Monday, May 31, 2010

Oil Industry Crimes: More Widespread Than Evidenced by the Gulf of Mexico Oil Geyser

A ruptured pipeline burns in a Lagos suburb after an explosion in 2008 which killed at least 100 people. Photograph: George Esiri/Reuters.

Nigeria's agony dwarfs the Gulf oil spill. The US and Europe ignore it
By John Vidal / May 30, 2010

The Deepwater Horizon disaster caused headlines around the world, yet the people who live in the Niger delta have had to live with environmental catastrophes for decades

We reached the edge of the oil spill near the Nigerian village of Otuegwe after a long hike through cassava plantations. Ahead of us lay swamp. We waded into the warm tropical water and began swimming, cameras and notebooks held above our heads. We could smell the oil long before we saw it – the stench of garage forecourts and rotting vegetation hanging thickly in the air.

The farther we travelled, the more nauseous it became. Soon we were swimming in pools of light Nigerian crude, the best-quality oil in the world. One of the many hundreds of 40-year-old pipelines that crisscross the Niger delta had corroded and spewed oil for several months.

Forest and farmland were now covered in a sheen of greasy oil. Drinking wells were polluted and people were distraught. No one knew how much oil had leaked. "We lost our nets, huts and fishing pots," said Chief Promise, village leader of Otuegwe and our guide. "This is where we fished and farmed. We have lost our forest. We told Shell of the spill within days, but they did nothing for six months."

That was the Niger delta a few years ago, where, according to Nigerian academics, writers and environment groups, oil companies have acted with such impunity and recklessness that much of the region has been devastated by leaks.

In fact, more oil is spilled from the delta's network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico, the site of a major ecological catastrophe caused by oil that has poured from a leak triggered by the explosion that wrecked BP's Deepwater Horizon rig last month.

That disaster, which claimed the lives of 11 rig workers, has made headlines round the world. By contrast, little information has emerged about the damage inflicted on the Niger delta. Yet the destruction there provides us with a far more accurate picture of the price we have to pay for drilling oil today.

On 1 May this year a ruptured ExxonMobil pipeline in the state of Akwa Ibom spilled more than a million gallons into the delta over seven days before the leak was stopped. Local people demonstrated against the company but say they were attacked by security guards. Community leaders are now demanding $1bn in compensation for the illness and loss of livelihood they suffered. Few expect they will succeed. In the meantime, thick balls of tar are being washed up along the coast.

Within days of the Ibeno spill, thousands of barrels of oil were spilled when the nearby Shell Trans Niger pipeline was attacked by rebels. A few days after that, a large oil slick was found floating on Lake Adibawa in Bayelsa state and another in Ogoniland. "We are faced with incessant oil spills from rusty pipes, some of which are 40 years old," said Bonny Otavie, a Bayelsa MP.

This point was backed by Williams Mkpa, a community leader in Ibeno: "Oil companies do not value our life; they want us to all die. In the past two years, we have experienced 10 oil spills and fishermen can no longer sustain their families. It is not tolerable."

With 606 oilfields, the Niger delta supplies 40% of all the crude the United States imports and is the world capital of oil pollution. Life expectancy in its rural communities, half of which have no access to clean water, has fallen to little more than 40 years over the past two generations. Locals blame the oil that pollutes their land and can scarcely believe the contrast with the steps taken by BP and the US government to try to stop the Gulf oil leak and to protect the Louisiana shoreline from pollution.

"If this Gulf accident had happened in Nigeria, neither the government nor the company would have paid much attention," said the writer Ben Ikari, a member of the Ogoni people. "This kind of spill happens all the time in the delta."

"The oil companies just ignore it. The lawmakers do not care and people must live with pollution daily. The situation is now worse than it was 30 years ago. Nothing is changing. When I see the efforts that are being made in the US I feel a great sense of sadness at the double standards. What they do in the US or in Europe is very different."

"We see frantic efforts being made to stop the spill in the US," said Nnimo Bassey, Nigerian head of Friends of the Earth International. "But in Nigeria, oil companies largely ignore their spills, cover them up and destroy people's livelihood and environments. The Gulf spill can be seen as a metaphor for what is happening daily in the oilfields of Nigeria and other parts of Africa.

"This has gone on for 50 years in Nigeria. People depend completely on the environment for their drinking water and farming and fishing. They are amazed that the president of the US can be making speeches daily, because in Nigeria people there would not hear a whimper," he said.

It is impossible to know how much oil is spilled in the Niger delta each year because the companies and the government keep that secret. However, two major independent investigations over the past four years suggest that as much is spilled at sea, in the swamps and on land every year as has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico so far.

One report, compiled by WWF UK, the World Conservation Union and representatives from the Nigerian federal government and the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, calculated in 2006 that up to 1.5m tons of oil – 50 times the pollution unleashed in the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster in Alaska – has been spilled in the delta over the past half century. Last year Amnesty calculated that the equivalent of at least 9m barrels of oil was spilled and accused the oil companies of a human rights outrage.

According to Nigerian federal government figures, there were more than 7,000 spills between 1970 and 2000, and there are 2,000 official major spillages sites, many going back decades, with thousands of smaller ones still waiting to be cleared up. More than 1,000 spill cases have been filed against Shell alone.

Last month Shell admitted to spilling 14,000 tonnes of oil in 2009. The majority, said the company, was lost through two incidents – one in which the company claims that thieves damaged a wellhead at its Odidi field and another where militants bombed the Trans Escravos pipeline.

Shell, which works in partnership with the Nigerian government in the delta, says that 98% of all its oil spills are caused by vandalism, theft or sabotage by militants and only a minimal amount by deteriorating infrastructure. "We had 132 spills last year, as against 175 on average. Safety valves were vandalised; one pipe had 300 illegal taps. We found five explosive devices on one. Sometimes communities do not give us access to clean up the pollution because they can make more money from compensation," said a spokesman.

"We have a full-time oil spill response team. Last year we replaced 197 miles of pipeline and are using every known way to clean up pollution, including microbes. We are committed to cleaning up any spill as fast as possible as soon as and for whatever reason they occur."

These claims are hotly disputed by communities and environmental watchdog groups. They mostly blame the companies' vast network of rusting pipes and storage tanks, corroding pipelines, semi-derelict pumping stations and old wellheads, as well as tankers and vessels cleaning out tanks.

The scale of the pollution is mind-boggling. The government's national oil spill detection and response agency (Nosdra) says that between 1976 and 1996 alone, more than 2.4m barrels contaminated the environment. "Oil spills and the dumping of oil into waterways has been extensive, often poisoning drinking water and destroying vegetation. These incidents have become common due to the lack of laws and enforcement measures within the existing political regime," said a spokesman for Nosdra.

The sense of outrage is widespread. "There are more than 300 spills, major and minor, a year," said Bassey. "It happens all the year round. The whole environment is devastated. The latest revelations highlight the massive difference in the response to oil spills. In Nigeria, both companies and government have come to treat an extraordinary level of oil spills as the norm."

A spokesman for the Stakeholder Democracy Network in Lagos, which works to empower those in communities affected by the oil companies' activities, said: "The response to the spill in the United States should serve as a stiff reminder as to how far spill management in Nigeria has drifted from standards across the world."

Other voices of protest point out that the world has overlooked the scale of the environmental impact. Activist Ben Amunwa, of the London-based oil watch group Platform, said: "Deepwater Horizon may have exceed Exxon Valdez, but within a few years in Nigeria offshore spills from four locations dwarfed the scale of the Exxon Valdez disaster many times over. Estimates put spill volumes in the Niger delta among the worst on the planet, but they do not include the crude oil from waste water and gas flares. Companies such as Shell continue to avoid independent monitoring and keep key data secret."

Worse may be to come. One industry insider, who asked not to be named, said: "Major spills are likely to increase in the coming years as the industry strives to extract oil from increasingly remote and difficult terrains. Future supplies will be offshore, deeper and harder to work. When things go wrong, it will be harder to respond."

Judith Kimerling, a professor of law and policy at the City University of New York and author of Amazon Crude, a book about oil development in Ecuador, said: "Spills, leaks and deliberate discharges are happening in oilfields all over the world and very few people seem to care."

There is an overwhelming sense that the big oil companies act as if they are beyond the law. Bassey said: "What we conclude from the Gulf of Mexico pollution incident is that the oil companies are out of control.

"It is clear that BP has been blocking progressive legislation, both in the US and here. In Nigeria, they have been living above the law. They are now clearly a danger to the planet. The dangers of this happening again and again are high. They must be taken to the international court of justice."

Source / The Guardian

Fluxed Up World

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Junior Bush: Ever the "War President"

Kirchner: Bush angrily said War would Grow US Economy
By Juan Cole / May 29, 2010

Néstor Kirchner, former president of Argentina, revealed in an interview with Oliver Stone for the director’s documentary “South of the Border” that former US president George W. Bush was convinced that war was the way to grow the US economy. Here is the video:

And here is the transcript of Kirchner’s account of the conversation at a summit in Monterrey, Mexico, in January, 2004:

Kirchner: I said that a solution to the problems right now, I told Bush, is a Marshall Plan. And he grew angry. He said the Marshall Plan is a crazy idea of the Democrats. He said the best way to revitalize the economy is war. And that the United States has grown stronger with war.

Stone: War, he said that?

Kirchner: He said that. Those were his exact words.

Stone: Is he suggesting that South America go to war?

Kirchner: Well, he was talking about the United States: ‘The Democrats had been wrong. All of the economic growth of the United States has been encouraged by wars.’ He said it very clearly.

Zaid Jilani at Think Progress points out that job creation under ‘war president’ Bush was in fact anemic and the whole house of cards collapsed toward the end of his tenure.

You wonder who else among the Republican elite fell for Bush’s typical piece of stupidity re: war= growth. It all depends on lots of other factors. If you borrow the money to fight the war and pay interest on it and you get no booty to speak of, then the war could ruin you, as happened to many European regimes in the early modern and modern period.

But even more outrageous is the Aztec-like willigness to rip the beating heart out of a sacrificial victim for the sake of an chimerical prosperity! Here is what was happening in Iraq around the time that Bush was boasting to Kirchner, according to Informed Comment:

Posted on January 18, 2004 by Juan

23 Killed (2 Americans), 130 Injured (including 6 Americans) in Baghdad Car Bombing

AFP has raised the casualty count to as many as 23-25 killed and 130 wounded in the Baghdad car bombing of the US headquarters there.

The huge explosion turned the busy central Baghdad street outside into a battlefield inferno but the headquarters buildings inside the heavily-fortified area known as the Green Zone were unaffected. The blast came the day before Iraqi and US officials, including US civilian administrator Paul Bremer, are to meet with a wary UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in New York to discuss a future UN role in Iraq. “At least 20 people have lost their lives and almost 60 were injured,” US Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told reporters. “It would appear from all the indicators this was a suicide bomb. We have confirmation some of those killed were US citizens, US contractors. We believe the current number is two. We are waiting for final confirmation,” Kimmitt said. Another five people were reported dead and 71 wounded at Baghdad hospitals. Witnesses claimed US soldiers opened fire in panic on Iraqis moments after the blast, but a military spokesman denied this.

Earlier AP had reported,
Officials said more than 60 people, including six Americans, were injured in the blast on a mist-shrouded morning near the north entrance — known as the “Assassin’s Gate” — to Saddam’s former Republican Palace complex, now used by the U.S.-led occupation authority for headquarters.

I’d say there is increasing evidence that the US is not in control in Iraq, and that the place may well be headed toward being a failed state for the near term. When, 9 or 10 months after an army conquers a place, its HQ is not safe from attack, this is always a bad sign. For those who keep making Germany and Japan analogies, I ask you if MacArthur’s HQ was getting blown up in Tokyo in April of 1946.

Source / Informed Comment

Fluxed Up World

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Israel, the US, and the Iranian "Bomb" : Hypocrisy Supreme

Israel offered Nukes to Racist South Africa for Use on Black Neighbors
By Juan Cole / May 24, 2010

A suppressed historical episode has emerged into the light of day in such a way as to deeply embarrass Israel and the United States in their campaign against Iran’s peaceful nuclear enrichment program at Natanz near Isfahan.

In a recent interview, Tzahi Hanegbi, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in Israel said, “We are frustrated with the fact that Iran does not feel the pressure of the world, does not care about the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.N., because we feel that time is running out.” On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, “The greatest danger mankind faces is a radical regime, without limits to its cruelty, obtaining nuclear capabilities.”

Such Israeli eruptions of outrage about Iran depend on a key bit of misdirection, including denial of Israel’s own small arsenal of nuclear warheads. But it used to be difficult to prove Israel’s arsenal exists. No longer.

Iran appears not to have a nuclear weapons program, according to US intelligence, and its civilian nuclear research program is permitted under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The UN Security Council, however keeps insisting that Iran cease enrichment, though it is unclear why that body thinks it has the authority to amend the NPT ex post facto in that way. It is true that Iran did not inform the UN as it was required to when it began trying to enrich uranium in the late 1990s. And it is also true that Iran is not today as transparent with the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors as that organization would like.

For their parts, Iranian political figures such as speaker of the house Larijani and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have threatened to withdraw from the agreement reached last week with Turkey and Brazil whereby it would send a substantial amount of its stock of low enriched uranium to Turkey to be held in escrow, in return for the international community providing fuel enriched to 19.75 percent for the reactor that produces medical isotopes.

Barry Posen has demolished the argument, sometimes trotted out by the ‘overthrow Tehran’ crowd, that Iran would give nukes to third parties, including terrorists, if it had them. But that argument is one among many deployed against Tehran on a somewhat fantastic basis (since Iran does not have a bomb in the first place and likely couldn’t have one for a decade or more even if it were trying, which as far as US intelligence can tell, it isn’t.)

The implication, that Iran must be stopped because it would proliferate to neighbors, may come back to haunt pro-Israeli propagandists, given Tel Aviv’s own secret role in attempting to proliferate nukes to South Africa.

Netanyahu instanced the peculiar danger of Iran, but surely few regimes were as brutal and cruel or as threatening to their neighbors as Apartheid South Africa, which demonstrably wanted nuclear weapons in a way that cannot be equally well proven regarding Iran.

The Guardian reports on findings of historian Sasha Polakow-Suransky in the South African archives demonstrating that Israel offered Praetoria nuclear weapons in 1975. The documents are detailed in Polakow-Suransky’s book, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa. The relevant memos and minutes are reproduced by The Guardian here.

The White South African government appears to have wanted to buy Israeli nuclear-tipped missiles for potential use against Black African neighbors such as Angola, Botswana, Zambia and (at certain points) Mozambique– countries against which the rogue regime often launched cross-border raids.

It is worth remembering what kind of pariah, racist and repressive regime Apartheid South Africa really was. Non-binding UN Security Council resolutions starting in the 1960s discouraged conventional arms sales to the regime, much less nuclear weapons! (The UN-imposed arms sale ban became mandatory on member states in 1977, shortly after the Israeli offer had been made). The impact of officially imposed white supremacism on the wealth and health of the population was clear by 1978:

The Israel-South Africa partnership even extended to having the Anti-Defamation League, supposedly a civil rights organization fighting anti-Semitism, spy on and play dirty tricks on organizations and individuals in San Francisco who supported Palestinians or who opposed South African Apartheid.

The embarrassment is compounded by the increasing similarities between South African policies toward Black Africans and Israeli policies toward Palestinians. There is a sense in which Gaza and the West Bank have become much like the “homelands” created for denaturalized South Africans, making them foreigners in their own country and requiring that they carry papers at all times.

But it is not clear that even the South African Apartheid regime imposed anything as cruel as the Israeli siege and blockade of the Gaza Strip. That blockade is being challenged by a volunteer aid flotilla, which, however, risks being turned away before it can deliver humanitarian assistance to the half-starved Gazans, half of whom are children.

Whether it was intentional or not, the double standard in the UNSC concerning Israel’s nuclear weapons (including the recklessness with which its leaders have hinted they would use them, and the willingness to proliferate) and Iran’s civilian enrichment program, which may well never lead to a bomb has been underlined by Polakow-Suransky’s revelations. The research discoveries make it at least a little more difficult for the US and Israel to persuade other UNO states that Iran is a rogue and needs special intervention, while Israel is held harmless.

Source / Informed Comment

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Progressivism: The Glass Is Half-Full

Capitalism: Big Surprises in Recent Polls
By Charles Derber / May 18, 2010

According to the conventional wisdom, the US is a center-Right country. But a new poll by Pew casts doubt on that idea. It shows widespread skepticism about capitalism and hints that support for socialist alternatives is emerging as a majoritarian force in America’s new generation.

Carried out in late April and published May 4, 2010, the Pew poll, arguably by the most respected polling company in the country, asked over 1500 randomly selected Americans to describe their reactions to terms such as “capitalism,” “socialism,” “progressive,” “libertarian” and “militia.” The most striking findings concern “capitalism” and “socialism.” We cannot be sure what people mean by these terms, so the results have to be interpreted cautiously and in the context of more specific attitudes on concrete issues, as discussed later.

Pew summarizes the results in its poll title: “Socialism not so negative; capitalism not so positive.” This turns out to be an understatement of the drama in some of the underlying data.

Yes, “capitalism” is still viewed positively by a majority of Americans. But it is just by a bare majority. Only 52% of all Americans react positively. Thirty-seven percent say they have a negative reaction and the rest aren’t sure.

A year ago, a Rasmussen poll found similar reactions. Then, only 53% of Americans described capitalism as “superior” to socialism.

Meanwhile, 29% in the Pew poll describe “socialism” as positive. This positive percent soars much higher when you look at key sub-groups, as discussed shortly. A 2010 Gallup poll found 37% of all Americans preferring socialism as “superior” to capitalism.

Keep in mind these findings reflect an overview of the public mind when Right wing views seem at a high point – with the Tea Party often cast as a barometer of American public opinion. The polls in this era do not suggest a socialist country, but not a capitalist-loving one either. This is not a “Center-Right” America but a populace where almost 50% are deeply ambivalent or clearly opposed to capitalism. Republicans and the Tea Party would likely call that a Communist country.

The story gets more interesting when you look at two vital sub-groups. One is young people, the “millennial generation” currently between 18 and 30. In the Pew poll, just 43% of Americans under 30 describe “capitalism” as positive. Even more striking, the same percentage, 43%, describes “socialism” as positive. In other words, the new generation is equally divided between capitalism and socialism.

The Pew, Gallup and Rasmussen polls come to the same conclusion. Young people cannot be characterized as a capitalist generation. They are half capitalist and half socialist. Since the socialist leaning keeps rising among the young, it suggests—depending on how you interpret “socialism”—that we are moving toward an America that is either Center-Left or actually majoritarian socialist.

Turn now to Republicans and Democrats. Sixty-two percent of Republicans in the Pew poll view capitalism as positive, although 81 % view “free markets” as positive, suggesting a sensible distinction in their mind between capitalism and free markets. Even Republicans prefer small to big business and are divided about big business, which many correctly see as a monopolistic force of capitalism undermining free markets.

The more interesting story, though, is about Democrats. We hear endlessly about Blue Dog Democrats. But the Pew poll shows a surprisingly progressive Democratic base. Democrats are almost equally split in their appraisal of capitalism and socialism. Forty-seven percent see capitalism as positive but 53% do not. And 44% of Democrats define socialism as positive, linking their negativity about capitalism to a positive affirmation of socialism.

Moreover, many other subgroups react negatively to capitalism. Less than 50% of women, low-income groups and less-educated groups describe capitalism as positive.

So much for the view that Obama does not have a strong progressive base to mobilize. In fact, “progressive,’ according to the Pew poll, is one of the most positive terms in the American political lexicon, with a substantial majority of almost all sub-groups defining it as positive.

You may conclude that this all add ups to little, since we can’t be clear about how people are defining “capitalism” and “socialism.” But in my own research, summarized in recent books such as The New Feminized Majority and Morality Wars, attitudes registered in polls toward concrete issues over the last thirty years support the interpretation of the Pew data, at minimum, as evidence of a Center-Left country.

On nearly every major issue, from support minimum wage and unions, preference for diplomacy over force, deep concern for the environment, belief that big business is corrupting democracy, and support for many major social programs including Social Security and Medicare, the progressive position has been strong and relatively stable. If “socialism” means support for these issues, the interpretation of the Pew poll is a Center-Left country.

If socialism means a search for a genuine systemic alternative, then America, particularly its youth, is emerging as a majoritarian social democracy, or in a majoritarian search for a more cooperativist, green, and more peaceful and socially just order.

Either interpretation is hopeful. It should give progressives assurance that even in the “Age of the Tea Party,” despite great dangers and growing concentrated corporate power and wealth, there is a strong base for progressive politics. We have to mobilize the majority population to recognize its own possibilities and turn up the heat on the Obama Administration and a demoralized Democratic Party. If we fail, the Right will take up the slack and impose its monopoly capitalist will on a reluctant populace.

[Charles Derber, professor of sociology at Boston College and author of Corporation Nation and Greed to Green. He is on the Majority Agenda Project's coordinating committee (]

Source / Common Dreams

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Fear of Terrorism: All Manner of Teetering Dream Houses

Salisbury: Times Square Rorschach Test
By Stephan Salisbury / May 10, 2010

In the smoke roiling up from the street of a busy Saturday night in Times Square can be found traces of endless fantasies and obsessions lurking in the nation’s post-9/11 primordial lobes. The stages of the theater district are audience to this particular drama and a smoldering SUV illegally parked on 45th Street has emerged as a vague but dramatic Rorschach epic – almost anything can be seen in its smoky clouds.

Actually the response to the Times Square car bomb incident is only the latest iteration of one of the most disconcerting and persistent features of the American landscape since Sept. 11. “I am concerned,” Robert Mueller, head of the FBI, told a Senate intelligence panel a few years ago, “about what we are not seeing.” In former times – before 9/11 changed everything – there was a notion that what we cannot see is not there. Now, what we cannot see is trumped by what we can imagine, and what can be imagined becomes what is.

What do we know about the drama of the SUV? It was spotted burning, the fire was put out, propane tanks, fireworks and fertilizer were ominously packed inside, and the owner was arrested as he was about to fly off to Dubai. Certainly these are suggestive and even alarming facts. But little more is known about the suspect, an American citizen born in Pakistan, or his actions.

Within hours, however, purported details attached to this incident spewed out like ash from a hyperactive crater. Faisal Shahzad, the 30-year-old suspect, received terrorist training in Waziristan; he was in league with Taliban groups in Pakistan; he had met with radical Taliban leaders; his father was friendly with Pakistani radicals; he was angered by deaths of militants killed by U.S. drones operating over Pakistani territory; he was coached by Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born imam targeted for assassination by the Obama administration; he was captured in the nick of time by secret military spy planes scooping up cell phone calls over New York City; his wife’s relatives lived in the same Colorado town where Najibullah Zazi, the would-be subway bomber, lived. All of this supposed information, dripping with conspiracy and 21st century terror, was leaked by anonymous investigators or federal officials to newspaper and broadcast reporters here and abroad.

How do these alleged links and facts hold up to what is actually known? If nothing else, questions should abound about the quality of terrorist training going on in Waziristan. If Shahzad created a “car bomb” he was profoundly inept. He packed away fertilizer that does not explode and he sought to ignite it with firecrackers designed not to detonate each other. The tanks of propane gas did not have their caps removed, rendering them useless as explosives.

What about Shahzad’s connections with a Pakistani militant group? The group in question, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, first said the smoky SUV was their operation. But within hours, three separate leaders of the group said, no, there was no connection. “We don’t even know him.” Azam Tariq told Agence France Press. On May 6, in an important story, McClatchy newspapers cited “six U.S. officials” who asserted that “no credible evidence has been found” that Shahzad “received any serious terrorist training from the Pakistani Taliban or another radical Islamic group.”

What about the connection to Anwar al-Awlaki, an American imam now supposedly in Yemen, who has been “linked” to two recent terror incidents: the November shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas that left 13 dead, and the thwarted December “underwear bomb” effort to blow up a plane over Detroit. Anonymous officials first said Shahzad claimed Awlaki as a source of inspiration. Now other anonymous investigators question whether the two met or communicated in any way. Shahzad’s father, a former military officer, has been picked up by Pakistani police for questioning about his son’s activities, but he is not a suspect in the case, according to Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper. Yet American reports have linked the father to a radical Taliban leader. No mention of that coming from Islamabad.

Was Shahzad angered by drones over Pakistan or Afghanistan? It is impossible to say – that information, again, comes from anonymous investigative and intelligence sources in the U.S. Perhaps he was upset by purported marital problems, again a “fact” pushed by anonymous sources close to the investigation.

Such soft and tenuous facts, taken together, strongly suggest international plot and provide a foundation for political leaders, columnists, internet commentators and television personalities to build all manner of teetering dream houses. The administration, perhaps anxious to have attention diverted from the deadly mess in Afghanistan, is now putting the screws on Pakistan to deal with its radical fundamentalist groups decisively; Joe Lieberman wants a law to strip terror suspects of citizenship; Charles Krauthammer wants to do away with Miranda warnings; Michael Sheehan, a former NYPD deputy counterintelligence chief, wants more informers and secret police agents in U.S. towns and cities; a sheaf of commentators want to shuttle terror suspects directly to military commissions; others want the Obama administration to act quickly and assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki. The internet is also, again, under attack. Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, allowed that Shahzad might be a “lone wolf” but, the general told the Wall Street Journal, “in the age of the internet, virtually anyone has the reach, because virtually anyone can reach out through cyberspace…and influence these individuals in ways that just were not possible in the past.” We are all potential suspects.

And the secret spy plane that supposedly pinpointed Shahzad’s cell phone aboard a departing airplane at JFK? It seems, in fact, that immigration officials checking a final passenger list recognized Shahzad’s name and alerted the FBI. No black planes in the New York sky were needed.

[Stephan Salisbury is cultural writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer and author of Mohamed’s Ghosts: An American Story of Love and Fear in the Homeland, just published by Nation Books.]

Source / Informed Comment

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Sunday, May 9, 2010

All Oppressed and Their Struggles Are One

All Earth is Alive and Akin
By Ed Kinane / May 9, 2010

"We have been socialized to treat [animals] as objects for our use rather than beings with intrinsic value and rights. It is easier to exploit when we depersonalize. Objectification and exploitation of animals parallels the objectification of women and cultural minorities...." -- Linda Destefano

To "objectify" is to turn creatures into things... objects without thought, without right, without need, without feeling. Objectification is a major obstacle to peace and justice on this bleeding planet.

Turning the living into things is precisely what the U.S. war machine did to the people and land of Southeast Asia. It is what that machine is doing to the people and land of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Such lethal objectifying can only occur insofar as military personnel are themselves objectified, i.e. desensitized and robotized. How and why does our culture foster such barbarity?

We need to resist objectification wherever and whenever we can. There are several fronts where the struggle must be waged. They connect and overlap. Struggle on one fortifies each of the others. When any one front is neglected, justice for all suffers.

Take sexism. Sexism entails objectifying women, often as sex objects, usually as work objects. To objectify half of the human species -- especially that half doing the least to destroy and the most to nourish -- is to deny and degrade all life. As long as there is sexism, violence will thrive. Eliminating sexism is crucial to eliminating war.

Take racism. Racism entails objectifying people of color. When people are reduced to things they can be exploited and war can be made on them. A "nigger" is a thing. So are "gooks" and "hajis."

Because, over the centuries, the people of pallor had a knack for weaponry we became world-striding conquerors. Since we conquer people of color, extract their resources and live off their labor, we have to depersonalize them. To live with our righteous selves we can't value those we exploit. Or those exploited on our behalf. Hence racism.

Workers are likewise objectified. Under industrialism and corporate capitalism jobs are structured so workers are depersonalized and function as mindless machines, as drones. Their stupor is then used to justify their further exploitation.

The training and enculturation of higher functionaries (officers, engineers, executives, professionals, etc.) tends to compartmentalize their minds. Oblivious to their own co-optation, for them the consequences of their actions often remain opaque.

Industrialism and corporate capitalism - think oil spill -- see not only people, but the whole of nature as dead matter. Air, earth, water, forests and rivers are treated as inert and not as the vital elements of the biosphere that they are.

The ecology movement, in exorcising our centuries-long amnesia, teaches us the intrinsic value of all nature. The recovery of this knowledge by the industrial world is essential to the struggle against violence on all fronts.

All oppressed and their struggles are one. Worldwide, most workers are women, most women are persons of color, most persons of color are workers. Even if they aren't thus doubly or triply victimized, they share the same fate: they are dehumanized, brutalized -- treated as animals.

As long as vast categories of humans are treated as non-human animals and as long as non-human animals are denied care and respect, workers, women and people of color will likewise be denied care and respect. Everyone loses.

This isn't platitude, it's common sense. It's the pragmatism behind, for example, organized labor demanding a living wage for non-unionized workers. The higher the wage floor, the higher the wage scale for all.

The more respect for the least empowered, the more respect for all. Long ago a Palestinian sage put it this way: "What you do to my least do to me."

Insofar as the objectification of any kind of creature is routinized, the barbarism of a culture grows. Our layers on layers of callousness, like proliferating systems of military 'defense,' threaten us all. By objectifying anyone -- human or non-human -- we risk sharing her fate. The hardening of our hearts hardens our entirety.

What we do to animals in laboratories and on factory farms, the Nazis did in prison camps to defenseless minorities. Their medical experiments, presided over by doctors and scientists, grew out of standard laboratory procedure.

Whether it be in some research labs or in Nazi death camps - or in occupied Palestine or among the tortured of Abu Ghraeb, Bagram and Guantanamo -- the cold-bloodedness is similar. In each, caged, silenced, disenfranchised victims are met by clinical detachment and totalitarian power. By playing god the perpetrators deny their own humanity.

In all of these cages the victims and their tormentors are not so different from each other or from ourselves. How can we not consider them our kin? As ecologists and feminists keep reminding us: we are all connected. There is no heartbeat that is not somehow our own.

[Ed Kinane works to end state terrorism. He was with Voices in the Wilderness in Baghdad in 2003. Reach him at]

Source / Common Dreams

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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Rachel Corrie: There Has Never Been an "International Outcry"

And it's a human disgrace. There have been words, but little in the way of actions from the international community, with the exception of the Corrie Family. When will we finally shame Israel into taking responsibility for all the murder, and violations of human rights and international law?

Richard Jehn / Fluxed Up World

Rachel Corrie standing in front of an Israeli bulldozer in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, on the day she was killed. Photo: AP.

General 'tried to cover up truth about death of Rachel Corrie'
By Ben Lynfield / 7 May 2010

Israeli war hero accused of suppressing testimony that could reveal what really happened to Gaza activist

Seven years after the American activist Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli army bulldozer in Gaza, evidence has emerged which appears to implicate Israel's Gaza commander at the time, in an attempt to obstruct the official investigation into her death.

The alleged intervention of Major-General Doron Almog, then head of Israel's southern command, is documented in testimony taken by Israeli military police a day after Ms Corrie was killed on March 16, 2003. The hand written affidavit, seen by The Independent, was submitted as evidence during a civil law suit being pursued by the Corrie family against the state of Israel.

Ms Corrie, who was 23 when she died, was critically wounded when a bulldozer buried her with sandy soil near the border between Gaza and Egypt. The American, wearing a fluorescent orange jacket and carrying a megaphone, was among a group of volunteers from the anti-occupation International Solidarity Movement who over a period of three hours on that day had sought to block the demolition by Israel of Palestinian homes.

The Israeli military has maintained that its troops were not to blame for the killing of Ms Corrie and that the driver of the bulldozer had not seen her. It accused Ms Corrie and the ISM of behaviour that was "illegal, irresponsible and dangerous". Three days after Ms Corrie's death, the US state department announced that the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had promised the US President George Bush that the Israeli government would undertake a "thorough, credible and transparent investigation".

But according to a military police investigator's report which has now emerged, the "commander" of the D-9 bulldozer was giving testimony when an army colonel dispatched by Major-General Almog interrupted proceedings and cut short his evidence. The military police investigator wrote: "At 18:12 reserve Colonel Baruch Kirhatu entered the room and informed the witness that he should not convey anything and should not write anything and this at the order of the general of southern command."

The commander was a reservist named Edward Valermov. He was in the bulldozer with its driver. In his testimony before he was ordered to stop, he told military police investigators that he had not seen Ms Corrie before she was wounded. Alice Coy, a former ISM volunteer activist who was near Ms Corrie during the incident said in an affidavit to the court that "to the best of my knowledge the bulldozer driver could see Rachel while pushing earth over her body."

Hussein Abu Hussein, a lawyer for the Corrie family, said Major-General Almog's alleged intervention blocked the possible emergence of evidence that could have determined whether Mr Valermov's assertion that he did not see Ms Corrie was reasonable. "Do I believe him? Of course not. There is no doubt this was manslaughter," Mr Abu Hussein said. "First of all we claim the state is responsible for the death of Rachel. And secondly we claim that the investigation was not professional."

"When you, the state of Israel, fail as an authority to perform your function of having a credible investigation, when your standard falls from reasonable, objective standards than you have caused evidentiary damage," Mr Abu Hussein said.

Contacted by The Independent, Major-General Almog, a hero in Israel for his role in the 1976 raid to rescue hostages in Entebbe, Uganda, denied ordering the bulldozer commander to desist from testifying. In 2005, the General narrowly escaped arrest in Britain on a war crimes charge for allegedly ordering the destruction in 2002 of 50 civilian homes in Rafah, where Ms Corrie was later killed. Major-General Almog was tipped off about the warrant and did not disembark at Heathrow, returning instead to Israel on the El Al flight.

Mr Valermov said in his testimony that the bulldozers, manned by two people, were ordered to continue their work despite the presence of the ISM protesters. He said that troops in an armoured personnel carrier threw stun grenades, used tear gas and fired shots towards the ground to scare the protesters away. "It didn't help and therefore we decided to continue the work with all possible delicateness on the orders of the company commander" he said.

The testimony was interrupted after Mr Valermov said the driver of the bulldozer, named only as Yevgeny, said he did not know if Ms Corrie had been harmed by the shovel of the D-9. "It was only when we moved the D-9 backwards that I saw her. The woman was lying in a place where the instrument had not reached. As soon as we saw the harmed woman we returned to the central corridor, stood and waited for orders." The soldier's last statement before the order to stop speaking was: "My job was to guide. The driver cannot guide himself because his field of vision is not large."

Another army document strongly suggests that Major-General Almog opposed the military police investigation. Dated 18 March 2003, a military police investigator petitioning a judge for permission to conduct an autopsy on Ms Corrie's body said that "we arrived only today because there was an argument between the general of southern command and the military advocate general about whether to open an investigation and under what circumstances." The judge granted the request provided the autopsy would be done in the presence of a US diplomat as the Corrie family requested. But the inquest was carried out by Israel's chief pathologist without any US official being there, in apparent violation of the judge's ruling.

Major-General Almog denied halting Mr Valermov's testimony. "I never gave such an order, I don't know such a document. I conducted my own investigation, I don't remember what I found. There were 12,000 terrorist incidents when I was general in charge of southern command. I finished seven years ago, if they want to invite me [to testify] they know the address. I certainly didn't disrupt an investigation, this is nonsense. In all of my service I never told anyone not to testify."

Asked if he gave an order to harm foreign activists interfering with the army's work, Major-General Almog responded: "What are you talking about? You don't know what a general in charge of command is. The general in charge of command has 100,000 soldiers. What are you talking about?''

Moshe Negbi, legal commentator for the state-run Voice of Israel radio, said of Major-General Almog's interdiction: "If a commander prevents a witness from testifying then it is disruption of an investigation, a criminal offence whose penalty is three years imprisonment."

Craig Corrie, Rachel Corrie's father, said the alleged intervention in Valermov's testimony was "outrageous."

"When you see someone in that position taking those steps you not only have to be outraged, you have to ask why is he covering up, what has he done that he needs to take these steps to cover it up?"

An Israel Defense Forces spokesman said: "Any military police investigations are completely independent and cannot be influenced by outside sources." The Israeli state attorneys handling the case declined to be interviewed. The trial is due to resume in September.

Rachel's nightmare scenario

Before she became a political symbol, Rachel Corrie was an American student on a study-abroad programme. A member of a middle-class family from Olympia, Washington, she was attending college locally when she travelled to Gaza with the intention of initiating a twin-city project between Olympia and Rafah.

Arriving in Gaza in January 2003, she linked up with the International Solidarity Movement, and spent the next two months as an activist. In the weeks before her death she wrote a series of emails home to her friends and family that detailed her impressions of life in Gaza. "I have bad nightmares about tanks and bulldozers," she told her mother. "I'm witnessing this chronic, insidious genocide and I'm really scared... This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop."

The emails, which later inspired a play that appeared in London but was cancelled in New York and Toronto, end with an exchange with her father. "I am afraid for you, and I think I have reason to be," he wrote. "But I'm also proud of you – very proud... But I'd just as soon be proud of somebody else's daughter."

Corrie died on 16 March 2003. Like the death of the British activist Tom Hurndall in similar circumstances a year later, it prompted an international outcry about Israel's deeds in the Palestinian territories.

Source / The Independent

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