Thursday, May 31, 2007
The raid on the Finance Ministry in Baghdad by 40 policemen in 19 vehicles who calmly cordoned off the street in front of the building before abducting five Britons shows how little has changed in the Iraqi capital despite US reinforcements and a new security plan.Click title for source.
It has always been absurd to speak of men "dressed in police uniforms travelling in police vehicles" as if they were gunmen in disguise. "Of course they have the uniforms and the vehicles, because they are real policemen," said an Iraqi minister after a similar operation in which 150 people were abducted from the Ministry of Higher Education in the capital last year.
The unit that carried out this kidnapping is almost certainly Shia and is probably under the control of the Mehdi Army or the Badr Organisation.
The Finance Ministry in East Baghdad is in a heavily Shia district not far from the Oil and Interior Ministries. There are many checkpoints here, so it would be difficult for a detachment of Sunni insurgents to pass undetected.
The motive is political: Commercial kidnappers in Baghdad - numerous, violent and well-organised though they are - have never had the need or capacity to operate on this scale. The raid also shows good intelligence and a carefully worked-out plan to enter and leave the ministry.
The most obvious explanation for the abductions is that they werein retaliation for the killing of Abu Qader, also known as Wissam Wiali, the Mehdi Army commander in Basra, by a British-backed operation last week. It may be designed to send a message that any British action will be met with retaliation.
The other militia units capable of conducting a raid like this are police and police commandos under the control of that Badr Organisation, the military wing of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), whose men still largely run the Interior Ministry. Although it is the Mehdi Army that is invariably singled out for criticism by US and British leaders, the Badr Organisation played a central role in carrying out sectarian killings of Sunnis in 2005 and 2006.
The third suspects in mass abductions against US and British personnel in Iraq are the Iranian-run units that certainly exist. Iranian-inspired retaliatory operations in Iraq appear to have increased since five of their officials were abducted in a US helicopter raid on 11 January on the Kurdish capital of Arbil. The abductions at the Finance Ministry underline another truth about Iraq. In Arab Iraq, the US and Britain have no allies.
For four years the Sunni community has been in rebellion. But the Iraqi Shia only supported the US-led occupation as a means to an end, by which they would legally take power through elections. The Shia do not, at the end of the day, intend to share power with foreign occupiers.
One reason why so many foreign security contractors are employed in Iraq, at vast expense, is that the US, Britain and the Iraqi governments recognise they dare not rely on Iraqis to protect them.
The man that the British government have accused of poisoning ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko has made the bizarre claim that MI6 had already recruited Litvineko and also tried to recruit him.
Andrei Lugovoi, who the British authorities are attempting to have extradited to Britain to face charges, claims that the murder could not have been carried out without MI6's connivance. Russia is claiming that it is against Russian law to extradite a Russian citizen.
Litvinenko's murder was perhaps one of the most strange murders in recent years as it involved the use of the radioactive isotope polonium-210. Countless British citizens could have been exposed to contamination which is why Blair's government are not relying on diplomatic niceties. And Lugovoi's bizarre claim that MI6 were involved in the murder sounds like something that can simply be dismissed on it's face. Why would MI6 want to kill Litvinenko?
And, as Litvinenko had fallen out with Putin since around the late 1990's and had written a book alleging that FSB agents co-ordinated the 1999 apartment block bombings in Moscow that killed more than 300 people, there are surely more obvious suspects who would have wanted him dead than MI6?
The Russian government has always blamed Chechen separatists for the apartment block blasts and later that year Russia poured troops into Chechnya in a new offensive.
Lugovoi is blatantly responding according to orders from the Kremlin who appear to have decided to brass this one out, but I doubt there are many who will buy their version of events. Indeed, the collision course between Blair and Putin now appears unavoidable. With journalists falling out of windows left and right in Russia, Putin does appear to be acting like some kind of Mafioso knocking out the competition.
A former KGB officer and British agent, Oleg Gordievsky, described Mr Lugovoi's claims as "silly fantasies". He denied Mr Litvinenko had been working for the British secret services.
"He used to be... a member of the FSB, it is a domestic organisation of the KGB, and MI6 is not interested in information about the domestic service, so Litvinenko was not needed," he told BBC News.
But even against that backdrop, Lugovoi's story is straining credulity.
Mr Lugovoi is also ignoring the fact that a polonium-210 trail has been left all over London, including at London's Millennium Mayfair Hotel where Lugovoi had lunch with Litvinenko, the day he took ill.
Mr Lugovoi said that either British foreign intelligence agency MI6, the Russian mafia, or fugitive Kremlin opponent Boris Berezovsky were behind the killing.
Mr Lugovoi said that, like Mr Litvinenko, Mr Berezovsky was working for the British secret services, but that the two men had a falling out and that MI6 could no longer control Mr Litvinenko.
Mr Berezovsky, who has been granted asylum in Britain, has denied any involvement in Mr Litvinenko's death.
On Thursday, Mr Berezovsky said that it was now "clearer than ever" that the Kremlin was behind the murder.
"Everything about Mr Lugovoi's words and presentation made it obvious that he is acting on Kremlin instruction. If Mr Lugovoi would like to prove his innocence, I suggest again that he travel to London and face trial in the UK courts," he said in a statement.
Mr Lugovoi said he was "openly recruited as the British security service agent. They asked me to collect any... compromising information about President Putin and the members of his family".
He said he was initially asked to find economic information, but he said the large fees he was paid made him realise he was being recruited to do more than that.
He went on to say that he lacked the motive to kill Mr Litvinenko.
"Sasha [Litvinenko] was not my enemy. I didn't feel cold or hot from whatever he was doing, from the books that he was writing. I've been in business for a long time and I was not really interested," he said.
Indeed, one can't help feeling that it is not the murder of Litvinenko on British soil that the British government are enraged about as much as the method of killing chosen. This was dangerous beyond measure and smacks of desperate recklessness.
No government can sit back whilst a crime of this type is carried out in it's capital. But all the indications are that Putin is not going to give an inch. The G8 should be fun....
Obama addresses the nightmare of America's health system and promises to do something about it. This is long overdue. Americans pay more than any other nation and yet rank around the seventeen mark when compared with other industialised nations in terms of life expectancy.
In the Wall Street Journal, Norman Podhoretz, a leading neo-con thinker (if that's not a contradiction in terms) says that he "hopes and prays" that President Bush attacks Iran.
"Although many persist in denying it, I continue to believe that what Sept 11, 2001, did was to plunge us headlong into nothing less than another world war," writes the editor-at-large of Commentary, who also sits on the Council on Foreign Relations. "I call this new war World War IV, because I also believe that what is generally known as the Cold War was actually World War III, and that this one bears a closer resemblance to that great conflict than it does to World War II."Whenever people talk about WWIV, when most sane people are actually acutely aware that we have never had WWIII, it is very good indication of the general nuttiness of the speaker and Podhoretz is obviously out there ahead of the pack.
Podhoretz believes that "the plain and brutal truth is that if Iran is to be prevented from developing a nuclear arsenal, there is no alternative to the actual use of military force--any more than there was an alternative to force if Hitler was to be stopped in 1938."Now, the fact that we are talking about a man who believes we are in the middle of WWIV tells us all we need to know about the mental health of Mr Podhoretz, but the scary thing is that people like this have long been listened to by the equally insane people who currently inhabit the White House.
"Since a ground invasion of Iran must be ruled out for many different reasons, the job would have to be done, if it is to be done at all, by a campaign of air strikes," the op-ed continues. "Furthermore, because Iran's nuclear facilities are dispersed, and because some of them are underground, many sorties and bunker-busting munitions would be required. And because such a campaign is beyond the capabilities of Israel, and the will, let alone the courage, of any of our other allies, it could be carried out only by the United States. Even then, we would probably be unable to get at all the underground facilities, which means that, if Iran were still intent on going nuclear, it would not have to start over again from scratch. But a bombing campaign would without question set back its nuclear program for years to come, and might even lead to the overthrow of the mullahs."
Podhoretz thinks that Bush "intends, within the next 21 months, to order air strikes against the Iranian nuclear facilities from the three U.S. aircraft carriers already sitting nearby....If this is what Mr. Bush intends to do, it goes, or should go, without saying that his overriding purpose is to ensure the security of this country in accordance with the vow he took upon becoming president, and in line with his pledge not to stand by while one of the world's most dangerous regimes threatens us with one of the world's most dangerous weapons."
"It now remains to be seen whether this president, battered more mercilessly and with less justification than any other in living memory, and weakened politically by the enemies of his policy in the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular, will find it possible to take the only action that can stop Iran from following through on its evil intentions both toward us and toward Israel," Podhorez writes in conclusion. "As an American and as a Jew, I pray with all my heart that he will."What really is there to say about such people and such a mindset? Bush has been "battered more mercilessly and with less justification than any other (President) in living memory"? I mean, is he for real here? Bush has been given a free ride by most of America's press until the stench of Iraq became so overwhelming that even they couldn't ignore it any longer.
However, reality is not something that the neo-cons have ever been fond of, as Richard Perle's rewriting of the Iraq war in today's Guardian attests to.
Perle was also interviewed by Phillipe Sands at the Hay Festival and he also indicated, similarly to Podheretz, that he is keen for an attack on Iran to begin.
He seemed to recant on his recanting of support for the war (in a Vanity Fair article). He dissembled, in my view, on the key facts: his claims that there were ties between Saddam and Osama Bin Laden, and that the WMD would definitely be found. But most significantly, he gave us a clear hint on when the bombing of Iran might begin: once US troop numbers in Iraq had diminished to the point where they could not be an easy target after the surgical strikes of Iran that he foresaw.So both Poderetz and Perle, both neo-con loons who were proven wrong in everything they said prior to the Iraq war, are now both anxiously pushing the need for the US to expand it's Iraq disaster into Iran.
In any other country, under any other administration, these two men would be so fatally wounded from their false predictions regarding Iraq, that their words could be dismissed as the rantings of inconsequential lunatics.
Sadly, we live at the time of the Bush administration and both of these lunatics might actually be giving us a foretaste of what is to come.
Click title for full article.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Alan Foley, the head of the CIA's Weapons Intelligence Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Center, led the CIA's investigation into whether or not Saddam had WMD. In a new book, The Italian Letter, examining the buildup to the Iraq war, there is a simply astonishing quote from Foley regarding the role of the CIA and the way it should approach the impending conflict:
One day in December 2002, Foley called his senior production managers to his office. He had a clear message for the men and women who controlled the output of the center's analysts: "If the president wants to go to war, our job is to find the intelligence to allow him to do so." The directive was not quite an order to cook the books, but it was a strong suggestion that cherry-picking and slanting not only would be tolerated, but might even be rewarded.Now who would have believed that this was the function of the CIA?
Hat tip to A Tiny Revolution.
Click title for full article.
As Republican Presidential candidates fall over themselves promising to torture terrorist suspects, a group of experts advising the intelligence agencies have argued that harsh interrogation techniques are "outmoded, amateurish and unreliable."
It's long overdue that someone said it, not only is torture abhorrent from a moral point of view, but in terms of intelligence gathering it simply doesn't work. In this regard it is typical of much of the behaviour of the Bush administration since 9-11, acting tough to please a base who are insisting that "something must be done" whilst actually proving ineffective at tackling the root causes of terrorism.
The psychologists and other specialists, commissioned by the Intelligence Science Board, make the case that more than five years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration has yet to create an elite corps of interrogators trained to glean secrets from terrorism suspects.
While billions are spent each year to upgrade satellites and other high-tech spy machinery, the experts say, interrogation methods — possibly the most important source of information on groups like Al Qaeda — are a hodgepodge that date from the 1950s, or are modeled on old Soviet practices.
Some of the study participants argue that interrogation should be restructured using lessons from many fields, including the tricks of veteran homicide detectives, the persuasive techniques of sophisticated marketing and models from American history.
Tony Blair stated several years ago that the prime recruiting agent for al-Qaeda was Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and that finding a just resolution to this conflict would do more than anything else to win the war on terror by draining the swamp that encourages young men to sign up to al-Qaeda's cause. And yet, Bush's record on the Israel-Palestine dispute is simply the worst of any President that I can think of. He has literally sat around for six years of inactivity. No peace talks. No dialogue. No activity of any meaningful kind.
Oh, occasionally Olmert has agreed to meet with Abbas, but never to discuss anything of any merit. Olmert has always been able to define the subject matter in advance, usually reducing it to useful talks like "Palestinian terrorism". The subject of the illegal occupation has always been firmly off the table.
And, as with tackling matters that might actually reduce terrorism, we find that the experts are lined up against Bush when it comes to how to glean useful information from terrorist subjects.
They have stated, quite baldly, that harsh interrogation techniques simply do not work.
“There’s an assumption that often passes for common sense that the more pain imposed on someone, the more likely they are to comply,” said Randy Borum, a psychologist at the University of South Florida who, like several of the study’s contributors, is a consultant for the Defense Department.
But some of the experts involved in the interrogation review, called “Educing Information,” say that during World War II, German and Japanese prisoners were effectively questioned without coercion.
“It far outclassed what we’ve done,” said Steven M. Kleinman, a former Air Force interrogator and trainer, who has studied the World War II program of interrogating Germans. The questioners at Fort Hunt, Va., “had graduate degrees in law and philosophy, spoke the language flawlessly,” and prepared for four to six hours for each hour of questioning, said Mr. Kleinman, who wrote two chapters for the December report.
Mr. Kleinman, who worked as an interrogator in Iraq in 2003, called the post-Sept. 11 efforts “amateurish” by comparison to the World War II program, with inexperienced interrogators who worked through interpreters and had little familiarity with the prisoners’ culture.
The experts are saying that powers of persuasion are much more useful than the use of force and also that Americans already have expertise in this field, an expertise that - until now - has mostly been used to sell people toothpaste, but which could be more usefully employed in persuading people to give up relevant information.
Robert F. Coulam, a research professor and attorney at Simmons College and a study participant, argued that the government had been using all it's energy to justify the use of force during interrogations rather than asking itself whether or not force resulted in better information being gleaned from subjects.
It's yet another example of the ineffectiveness of lazy right wing thinking. Of bringing schoolyard bully boy tactics into the international arena and thinking that this will be effective. Of course, one should not be surprised. The Bush regime have long sought to use the threat of force as it's only negotiating tool, whether dealing with Iraq, Iran or captured terrorist suspects.
Mr. Kleinman, the former Air Force interrogator who took part in the “Educing Information” study, said the mistakes of the past five years “have made interrogation synonymous in many people’s minds with torture.” But he said the group wanted to redirect the debate toward the future of interrogation.
“Our intention is not to point fingers at anyone,” he said. “We’re just saying we have to bring interrogation up to the level of professionalism in other intelligence disciplines.”
Six years on they still seem incapable - as they pile even more troops into Iraq in an attempt to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat - of engaging in any form of diplomatic solution. Force appears to be, literally, the only form of persuasion that they understand. And, even as the use of force delivers them defeat, their only answer is that we must have more of it.
If there has ever been a more intellectually stunted administration, I am unaware of it.
However, tucked in the middle of this report is a frank admission - previously denied - that the US have indeed been engaging in torture.
The Bush administration is nearing completion of a long-delayed executive order that will set new rules for interrogations by the Central Intelligence Agency. The order is expected to ban the harshest techniques used in the past, including the simulated drowning tactic known as waterboarding, but to authorize some methods that go beyond those allowed in the military by the Army Field Manual.Despite the denials of the Bush administration that "the US doesn't do torture", the admission that the US has, in the past, engaged in "waterboarding" would be enough for most people on the planet to conclude that torture has, indeed, been part and parcel of US interrogation techniques.
One would hope that a panel of experts advising that torture doesn't work would be enough to dissuade the Bushites from continuing such practices but past experiences tell us that common sense and morality is lost on this administration.
Click title for full article.
The peace activist Cindy Sheehan has announced that she is stepping down as the "face" of the anti-war movement after being routinely attacked by both conservative and some liberal circles as an "attention whore".
I think it is a great loss that Cindy Sheehan is stepping down. She contributed greatly to the anti-war movement by giving a face to the many mothers grieving for their lost children. At times she went too far, but that was easy to forgive given her loss.
"I am going to take whatever I have left and go home. I am going to go home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have lost," wrote Mrs Sheehan on the website Daily Kos. Mrs Sheehan's son Casey, a US army reservist, was killed in April 2004.
"I will try to maintain and nurture some very positive relationships that I have found in the journey that I was forced into when Casey died and try to repair some of the ones that have fallen apart since I began this single-minded crusade," Mrs Sheehan wrote.
And her initial visit to Bush's ranch, where she sat outside waiting for an audience for the President, revealed his cowardice at defending his position, as he simply refused to engage with her on any level. A wiser President would have taken her inside and then publicly stated that they would never see eye to eye but that he understood her loss. Bush attempted to ignore her, and the legend of Cindy Sheehan grew.
Celebrities and politicians beat a path to Camp Casey and, for a while, she became a focal point in the anti-war movement.
What shocks me about all this is that Sheehan claims she was attacked by the left using the same terminology as was used by the right wingers.
"I have spent every available cent I got from the money a "grateful" country gave me when they killed my son and every penny that I have received in speaking or book fees since then," she wrote.
"I have sacrificed a 29-year marriage and have travelled for extended periods of time away from Casey's brother and sisters and my health has suffered and my hospital bills from last summer (when I almost died) are in collection because I have used all my energy trying to stop this country from slaughtering innocent human beings."
It amazes me that people who are sharp on the issues and can zero in like a laser beam on lies, misrepresentations, and political expediency when it comes to one party refuse to recognize it in their own party. Blind party loyalty is dangerous whatever side it occurs on. People of the world look on us Americans as jokes because we allow our political leaders so much murderous latitude and if we don’t find alternatives to this corrupt "two" party system our Representative Republic will die and be replaced with what we are rapidly descending into with nary a check or balance: a fascist corporate wasteland. I am demonized because I don’t see party affiliation or nationality when I look at a person, I see that person’s heart. If someone looks, dresses, acts, talks and votes like a Republican, then why do they deserve support just because he/she calls him/herself a Democrat?I would have thought that the sacrifice Sheehan has made, both voluntarily and involuntarily, would have given her the right to criticise anyone she chooses, to call the shots as she sees them without fear of reproach; certainly without fear of reproach from the left.
One could look at her and see an inherently decent woman attempting to make sense of painful loss and seeking to make sure no other mother suffered in the way that she was so obviously suffering.
And now, the failure of the Democrats to present a funding bill for Bush to sign that included a deadline for troop withdrawal has apparently proven too much for her to take.
"The most devastating conclusion that I reached ... was that Casey did indeed die for nothing. His precious lifeblood drained out in a country far away from his family who loves him, killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think," she wrote.
"I have tried every day since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful. Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives."
I wish Cindy Sheehan well and hope that she is able to rebuild her life and her family. She made an invaluable contribution to the voices ranged against Bush's illegal war in Iraq, and I hope that when she returns home that she is able to find some form of peace.
She deserves it. And we, on the left, should never forget the debt that we owe her. She deserves that as well.
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Tuesday, May 29, 2007
More than 50 years ago, with Britain as midwife, the European Convention on Human Rights was born of the ashes of the Second World War. Conceived by the generation who saw the horrors of the Holocaust, one of its non-negotiable articles is the complete prohibition on torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.
Thirty-five years ago a British prime minister addressed Parliament and made clear that the military practice of hooding terrorist suspects was at an end. Even while staring terrorism in the face, democracies can never resort to torture.
These are great milestones in our democratic heritage. They reflect real consensus across the political spectrum which should span the ages. How tragic then is the story of the mistreatment of detainees in Iraq.
At the very least, what must come from this scandal is a firm commitment to train British troops in policing and detention functions.
We must not send young people into dangerous situations like Iraq with little more than a nod and a wink that mistreatment might be permitted. If we allow such behaviour by our forces, I firmly believe that we only jeopardise their safety in the hands of opponents. If we continue to argue that "the rules of the game" have changed since the twin-towers and London atrocities, we risk surrendering the values that make our country worth defending. I know this argument has had great currency in parts of the Government in recent times.
I note that during his brief spell as Defence Secretary, John Reid questioned whether the Geneva Conventions had kept pace with world events. Now in the dying days of his short term at the Home Office, he questions whether the Human Rights framework retains its relevance.
It is to be hoped that his gallop through the great offices of state is coming to an end.
I also look forward to a new prime minister dumping divisive rhetoric and re-building a security consensus inspired and sustained by the rule of law.
This consensus would remember that some values are universal and timeless. When the next chapter in our human rights history is written, there will be a special place for Lt-Col Nicholas Mercer and the many in the military and the law who think like him.
They know that there is no more important British value than the complete prohibition on torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. They know the human "wrongness" of hooding and beating detainees anywhere.If the Attorney General did not fight for this value in his advice, his place will be somewhat less attractive.
Shami Chakrabarti is director of Liberty
So the US and Iran have had their first meeting since 1980 and, by all accounts, it was a meeting that went well with "blunt" exchanges taking place. Both sides have described the meeting as "positive".
I always think that this is diplomatic talk for "we swore at each other but no-one actually threw anything".
The US brought up Iraqi security and Iranian interference but the main point of the meeting was, I thought, Iran's observations and offers to help regarding the training of Iraqi forces.
Mr Qomi, who described the US role in Iraq as that of an occupying force, told the Americans the training of the Iraqi army was proving to be too slow and ineffective, and offered to help - an offer Washington is unlikely to take up. Iran also proposed what it called a trilateral forum in which the US, Iran, and Iraq could meet regularly to discuss security matters. Mr Crocker said he would have to refer the proposal to Washington.Considering the fact that the US have now been in Iraq for four years the lack of movement in the training of Iraq's army is little short of shocking. I mean seriously, how long does it take to train an Iraqi soldier? Why, four years later, is this still an issue?
Also, the Iranian offer of a regular trilateral forum is an interesting one, although it is unclear if the Bush camp will embrace this notion. Indeed, despite both sides stating how "positive" the meeting had been the US left the meeting giving the distinct impression that it was a one off.
In other words, the meeting was a warning, it was the US telling Iran to back off and what happens next is dependent on whether the US is satisfied that the Iranians are no longer interfering. Of course, there are many of us who don't buy into the US logic regarding Iranian interference, so what should have been a positive first step may very well be allowed to wither on the vine.
Although Mr Qomi offered a second round of talks, Mr Crocker said the purpose of the meeting had been to lay out US concerns, and that had been achieved. "In terms of what happens next, we are going to want to wait and see - not what is said next, but what happens on the ground; whether we start to see some indications of change of Iranian behaviour," he said.
This would be a great shame as the US badly needs to find a political solution to the problem of Iraq rather than a military one, and it's impossible to see how this can be done without some input from Iraq's neighbours.
If this meeting was merely an opportunity for the US to issue warnings to Iran, as Crocker seemed to imply, then this will turn out to be a lost one. However, if it is a first step to normalising relations with Iran and both sides working together to stabilise Iraq, then it could have great significance.
Why, when dealing with the Bushites, does the pessimist in me always presume it is the former?
Click title for full article.
Richard Perle, one of the neo-con architects of the Iraq war, is to appear at the Hays Book Festival. It is understood that Perle will defend his actions in calling for the war but distance himself from the way that the war was conducted.
"I will take responsibility for what I argued which was that we should remove Saddam, and I am willing to defend that position today," says Perle, who is to be interviewed by Philippe Sands at the Guardian Hay Festival tonight. "Do I take responsibility for the things that went wrong afterwards? I had no influence over those things, unfortunately."The problem for someone like Perle is that everything that went wrong afterwards was predicted. The tensions between Shia and Sunni elements in Iraq were always likely to break out into violence once Saddam was removed and the simple truth is that the Bush regime were warned about this and chose not to believe it.
At a time when the neo-cons appear to be on the run, with Wolfowitz recently hounded out of the World Bank and "Scooter" Libby facing jail time, the more one picks at the surface the more one realises that Perle - who was rumoured to have jumped the sinking ship in a Vanity Fair article last year - actually hasn't changed his way of thinking at all.
When questioned about Iran he admits that now might not be the best time to engage in air strikes, but:
In other words, he hasn't given up on the Bush doctrine of pre-emption at all, despite the disaster of Iraq. Like a true neo-con he is still wedded to the notion of American military might as the solution to all the world's ills. Rather bizarrely, Perle claims to dislike the term neo-con and reminds anyone who will listen that he is still a registered Democrat. Which is a little like Hitler and Tony Blair claiming to be Socialists, they can apply whatever terminology they like, but it is by their actions that they will be defined, and Socialist they were not.
"But if the only way to prevent Iran from being a nuclear weapons power is to destroy one or more facilities that will give them that capability I see no moral basis for rejecting that option," Perle says.
He would also like to see the US actively working to destabilise Iran by supporting opponents of the regime. The same lessons could then be applied to Syria, he says.
Perle nowadays justifies what he encouraged by sliding deeper into fantasy, by insisting - despite the lack of WMD - that Saddam was a threat and that he had to be removed.
Interviewed by Susan Goldberg in today's Guardian, Perle comes across as an arrogant buffoon, as man who simply refuses to ever admit that he got it wrong. Nor does he finger anyone too high up the ladder when he assigns blame for the debacle that was the Iraq war. He does not single out Bush nor any of his fellow neo-con travellers. So who does he blame?
Instead, Perle continues to cling to a view of events in Iraq that has now been comprehensively discredited. Even now, when it is abundantly clear that Saddam Hussein did not have the weapons of mass destruction that were the pretext for the war, Perle insists that it was the right decision to remove Saddam by force. "Even after recognising that some of the information was wrong, the judgment that Saddam proposed a threat and a serious threat was right," he says.
Against the reams of evidence to the contrary - including congressional inquiries into the administration's misuse of intelligence in the run-up to the war - Perle continues to insist that Saddam Hussein was a friend of al-Qaida.
Perle turns his ire on General Tommy Franks, the former commander of forces in Iraq. Among Franks's greatest blunders, Perle says, was his failure to stop the looting that erupted the day the regime fell. "The looting was just a serious and inexplicable mistake, made I believe principally by Franks and the military on the ground," he says. "I have, I concede, a low regard for Franks. I think he is a fool, and I thought that the first time I met him."
Many of us who would agree with Perle that the looting was the beginning of the breakdown of social order in Iraq, would set our sights on the Defence Secretary and his bizarre "Stuff happens" speech, but Perle is having none of it.
However, like all proponents of the Iraq war, Perle really would like history to judge the rights and wrongs of the conflict. It's an answer that we'll really all only know long after we are dead.
But Perle is understanding of that. "I think Rumsfeld thought, people have suffered under this regime so they are going to burn down the symbols of officialdom," he said.
Was it worth going to war against a regime that did not after all constitute an imminent threat? "It's the wrong issue to talk about imminence," he says. Would he agree the situation in Iraq is disastrous? Disaster is an overused term, he says. "It is what it is." When you get right down to it, he really isn't all that keen to talk about the reality of Iraq.The scary thing about people like Richard Perle and William Kristol isn't that they simply refuse to admit that the mindset they embraced led us into this tragedy, although that would be bad enough. But what is even more serious is that people like this continue to be listened to by the Bush White House. I don't know where Perle stood on the issue of the surge but I certainly know that Kristol advocated that approach, an approach that the White House embraced and which seems to be failing, just as everything these nutters propose seems to fail.
So, in Perle, we have a man who will admit that things have gone wrong, mistakes have been made; although he will not concede that these mistakes were anything to do with the people who planned the war and rather chooses to lay the blame at the door of Tommy Franks.
But what's more scary is that, when it comes to possible future conflicts like Iran, Perle and his ilk would proceed with the same lack of care that defined their mindset before the Iraq war and make the same mistakes all over again.
These people should be national figures of fun, class dunces that are laughed at for their obvious stupidity. Instead they continue to have influence within the Bush White House, mostly due to the fact that the Vice President shares their mindset and their apparent belief that they can change reality by the force of their own will. Now, that's scary...
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Posted by Kel at 5:57 AM
Monday, May 28, 2007
There are some things that simply boggle my brain and creationists come very near the top of the list. A new creationist museum has opened near Cincinnati which claims that dinosaurs walked the Earth at the same time as man did. All of this is an attempt to portray the Bible as an historical document. Now, I'm sure if such creatures existed in biblical times then someone, at some point in the Old Testament, might have mentioned them. I mean, they're not something that you would ignore are they?
Hat tip to Crooks and Liars.
John Reid, New Labour's astonishingly right wing Home Secretary, has proposed giving the police the right to stop and question anyone in the street in an attempt to combat terrorism.
Human Rights groups and politicians from all political parties have condemned his proposals as "draconian", with even Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary, warning that it could become the "domestic equivalent of Guantanamo Bay".
There have been several times over the past few years when I have thought John Reid is literally losing his mind as his rants have taken him ever further towards the loony edge of the political spectrum. There are almost no rights that Reid doesn't think we should sacrifice in our war on a noun.
Of course, Reid is merely reflecting the same mindset that Blair represents. That we must all be prepared to sacrifice human rights for the right to be safe, even though every time he has made proposals to do so in the past, he has been unable to show how what we are sacrificing will make us any more safe.
At the moment, police can challenge people, regardless of whether they are suspected of breaking the law, in areas which are considered at risk of terrorist attack, such as Westminster and around political party conference venues.
The new anti-terror proposals would extend that power nationwide, giving officers the right to demand anyone's name and address or details of where they have been if police suspect terrorist involvement.
Anyone who refused to co-operate could be charged with obstructing the police and fined up to £5,000.
In a typical Blairite rant, the Prime Minister yesterday accused the courts of putting the rights of terrorists before the protection of citizens. It is startling to realise that the three men who absconded whilst under control orders have never actually been proven to have any involvement in terrorism at all, so for the Prime Minister to talk in this way regarding them is almost libellous.
Blair simply doesn't get it and never has. Most people in Britain lived with the threat of the IRA for 37 years and have become quite accustomed to living with risk. Blair and Reid are asking people to give up their rights whilst failing to demonstrate that the risk to their lives will in any substantive way be reduced.
He said: "We have chosen as a society to put the civil liberties of the suspect, even if a foreign national, first. I happen to believe this is misguided and wrong."
He added: "Over the past five or six years we have decided as a country that except in the most limited of ways, the threat to our public safety does not justify changing radically the legal basis on which we confront this extremism.
"Their right to traditional civil liberties comes first. I believe this is a dangerous misjudgement."
As he marches out the door Blair continues his ridiculous rant that we must somehow give up our attachment to "traditional civil liberties".
Blair apparently fails to understand that many of us don't feel these rights are ours to give up. They were won by other brave British people on the fields of Normandy. London endured a blitz in order that we may enjoy the freedoms that Blair seems so keen to take away from us.
He fundamentally misunderstands the British character if he thinks that four bombs on London's tubes and buses will force the British to hand him rights that were fought for by their grandparents.
He can shout all he wants, but there are graves all over Europe that are a symbol of the price that Britain was willing to pay to ensure that no-one took those rights away from them.
It is Reid and Blair who are out of step with the mood of the British people, it is Reid and Blair who seem to think we should cower and give up all that we believe in because of some Afghans sitting in caves.
They seem to forget the old saying, "No war was ever won by bombing London". It means that by attacking Londoners, you only strengthen their resolve.
As Blair heads for the door, muttering like an angry old man about how foolish we all are, I wonder if he ever understood us at all?
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Ehud Olmert's problems look set to multiply as the Israeli Labour Party seek a new leader.
The two leading contenders to take the party's helm from Peretz have said that they will work to get rid of Mr Olmert, who has been under intense pressure following a damning report into his prosecution of last year's war in Lebanon. Labour is part of the ruling coalition along with Mr Olmert's Kadima party.Peretz, who is also tainted by the debacle of the war in Lebanon, has said he will stand down as Defence Minister after the primaries, which will leave Olmert spectacularly exposed. Olmert's managing to cling to office for this long is already astonishing, but if a new Labour leader makes it is aim to unseat the Prime Minister it is very hard to imagine how Olmert could possibly survive, especially as his poll numbers say his job approval amongst Israelis currently stands between 2-3%. Allowing for errors in the polling numbers that could put him as low as 0%.
If Labour leaves the coalition Olmert will be left running a minority government with 59 out of 120 seats in the Knesset. He would then have to try and make a deal with United Torah Judaism, the party of the Ashkenazi ultra-orthodox, or even the Likud party. Either way, Olmert would have to sacrifice political principle to remain in office. Luckily for Olmert, political principle is something he long ago stopped pretending to have, the best example of this being his decision to invite the fascist Avigdor Lieberman to join his cabinet as Deputy Prime Minister.
Opinion polls suggest that Ami Ayalon, a former head of the Shin Bet internal security service, will win but may not get the required 40% of the vote to avoid a second round of voting. Ehud Barak, a former prime minister, is second with Mr Peretz a distant third.
If there is no clear winner, a second count of the Labour Party's 104,000 members will take place on June 13. An opinion poll published in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth said Mr Ayalon would win a second round with 49% to Mr Barak's 39%.
It is moves like this that have managed to keep Olmert in power but one can't help thinking that he is now running out of places to hide.
And all of this is because Olmert chose to go to war rather than to agree to a prisoner exchange, an exchange that he will still have to make if he wants to have his soldiers returned.
Whatever the result of the primary, it will lead to an extended bout of horse-trading as Mr Olmert will try to offer a high enough price to the new leader to encourage him to stay in the government and continue supporting him.
Shmuel Sandlar, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, said that whatever the result, Mr Olmert did not have much to look forward to.
"The worst case for Olmert is an Ayalon victory. He must ask Olmert to resign and the Kadima party may be more interested in the survival of the party than the survival of the prime minister," he said.
He tried to prove that he was as militarily competent as Ariel Sharon and only succeeded in making himself look clueless and Israel looking weak. I do honestly find it astonishing that almost a year after the Israeli-Lebanon war that this man is still in office at all.
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Riot police in Russia watched neo-Nazis beat up gay campaigners and then stepped in to arrest the campaigners, which included several European parliamentarians, giving us all some indication of the state of human rights in Russia.
The aim of the protest was to persuade the mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, to lift his ban of a Gay Pride March through the city. The Mayor had previously described gay rallies as "satanic".
Witnesses have said riot police stood by whilst far right skinheads beat up the marchers whilst chanting "Death to homosexuals".
Relations between Europe and Russia have been heading steadily southwards over the past few months, especially with the Russian refusal to hand over Andrei Lugovoi, who the British authorities say they have enough evidence to charge with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. The Russians are refusing to extradite Lugovoi which threatens to put relations between Russia and the UK into deep freeze.
"It was absolutely shocking," the gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told the Guardian yesterday. "The police stood there while people knocked me to the ground and kicked me. Four or five neo-Nazis attacked me. The police watched. At a certain point the police then arrested me and let my neo-Nazi attackers walk free."
Religious orthodox protesters and skinheads hurled eggs and stones - injuring Mr Tatchell in the eye. They also attacked Richard Fairbrass, the gay singer from the pop group Right Said Fred.
"When we were in the police van the police taunted us," Mr Tatchell said after his release. "They said, 'Are you a member of the sexual minority?' We said yes. They said, 'We are going to have some fun with you at the police station.' What happened here shows the flawed and failed nature of Russia's transition to democracy. There is no right to protest in Moscow."
But for the police, for the state itself, to take part in such acts of blatant homophobia will alienate Russia from the rest of Europe quicker than almost anything else. One of the greatest steps forward taken by Europe over the past thirty years has been the acknowledgement of minority rights, and for a policeman to taunt Tatchell in this way is simply unforgivable. In Europe any policeman who made that sort of comment would now be facing dismissal.
That the Russian police could behave in this way in the twenty first century will send shock waves through the European Parliament, especially as MEP's were amongst those detained.
Astonishingly, the neo-Nazi thugs attacked several of those arrested again after they were released according to witnesses.
The chairwoman of Germany's Green party, Claudia Roth, yesterday called on the chancellor, Angela Merkel, to raise the issue of rights with President Vladimir Putin at next month's G8 summit.
As a member of the Council of Europe and signatory to the European convention on human rights, Russia is obliged to allow demonstrations. "It has been shown once again today that human rights are systematically abused in Putin's Russia," Ms Roth said.
The activists had tried to deliver a petition signed by 50 MEPs calling on Moscow's mayor to respect freedom of assembly, but 30 of them were arrested and they did not make it to his city hall office. Mr Beck was later released. Three Russian gay rights campaigners were kept in custody and charged with disobeying police.
"This is terrible but I am not scared," a Russian named Alexey said, blood streaming from his face. "This is a pretty scary place, a pretty scary country if you are gay. But we won't give up until they allow us our rights."The G8 Summit should take Putin over the coals for this. Putin has agreed and has signed the European convention of Human Rights and that states that people have a right of assembly.
It's no use allowing people to assemble if you then allow others to attack those assembling whilst the police stand by apparently agreeing with the stance being taken by the Neo-Nazi thugs.
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The US is expected to present claims that Iran is providing technology and other support to Iraqi militia groups.The US has backed down from the set of conditions it initially insisted upon before any meeting could take place. Whatever has brought about this sudden lurch into adult behaviour from the Bush administration, it is to be welcomed.
For its part, Tehran says it has uncovered several spy networks run by the US and its allies inside Iran.
On Sunday, the Iranian authorities summoned the Swiss ambassador to demand an explanation of the networks, which Iranian TV said were seeking to commit "infiltration and sabotage in western, central and south-western areas of the country".
Switzerland represents US interests in Iran.
The White House said it did not confirm or deny allegations about intelligence matters.
Meetings between the two sides should be interesting. The US have long claimed that Iran are interfering in Iraq, a claim that many of us believe is simply an excuse from the US to prepare the public for some kind of action against the Iranians.
The Iranians are claiming that they have evidence that the US is operating within Iranian territory, which is something that Seymour Hersh has been claiming for a long time.
It is unlikely that any great breakthrough will come from these talks, but the importance of the talks is that they are taking place at all.
Iran's position on the talks has been dictated by the country's ultimate authority - Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
He said the aim of the meeting was to remind the American occupiers of Iraq that they had a legal responsibility to bring security to the country.
Ayatollah Khamenei says the US government is colonial, bullying, arrogant and expansionist.
However, the Iranians also have their problems as they are now under sanctions from the rest of the world community as well as the US because of their uranium enrichment programme, although I understand the discussions are to be strictly limited to the subject of Iraq.
And the Iranians can remind the Americans until they are blue in the face that it is their legal responsibility to restore order to Iraq, but the simple facts on the ground appear to be that the US have no idea how to even begin to do that. Which is why I presume they have agreed to this meeting.
I can only presume that Dick Cheney must be tied up in a cupboard somewhere otherwise it's hard to see the US being allowed to make such a sensible move. Normally Dick forbids anything that seems like common sense to the rest of the planet so it's very hard to work out how this got under his radar.
Or perhaps things are so desperate in Iraq that even Dick has realised that negotiations with the Iranians is the only sensible way forward.
Either way, it's a welcome move. And it would have been more welcome had they done it long ago.
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Sunday, May 27, 2007
Scotland Yard are to reopen the Cash for Honours enquiry in the dying days of Blair's premiership, casting the shadow that the prime Minister may be interviewed again, and that this time it will be under caution. Blair only avoided being interviewed under caution last time because he let it be known that he would resign if the police made this a requirement.
It's somewhat bizarre that a man who took the nation to war without a UN mandate, a war which led to the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis, now finds himself being hounded by an old law that few of us even knew existed. Many of us can foresee a day when Blair has to stand in a courtroom and account for his actions, but I certainly never expected it would be over which old fart received which gong for how much money.
It was always unlikely that Blair would be prosecuted whilst he was a sitting Prime Minister, but that will all change very shortly.
In a sign that the Crown Prosecution Service is taking the case extremely seriously, police have been told to find key pieces of evidence to strengthen the case. The move will unnerve Downing Street staff, who have been privately expressing confidence that nobody will be charged in the affair.
Angus MacNeil, the Scottish Nationalist MP whose complaint to the police led to the launch of the inquiry, said the news increased the prospect of another police interview for Tony Blair.
"This is clearly going to reverberate around the dying days of the Blair Government, and once Blair has retired it might be more interesting still," he said.
This leaves the Labour Party in a terrible financial mess as auditors are currently going through their accounts and may very well be unlikely to sign the party off as a going concern as the £10 million in loans was supposed to be paid off this year. If the party finds this impossible to do, and there is every indication that this is the case, then members of the party's governing body, the National Executive Committee, will become personally liable for the party's debt.
And strangely enough, all these problems stem from Blair's attempts to distance the party from the unions. This ended with Blair's Faustian deal with Lord Levy, where Levy would secure large loans from private individuals as long as New Labour became pro-Israel and stopped the criticisms of Israel's actions that had defined past Labour governments.
Indeed, Blair's own demise can be traced from that same deal he cut with Levy, for it was Blair's refusal to call for a ceasefire in the Isreal-Lebanon war last summer that finally - after the debacle of the Iraq war - became the straw that broke the camel's back and set off a backbench rebellion which forced Blair to concede to last years Labour Party Conference that he would never again address them as their leader.
And now that same deal promises to follow Blair even after he has left office.
It's almost bankrupt his party, it's led to him having to announce he would stand down, and the police are examining whether or not what took place was actually criminal.
It's fair to say that this was a deal that we can assume Blair will come to regret.
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The British Army are coming under heavy pressure from an influential committee of MPs to explain the "stark inconsistencies" between the department's official line on what is permissible during interrogations and evidence given at the recent court martial of seven British soldiers.
The court martial into the death of Iraqi hotel worker Baha Mousa, who died after sustaining 93 separate injuries, heard evidence that senior British officers in Iraq sanctioned the 'conditioning' of prisoners, which included the use of hooding and forcing detainees to stand for hours in stressful positions.The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights will ask Des Browne to explain how there could be such a difference between what is actually taking place on the ground and the rules that the MoD insist are being followed, in what could potentially be a major embarrassment for the MoD as it could be found to be acting outside of international human rights laws.
The MoD, however, told the joint committee during its recent inquiry into the UK's compliance with the UN Convention Against Torture that the use of hooding and stress positioning for the purpose of interrogation has been prohibited since 1972. The Committee has now written to the Defence Secretary, Des Browne, seeking an explanation.
There are many who have questioned whether or not hooding and stress positions constitute torture, as if torture - in the words of Bill O'Reilly - only really begins if one "loses a finger".
'The Government should now accept our recommendation that the provisions of the torture convention should apply to all of our armed forces' actions,' Andrew Dismore, the committee's chairman, said. 'It should ensure that our troops are suitably trained to equip them with the skills and knowledge needed to comply fully with our international obligations.'
Leanne MacMillan, director of policy and external affairs at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, welcomed the decision to seek answers from the MoD. 'It is quite clear that assurances given to parliament by the then Prime Minister Edward Heath in March 1972 have not been honoured,' MacMillan said.
'He stated quite unequivocally in the House of Commons that conditioning techniques such as hooding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, the withholding of food and drink, and bombardment with loud noise would not be used by Britain's armed forces unless sanctioned in advance by parliament. It is quite clear, however, both from the court martial, and from what the Medical Foundation has learnt from former army interrogators, that the techniques have continued to be used.'
However, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that such techniques are inhumane and degrading and, indeed, the United Nations Committee Against Torture has recently ruled that such practices do amount to torture.
It's one of the most distressing things that has taken place since the establishment of Guantanamo Bay and Rumsfeld talking about enemy non combatants. We, in the west, now find ourselves arguing over what constitutes torture and what doesn't. What has happened to us?
We once led the world by example, it was taken for granted that we didn't engage in the kinds of actions that one might expect to find taking place in tinpot dictatorships. Then came 9-11 and the US, the world's source of moral authority, began to be rumoured to be taking people to secret prisons, we had a US Vice President who appeared to be arguing that the US must reserve the right to torture and a Congress falling over itself to give the president the power to engage in "enhanced interrogation techniques". These are techniques which the President and the administration tell us fall short of torture whilst refusing to say which acts they would consider as constituting torture.
And, of course, where the US goes, her allies eventually follow. So now Des Browne will have to explain why the British Army appear to be engaging in techniques which we have outlawed since 1972.
I expected many reactions post 9-11, but I honestly never thought the world's supposedly great civilisations would ever find themselves arguing over what constitutes torture and what doesn't.
The very fact the question is being asked is a measure of how many of our principles we have thrown away.
Nor can we be comforted by blaming al-Qaeda. For our response to any provocation is a chosen one. We chose this path. That should be a source of shame to all of us.
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Saturday, May 26, 2007
The pursuit of "dominance" in foreign policy led the Bush administration to ignore the UN, to do serious damage to our most important alliances, to violate international law, and to cultivate the hatred and contempt of many in the rest of the world. The seductive appeal of exercising unconstrained unilateral power led this president to interpret his powers under the constitution in a way that brought to life the worst nightmare of the founders. Any policy based on domination of the rest of the world not only creates enemies for the US and recruits for al-Qaida, but also undermines the international cooperation that is essential to defeating terrorists who wish to harm and intimidate America. Instead of "dominance", we should be seeking pre-eminence in a world where nations respect us and seek to follow our leadership and adopt our values.
With the blatant failure by the government to respect the rule of law, we face a great challenge in restoring America's moral authority in the world. Our moral authority is our greatest source of strength. It is our moral authority that has been recklessly put at risk by the cheap calculations of this wilful president.
The Bush administration's objective of attempting to establish US domination over any potential adversary was what led to the hubristic, tragic miscalculation of the Iraq war - a painful misadventure marked by one disaster after another, based on one mistaken assumption after another. But the people who paid the price have been the American men and women in uniform trapped over there, and the Iraqis themselves. At the level of our relations with the rest of the world, the administration has willingly traded respect for the US in favour of fear. That was the real meaning of "shock and awe". This administration has coupled its theory of US dominance with a doctrine of pre-emptive strikes, regardless of whether the threat to be pre-empted is imminent or not.By Al Gore.
The doctrine is presented in open-ended terms, which means that Iraq is not necessarily the last application. In fact, the very logic of the concept suggests a string of military engagements against a succession of sovereign states - Syria, Libya, North Korea, Iran - but the implication is that wherever the combination exists of an interest in weapons of mass destruction together with an ongoing role as host to, or participant in, terrorist operations, the doctrine will apply. It also means that the Iraq resolution created the precedent for pre-emptive action anywhere, whenever this or any future president decides that it is time. The risks of this doctrine stretch far beyond the disaster in Iraq. The policy affects the basic relationship between the US and the rest of the world. Article 51 of the UN charter recognises the right of any nation to defend itself, including the right to take pre-emptive action in order to deal with imminent threats.
By now, the administration may have begun to realise that national and international cohesion are indeed strategic assets. But it is a lesson long delayed and clearly not uniformly and consistently accepted by senior members of the cabinet. From the outset, the administration has operated in a manner calculated to please the portion of its base that occupies the far right, at the expense of solidarity among all Americans and between our country and our allies. The gross violations of human rights authorised by Bush at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay and dozens of other locations around the world, have seriously damaged US moral authority and delegitimised US efforts to continue promoting human rights.
President Bush offered a brief and halfhearted apology to the Arab world, but he should make amends to the American people for abandoning the Geneva conventions, and to the US forces for sending troops into harm's way while ignoring the best advice of their commanders. Perhaps most importantly, he owes an explanation to all those men and women throughout our world who have held high the ideal of the US as a shining goal to inspire their own efforts to bring about justice and the rule of law.
Most Americans have tended to give the Bush-Cheney administration the benefit of the doubt when it comes to its failure to take action in advance of 9/11 to guard against an attack. Hindsight casts a harsh light on mistakes that should have been visible at the time they were made. But now, years later, with the benefit of investigations that have been made public, it is no longer clear that the administration deserves this act of political grace from the American people. It is useful and important to examine the warnings the administration ignored - not to point the finger of blame, but to better determine how our country can avoid such mistakes in the future. When leaders are not held accountable for serious mistakes, they and their successors are more likely to repeat those mistakes.
Part of the explanation for the increased difficulty in gaining cooperation in fighting terrorism is Bush's attitude of contempt for any person, institution or nation that disagrees with him. He has exposed Americans abroad and in the US to a greater danger of attack because of his arrogance and wilfulness, in particular his insistence upon stirring up a hornet's nest in Iraq. Compounding the problem, he has regularly insulted the religion, the culture and the tradition of people in countries throughout the Muslim world.
The unpleasant truth is that Bush's failed policies in both Iraq and Afghanistan have made the world a far more dangerous place. Our friends in the Middle East, including most prominently Israel, have been placed in greater danger because of the policy blunders and sheer incompetence with which the civilian Pentagon officials have conducted this war.
We as Americans should have "known then what we know now"- not only about the invasion of Iraq but also about the climate crisis; what would happen if the levees failed to protect New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina; and about many other fateful choices that have been made on the basis of flawed, and even outright false, information. We could and should have known, because the information was readily available. We should have known years ago about the potential for a global HIV/Aids pandemic. But the larger explanation for this crisis in American decision-making is that reason itself is playing a diminished, less respected, role in our national conversation.
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The government of Israel were advised after the Six Day War that the building of settlements in the captured territories would be illegal. The advice was given by Theodor Meron, the Israeli Foreign Ministry's legal adviser at the time and today one of the world's leading international jurists, and he has stated recently that he has never changed his opinion.
This is a serious blow to Israel's argument that the settlements do not violate international law, as it shows Israel - at the time - being warned that any settlements would be a violation of the Hague and Geneva conventions governing the conduct of occupying powers.
The legal opinion, a copy of which has been obtained by The Independent, was marked "Top Secret" and "Extremely Urgent" and reached the unequivocal conclusion, in the words of its author's summary, "that civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention."The settlements, which George Bush recently referred to as "facts on the ground" - implying at the time that Israel could keep them - have always flown in the face of international law. Israel have tried many ways to get around this fact, including bizarrely claiming that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to this particular conflict, despite several rulings by the international community all insisting that Geneva does apply. This document now exposes the fact that Israel have known all along that Geneva applies and have sought to keep the advice they received secret.
Judge Meron, president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia until 2005, said that, after 40 years of Jewish settlement growth in the West Bank - one of the main problems to be solved in any peace deal: "I believe that I would have given the same opinion today."
Despite the legal opinion, which was forwarded to Levi Eshkol, the Prime Minister, but not made public at the time, the Labour cabinet progressively sanctioned settlements. This paved the way to growth which has resulted in at least 240,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank today.
Judge Meron, 76, is now an appeal judge at the Tribunal. Speaking about his 1967 opinion for the first time, he also tells tomorrow's Independent Magazine: "It's obvious to me that the fact that settlements were established and the pace of the establishment of the settlements made peacemaking much more difficult."
Blaming restrictions on Palestinian movement for the devastation of the Palestinian economy, the World Bank earlier this month acknowledged Israeli security concerns but added that many of the restrictions were aimed at "enhancing the free movement of settlers and the physical and economic expansion of the settlements at the expense of the Palestinian population." The settlements and their "jurisdictions" effectively control about 40 per cent of the area of the West Bank.
Israel's argument surrounding the illegal settlements has always been a duplicitous one and it has now been revealed that she has always known that her argument was false.
The memorandum was written in September 1967 as the Eshkol government was already considering Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Golan Heights, seized from Syria during the Six Day War. It says that the international community had already rejected the "argument that the West Bank is not 'normal occupied territory'."
It pointed out that the British ambassador to the United Nations, Lord Caradon, had already asserted that Israel's position was that of an occupier. It added that a decree from the army command saying that military courts would "fulfil Geneva provisions" indicated that Israel thought so too.
Which means that Israel's actions have now been revealed as what many of us always suspected they were: land grabs. An attempt to take Palestinian land and to establish Eretz Israel despite the fact that their own legal advisor had told them that what they were proposing was completely illegal.
But they did it anyway...
Why has the international community allowed this? Why has the world sat around so impotently whilst Israel has engaged in such blatant illegality for the last forty years? We all know the answer. It is because one country wielded a veto every time the UN attempted to censure Israel for it's illegal actions.
And they wonder why they are hated? If most Americans knew the truth about what was being done in their name the world would be a very different place.
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