Ex-Powell aide suggests CIA assassination program was actually active

The secret CIA program allegedly aimed at assassinating suspected terrorists abroad has raised the eyebrows of at least one former senior Bush Administration official who hints that the program may have actually gone into effect, despite the denials of the agency and congressional staff who have been briefed.

The aide, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, was chief of staff to Bush Secretary of State Colin Powell. He says he heard “echoes” of the program from US ambassadors abroad, who informed him that clandestine military teams were being dispatched to their countries. [continued…]

CIA assassin program was nearing new phase

CIA officials were proposing to activate a plan to train anti-terrorist assassination teams overseas when agency managers brought the secret program to the attention of CIA Director Leon Panetta last month, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

The plan to kill top al-Qaeda leaders, which had been on the agency’s back burner for much of the past eight years, was suddenly thrust into the spotlight because of proposals to initiate what one intelligence official called a “somewhat more operational phase.” Shortly after learning of the plan, Panetta terminated the program and then went to Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers, who had been kept in the dark since 2001.

The Obama administration’s top intelligence official, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, yesterday defended Panetta’s decision to cancel the program, which he said had raised serious questions among intelligence officials about its “effectiveness, maturity and the level of control.” [continued…]

Our sons are lying again

First we saw the destruction of Gaza on TV, then we heard about it from Palestinians, then from journalists (mainly foreign), then from the world’s leading human rights organizations. We didn’t believe it, or we found ways to justify it, but at any rate, we, the Israeli public, made sure the images and words went in one ear and out the other.

Then in March some of our own boys, IDF soldiers, talked about it – the orders that amounted to “when in doubt, shoot,” the sniggering contempt for Palestinian life and property, the exhortations to holy war from IDF rabbis. That seemed to make a small dent in our consciousness for a couple days. But then the IDF conducted its brief, naturally closed investigation, announced that the stories were all hearsay and rumor, there was nothing to the accounts of an old woman and a mother getting shot deliberately, nothing to worry about, you can all go back to sleep now, and, of course, we did.

Now comes “Breaking the Silence,” an organization of IDF combat reservists, with the testimonies of 26 soldiers who served in Operation Cast Lead, and the stories are very, very familiar, only they’re much more detailed than what we’ve heard before. Over 100 pages of testimony about the extraordinary scale of destruction (“like in those World War II films where nothing remained”); the vandalism (“In one house we entered I saw guys had defecated in drawers”); the shoot-’em-up spirit (“The atmosphere was not one of fear but rather people too eager to shoot other people”); the elastic definition of “legitimate target” (“suspects, lookouts, people standing on roofs and looking towards our forces, making suspect movements on the roof, bending down, looking out beyond the rim”); the firing of napalm-like white phosphorous in thickly-populated areas; the killings of unarmed civilians in no-go zones; the rabbis’ anti-Arab pep talks; and much, much more. [continued…]

New testimony from Gaza

“We didn’t see a single house that was not hit. The entire infrastructure, tracks, fields, roads — was in total ruin,” an anonymous soldier says, describing his days in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli incursion last winter. “Nothing much was left in our designated area … A totally destroyed city … The few houses that were still inhabitable were taken by the army … there were lots of abandoned, miserable animals.” The destruction continued daily, he testifies, though Palestinians — fighters and civilians — had fled the area.

So much lay in ruins, says another Israeli soldier, that it was hard to navigate. “I entered Al Atatra [in the northern Gaza Strip] after seeing aerial photos and didn’t identify anything … I remembered that 200 meters further on down the track there should be a junction, with two large houses at the corners, and there wasn’t. I remembered there was supposed to be a square with a Hamas memorial … and there wasn’t. There was rubble, broken blocks.” Later, he says, he was in an operations room where soldiers were directing air strikes. Landmarks that were supposed to serve the pilots as reference points had already been destroyed, he says, making it harder to direct the planes, more likely that they would hit the wrong building. [continued…]

Viva Palestina convoy of US activists breaks the siege of Gaza

Viva Palestina, a convoy of US human rights activists has entered Gaza with truckloads of humanitarian aid. The delegation has over 200 people, and is a follow up trip to one led by British MP George Galloway last March. This delegation includes Vietnam vet Ron Kovic, New York City Council member Charles Barron and Cynthia McKinney.

Details are still unclear on how much aid got in. Although Viva Palestina’s website reports that they had over “over one million dollars worth of aide” to bring in, Egypt may not have allowed all of it to enter. As has happened on other delegations to Gaza, Egypt created serious obstacles for the convoy as it attempted to enter Gaza, but they got through. [continued…]

Ex-U.S. diplomat talks with Hamas

To Hamas officials Bassem Naim and Mahmoud al-Zahar, a recent meeting in Switzerland with a former senior U.S. diplomat represented an opening in relations with the Obama administration, and a path to easing the Islamist group’s isolation.

“I hope it will be the beginning of addressing some of the mistakes of the last three years,” Naim said of his talks with Thomas R. Pickering, a former undersecretary of state and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “This was a first meeting to investigate the positions in general terms of both parties without any commitment on any side.”

U.S. officials say they see the previously undisclosed June meeting between Pickering and the two senior Hamas officials differently. They said Pickering had not been asked to approach Hamas and had no official standing; U.S. officials learned of the meeting only afterward. Policy toward the Islamist group, they said, remains what it was under President George W. Bush: that Hamas is a terrorist organization with which the United States will not even sanction a meeting. [continued…]

Why Palestinian leaders have banned Al Jazeera

The Palestinian Authority (PA) on Wednesday banned Al Jazeera television from operating in its territory and threatened to take legal action against the Qatar-based Arabic satellite channel because of allegations it made against President Mahmoud Abbas.

Al Jazeera ran an interview a day earlier in which Farouk Kaddoumi, a senior leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), charged that Mr. Abbas conspired with Israel in 2003 to kill Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Mr. Arafat died in November 2004 after being sent abroad for medical treatment. No cause was disclosed, and Palestinian political circuits have since been rife with gossip over possible foul play.

Al Jazeera said it was “stunned” by the PA’s action, noting that several other outlets had carried the story – based on a press conference called by Mr. Kaddoumi, who lives in Jordan. [continued…]

The end of political Islam?

Is the long-predicted decline of Political Islam about to occur?

Several French scholars, such as Gilles Keppel and Olivier Roy, have been making this argument since the early 1990s. The only trouble was a subsequent string of Islamist electoral victories that seemed to undermine their thesis.

But in light of Islamist losses in recent elections in Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Bahrain, talk of the decline of Political Islam is reemerging. Influential Washington Post journalist David Ignatius recently wrote of a region-wide, anti-Islamist backlash whose central theme, according to a specialist he cited from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, is that “the Muslim parties have failed to convince the public that they have any more answers than anyone else.”

The sentiment is hardly confined to Washington. The June 30 episode of the popular Al-Jazeera political talk show, the Opposite Direction, debated the question, “Has political Islam begun to decline?”

So has it? Clearly, Islamists are not winning elections. This does not, however, mean a decline of Political Islam, let alone Islamism as a broader movement. First, given the authoritarian nature of Arab political systems, official election results are not necessarily accurate or even meaningful measures of the influence of Islamist groups. [continued…]

Advert ‘implied Gaza in Israel’

An Israeli tourism advert that showed the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as an undisputed part of Israel has been rejected by the advertising watchdog.

The posters, on the London Underground, sparked hundreds of complaints from pro-Palestinian groups and members of the public.

The Advertising Standards Authority said a map labelled Israel implied the occupied territories were in Israel. [continued…]

Britain must tell Obama: the alliance of denial has to end

Diplomacy, your hour has come. There is no way soldiers will find an exit from Afghanistan. They can deliver defeat or they can deliver bloody stalemate. They cannot deliver victory and every observer knows it. This conflict will end only when the courage being daily demanded of soldiers is also shown by politicians.

Those who said that sending an army to Afghanistan was madness can collect their winnings and go. But diplomacy is a relativist ethic. Its practitioners cannot say “do not start from here.” They must face the fact that Barrack Obama and Gordon Brown are entangled in a mess from which there is no easy release.

Obama made a serious error on coming to power. To honor his pledge to disown Iraq he felt obliged to “adopt” Afghanistan. What had begun as a punitive raid on the Taliban for harboring Osama bin Laden morphed into a neo-con campaign of regime change, counter-insurgency and nation-building. Obama rashly identified himself with this crusade and thus leapt from the frying pan of Iraq into the fire of the Hindu Kush. [continued…]

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