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The war on terror: Inside the dark world of rendition
By Peter Popham and Jerome Taylor, The Independent, June 8, 2007

Shortly before noon on 17 February 2003, the bulky, bearded figure of the Imam of Milan's most important mosque, Abu Omar, was noticed by a woman called Merfat Rezk.

Wearing traditional Arab dress, he was walking down Via Guerzoni towards his mosque. Ms Rezk also saw a man of European appearance wearing sunglasses and standing on the street, talking into a mobile phone. Moments later there was a loud bang, and a light-coloured van that had been parked across the pavement took off at high speed. The Arabic looking man and the man with sunglasses were nowhere to be seen.

Inside the van, the Egyptian cleric was confronted by men "wearing uniforms similar to those worn by the special forces", as he later wrote, men "who never spoke" but blindfolded his eyes and bound him hand and foot with gaffer tape. When he put up a fight, he was "severely beaten", until he began to foam at the mouth and became incontinent. [complete article]

See also, First CIA rendition trial opens (BBC) and At Gitmo, it all hinges on a word (Rosa Brooks).

Comment -- In the newly-released report [PDF] on the CIA's secret detention program, written by Swiss Senator Dick Marty, it says:
Our team heard first-hand how distinctions are drawn in the mind of guards and interrogators: in an interview with one of our CIA sources who has extensive knowledge of detainee treatment, we asked whether a known form of detainee treatment should be considered as abusive. "Here's my question," replied our source. "Was the guy a terrorist? 'Cause if he's a terrorist then I figure he got what was coming to him. I've met a lot of them and one thing I know for sure is that they ain't human -- they ain't like you and me."
The denial of humanity -- irrespective of what a person might have done -- this is what always lays the foundation for brutality. And when a CIA operative dressed in black, masked and with eyes concealed behind dark glasses, says that his naked captives are not human -- that they are getting what they had coming to them -- where in that moment is the greater lack of humanity? Among the captives or the captors?
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For U.S. unit in Baghdad, an alliance of last resort
By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, June 9, 2007

The worst month of Lt. Col. Dale Kuehl's deployment in western Baghdad was finally drawing to a close. The insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq had unleashed bombings that killed 14 of his soldiers in May, a shocking escalation of violence for a battalion that had lost three soldiers in the previous six months while patrolling the Sunni enclave of Amiriyah. On top of that, the 41-year-old battalion commander was doubled up with a stomach flu when, late on May 29, he received a cellphone call that would change everything.

"We're going after al-Qaeda," a leading local imam said, Kuehl recalled. "What we want you to do is stay out of the way."

"Sheik, I can't do that. I can't just leave Amiriyah and let you go at it."

"Well, we're going to go."

The week that followed revolutionized Kuehl's approach to fighting the insurgency and serves as a vivid example of a risky, and expanding, new American strategy of looking beyond the Iraqi police and army for help in controlling violent neighborhoods. The American soldiers in Amiriyah have allied themselves with dozens of Sunni militiamen who call themselves the Baghdad Patriots -- a group that American soldiers believe includes insurgents who have attacked them in the past -- in an attempt to drive out al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Americans have granted these gunmen the power of arrest, allowed the Iraqi army to supply them with ammunition, and fought alongside them in chaotic street battles. [complete article]
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Chairman of Joint Chiefs will not be reappointed
By Thom Shanker, New York Times, June 9, 2007

The Bush administration said Friday that it would not reappoint Gen. Peter Pace to a second term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, making him the highest-ranking officer to be a political casualty of the fight over Iraq.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the decision was reached in order to avoid bitter hearings in a Democratic-controlled Senate that is already confronting the White House over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. [complete article]

Comment -- When Admiral William Fallon arrived as the new head of Central Command, the commentariat were quick to conclude that this indicated an imminent attack on Iran. Now we have another man in white as the new CJCS. Rather than seeing this as a new sign of preparations for war, it looks to me more like Chief Psychiatrist Gates is getting his orderlies lined up, just in case Cheney needs to be put in restraints. War czar Lute's somber warnings in the Senate on Thursday merely reinforce the impression that the adults are really taking charge. That doesn't mean the crazies won't find a chance to get lose, but at least someone's keeping a careful eye on them.
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It's not just the occupation
By Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, June 7, 2007

"Forty years ago today was the last day the citizens of Israel were a free people in their own land," wrote Ha'aretz columnist Akiva Eldar on June 4. "It was the last day we lived here without living other peoples' lives."

This sums up the cherished mythology of what is still called the Israeli left and much of the international peace process industry -- that prior to the 1967 war, Israel was pure and on the right path. Had it not "become an occupier" the region would have had a happier history and Israel would be an accepted member of the international community rather than a pariah wearing the "apartheid" label.

The exclusive focus on the occupation serves increasingly to obscure that the conflict in Palestine is at its core a colonial struggle whose boundaries do not conveniently coincide with the lines of June 4, 1967.

I do not often agree with leaders of the settler movement, but they speak a truth Israeli and American liberals prefer to ignore when they point out that the settlements in Gaza and the West Bank built after 1967 are not morally different from towns and kibbutzim inside Israel's pre-1967 borders. The Israel that was created in 1948 was established on land violently expropriated from ethnically-cleansed Palestinians. Israel has been maintained as a "Jewish state" only by the imposition of numerous laws that maintain the inferior status of its Palestinian citizens and forcibly exclude Palestinian refugees. [complete article]
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Iraq after 2008
By Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, June 7, 2007

While roaming around Balad Air Base north of Baghdad a year ago, I thought that the most telltale signs of how long George W. Bush intended to stay in Iraq were the cracks. Runway cracks, that is. Brig. Gen. Frank Gorenc, the base commander and leader of 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, was very worried about them. The Saddam-era concrete was getting pummeled by the constant landings of U.S. F-16s, C-130s and other aircraft that flew in and out so regularly they had turned Balad into the busiest hub in the world outside of Heathrow. So Gorenc was slowly, painstakingly, rebuilding the runways to U.S. specs. No short-term plan, this. When it came to controlling the airspace over Iraq, Gorenc told me, "We will probably be helping the Iraqis with that problem for a very long time." [complete article]
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The question of torture is not a question of technique
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, June 7, 2007

Tyranny usually arises in an interplay between brutality and power. The tyrannical tendencies in the Bush administration, on the other hand, stem from cowardice invested in secrecy.

Since neither George Bush nor Dick Cheney have the courage of true leaders, they have always been ineffectual advocates, unwilling to honestly face critics and unwilling to be held accountable for the implementation of their own policies. In this context, public debate about the administration's use of torture has always been hamstrung by the fact that those who carry the ultimate responsibility for the use of these practices persistently deny that the so-called "enhanced interrogation" techniques they endorse, do in fact constitute widely recognized forms of torture.

The debate has been mired in discussion about whether or not the techniques the administration sanctions actually fit the definition of torture even though there is already a mountain of evidence that they do. For this reason, a more basic question -- what is the purpose of the administration's use of torture? -- is not clearly addressed. Indeed, the administration's insistence on the use of the word "interrogation" has generally left unquestioned the assumption that the purpose of these practices is the coercive discovery of information.

Alfred W. McCoy, in A Question of Torture, says that "the powerful often turn to torture in times of crisis, not because it works but because it salves their fears and insecurities with the psychic balm of empowerment." This form of empowerment in which a sense of control is restored to those who have experienced a profound loss of control, no doubt played a part in the psychological processes that shaped the war on terrorism. Even so, I see George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld as eminently practical men. I doubt that they chose to institute a regimen of torture simply to reinvigorate their bruised sense of potency, but guided as they are by their own innate confidence in gut "rationales," I also doubt that they involved themselves in complex analysis fraught as this always is with the risk of being inconclusive.

On September 11, 2001, it was obvious that "the enemy" had no fear of death and no respect for American power. The central function of the war on terrorism was therefore to restore America's image as an indomitable power and to crush those who might cherish an ambition to challenge that power. Given that such individuals had already demonstrated that they have little fear of death, it would seem apparent that they only way they could be intimidated would be by the threat of a fate worse than death. It thus seems possible that Guantanamo Bay and the "dark side" to which Vice President Cheney alluded, was intended to function not so much as a means for extracting intelligence vital to the United States' national security, as much as a means to terrorize existing and would-be terrorists. It would be the epitome of fighting fire with fire. It would send out the message that the guardians of civilization had no fear in venturing outside its perimeters for the sake of its defense.

We now know that many of the so-called interrogation techniques used in Guantanamo were developed during the Cold War. Their inapplicability to combating terrorism would thus be multifold. Intelligence during the Cold War involved the lumbering giants of the Soviet Union and the United States. Valuable information thus related to government policies, military strategies and operations run by employed officials. The fact that neither side could turn its operations on a dime, that all those involved might be hesitant to die for their cause, meant that in theory "actionable intelligence" would be ripe for the picking. The only question would be how this information could most effectively be extracted.

On the other hand, when it comes to the men currently held captive in Guantanamo, I doubt that even Dick Cheney seriously entertains the notion that among these "enemy combatants" there is a single individual with a single piece of valuable information that would amount to a priceless piece of intelligence. On the contrary, these are men (and boys) who now abide in some nether land, where every form of certainty has been stripped away. Worse than being deprived of life, they have been denied their humanity. But even while their detention has profoundly damaged America's reputation, the administration has succeeded in constructing a regime of imprisonment that by most standards constitutes a condition worse than death.

Very early on in the war on terrorism a piece of military jargon entered the popular lexicon because, highfalutin as it might sound, everyone had a sense of what it meant: asymmetric warfare. David and Goliath, stripped of moral underpinnings and the political insight that concentrated power rarely if ever serves collective interests, is all about the functional advantage that a weak power can have in relation to overbearing might: flexibility.

We've witnessed it again and again over the last six years. The giant is slow to turn and so his small opponent is always quick to find a new angle of attack.

Capture a terrorist and what is the vital intelligence he might be forced to cough up? Most often, very little. His comrades already know he's out of commission and no terrorist plan, however advanced, is burdened by anything comparable to the inflexibility of the affairs of states. A decision to switch to plan B (or C, D, or E) can be made in a matter of moments.

So what do you do with your "high value" captives? Treat them in such a way that those who might follow in their footsteps will pause in terror.

The goal of the war on terrorism was to terrorize terrorists? Would you agree Mr. Cheney?

I guess his lips will remain well-sealed until the unlikely day he faces indictment.
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The CIA's favorite form of torture
By Mark Benjamin, Salon, June 7, 2007

According to news reports, the White House is preparing to issue an executive order that will set new ground rules for the CIA's secret program for interrogating captured al-Qaida types. Constrained by the 2006 Military Commissions Act, which contains a strict ban on abuse, it is anticipated that the order will jettison waterboarding and other brutal interrogation techniques.

But President Bush has insisted publicly that "tough" techniques work, and has signaled that the CIA's secret program can somehow continue under the rubric of the Military Commissions Act. The executive order will reportedly hand the CIA greater latitude than the military to conduct coercive interrogations. If waterboarding goes the way of the Iron Maiden, what "tough" techniques will the CIA use on its high-value detainees? [complete article]

See also, Rights groups call for end to secret detentions (NYT) and CIA ran secret prisons for detainees in Europe, says inquiry (The Guardian).
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BAE accused of secretly paying £1bn to Saudi prince
By David Leigh and Rob Evans, The Guardian, June 7, 2007

The arms company BAE secretly paid Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia more than £1bn in connection with Britain's biggest ever weapons contract, it is alleged today.

A series of payments from the British firm was allegedly channelled through a US bank in Washington to an account controlled by one of the most colourful members of the Saudi ruling clan, who spent 20 years as their ambassador in the US.

It is claimed that payments of £30m were paid to Prince Bandar every quarter for at least 10 years.

It is alleged by insider legal sources that the money was paid to Prince Bandar with the knowledge and authorisation of Ministry of Defence officials under the Blair government and its predecessors. For more than 20 years, ministers have claimed they knew nothing of secret commissions, which were outlawed by Britain in 2002. [complete article]

See also, The BAE files (The Guardian).

Comment -- Readers unfamiliar with BAE who might imagine that this scandal is primarily of concern to the British should note that BAE North America has directors including the likes of 9/11 Commission co-chairman, Lee Hamilton. With its open access to the Pentagon, BAE should be seen as a supra-national corporate entity that can strut through the corridors of political power with supreme confidence. Yet back in early 2001, this was a company in financial trouble. BAE is certainly one of the big winners in the war on terrorism.
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Financing the imperial armed forces
By Robert Dreyfuss, TomDispatch, June 7, 2007

War critics are rightly disappointed over the inability of congressional Democrats to mount an effective challenge to President Bush's Iraq adventure. What began as a frontal assault on the war, with tough talk about deadlines and timetables, has settled into something like a guerrilla-style campaign to chip away at war policy until the edifice crumbles.

Still, Democratic criticism of administration policy in Iraq looks muscle-bound when compared with the Party's readiness to go along with the President's massive military buildup, domestically and globally. Nothing underlines the tacit alliance between so-called foreign-policy realists and hard-line exponents of neoconservative-style empire-building more than the Washington consensus that the United States needs to expand the budget of the Defense Department without end, while increasing the size of the U.S. Armed Forces. [complete article]
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Al-Sadr TV interview decries U.S. presence in Iraq
By Leila Fadel, McClatchy, June 7, 2007

In a rare appearance on state-operated Iraqi television, radical anti-American Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Thursday called the U.S.-backed government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "neglectful" and sectarian and blamed Iraq's problems on the U.S. presence in the country.

The tone of his statements weren't surprising. Al-Sadr has been consistently anti-American since his Mahdi Army militia first rebelled against the U.S. presence in 2004. He's also grown increasingly critical of al-Maliki, who came to office last year largely on the strength of al-Sadr's support, and last month al-Sadr withdrew his backers from al-Maliki's government.

But his willingness to sit for an interview that lasted nearly an hour marked a new stage in his efforts to recast himself as a nationalist figure capable of uniting Sunni and Shiite partisans, two weeks after he resurfaced from a months-long absence.

In the interview, al-Sadr said that "the layers of government and parties are turning their backs on the people." He added that the government is only half-hearted in its efforts to serve the people. [complete article]
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Iraq has always been "South Korea" for the Bush Administration
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, June 7, 2007

At the moment, the Korea model is being presented as breaking news, as the next step in the Bush administration's desperately evolving thinking as its "surge plan" surges into disaster. However, the most basic fact of our present "Korea" moment is that this is the oldest news of all. As the Bush administration launched its invasion in March 2003, it imagined itself entering a "South Korean" Iraq (though that analogy was never used). While Americans, including administration officials, would argue endlessly over whether we were in Tokyo or Berlin, 1945, Algeria of the 1950s, Vietnam of the 1960s and 70s, civil-war torn Beirut of the 1980s, or numerous other historically distant places, when it came to the facts on the ground, the administration's actual planning remained obdurately in "South Korea."

The problem was that, thanks largely to terrible media coverage, the American people knew little or nothing about those developing facts-on-the-ground and that disconnect has made all the difference for years. [complete article]
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Israeli-Syrian 'war' may be cover for peace
By Harvey Morris and Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, June 7, 2007

Israeli headlines have been dominated in recent days by warnings of a possible summer war with Syria, an alarming prospect for a public still coming to terms with the consequences of last year's conflict in Lebanon.

But the talk of war might turn out to be cover for a renewal of peace negotiations, abandoned in 2000, that might lead to an eventual return of Syrian sovereignty in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, and Ariel Sharon, his predecessor, rebuffed peace feelers from Damascus before the Lebanon war. Officials explained Israel's reluctance to re-engage as a consequence of Washington's resistance to rewarding Syria, a state it associates with terrorism. [complete article]
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The West has to accept that there is no military solution
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, June 7, 2007

The team that wrote President Bush's Prague speech on democracy this week have clearly never visited Afghanistan. Otherwise they would not have had the president quoting a Soviet dissident who compared "a tyrannical state to a soldier who constantly points a gun at his enemy". The guns that most Afghans see pointed at them are held by Americans, and they are all too often fired. At least 135 unarmed civilians have been reported killed over the past two months by western troops, mainly US special forces. [complete article]
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By Paul Woodward, War in Context, June 5, 2007

For Americans, thousands of miles away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it's easy to tune out. As a throwaway line on the HBO series, The Sopranos, recently put it, it's a conflict that's gone on for so long, no one even knows how it started. The protracted nature of the struggle combined with a lack of interest among distant observers, thus provides a convenient explanation: this is a conflict sustained by the innate enmity between its protagonists. The Israelis and the Palestinians are fighting because they don't know how to get along. Everyone else should just move on -- if we involve ourselves we won't bring about a solution; we'll just get sucked in. That's obviously a self-serving perspective but its one that the majority of Americans seem quite content to accept.

A radio journalist called Sandy Tolan has attempted to break through our collective indifference by putting the conflict under a microscope, so to speak. He relates the story not through the broad sweep of historical analysis but instead through a personal narrative of dispossession. This is the story of "The Lemon Tree."
Bashir was six during the height of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, when his family was forced to flee his stone home in old Palestine and live as refugees in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Three months later, six-month-old Dalia, whose Bulgarian family had survived the Holocaust, arrived by boat in the new nation of Israel. Two decades later Bashir crossed the threshold of his old house and rang the bell. Dalia answered.
The reason Tolan gives for telling the story is that:
A central reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is two peoples, one land. There's actually a book by that title. Here was a story of two people in one house -- a powerful metaphor that was also a very particular story featuring two gifted, eloquent people. I felt as though a big portion of the conflict could be understood in a new way through the personalization of the narrative, and through as much use of their direct, unfiltered voices as possible. I wanted people to hear these voices side by side, to illustrate how the histories are both intertwined and distinct.
You can read this story in Tolan's book, The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, but perhaps even more compelling is to hear it told directly by Bashir and Dalia in this thirty-eight minute audio. (Follow this link and then click the headphones icon beneath the title, "The Lemon Tree.")
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1967: Our rights have to be recognised
By Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, The Guardian, June 6, 2007

When the Israeli leaders launched their expansionist war in June 1967 they never envisaged that 40 years later they would still be haunted by the consequences. At the time, they were driven by one strategic objective: to end the conflict by seizing all that remained of Palestine and complete the process of ethnic cleansing that started in 1948. They did not realise the resolution of this conflict would take much more than military superiority.

The occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the Sinai peninsula was portrayed as the victory of David over Goliath. For the next two decades the Palestinian experience was drowned out by the clamour of Israeli hubris. The world paid little attention to the expropriation of Palestinian land, the apartheid regime established by the occupation and the systematic destruction of Palestinian livelihoods.

It was only in 1987 that the world awoke to the reality of a popular Palestinian uprising - intifada. A new generation had come of age, thirsty for freedom and peace with dignity in their own land. The two decades since have confirmed that my people will not repeat the mistakes of 1948. They will remain rooted in their land, whatever the price, and pursue their legitimate right to resist the occupation. That right is supported by, for example, UN Resolutions 2955 and 3034, which affirm the "inalienable" right of all peoples to self-determination and the legitimacy of their struggle against foreign domination and subjugation "by all available means". [complete article]
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What a mess
By Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, June 5, 2007

Israel's real choice is between dealing with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority or watching it collapse into little pieces, which Israel would have to pick up. (Think Iraq and Somalia.) West Bank and Gaza unemployment is now around 40 percent. Talking with Palestinians in Ramallah, the phrase I heard most was not "Israeli occupation" but "Palestinian disintegration."

Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki told me that as bad as things are today, his polls show most Palestinians still don't blame Hamas. They blame Israel and America for withholding funds from the Hamas government that Palestinians elected. The best way to diminish Hamas's influence, or to moderate it, is by forcing it to assume responsibility. Ask it: "Do you want Palestinians to be able to work in Israel? Then sit down with Israel and work out the details." We need to "force Hamas through a corridor of difficult decisions," said Israeli strategist Gidi Grinstein. If America can talk to Iran, Israel can talk to Hamas. [complete article]
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4.2 million Iraqis are now displaced
By Eliane Engeler, AP, June 5, 2007

More than 4 million Iraqis have now been displaced by violence in the country, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday, warning that the figure will continue to rise.

The number of Iraqis who have fled the country as refugees has risen to 2.2 million, said Jennifer Pagonis, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. A further 2 million have been driven from their homes but remain within the country, increasingly in "impoverished shanty towns," she said.

Pagonis said UNHCR is receiving "disturbing reports" of regional authorities doing little to provide displaced people with food, shelter and other basic services. [complete article]
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In Baghdad neighborhood, U.S. military, local fighters team up against al-Qaida
By Leila Fadel, McClatchy, June 5, 2007

Under cover of darkness, a convoy of Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M-1 tanks loaded with American soldiers pulled up to a mosque Monday night in the al-Qaida-dominated neighborhood of Amariyah.

More than a dozen members of the anti-American insurgent Islamic Army of Iraq and some local residents waited for them, armed with AK-47 rifles and dressed in track suits and T-shirts.

But the two forces didn't clash. Instead, they shared information and supplies, in a growing push by the Islamic Army of Iraq and neighborhood residents to push al-Qaida's foreign fighters from Amariyah.

Capt. Andy Wilbraham, the commander of Delta Company of the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, of the 1st Cavalry Division, from Fort Hood, Texas, called the men the "honorable insurgency" and "the good bad guys." He said the Iraqis' decision to ally with the Americans, in the battle against al-Qaida at least, had given him hope that Baghdad's Sunni Muslims would follow the lead of tribal heads in Anbar province and help the Americans drive out al-Qaida.

That won't necessarily mean they'll be long-term allies, however.

One of the men present, who called himself Abu Bilal, said privately that he remained committed to expelling the Americans from Iraq. But for now, the battle was against al-Qaida's fighters, who he said had turned his neighborhood into a dump for garbage and bodies. [complete article]
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Behind Bush's missile defense push
By Massimo Calabresi, Time, June 5, 2007

In his search for a long-term foreign policy achievement that can offset Iraq in the history books, George W. Bush has returned to a central national security tenet of his early days as President: the need for missile defense. Beyond fighting terrorism, no issue is more important to the President's strategic vision, and he and his closest advisers have pursued anti-missile programs from the earliest days of the Administration. But as he presses his efforts to get a regional missile defense system in train for central Europe before he leaves office, Bush faces more resistance than he bargained for, resistance that now threatens to overshadow his other foreign policy legacy efforts. [complete article]

Comment -- Philosophically, missile defense seems eminently pragmatic. Since we can't control the behavior of our adversaries, we're going to focus on making sure they can do us no harm. This is the isolationist mentality devoid of the neoconservative instrumentalist attitude and its limitless faith in the ability of American power to assert a global hegemony. Except -- and this is where the concept of missile defense falls apart, thanks to the lesson of 9/11 -- missile defense is a cuckooland fantasy. It's unproven in terms of its specified goal -- the ability to intercept incoming missiles. And its irrelevant when the WMD threat is just as likely to arrive on a UPS truck as it is on the tip of a long-range missile.

So what's missile defense all about? Money -- nothing else. It's the holy grail of the military-industrial complex: a weapons program that will require unlimited funding while holding out a tantalizing but unattainable promise of peace. It's what gives sweet dreams to Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Bechtel, and all their investors, representatives on K Street and friends at the Pentagon, and on Capitol Hill. It's the way a few Americans who are much too proud to think of themselves as crooks, are able to pick the pockets of fellow Americans that they treat as suckers.
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Bush defends missile defense shield
By Michael A. Fletcher, Washington Post, June 5, 2007

Putin told reporters Sunday that if the United States goes ahead with building the system in two former Soviet satellite nations, Russia could take "retaliatory steps" such as targeting its own weapons on sites in Europe, much as it did during the Cold War.

Experts say re-aiming missiles takes only minutes, making Putin's warning substantively empty. Still, the escalating threats underscore the strained relations between Russia and the West, a subject likely to shadow this week's G-8 meeting.

"A lot of this is political posturing, but the rhetoric has really gotten out of hand lately," said Andrew C. Kuchins, director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies.

While existing missile defense technology is ineffective against sophisticated Russian missiles, Kuchins said, the Russians are likely worried about improvements in the coming decades that could upset the balance of power. Also, with plans for radar sites in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland, the system is viewed by Russia as a direct intrusion into its sphere of influence. [complete article]

Comment -- Behind the verbal jousting going on between Bush and Putin there is an element to this story that seems to have been completely ignored by the media. Supposedly, Bush has an unwavering commitment to prevent Iran becoming a nuclear state. So, is he already convinced that he'll fail -- thus the need for the missile defense shield? Or is Putin right -- this isn't about Iran; it's about containing Russia's growing power and asserting an American imperial prerogative to keep Russia out of its own backyard?

Bush's latest attack on Russia's "derailed reforms" suggests that Putin's suspicions are well-founded. As Martin Jacques writes:
The starting point for understanding the deterioration in the relationship between the US and Russia lies in Washington, rather than Moscow. After 1989, Russia was a defeated power. Despite the fine words and some limited gestures, the Americans have treated it like one. Their policy has been one of encirclement. Following the end of the cold war, there was much discussion concerning the point of Nato. In the event, it was reinvented as a means of reducing Russia's reach on its western frontiers and seeking to isolate it. Its former east European client states were admitted to Nato, as were the Baltic states. It now finds itself militarily encircled to its west and, in central Asia, to its south. It is hardly surprising that Russia is unhappy about these developments. Not only are its reasonable security concerns being trampled on, but it also feels it is being humiliated.
While Bush goes through this ritualistic display of American power -- after all, this appears to have more to do with the construction of political shields than so-called missile defense shields -- the one man who must be looking on with smug satisfaction is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
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Military judges block trials for 2 detainees
By Carol Rosenberg, McClatchy, June 4, 2007

A pair of military judges on Monday blocked the Bush administration's latest plan to try detainees here for war crimes, dismissing charges against two suspects after finding that the Pentagon hadn't followed congressional mandates in bringing the cases.

At issue was the failure of the Pentagon to find during earlier proceedings that Omar Khadr, 20, whom U.S. officials had charged with murder in the death of a U.S. Special Forces medic, and Salim Hamdan, 36, a driver for Osama bin Laden, were "unlawful enemy combatants." Instead, military panels had declared that the men were simply "enemy combatants."
Chief defense counsel Marine Corps. Col. Dwight Sullivan noted that each captive currently held at Guantanamo is classified as an "enemy combatant," not an "unlawful enemy combatant."

Sullivan, who oversees the defense of all military commission cases, declared the war court "a complete failure" and urged the Pentagon to end its efforts to prosecute Guantanamo detainees under the Military Commissions Act.

"The system right now should just stop," said Sullivan. "The commission is an experiment that failed and we don't need any more evidence that it is a failure." [complete article]

Comment -- It's heartening that when it comes to challenging the administration head on and showing courage that has never been much in evidence at senior levels in the Pentagon or Congress or inside the media, some of the most outstanding defenders of American values turn out to be military lawyers (JAGs). Though stereotypes of military discipline might lead many people outside the military to expect that the JAGs wouldn't want to rock the boat, it turns out that the team assembled to defend the prisoners at Guantanamo are fiercely independent. Men such as Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles D. Swift and Navy Lt. Cmdr. Matt Diaz clearly understand that defending the nation has more to do with moral choices than military operations. So too does their commander, Marine Col. Dwight Sullivan:
A large poster for the 2004 play Guantanamo, which dramatized the alleged brutalities of the camp, has pride of place in the office of Marine colonel reservist Dwight Sullivan, the chief defense counsel for the Office of Military Commissions, in Washington. Sullivan is known for his work on appellate death-penalty cases. Wiry and muscular, he speaks with military precision, but his legal bona fides suggest a lefty activist. For years he worked at the American Civil Liberties Union in Maryland, and a number of the JAG lawyers under him reflect his point of view: there are quotes from H. L. Mencken in one office, a "Boycott Guantanamo" sign in Arabic in another, and a "Denounce Torture" sign from Amnesty International in another. Whenever a supervisor from the Department of Defense pays a visit, Sullivan suggests that his staff take down the agitprop.

The first time I visit the offices, there is no sign of Swift. "Who knows where he is," Sullivan says. "These guys are all independent. They're working with their clients. They're giving interviews." Sullivan's phone rings often. "Colonel Sullivan!" he snaps when he answers, and he signs off most calls with an abrupt "Roger that!" He tells me, "Rule 5.4: If you have a military lawyer, he is completely independent, even though he is subject to his military senior. I would not go to Charlie and say, 'Don't do X,' because Charlie is so independent he would do it anyway."

On vacation with his family when the Military Commissions Act was proposed, Sullivan was outraged. "Now you have the Congress declaring law over the courts! It is not often in the career of a lawyer that you get to rely on the case of Marbury v. Madison," he says. That case, which goes back to the Jefferson era, declares that the courts can strike down laws they find unconstitutional. Sullivan sat down that day and fired off 40 e-mails to lawyers working on military-commission cases. The essence of all of them was "This is wrong." (Vanity Fair, March, 2007)
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As crises build, Lebanese fearful of a failed state
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, June 5, 2007

The specter of al-Qaeda-styled groups in Palestinian camps -- Fatah al-Islam in Nahr al-Bared and, to a lesser degree, Jund al-Sham in Ein al-Hilweh -- caught few by surprise here. But many have been struck by the fight put up by Fatah al-Islam, where perhaps 250 fighters from Lebanon and elsewhere in the Arab world have held out in a camp that covers less than one square mile.

On Monday, cars, some with headlights flashing, careened down a road past the Nahr al-Bared camp as bursts of gunfire echoed off the hills. A few buildings in the camp had collapsed; relentless artillery fire had honeycombed others. Relief officials managed to ferry in hundreds of pounds of bread and some medicine on Monday, the quietest day since a truce collapsed Friday.

Ein al-Hilweh, a dense, claustrophobic warren, was calm Monday after Jund al-Sham's fighters clashed with the army. Two soldiers and two militants were reported killed. To bring quiet, rounds of talks lasted hours Monday among the byzantine and overlapping authorities that hold sway in and around the camp: a faction loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Islamic groups, pro-Syrian elements, military officials, opposition and pro-government politicians in neighboring Sidon, and Sunni clerics. [complete article]

MP Bahiyyah Al-Hariri
Angry Arab News Service, June 4, 2007

Bahiyyah Al-Hariri was doing a media blitz today. On Aljazeera she confirmed that she had paid Jund Ash-Sham among others but that the money was for "transportation." On Al-Arabiya TV she said that she paid those groups but only for rent and relocation. [complete article]

See also, Beirut bomb follows camp clashes (Al Jazeera), Bahiyyah Al-Hariri defends Jund el Sham and "distinguishes" them from Fath el Islam (Friday-Lunch-Club), and Camp in Lebanon slowly crumbles around them (LAT).
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The presidential plebiscite and pageantry: what does it mean?
By Joshua Landis, Syria Comment, June 4, 2007

In early 2005, when President Bush and Chirac decided to move aggressively against Bashar al-Assad, insisting that Syria withdraw its troops from Lebanon, give up influence there and allow for free Presidential elections to replace Emile Lahoud with a Hariri loyalist, the Assad regime balked and battle-lines were drawn.

Syria understood that the West meant war and that Syria's regime could be next. In Syria's ongoing war with Israel over the Golan, Lebanon is the crucial front. Hizbullah is Syria's main asset in the tug of war over the Golan. Also, Syria feels it cannot afford to permit Lebanon to become a beachhead in the West's attempt to destabilize Syria, as it was in the 1950s through 1960s and again in the 1980s. In 1956, the CIA trained over 300 Alawite members of the PPS in the mountains of Lebanon. They were to serve as one element in a Western backed coup against the Syrian regime. In 1957, Lebanon was the staging ground for Operation Straggle, another US inspired coup attempt. Syrian opposition groups found a ready base in Lebanon, where western intelligence agencies could help arm and handle them.

In the 1980s, following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood, which was backed by Saddam Hussein and others waged a war against the Assad regime. They used Lebanon as a staging ground. Several old CIA hands have written that the US also helped the M.B. at this time. The game of using Islamist groups in Lebanon is not a new one. Today, analysts are arguing over who is secretly backing Fatah al-Islam – Hariri's people or the Syrians. We don't know the answer to this. The reason it is so hotly debated is because past history suggests either possibility can not be exluded. It is not the first time that East and West have fought to turn Islamist organizations in Lebanon to their advantage. My sense of Fatah al-Islam is that neither side had or has any real control over the group. In short, Lebanon has great strategic importance to Syria and to any state or alliance that hopes to destabilize Syria. This is how Syria regards Lebanon. [complete article]

See also, Olmert aides fear talks with Syria could harm U.S. ties (Haaretz).
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Enduring occupation
Amnesty International, June 4, 2007

The West Bank, the focus of this report, is a relatively small territory – 130 kilometres from north to south and 65 kilometres from east to west at its widest point; 5,600 square kilometres in total. It is criss-crossed by a web of Israeli military checkpoints and blockades – some 550 – and a winding 700-kilometre fence/wall which runs from north to south, encircling Palestinian villages as well as whole neighbourhoods in and around East Jerusalem.

The Israeli authorities contend that this regime of closures and restrictions is necessary to prevent Palestinians from entering Israel to carry out suicide bombings and other attacks. However, virtually all the checkpoints, gates, blocked roads and most of the fence/wall are located inside the West Bank – not between Israel and the West Bank. They curtail or prevent movement between Palestinian towns and villages, splitting and isolating Palestinian communities, separating Palestinians from their agricultural land, hampering access to work, schools, health facilities and relatives, and destroying the Palestinian economy. The fence/wall itself, located as it is inside occupied territory, is unlawful, according to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). [complete article]

Israel's lost 40 years
By Meir Shalev, Los Angeles Times, June 5, 2007

Forty years after that great victory, he is showing us that it is not only the Palestinians who are paying the price of occupation and settlement; the Israelis are as well.

Forty years, and Israel is forced to decide which is more important: the lives of its sons and daughters or the graves of its ancestors.

Forty years of an army whose main occupation has been manning roadblocks, detaining suspects, assassinating enemies and guarding settlements have brought us to the high level of arrogance and low level of capability that the Israeli Defense Forces displayed during last year's war in Lebanon.

Forty years of deceitful, villainous dealing in the occupied territories have caused corruption to seep into our own politics and society.

Forty years, and we must come to terms with the fact that Israel cannot cultivate democracy at home and apartheid in the backyard.

Forty years, and for the first time one can hear voices doubting whether the Jewish state will be around for another 40. [complete article]

See also, FAQ on the 1967 war (IMEU), In praise of the occupation (Amira Hass), and New UN map charts West Bank reality (FT).
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Words in a time of war
By Mark Danner, TomDispatch, May 31, 2007

Nineteen young men with box cutters seized enormous transcontinental airliners and brought those towers down. In an age in which we have become accustomed to two, three, four, five suicide attacks in a single day -- often these multiple attacks from Baghdad don't even make the front pages of our papers -- it is easy to forget the blunt, scathing shock of it, the impossible image of the second airliner disappearing into the great office tower, almost weirdly absorbed by it, and emerging, transformed into a great yellow and red blossom of flame, on the other side; and then, half an hour later, the astonishing flowering collapse of the hundred-story structure, transforming itself, in a dozen seconds, from mighty tower to great plume of heaven-reaching white smoke.

The image remains, will always remain, with us; for truly the weapon that day was not box cutters in the hands of nineteen young men, nor airliners at their command. The weapon that day was the television set. It was the television set that made the image possible, and inextinguishable. If terror is first of all a way of talking -- the propaganda of the deed, indeed -- then that day the television was the indispensable conveyer of the conversation: the recruitment poster for fundamentalism, the only symbolic arena in which America's weakness and vulnerability could be dramatized on an adequate scale. Terror -- as Menachem Begin, the late Israeli prime minister and the successful terrorist who drove the British from Mandate Palestine, remarked in his memoirs -- terror is about destroying the prestige of the imperial regime; terror is about "dirtying the face of power."

President Bush and his lieutenants surely realized this and it is in that knowledge, I believe, that we can find the beginning of the answer to one of the more intriguing puzzles of these last few years: What exactly lay at the root of the almost fanatical determination of administration officials to attack and occupy Iraq? It was, obviously, the classic "over-determined" decision, a tangle of fear, in the form of those infamous weapons of mass destruction; of imperial ambition, in the form of the neoconservative project to "remake the Middle East"; and of realpolitik, in the form of the "vital interest" of securing the industrial world's oil supplies.

In the beginning, though, was the felt need on the part of our nation's leaders, men and women so worshipful of the idea of power and its ability to remake reality itself, to restore the nation's prestige, to wipe clean that dirtied face. Henry Kissinger, a confidant of the President, when asked by Bush's speechwriter why he had supported the Iraq War, responded: "Because Afghanistan was not enough." The radical Islamists, he said, want to humiliate us. "And we need to humiliate them." In other words, the presiding image of The War on Terror -- the burning towers collapsing on the television screen -- had to be supplanted by another, the image of American tanks rumbling proudly through a vanquished Arab capital. [complete article]

Comment -- I question this assertion that the "weapon that day was the television set." In the television era, news imagery has always been the medium through through which terrorists connect with a wider audience. And though television provided the means by which the images of 9/11 became inextinguishable, the iconic and political power of the collapsing towers had another source.

On September 10, 2001, two giant towers stood out not so much as icons of American national power, but more as stark utilitarian nodes in the robust network of American and international commerce. On that uneventful day, on their way down to view the Statue of Liberty, how many tourists would have bothered making a minor detour to view the World Trade Center? And among those who did, how many would have seen fit to buy a t-shirt bearing the image of the Twin Towers -- if that is, any such memorabilia could easily be found?

What made these monoliths unique was that they attained the height of their iconic power in the moment of their destruction. While as dust they hung over Manhattan, they then underwent a metamorphosis and were transformed from inhuman expressions of commercial efficiency into emblems of wounded national pride.

Through a combination of audacity, dedication and luck, al Qaeda shattered the New York City skyline. But then the Bush administration, empowered by popular support, gave the terrorists their greatest reward by confirming what should have been dismissed as an absurd proposition: that 19 men could bring a nation of 300 million to its knees.

Television delivered the images, but the war-enabling message that few Americans were willing to challenge was that America as a nation was under attack. A series of assaults had been conducted with pinpoint accuracy but then the administration, the media, and the voice of the nation harmonized on a single theme: the attacks constituted an existential threat to the whole population, the American way of life and the idea of America itself. In adopting that theme, we freely gave al Qaeda its greatest victory. First came the attacks, but then the all important conceptual shift -- that was when the weapon hit its target and al Qaeda succeeded in molding the way in which Americans think. We yielded that power without even knowing it.
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Commanders say push in Baghdad is short of goal
By David S. Cloud and Damien Cave, New York Times, June 4, 2007

Three months after the start of the Baghdad security plan that has added thousands of American and Iraqi troops to the capital, they control fewer than one-third of the city's neighborhoods, far short of the initial goal for the operation, according to some commanders and an internal military assessment.

The American assessment, completed in late May, found that American and Iraqi forces were able to "protect the population" and "maintain physical influence over" only 146 of the 457 Baghdad neighborhoods.

In the remaining 311 neighborhoods, troops have either not begun operations aimed at rooting out insurgents or still face "resistance," according to the one-page assessment, which was provided to The New York Times and summarized reports from brigade and battalion commanders in Baghdad. [complete article]
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Rethinking Israel's David-and-Goliath past
By Sandy Tolan, Salon, June 4, 2007

At a little after 7 on the morning of June 5, 1967, as Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's commanders were finishing their breakfasts and driving to work, French-built Israeli fighter jets roared out of their bases and flew low, below radar, into Egyptian airspace. Within three hours, 500 Israeli sorties had destroyed Nasser's entire air force. Just after midday, the air forces of Jordan and Syria also lay in smoking ruins, and Israel had essentially won the Six-Day War -- in six hours.

Israeli and U.S. historians and commentators describe the surprise attack as necessary, and the war as inevitable, the result of Nasser's fearsome war machine that had closed the Strait of Tiran, evicted United Nations peacekeeping troops, taunted the traumatized Israeli public, and churned toward the Jewish state's border with 100,000 troops. "The morning of 5 June 1967," wrote Israel's warrior-turned-historian, Chaim Herzog, "found Israel's armed forces facing the massed Arab armies around her frontiers." Attack or be annihilated: The choice was clear.

Or was it? Little-noticed details in declassified documents from the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, indicate that top officials in the Johnson administration -- including Johnson's most pro-Israeli Cabinet members -- did not believe war between Israel and its neighbors was necessary or inevitable, at least until the final hour. In these documents, Israel emerges as a vastly superior military power, its opponents far weaker than the menacing threat Israel portrayed, and war itself something that Nasser, for all his saber-rattling, tried to avoid until the moment his air force went up in smoke. In particular, the diplomatic role of Nasser's vice president, who was poised to travel to Washington in an effort to resolve the crisis, has received little attention from historians. The documents sharpen a recurring theme in the history of the Israeli-Arab wars, and especially of their telling in the West: From the war of 1948 to the 2007 conflict in Gaza, Israel is often miscast as the vulnerable David in a hostile sea of Arab Goliaths. [complete article]
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Iran president sees "countdown" to Israel's end
Reuters, June 3, 2007

Iran's president said on Sunday the Lebanese and the Palestinians had pressed a "countdown button" to bring an end to Israel.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who triggered outrage in the West two years ago when he said Israel should be "wiped off the map", has often referred to the destruction of the Jewish state but says Iran is not a threat.

"With God's help, the countdown button for the destruction of the Zionist regime has been pushed by the hands of the children of Lebanon and Palestine," Ahmadinejad said in a speech.

"By God's will, we will witness the destruction of this regime in the near future," he said. He did not elaborate. [complete article]

See also, 'Wiped off the map' – the rumor of the century (Arash Norouzi).

Comment -- When President Ahmadinejad gives a speech like this, neither he nor anyone else in Iran has any reason to be in doubt about how it will be reported in the Western media. Nevertheless, it's interesting that his reference to the "destruction of the Zionist regime" is routinely treated as synonymous with "an end to Israel." The implication is that he is advocating another Holocaust, even though on other occasions Ahmadinejad has cited the bloodless end of the Soviet Union as a parallel to the future end of Zionism.

On the other hand, when Norman Podhoretz calls for the bombing of Iran, neither he nor his fellow advocates for bringing about the end of the Islamic Republic of Iran are described as calling for "the destruction of Iran." Indeed, these advocates of bombing and regime change, all claim with straight faces that they bear no animus towards the people of Iran.

Athough "regime change" is a phrase that has lost most of its political credibility, when used in Washington it does not provoke outrage even though we now know that a casually, externally invoked regime change can end up resulting in several hundred thousand deaths. So, for as long as our own champions of regime change still get a free pass, there's no reason to wonder why Ahmadinejad thinks he's entitled to his.
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Creating a 'failed state' in Palestine
By Roger Cohen, Daily Star, June 4, 2007

A three-minute Palestinian movie says what needs to be said about estrangement and violence in the Middle East. It features a woman driving around Jerusalem asking for directions to the adjacent West Bank town of Ramallah. She is met by dismay, irritation, blank stares and near panic from Israelis.

The documentary, called "A World Apart Within 15 Minutes" and directed by Enas Muthaffar, captures the psychological alienation that has intensified in recent years and left Israelis and Palestinians worlds apart, so alienated from each other that a major Palestinian city has vanished from Israelis' mental maps.

Never mind the latest flare-up in the Gaza Strip. What matters in the world's most intractable conflict is the way the personal narratives of Israelis and Palestinians, coaxed toward intersection by the Oslo Accords of the 1990s, have diverged to a point of mutual non-recognition. [complete article]

See also, My search for the West Bank's 'invisible' town (The Observer).
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The tortured lives of interrogators
By Laura Blumenfeld, Washington Post, June 4, 2007

Lagouranis's tools included stress positions, a staged execution and hypothermia so extreme the detainees' lips turned purple. He has written an account of his experiences in a book, "Fear Up Harsh," which has been read by the Pentagon and will be published this week. Stephen Lewis, an interrogator who was deployed with Lagouranis, confirmed the account, and Staff Sgt. Shawn Campbell, who was Lagouranis's team leader and direct supervisor, said Lagouranis's assertions were "as true as true can get. It's all verifiable." John Sifton, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the group investigated many of Lagouranis's claims about abuses and independently corroborated them.

"At every point, there was part of me resisting, part of me enjoying," Lagouranis said. "Using dogs on someone, there was a tingling throughout my body. If you saw the reaction in the prisoner, it's thrilling."

In Mosul, he took detainees outside the prison gate to a metal shipping container they called "the disco," with blaring music and lights. Before and after questioning, military police officers stripped them and checked for injuries, noting cuts and bumps "like a car inspection at a parking garage." Once a week, an Iraqi councilman and an American colonel visited. "We had to hide the tortured guys," Lagouranis said.

Then a soldier's aunt sent over several copies of Viktor E. Frankel's Holocaust memoir, "Man's Search for Meaning." Lagouranis found himself trying to pick up tips from the Nazis. He realized he had gone too far.

At that point, Lagouranis said, he moderated his techniques and submitted sworn statements to supervisors concerning prisoner abuse.

"I couldn't make sense of the moral system" in Iraq, he said. "I couldn't figure out what was right and wrong. There were no rules. They literally said, 'Be creative.' "

Lagouranis blames the Bush administration: "They say this is a different kind of war. Different rules for terrorists. Total crap." [complete article]

See also, Dark secrets at the front (Nat Hentoff).
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Radicals hit Lebanese army from second refugee camp
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, June 4, 2007

Islamic radicals attacked Lebanon's army from a second Palestinian refugee camp Sunday, sending residents fleeing through gun and rocket fire and heightening fears that the country faces a gravely destabilizing offensive by the militant groups that hide out in the country's 12 crowded camps.

Sunday's clash occurred near the southern city of Sidon on the outskirts of Ein al-Hilweh, the country's largest camp, with at least 45,000 inhabitants.

"It's time the army comes into the camps and cleans these people out," said Abu Rani, 36, a driver. He was among hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children streaming into a mosque on Ein al-Hilweh's edge for shelter as night fell. "It would be a relief to everyone, the Palestinians and the Lebanese."

Fighting at the camp broke out as Lebanese forces pressed a third week of siege against another radical group in a camp to the north, Nahr al-Bared, outside the city of Tripoli. Unlike past days of heavy shelling, much of Sunday's fighting at Nahr al-Bared appeared at close range, with heavy machine guns and automatic weapons sounding for hours. [complete article]

See also, Fighting halts at Lebanon camp (Reuters) and Fatah Islam commander pledges to take fight to Ein el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp (AP).
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As TV coverage feeds protests, Musharraf reacts
By Griff Witte, Washington Post, June 4, 2007

Every day, Taj Mohammed Abbasi wheels his cart through dusty streets, selling the oranges, guavas and litchis that are the pride of this rural outpost in the shadow of the Himalayan foothills.

But what he's seen recently on television motivated him this weekend to take to the streets for a different reason: to join a movement with the audacious goal of ousting the military-led government and restoring democracy to Pakistan.

"Watching television, I have become very angry," said Abbasi, 33, swatting flies from his cart. "I am not a political person. I have not been to a lot of rallies. But this time, definitely, I am going."

Pakistan might be in the midst of its first televised revolution. For nearly three months, a handful of fledgling independent stations have been broadcasting minute-by-minute coverage of what at first seemed a relatively obscure issue: the suspension of Pakistan's chief judge by the president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. [complete article]
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How the 1967 war doomed Israel
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, June 3, 2007

For Jews of my generation who came of age during the anti-apartheid struggle, there was no shaking the nagging sense that what Israel was doing in the West Bank was exactly what the South African regime was doing in the townships. Even as we waged our own intifada against apartheid in South Africa, we saw daily images of young Palestinians facing heavily armed Israeli police in tanks and armored vehicles with nothing more than stones, gasoline bombs and the occasional light weapon; a whole community united behind its children who had decided to cast off the yoke under which their parents suffered. And when Yitzhak Rabin, more famous as a signatory on the Oslo Agreement, ordered the Israeli military to systematically break the arms of young Palestinians in the hope of suppressing an entirely legitimate revolt, thuggery had become a matter of national policy. It was only when some of those same young men began blowing themselves up in Israeli restaurants and buses that many Israel supporters were once again able to construe the Israelis as the victim in the situation; during the intifada of the 1980s they could not question who was David and who was Goliath. Even for those of us who had grown up in the idealism of the left-Zionist youth movements, Israel had become a grotesque parody of everything we stood for. [complete article]
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Moqtada al-Sadr: The man America has in its sights
By Nizar Latif, The Independent, June 3, 2007

Moqtada al-Sadr, the man Washington blames for its failure to gain control in Iraq, has rejected a call to open direct talks with the US military and has accused the Americans of plotting to assassinate him.

The Shia cleric told The Independent on Sunday in an exclusive interview: "The Americans have tried to kill me in the past, but have failed... It is certain that the Americans still want me dead and are still trying to assassinate me.

"I am an Iraqi, I am a Muslim, I am free and I reject all forms of occupation. I want to help the Iraqi people. This is everything the Americans hate." [complete article]
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An enemy we can work with
By Bartle Breese Bull, New York Times, June 3, 2007

The Sadrist movement has always been about Iraq for the Iraqis. They might accept help from Iran -- and I saw Iranian supplies in their compounds in Najaf in 2004 -- but the movement is not for sale. Mr. Sadr gets his strength from the street. And the Arabs of the Iraqi street have no time for Persian bosses.

Nor do they seem to want to foment an all-out civil war. For all the time I have spent with Sadrist death-squad leaders who focus on killing former Baathists and Al Qaeda's supporters (Sunnis all), I have spent just as much time with Mahdi men who have been sent by their leaders to protect Sunni mosques after Sunni provocations, lest Shiites retaliate too broadly.

It was no coincidence that in February, a few weeks after the Baghdad security plan started, a Sunni mosque was reopened in Sadr City. Nor is it a coincidence that the current plan, while it has largely failed to stop car bombs, which are primarily a Sunni phenomenon, has for the moment more or less ended the type of violence in which the Mahdi Army participated most: roving death squads.

Why would Mr. Sadr cooperate with the Americans and Mr. Maliki's government? While he runs the biggest popular movement in the country, his followers are far from a majority. He is doing exactly what any other rational actor would do: He keeps up the angry rhetoric, and he plays ball with the democratic project. [complete article]
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Turkish forces shell northern Iraq - Iraqi leader
By Sherko Raouf, Reuters, June 3, 2007

Iraq said Turkish forces shelled a mountain stronghold of Turkish Kurd rebels in the north of the country on Sunday, a day after it urged Turkey to use diplomacy to resolve rising tensions in the region.

While residents say Turkey shells the area almost daily, the latest attack came days after Turkey moved tanks to its border and speculation mounted that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government is planning a military incursion. [complete article]

Gates warns Turkey not to invade Iraq
By Robert Burns, AP, June 3, 2007

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday cautioned Turkey against sending troops into northern
Iraq, as it has threatened, to hunt down Kurdish rebels it accuses of carrying out terrorist raids inside Turkey.

"We hope there would not be a unilateral military action across the border into Iraq," Gates told a news conference after meetings here with Asian government officials. Turkey and Iraq were not represented. [complete article]
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Before war, CIA warned of negative outcomes
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, June 3, 2007

On Aug. 13, 2002, the CIA completed a classified, six-page intelligence analysis that described the worst scenarios that could arise after a U.S.-led removal of Saddam Hussein: anarchy and territorial breakup in Iraq, a surge of global terrorism, and a deepening of Islamic antipathy toward the United States.

Titled "The Perfect Storm: Planning for Negative Consequences of Invading Iraq," the paper, written seven months before the war began, also speculated about al-Qaeda operatives taking "advantage of a destabilized Iraq to establish secure safe havens from which they can continue their operations," according to a report about prewar intelligence recently released by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

The report said the CIA paper also cautioned about outcomes such as declining European confidence in U.S. leadership, Hussein's survival and retreat with regime loyalists, Iran working to install a friendly regime "tolerant of Iranian policies," Afghanistan tipping into civil strife because U.S. forces were not replaced by United Nations peacekeepers and troops from other countries, and violent demonstrations in Pakistan because of its support of Washington. [complete article]
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With Korea as model, U.S. ponders long role in Iraq
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, June 3, 2007

For the first time, the Bush administration is beginning publicly to discuss basing American troops in Iraq for years, even decades to come, a subject so fraught with political landmines that officials are tiptoeing around the inevitable questions about what the United States' long-term mission would be there.

President Bush has long talked about the need to maintain an American military presence in the region, without saying exactly where. Several visitors to the White House say that in private, he has sounded intrigued by what he calls the "Korea model," a reference to the large American presence in South Korea for the 54 years since the armistice that ended open hostilities between North and South. [complete article]

Comment -- If the White House wants to refine its Korea analogy, perhaps they need to say, "The U.S. role in Iraq will be like our role in Korea, which is to say, so long as one doesn't let North Korea confuse the picture. Maybe like Korea with no DMZ. Maybe like Korea except completely different. Think of it as a Zen analogy, driving at the truth through paradox."
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The Lady and the Veep
By Michael Hirsh and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, June 11, 2007

Rice has more directly clashed with Cheney's office on issues like Mideast peace, where according to administration sources who declined to be named discussing internal deliberations, she's found herself stymied in efforts to push for more engagement with Syria and the Palestinian radical group Hamas. A senior White House official concedes that even on what should be the simplest-to-achieve deal—a new relationship with Syria that would help stabilize Iraq—Cheney's office is blocking Rice's efforts to bring Bush around. The secretary has also fought with the veep's office in seeking to soften detention policies at Guantánamo. In the interview, however, Rice insisted her relationship with Cheney himself is good. "The vice president has never been somebody who tries to [undermine others] on the sidelines, behind the scenes. He really doesn't," she said. "In fact we have a kind of friendly banter about it, in which I'll tease him about the image that he doesn't like diplomacy."

Rice has reason to be confident. She maintains a tight relationship with Bush, with whom she talks twice a day. "We have been together a long time, the president and I, in any number of different incarnations, and when I'm speaking, I'm speaking on his behalf," she says. Even one of Rice's fiercest current critics, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton—a key Cheney ally who was her subordinate only a few months ago—says that her views are ascendant in the administration. "I think those who support [the policy of nuclear negotiations with Iran] ... are riding high," Bolton told NEWSWEEK, adding that he left the administration because he believed his hard-line views toward Iran and North Korea were being eclipsed by Rice's State Department (there was also the small matter of the Democrat-controlled Congress refusing to confirm him).

Bolton admits that the hard-liners are not what they were in the first term, when Cheney's office was accused of cherry-picking intel to make the case for war against Iraq. One by one, the Cheneyites have been losing significant supporters in the top ranks of the administration—most recently White House deputy national-security adviser J. D. Crouch, a conservative former Pentagon official and academic who left last week. To thwart the hard-liners once and for all, though, Rice knows that she must start to deliver. Even as Tehran has made technical strides in its enrichment program, negotiations have been stalled: on Thursday the chief Iranian and European negotiators announced they would meet again in two weeks. [complete article]

Dick Cheney rules
New York Times editorial, June 3, 2007

Reviewing this record -- secrecy, impatience with government regulations, backroom dealings, handsome paydays -- it dawned on us that Mr. Cheney is in step with the times. He has privatized the job of vice president of the United States. [complete article]
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California primary ballot may include Iraq question
By Jennifer Steinhauer, New York Times, June 3, 2007

California is poised to become the first state to ask voters whether they favor an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

The Democratic-led State Legislature is expected to approve a bill that would place the question on the presidential primary ballot next February. The Rules Committee in the Senate approved the bill on Wednesday, and it is expected to go before both houses in the coming weeks.

A spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the governor would not weigh in until a bill hit his desk. Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has expressed support in the past for setting a timetable for withdrawal in Iraq, and he has been an enthusiastic backer of democracy by ballot measure. [complete article]
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Lebanese troops move in for the kill
By Mitchell Prothero, The Observer, June 3, 2007

Lebanese troops pushing ever farther into a besieged Palestinian refugee camp vowed to kill any members of the al-Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Islam group inside who did not surrender.

Lebanese officers on the scene said they would continue the assault until all of the militant jihadists were dead, and warned that any civilians who remained in the camp after last week's evacuation would be considered combatants.
The Lebanese army commander at the scene said anyone who had not left during the ceasefire was unlikely to be considered a non-combatant.

'We risked our lives for 10 days to allow all the civilians to escape,' he said. 'If someone did not take the decision to leave, then they took the decision to stay, which means they are not a civilian.' Although there has been almost no independent access to the camp for almost two weeks, Red Cross workers estimate that thousands of innocents could be trapped inside with no electricity, food, water or medical care. [complete article]

See also, Fighting spreads as battles engulf Lebanon camp (Reuters).

The Hariri case and double standards
By Robert Parry, Consortium News, May 31, 2007

A terrible crime has been committed in the Middle East. Many innocent people have died. International law may have been violated. The United Nations is determined to bring the perpetrators to justice. An extraordinary international tribunal will be organized with the authority to assess guilt and recommend punishments.

As this crime drama unfolds, the two great defenders of international law and world peace are George W. Bush and Tony Blair. Their determination secured U.N. approval for a special tribunal to identify and punish the conspirators behind the Feb. 14, 2005, bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others.

Yet, as worthy as it would be to find and punish Hariri's assassins, the larger message from the U.N.'s tribunal is that the one truly enduring and overriding precept of international relations is that might makes right. [complete article]
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What is permissible for America
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz, June 3, 2007

What would happen if American congressmen were to meet with Ismail Haniyeh or with Hamas members of parliament to discuss "Middle East affairs?" Would Israel boycott them? Would Israel activate its lobby in Washington to prevent their reelection?

Israel is not yet facing this difficult dilemma, but Egypt is. Last Sunday, four American congressmen met with members of Egypt's parliament, including Dr. Saad al-Katatni, head of the Muslim Brotherhood's parliamentary faction. This movement has been outlawed since 1954. Its members are hounded and arrested by the regime, which regards them as a threat to both it and Egyptian society. In accordance with the norms of open diplomacy, Egypt expected the American guests to honor the Egyptian boycott and refrain from meeting with members of a movement defined as illegal. The congressmen made it clear they were meeting with a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood in his capacity as a member of parliament and not as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. "If so, why don't they meet with Palestinian members of parliament affiliated with Hamas?" complained Suleiman Awad, the spokesman for President Hosni Mubarak. After all, the status of Hamas in Israel is similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

But apparently, what is permitted to American elected officials is prohibited to Israel, and what is permissible for the American regime has been rejected by Israel. Thus, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met last month with Bashar Assad, Israel continued to claim that Washington forbids it to conduct negotiations with Syria, until it was learned, about 10 days ago, that this policy had changed. Suddenly, Washington no longer objects, perhaps because it needs Syria for stabilizing the situation in Iraq. And while Israel is engaged in a mighty diplomatic struggle to impose additional sanctions on Iran, the U.S. opened the first public dialogue in 27 years with the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the dialogue will apparently continue. Slowly, the suit of armor behind which Israel chose to hide, the American policy that gave permission in some places and prohibited in others (obliging Israel to follow suit), is now in advanced stages of disintegration. [complete article]

See also, Meshal's deputy: Hamas may agree to new one-year ceasefire (Haaretz).
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U.S. warship fires missiles at fighters in Somalia
By Stephanie McCrummen, Washington Post, June 3, 2007

A U.S. Navy destroyer launched an attack on foreign fighters in a remote corner of northeastern Somalia late Friday, according to a senior U.S. official, though details of the operation remained sketchy.

The bombardment was concentrated in and around the port town of Bargaal, the official said Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information is classified.

News media in the Puntland region reported that the strikes destroyed farms, flattened hilltops and killed or injured an unknown number of villagers, but the accounts could not be independently confirmed.

It was too soon to say whether the strikes had hit their intended targets, the U.S. official said. [complete article]
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4 accused of plot to blow up facilities at Kennedy airport
By Cara Buckley and William K. Rashbaum, New York Times, June 3, 2007

Four men, including a onetime airport cargo handler and a former member of the Parliament of Guyana, were charged yesterday with plotting to blow up fuel tanks, terminal buildings and the web of fuel lines running beneath Kennedy International Airport.

One of the suspects was taken into custody in Brooklyn and two others were detained in Trinidad, the authorities said, while the fourth man was still at large.

One defendant, the former cargo handler, Russell Defreitas, was arraigned yesterday in federal court in Brooklyn. He is a 63-year-old Guyanese native and naturalized American citizen who lives in Brooklyn.

Mark J. Mershon, the assistant director in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation field office in New York, said all four men had "fundamentalist Islamic beliefs of a violent nature," although they appeared to be acting on their own and had no known connection to Al Qaeda. [complete article]
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A legal debate in Guantanamo on boy fighters
By William Glaberson, New York Times, June 3, 2007

The facts of Omar Ahmed Khadr's case are grim. The shrapnel from the grenade he is accused of throwing ripped through the skull of Sgt. First Class Christopher J. Speer, who was 28 when he died.

To American military prosecutors, Mr. Khadr is a committed Al Qaeda operative, spy and killer who must be held accountable for killing Sergeant Speer in 2002 and for other bloody acts he committed in Afghanistan.

But there is one fact that may not fit easily into the government’s portrait of Mr. Khadr: He was 15 at the time. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

The sixty year wound
By Uri Avnery, Counterpunch, May 30, 2007

Zionism has run its course
By Saree Makdisi, The Nation, June 18, 2007

In Palestine internal conflict and paralysis is corroding our credibility
By Ahmad Samih Khalidi, The Guardian, May 31, 2007

Repudiation, not impeachment
By Scott Ritter, Truthdig, May 31, 2007

Time for 'Plan B-H' in Iraq?
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, May 31, 2007

Islam, democracy not mutually exclusive
By Mel Frykberg, Middle East Times, May 16, 2007

Egypt: Faces of a crackdown
Human Rights Watch, May 30, 2007

Bush administration "enhanced interrogation techniques" were used by the Gestapo
By Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish, Atlantic Online, May 29, 2007

A Shi'ite storm in the making
By Babak Rahimi, Asia Times, May 30, 2007

Beyond American hegemony
By Michael Lind, The National Interest, May/June, 2007

I lost my son to a war I oppose. We were both doing our duty
By Andrew J. Bacevich, Washington Post, May 27, 2007
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