Advisor to Iran supreme leader calls for tolerance of dissent

A top advisor to Iran’s supreme leader Saturday urged the country’s establishment to be more tolerant of dissent, even as military officials stepped up their rhetoric in the latest signs of divisions created by the marred reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad one month ago.

Mohammad Mohammadian, a midranking cleric who heads Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s office of university affairs, acknowledged the simmering discontent over the vote, which sparked massive protests and a violent crackdown last month.

“We cannot order public opinion to get convinced,” Mohammadian said, according to the Mehr news agency. “Certain individuals are suspicious about the election result, and we have to shed light on the realities and respond to their questions.”

Providing an unyielding counterpoint, Maj. Gen. Hassan Firoozabadi, the armed forces chief of staff, issued warnings against protests.

“God has chosen us in military uniform to sacrifice our lives against the enemies,” he said, according to the Iranian Students News Agency, or ISNA. “Certain individuals and groups imagine that we will back down if they shout slogans against us. We have come to die, and we have proved our determination during the war with Iraq.” [continued…]

Inside the Iranian crackdown

Before the election, Mr. Moradani [a midranking Basij member] campaigned for Mr. Ahmadinejad. He printed campaign posters and pasted them on walls. The day after the vote, with his candidate declared the winner, Mr. Moradani bought a box of chocolate cupcakes and drove his motorcycle to one of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s campaign offices to celebrate.

A few hours later, he recalls, he was shocked to see demonstrators filling the streets. They set plastic trash bins afire along Tehran’s long Vali Asr Avenue. Men and women, gathered in clusters across town, shouted “Death to the Dictator.”

Riot police chased them away. The demonstrators regrouped and began chanting again — a cat-and-mouse game that played out for days.

“I never expected the protests to be so intense and last so long,” said Mr. Moradani in a phone interview from Tehran this week. “I thought it would be over in a few days.”

Basij members organized to support riot police and other security officials across Tehran. Some Basij members infiltrated the opposition demonstrations, according to eyewitnesses.

Protesters, most of them young, fought back. “You saw young people on both sides mobilizing with vengeance and willing to kill,” said Issa Saharkheez, a political analyst in Tehran, in an interview shortly after the election. Mr. Saharkheez was subsequently arrested in detentions that followed the unrest.

At the height of the street battles, in Sadaat Abad, a middle-class neighborhood in east Tehran, young men and women organized themselves into an unofficial militia to fight the Basij, with a “commander” taking responsibility for each street. Every afternoon, they would meet to prepare for the evening’s expected battle, according to a 25-year-old student who was involved with the group.

They collected rocks, tiles and bricks from construction sites and spilled oil on the roads, an attempt to sideline the Basij’s motorcycles. When a Basij rider would go down, the young men would beat him, according to the student. Women stood back, screaming “Death to the Dictator” and stoking bonfires in the street. Older supporters remained indoors, throwing ashtrays, vases and other household items from their balconies and windows onto the Basij motorcycle riders below.

“There was a war going on here every night,” the student says. “We are not going to stand and let them beat us.” [continued…]

Iranian foreign minister says Tehran preparing ‘package’ for West

Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki is saying, Saturday, that Tehran is preparing to present a “new package” of proposals concerning international, political and security issues to the West for talks, soon. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad also indicated that a “package” was being prepared, several months ago.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki alluded, Saturday, to Tehran’s yet-to-come, but apparently imminent, new “package of proposals.”

He says that Iran is preparing a package on various political, security, economic and international issues and he says Iran considers this package a good basis for talks over different issues that the region and the world is struggling with today. [continued…]

Obama admin: No grounds to probe Afghan war crimes

Obama administration officials said Friday they had no grounds to investigate the 2001 deaths of Taliban prisoners of war who human rights groups allege were killed by U.S.-backed forces.

The mass deaths were brought up anew Friday in a report by The New York Times on its Web site. It quoted government and human rights officials accusing the Bush administration of failing to investigate the executions of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of prisoners.

U.S. officials said Friday they did not have legal grounds to investigate the deaths because only foreigners were involved and the alleged killings occurred in a foreign country.

The Times cited U.S. military and CIA ties to Afghan Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, whom human rights groups accuse of ordering the killings. The newspaper said the Defense Department and FBI never fully investigated the incident.

Asked about the report, Marine Corps Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said that since U.S. military forces were not involved in the killings, there is nothing the Defense Department could investigate.

“There is no indication that U.S. military forces were there, or involved, or had any knowledge of this,” Lapan said. “So there was not a full investigation conducted because there was no evidence that there was anything from a DoD (Department of Defense) perspective to investigate.” [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — It sounds like this administration would have encouraged the Israeli government not to establish the Kahan Commission ten days after the Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982. It happened on foreign territory (Lebanon) and it wasn’t Israeli soldiers doing the killing (it was Lebanese Phalangist militiamen).

Are we to understand that the Obama administration wants to provide a legal foundation for conducting massacres?

Cheney is linked to concealment of CIA project

The CIA kept a highly classified counter-terrorism program secret from Congress for eight years at the direction of then-Vice President Dick Cheney, according to sources familiar with an account that agency Director Leon E. Panetta provided recently to House and Senate committees.

The sources declined to provide any details on the nature of the program, but said that the agency had opened an internal inquiry in recent days into the history of the program and the decisions made by a series of senior officials to withhold information about it from Congress.

Cheney’s involvement suggests that the program was considered important enough by the Bush administration that it should be monitored at the highest levels of government, and that the White House was reluctant to risk disclosure of its details to lawmakers.

Panetta killed the program on June 23 after learning of it, four months after he became director of the CIA. He then called special sessions with the House and Senate intelligence committees. [continued…]

Probe of alleged torture weighed

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is leaning toward appointing a criminal prosecutor to investigate whether CIA personnel tortured terrorism suspects after Sept. 11, 2001, setting the stage for a conflict with administration officials who would prefer the issues remain in the past, according to three sources familiar with his thinking.

Naming a prosecutor to probe alleged abuses during the darkest period in the Bush era would run counter to President Obama’s oft-repeated desire to be “looking forward and not backwards.” Top political aides have expressed concern that such an investigation might spawn partisan debates that could overtake Obama’s ambitious legislative agenda.

The White House successfully resisted efforts by congressional Democrats to establish a “truth and reconciliation” panel. But fresh disclosures have continued to emerge about detainee mistreatment, including a secret CIA watchdog report, recently reviewed by Holder, highlighting several episodes that could be likened to torture. [continued…]

To know what Bibi really thinks, listen to his father

When a top sportsman wants to express opinions that might get him into trouble with his employers, his father often pops up in the media to reveal what his son is really thinking. In the same way, while Benjamin Netanyahu would risk incurring Washington’s wrath if he were to admit the cynicism behind his apparent embrace of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, his father has no such qualms.

On Israeli TV last week, the 100-year-old historian and stalwart of the Israeli right, Ben-Zion Netanyahu, was blunt when asked whether his son now supports the creation of a Palestinian state: “He does not support it. He supports such conditions that they [the Palestinians] will never accept it. That’s what I heard from him. I didn’t propose these conditions, he did. They will never accept these conditions. Not one of them.” [continued…]

Thought-police is here

The Foreign Ministry unveiled a new plan this week: Paying talkbackers to post pro-Israel responses on websites worldwide. A total of NIS 600,000 (roughly $150,000) will be earmarked to the establishment of an “Internet warfare” squad.[…]

Foreign Ministry officials are fighting what they see as a terrible and scary monster: the Palestinian public relations monster. Yet nothing can be done to defeat it, regardless of how many foolish inventions will be introduced and how many bright communication students will be hired.

The reason is that good PR cannot make the reality in the occupied territories prettier. Children are being killed, homes are being bombed, and families are starved. Yet nonetheless, the Foreign Ministry wants to try to change the situation. And they have willing partners. “Where do I submit a CV?” wrote one respondent. “I’m fluent in several languages and I’m able to spew forth bullshit for hours on end.” [continued…]

The attack on the Liberty

The attack began around 2 p.m. [on June 8, 1967] on the fourth day of the war, when the Liberty was about 17 miles from the coast. Almost without warning, French-made Israeli fighter jets tore into the lightly defended ship with rockets, cannons and napalm. “Shells smashed portholes, ripped gashes in sealed metal doors,” Scott writes. “Dead and injured sailors, many of whom had been chipping paint seconds earlier, littered the decks.” Eventually, a torpedo fired by an Israeli patrol boat ripped a 39-foot-wide hole in the Liberty, flooding lower compartments. Nearly 17 hours passed before help arrived from other U.S. Navy ships. In the meantime, surviving officers and crew struggled valiantly to aid the wounded and keep the listing vessel afloat. McGonagle, who suffered a concussion and shrapnel wounds, remained in command throughout the ordeal and later was awarded a Medal of Honor. Armstrong was killed.

The record of the Navy’s civilian and military leadership was less inspiring. Though privately furious, U.S. officials lied about the nature of the Liberty’s mission and, Scott writes, were so eager to avoid stirring up public anger toward Israel that at one point they contemplated scuttling the ship to prevent news organizations from photographing the damage. Adm. John McCain, Jr., the father of the Arizona senator and 2008 presidential candidate, comes in for especially sharp criticism. As the head of the Navy’s inquiry, Scott writes, McCain understood that a “report critical of Israel would trigger diplomatic ramifications for the State Department and create domestic political trouble for the beleaguered White House, which now wanted to deemphasize the attack.” As a consequence, he contends, McCain barred his investigators from traveling to Israel to interview the attackers and allowed only a week to complete the probe, “less time than it took to bury some of the dead.”

Scott cites transcripts of conversations between the Israeli pilots and air controllers in Tel Aviv to show that at least some Israeli commanders were aware of the Liberty’s identity before the attack. He also shows that many U.S. officials — including then-CIA director Richard Helms — were privately scornful of Israel’s explanation. Some believed the attack may have been ordered by a battlefield commander who feared that Israel’s combat orders, if detected by the Liberty, might somehow leak to the Arabs. [continued…]

Another insurgency gains in Pakistan

Three local political leaders were seized from a small legal office here in April, handcuffed, blindfolded and hustled into a waiting pickup truck in front of their lawyer and neighboring shopkeepers. Their bodies, riddled with bullets and badly decomposed in the scorching heat, were found in a date palm grove five days later.

Local residents are convinced that the killings were the work of the Pakistani intelligence agencies, and the deaths have provided a new spark for revolt across Baluchistan, a vast and restless province in Pakistan’s southwest where the government faces yet another insurgency.

Although not on the same scale as the Taliban insurgency in the northwest, the conflict in Baluchistan is steadily gaining ground. Politicians and analysts warn that it presents a distracting second front for the authorities, drawing off resources, like helicopters, that the United States provided Pakistan to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda. [continued…]

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One thought on “NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: July 12

  1. Aditya

    Unfortunately Paul, I think even that legal justification is flawed. Press reports and indicate that indeed American soldiers were involved.

    Veteran journalist John Pilger wrote about “America’s favorite client-warlord,” Gen. Rashid Dostum in his book Freedom Next Time (p 268-269):

    “His reputation for brutality includes chaining his enemies to the tracks of tanks; and he is infamous for the siege of Konduz in November 2001. This ended in a dirt fort, Qala-I-Jhangi, where thousands of Taliban prisoners of war were herded by Dostum’s man, then cluster bombed by American aircraft. Those who survived had oil poured on them, and were satellite, or shot with their hands tied behind their backs. According to a documentary film by the former BBC director Jamie Doran, 3000 prisoners, out of 8000 who had surrendered, or suffocated or died of their wounds in closed containers, and their bodies were buried in mass graves. One of Dostum’s soldier says in Doran’s film: “I was a witness when an American soldier broke one prisoner’s neck and poured acid on others. The Americans did whatever they wanted. We had no power to stop them.”

    Pilger then adds a comment by Isobel Hilton of the Guardian:

    “Surely the point about civilization is that it does not descend lightly into terror and barbarism?… the Afghans, we hear, have a bent for savagery and it would be absurd to expect a war in Afghanistan to be fought by Queensberry rules. But whose war is this?… But the battle was conducted by US and British special forces side by side with Dostam’s men and supported by US air power. Were [the Americans] fighting by Dostum’s rules or by their own? Or do we no longer bother with the distinction?”

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