CIA’s secret program: Paramilitary teams targeting Al Qaeda

The secret CIA program halted last month by Director Leon E. Panetta involved establishing elite paramilitary teams that could be inserted into Pakistan or other locations to capture or kill top leaders of the Al Qaeda terrorist network, according to former U.S. intelligence officials.

The program — launched in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — was never operational. But officials said that as recently as a year ago CIA executives discussed plans to deploy teams to test basic capabilities, including whether they could enter hostile territory and maneuver undetected, as well as gather intelligence and track high-value targets. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Who would have anticipated that Guantanamo would turn out to possess a dark virtue?

Had the Bush administration quickly unleashed CIA death squads, we might never have have been provided with such stark evidence of the limitations of counter-terrorism. A prison roll filled with men who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time is a graphic testament to the limits of American power.

But to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and cross paths with a death squad (or a predator drone) means that life and innocence can be simultaneously erased. No wonder the drone attacks continue.

The death squads on the other hand would have entailed other forms of political liability. Sooner or later, operatives would have gone missing. The severed heads of CIA agents would have featured on Jihadist videos. Ugly mistakes would not have been buried under rubble and dust — they would have made their way on to the front pages of Pakistan’s newspapers with bloody images of the bullet-ridden bodies of families who got slaughtered in the sleep.

Most likely, the death squads never went operational not for legal or ethical reasons but simply because sober analysis calculated that the cost was likely to exceed the reward.

Mousavi ‘party’ gains momentum

Amid suggestions to defeated presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi to establish a political party, an influential Principlist figure steps up to endorse the idea.

A senior member of the Islamic Coalition Party and leading Principlist figure, Habibollah Asgaroladi describes the move as a ‘favorable’ one, saying, “Establishing a party to voice one’s ideas and political perceptions is a wise move.”

“To clarify political actions and to show respect for the collective intellect, politicians need to come together in a political formation,” Asgaroladi added.

Last week, the Reformist Etemad-e-Melli daily broke the news about Mousavi’s plans to launch a political party to pursue his goals.

The daily said that the party was expected to be established before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s inauguration. [continued…]

Tipping point in Tehran

How much has changed for Iran in one occasionally breathtaking month. The erratic uprising is becoming as important as the Islamic revoluti on 30 years ago — and not only for Iran. Both redefined political action throughout the Middle East.

The costs are steadily mounting for the regime. Just one day before the June 12 presidential election, the Islamic republic had never been so powerful. Tehran had not only survived three decades of diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions but had emerged a regional superpower, rivaled only by Israel. Its influence shaped conflicts and politics from Afghanistan to Lebanon.

But the day after the election, the Islamic republic had never appeared so vulnerable. The virtual militarization of the state has failed to contain the uprising, and its tactics have further alienated and polarized society. It has also shifted the focus from the election to Iran’s leadership. [continued…]

Empire of bases

The U.S. “Empire of Bases” — at $102 billion a year already the world’s costliest military enterprise — just got a good deal more expensive.

As a start, on May 27, we learned that the State Department will build a new “embassy” in Islamabad, Pakistan, which at $736 million will be the second priciest ever constructed — only $4 million less, before cost overruns, than the Vatican City-sized one the Bush administration put up in Baghdad.

Whatever the costs turn out to be, they will not be included in the already bloated U.S. military budget, even though none of these structures is designed to be a true embassy — a place, that is, where local people come for visas and American officials represent the commercial and diplomatic interests of their country. [continued…]

EU calls for possible recognition of Palestinian state

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, has called for UN recognition of a Palestinian state in the event that the two parties fail to reach an agreement before a proposed internationally imposed deadline passes.

In a speech delivered in London on Saturday, Mr Solana said that a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict “remains central to a more stable and peaceful Middle East.”

He said: “There will be no solution without an active Arab contribution. The Arab Peace Initiative is key. Maybe it has to be made more operative. Its binary character – all or nothing – has to be nuanced. But having the Arab countries reacting in a positive way, with concrete actions, to every step will contribute immensely to success.

“The next ingredient for success is a real mediation. The parameters are defined. The mediator has to set the timetable too. If the parties are not able to stick to it, then a solution backed by the international community should will be put on the table.

“After a fixed deadline, a UN Security Council resolution should proclaim the adoption of the two-state solution. This should include all the parameters of borders, refugees, Jerusalem and security arrangements. It would accept the Palestinian state as a full member of the UN, and set a calendar for implementation. It would mandate the resolution of other remaining territorial disputes and legitimise the end of claims.” [continued…]

Britain punishes Israel for Gaza naval bombardment

The British Government has reacted to Israel’s bombardment and invasion of Gaza last January by barring further exports of components used in naval gunships which took part in the three-week operation.

Britain has officially told Israel’s embassy in London that it is revoking five licences for exports of equipment used in Saar 4.5 vessels because they violate UK and EU criteria precluding military sales which could be used for “internal repression”. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — “Internal repression” is not something that democracies engage in. Israel’s policies and actions of internal repression have been evident for decades, yet its allies have allowed it to be shielded behind a democratic facade. That facade is now crumbling.

Obama’s settlement talks are insulting to Abbas

If I were Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas I would be deeply insulted by the negotiations U.S. President Barack Obama is conducting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over building permits in the settlements. Who authorized the Americans – this administration or the previous one – to do business with Palestinian land?

If I were Netanyahu I would be very worried by Israel’s image in the Arab world as a client of the United States in the “natural growth” affair. How is it possible that the proud Jewish government is begging the non-Jews (“Rome” in Netanyahu’s discourse, according to senior adviser Uzi Arad), to allow it to build a kindergarten in Ma’aleh Adumim?

If I were Obama I would tell Netanyahu that if the settlers’ children are so close to the prime minister’s heart, let him ask the Palestinian Authority to take their crowded living conditions into consideration. After all, even according to Israel’s official position, Ma’aleh Adumim does not belong to us but is considered disputed territory – a dispute with the Palestinians, not the Americans. [continued…]

West Bank fence not done and never will be, it seems

Seven years after construction work began on the West Bank separation fence, the project seems to have run aground. Work has slowed significantly since September 2007, and today, after the state has spent about NIS 9.5 billion, only about 60 percent of the more limited, revised route has been completed.

With fierce opposition coming from the United States, Israel has halted work on the “fingers” – enclaves east of the Green Line that were to have included large settlement blocs such as Ariel, Kedumim, Karnei Shomron and Ma’aleh Adumim, within the fence. The military has, in practice, closed up the holes that were to have led to these “fingers.” But giant gaps remain in the southern part of the fence, particular in the southern outskirts of Jerusalem, in the Etzion bloc and in the Judean Desert. [continued…]

The decline of Israel’s progressive movement

Naomi Chazan leaned forward in the arched lobby of Jerusalem’s American Colony Hotel. “If we want to chart the decline of the Israeli left, we should take 1992 as the starting point,” she said. In the years since, the Labor Party has lost 31 of its 44 seats in Israel’s 120-member Knesset, and the historically pro-peace Meretz is down from twelve seats to three.

Chazan should know. One of the founders of Meretz, and later one of its leading Knesset members—from 1996 to 2003 she was a deputy speaker of the Knesset—she still serves as the chair of Meretz’s party congress. Wearing another hat as president of the New Israel Fund, she has watched the decline of Israel’s progressive and pro-peace movement from close at hand.

I spoke with Chazan in early March. At the time, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu was in the middle of the inter-party negotiations usually needed to form a governing coalition in Israel. Later that month he convinced Labor leader Ehud Barak to serve as defense minister, despite the fact that the hard-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, which had won fifteen seats by campaigning for mandated loyalty oaths from Israel’s 1.3 million Palestinian citizens, was already firmly inside Netanyahu’s coalition. Barak’s decision caused further tensions inside Labor, pounding yet another nail into the coffin of the party that until 1977 dominated the country’s political scene. But even before he joined Netanyahu’s conservative government, Barak stood accused by leaders of Israel’s peace movement of bearing considerable responsibility for the movement’s decline. In their telling, the betrayal started in early October 2000, when Barak emerged from the ruins of the last-minute peace talks at Camp David and announced that Yasser Arafat had quite gratuitously turned down Israel’s “generous offer.” Israel, he reported, had “no partner for peace.” [continued…]

The truth about Dasht-i-Leili

Add this to the Bush administration’s sordid legacy: a refusal to investigate charges that forces commanded by a notorious Afghan warlord — and American ally — massacred hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Taliban prisoners of war in late 2001.

According to survivors and witnesses, over a three-day period, fighters under the command of Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum stuffed surrendering Taliban prisoners into metal shipping containers without food or water. Many suffocated. Guards shot others to death. The victims are believed to be buried in a grave in the desert of Dasht-i-Leili in northern Afghanistan.

Although the deaths were previously reported, The Times’s James Risen has now detailed repeated efforts by the Bush administration to discourage any investigation of the massacre — even after officials from the F.B.I. and the State Department, along with the Red Cross and human rights groups, tried to press the matter. Physicians for Human Rights, which discovered the mass grave in 2002, says the site has since been tampered with. Satellite photos seem to bear this out. [continued…]

Obama orders review of alleged slayings of Taliban in Bush era

President Obama has ordered national security officials to look into allegations that the Bush administration resisted efforts to investigate a CIA-backed Afghan warlord over the killings of hundreds of Taliban prisoners in 2001.

“The indications that this had not been properly investigated just recently was brought to my attention,” Obama told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in an exclusive interview during the president’s visit to Ghana. The full interview will air 10 p.m. Monday.

“So what I’ve asked my national security team to do is to collect the facts for me that are known, and we’ll probably make a decision in terms of how to approach it once we have all of the facts gathered up,” Obama said. [continued…]

The mystery of the missing unemployed man

For the book I’m writing about unemployed Americans, I had no trouble finding accountants, brokers, cashiers, or die casters. Admittedly, I had to go out of town to interview the die casters. But when I arrived, alphabetically, at unemployed editors, I had only to look in my address book.

Financiers were further from my life experience than either die casters or editors. Yet the “do you know anyone who…?” method still proved an effective way of turning up unemployed hedge-fund analysts and bank loan officers — and within a week at that. It was only when I refined my search to ferret out unemployed financiers who had actually handled those infamous “toxic assets” that I hit the proverbial brick wall.

Since mortgage-backed securities and the swaps that insure them had been the downfall of Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and the giant insurance company AIG, packs of bankers who worked on them must, I assumed, be roaming free on the streets of Manhattan. Yet I couldn’t find a single one.

Finally, I phoned a law firm representing Lehman Brothers employees in a suit for the pay they were owed when the company shut down without notice. I asked the lawyer if he could possibly inquire among his unemployed clients for someone, anyone, who used to work with mortgage-backed securities and might be willing to talk about how he or she was getting by today. “I don’t have to use real names,” I assured him. Many of the unemployed people I’d already interviewed felt so lost and ashamed that I had decided not to use their real names. Unemployed bankers deserve anonymity, too.

But the lawyer made it clear that that wasn’t the problem. “Most of them were snapped up immediately by Barclays,” he said. He represents other financial plaintiffs as well, and he seemed to think that the kind of person I was looking for hadn’t remained unemployed very long. [continued…]

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  1. Aditya

    I find it hard to believe that such a big fuss (calls for congressional inquires, several major media reports, etc.) is being made on a program that “was never operational.”

    Lets look at what we know to be highly plausible or uncontroversially true:

    The US Army started developing death squads in Iraq as far back as April 2003 according to Shane Bauer

    Newsweek proudly reported in 2005 that the US military had resurrected the “el Salvador option”. No outcry. Not much concern out of congress.

    Additionally, Michael Hirsh and John Barry incredibly claim “There is no evidence, however, that Negroponte knew anything about the Salvadoran death squads or the Iran-Contra scandal at the time.”
    Of course a 2-minute Google search would reveal that to be complete nonsense. But after all they are Serious Washington reporters. The discipline of the media is astonishing at times.

    And what are we to make of Sy Hersh’s comment’s, discussed briefly, then tossed in the memory hole:

    “Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.

    “Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.

    “It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue.”

    Winter Patriot observes however:
    “And so, here we are, in never-never land. Even Seymour Hersh, famed investigative reporter, can’t help slinging it, one shovel-full at a time.

    “They’re not murderers, even though what they’re doing is murder. But how do we define a “murderer”? Is it not someone who murders? Hersh can’t even bring himself to call it that, but he will go so far as to say that they’re “committing what we would normally call murder”.

    “I’m not a writer. I’m just doing what we would normally call writing. And you’re not a reader. You’re just doing what we would normally call reading. Really. No exaggerations. It’s all highly specialized.”

    “Apparently it’s “very complicated”, at least in Hersh’s imagination. And it might not be murder, even though it’s what we would normally call murder, because the murderers are not actually murderers but instead “young men that went into the Special Forces”.

    And so the charade goes on. Perhaps until Hersh finally writes that, um… well… it actually was operational… but its a very complicated issue.

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