it can. Most readers of Antiwar.com are familiar with the recent case of AIPAC officials Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman. The two men were given information that they knew to be classified by Pentagon employee Larry Franklin, who perhaps not coincidentally worked for Doug Feith. They passed the information on to an intelligence officer at the Israeli Embassy with whom they were also in contact. The FBI set up a sting using Franklin and arrested all three of the men under the Espionage Act of 1917. The arrest was followed by a nearly three year long trial in which the AIPAC duo finally escaped any punishment after presiding Judge Thomas Ellis obligingly set conditions that made it impossible for the prosecution to proceed. Franklin, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 151 months in prison, was subsequently freed of his obligation to do any jail time by the same Judge Ellis. While the trial was going on, it was conspicuously underreported by the media.

Predictably, many in the media and in the neocon establishment criticized the arrests of Rosen and Weissman, commenting that exchanges of classified “information” were routine in Washington and that Israel is a good friend requiring the classified intelligence for its own security. The argument might not have convinced the American public, but it certainly convinced the barking dogs in the media and Judge Ellis, particularly as there might have been a little nudging from important politicians taking place. Congresswoman Jane Harman, who was caught on the phone trading favors with an agent working for Israeli intelligence promised to use her influence in the Rosen-Weissman case in return for Israel helping her obtain the position of chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, a devil’s bargain if there ever was one.

The case of Ben-Ami Kadish is in some ways even more intriguing than that of the two AIPAC staffers. Kadish was arrested in New Jersey in December 2008 for “conspiracy to disclose to the government of Israel documents related to the national defense of the United States and… that he participated in a conspiracy to act as an agent of the government of Israel.” Kadish gave the same Israeli intelligence officer who ran convicted spy Jonathan Pollard classified documents that he had obtained while working at the US Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal in Dover, New Jersey. Some of the documents were related to nuclear weapons development while others described highly classified aspects of the Patriot anti-missile defense system. Israel subsequently developed its own Arrow anti-missile system, possibly using classified information relating to the Patriot, thereby reducing its own costs and enabling it to market the Arrow internationally at a lower price than its US competitors, eliminating American jobs.

Ben-Ami Kadish was arrested in December but released on bail. He was supposed to reappear before Judge Douglas Eaton at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan two months later in February, but did not actually reappear until June. He was fined and given a suspended sentence, a slap on the wrist considerably less painful than a local businessman cheating on his income tax might have received in the same courtroom.

And there is a current spy case involving Israel which clearly is being swept under the rug. Stewart Nozette, a scientist working for the US government, was arrested on October 19th and charged with conspiring to commit espionage. Nozette was caught in an FBI sting operation in which the Bureau officer pretended to be an Israeli Mossad spy. Nozette enthusiastically embraced the offer to cooperate, demanding in return an Israeli passport and money for the information that he would provide. The US media quickly went into damage mode, the New York Times headlining its coverage “The Scientist Who Mistook Himself for a Spy.” Many in the media quickly noted that the FBI agent was not actually Mossad, meaning that Israel was not directly involved. The convenient spin ignored the fact the Nozette told the agent that he had already “communicated classified information” to Israel for many years through contacts in the Israel Aerospace Industries, for which he received $225,000. Nozette stated that he believed he had already been spying for Israel, telling the pretend Mossad but really FBI officer “I thought I was working for you already.”

So what has happened to Nozette, who, according to the court papers, “had regular, frequent access to classified information and documents related to the US national defense”? Well, as in the case of Ben-Ami Kadish, he seems to have disappeared. The media has dropped the story and Nozette did not appear again in court on November 10th as scheduled. He may have been consigned to that limbo where those who spy for Israel seem to wind up prior to being released. The Federal District Court for the District of Columbia’s website is giving nothing away. Nozette’s name does not appear anywhere and if one calls the court clerk and requests information on his status, the call will not be returned.

The point is that if Congress and the Justice Department think that when Americans are caught spying for Israel it is constitutionally protected activity, like free speech, perhaps they should say so publicly. A two-tier system relating to national security issues and rule of law is just not in the US national interest, no matter how one twists the facts. If you spy for Israel the consequences should be the same as if you spy for China or Cuba – arrest, conviction, and hard jail time. No exceptions, no excuses.

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Muslim City Councilmen Elected in Hamtramck

December 31, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Nargis Hakim Rahman

Two new Muslim faces have joined Hamtramck City Council on November 3, making the city council 50 percent Muslim.

According to the Detroit Free Press the number reflects the most Muslims, “in a municipality in the United States.”

Kazi Miah, 30, won with 1652 votes, the highest votes. Mohammed Kamrul Hassan, 42, received 1390 votes, 40 more than he expected. 

Hassan said he did not campaign a lot during the general election as he was working 12-hour shifts and did not take any days off from his job as a manufacturing expert at Faurecia Automotive Seating Inc.

“I had confidence. I knew I was going to get 875 votes in the primary, and 1350 votes would get me a seat,” Hassan said.

Hassan ran for city council after seeing discrimination to immigrant populations by police officers and city officials.

“I have been seeing the city administration and corruption and discrimination from police officers, how they talk when immigrant people go to the city hall,” said Hassan.

He said the city is not going in the right direction, and has changed since his move to Hamtramck in 1994.

Hassan moved from New York to Michigan to pursue his education. He holds a Bachelors of Science, with honors, and Masters in Mathematics from the University of Chittagong in Bangladesh.

Miah, a 10-year-resident of Hamtramck, works at National City Bank in Hamtramck. He ran for office to make local government more citizen-oriented, and to encourage the youth to run for public office.

Miah holds various board positions around Hamtramck, and is the founder of Bangladeshi American Youth Action. The youth group is focused on advancing in education, engaging in community service and having recreational activities for youth.

Miah said serving city council is his way of giving back. He said he was inspired to run for government by Sayu Bhojwani, founder of a similar youth group in New York.

Hassan said taxes, budget utilization and cutting salaries are on the top of his list.

He said everywhere in the world people are cutting salaries.

“I’d like to cut salaries to survive,” he said.

Miah said the city will face tough times ahead with economy.

“This city has been in a deep end before, as far as financial stability, but we can get out of it,” he said.

Hassan said spending money better and reassessing the budget will help the city.

Miah said his priorities include being a voice for the Census. Immigrant populations are often reluctant to fill out the forms, fearing the government will come after them. He wants to stop that trend.

The Census is correlated to taxes, government funds, and public safety, as police officers are assigned based on city populations, he said.

“We have 20,000 Muslims, Bengalis, Yemenis. The Census doesn’t tell us that,” Miah said.

He said higher numbers will make politicians pay attention.

Miah’s website, www.voteforkazi.com, has a poll, asking for public opinions on local matters. He said he wants to be as accessible as possible, following the Obama campaign, where he served as Captain of the Voter Registration Drive.

“I’m not trying to take anything away from Hamtramck. I’m trying to add to the richness this city has,” Miah said.

“If we fail, we’ll be failing as a whole.”

Hassan said he is proud to be a Muslim city councilman.

“Some people questioned me because I was Muslim. This is not a Yemeni city, a Bangladeshi city, or a Polish city. This is the city of Hamtramck.”

He said the city is his first priority, but he will not go against his religion.

“I’m going to respect my religion 100 percent,” Hassan said.

He said Islam is the religion of peace. It’s always going to be good decisions for politics.

“Our prophet Muhammad (s) got respect from all religions. He helped everybody. I’m going to treat everyone equally.”

Miah said Islam taught us to be good to your neighbors, not only Muslim neighbors. He said he wants to be a voice for everyone.

“Throughout the election no one asked me what religion I was. I sincerely believe citizens of Hamtramck just want to be taken care of,” Miah said.

Miah and Hassan are Bangadleshi Muslim Americans. They are married with two children.

Both said they are looking forward to working with the new council.

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