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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Venezuela’s Revolution Accelerates by Federico Fuentes

Caracas19 April 2007Returning once again to Venezuela — having last spent four months here in 2005 — I recalled a refrain that had been constantly repeated by Venezuelans: “After we re-elect Chavez in 2006, the real revolution will begin.” It took very little time for me to realise exactly what they meant.

I arrived on the eve of the fifth anniversary of those historic events that shook Venezuela from April 11-13 in 2002 — a US-backed coup that was overturned by a subsequent mass uprising of the poor in alliance with the majority of the armed forces.

Across all of Caracas, banners and billboards carried the slogan that summarised what had occurred on those fateful days: “Every 11 has its 13 — From oligarchic counter-revolution to civic-military revolution”. Throughout the city, numerous screens had been set up to play video footage of the massive rebellion that reversed the coup — which was aimed at putting an end to the Bolivarian process and protecting the interests of the wealthy elite — and reinstated President Hugo Chavez. State television played documentaries through the three days, detailing the events surrounding the coup and subsequent uprising.

On the streets, everyone was remembering what it was that they did during those days. It was impossible to miss the upbeat feeling among the people on April 13, as hundreds, and then thousands, began to congregate outside the presidential palace, just as they had five years ago, to await their president. Speaking in front an estimated million-strong demonstration, Chavez recalled the events that led up to the coup attempt, pointing out that it had acted as a “trigger”, pushing the process towards “an anti-imperialist revolution, because we know from where [these events] were led and planned from, the US”. Now five years on, Chavez called on the Venezuelan people to “radicalise” the revolution towards the “new socialism of the 21st century”, to thunderous applause and chants of approval.

Throughout most of 2005 and 2006, the Venezuelan government focused its attention on consolidating its support internally and internationally. On the domestic front the government paid particular attention to strengthening the social missions, in order to attack poverty and organise the population. In the international arena, Chavez travelled the world, seeking support for his government in the face of continued US hostility and Washington’s attempts to isolate Venezuela diplomatically.

Throughout the Third World, the Venezuelan government signed trade agreements, deepening both economic and social ties as part of a campaign to create an international anti-imperialist alliance. By trading not just in dollars and petroleum, but in human capital, providing — jointly with revolutionary Cuba in many cases — education and health programs, and though Chavez’s defiant and outspoken stance, such his denouncement of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, the Bolivarian revolution has captured the hearts and minds of millions across the world. This has helped provide the space for a rapid accelerating of the Bolivarian revolution, and with it an opening up of a period of definition of the process’s goals and line of march.

In the economic sphere, Chavez told the April 12 rally, the government has “no plan to eradicate private property in Venezuela, as long as it subordinates itself to the national interest and the socialist project”. If it didn’t, then it was “condemned to progressively disappear”. He added, however, that the government’s emphasis would be in working with “new forms of property, social property … collective property … co-management, self-management”. It would encourage “direct or indirect social property via the companies of social property, of social production, and many other mechanisms that we are designing”.

The first morning here I attended a meeting called by one of the currents in the National Union of Workers (UNT) to discuss the formation of Bolivarian Councils of Workers, more commonly dubbed workers’ councils. Describing the nature of the discussion over these councils, Marcela Maspero, a national coordinator of the UNT, said that the councils had to be “political organisations of the working class, based on direct democracy and control over production”. They had to play the role of “eradicating capitalist exploitation, and transforming relations of production in order to create socialised ownership over the means of production”.

Although these councils have only just begun to appear in a handful of companies, an intense debate at both the governmental and grassroots levels is unfolding over their nature and role. In the social sphere, Chavez has called for “an explosion in communal power”, urging the rapid construction of Communal Councils. These councils are based on the coming together of 200-400 families in urban areas, even less in rural areas, in order to plan and execute projects for the benefit of the community. In some areas, this has already progressed to the point where discussions have begun on the need to establish federations of Communal Councils, in order to tackle larger projects. There are now more than 19,000 Coimmunal Councils.

In essence, the aim of the Communal Councils is for power to reside in the communities. This has led to some cases where these councils have come into conflict with the existing state structures, where those who currently hold power fear losing it — a constant battle the revolution encounters as it comes up against the structures of the old state bureaucracy. Perhaps most importantly, Chavez stated in his speech on April 13 that the revolution once again called on the Venezuelan people to participate in the formation of the new united socialist party. Stating that to date the revolution “hasn’t had real parties”, he referred to the construction of the new party as “the greatest necessity of this revolution”.

On April 19, 16,000 promoters of the new party were initiated. Their task is to agitate for, and involve the communities in, the construction of the party, which organisers estimate will bring together 4-5 million people. Chavez’s call has opened up a big debate on what the nature and program of such a party should be.

For now, apart from Chavez’s party, the Movement for a Fifth Republic (MVR), the main Chavista parties have decided not to dissolve into the new party. However, large fractures have begun to occur as both leaders and rank-and-file members of these parties — Homeland For All (PPT), Podemos and the Venezuelan Communist Party — are leaving en masse. Most of the parties outside of the official Chavista electoral alliance but committed to the revolution have decided to integrate themselves into the new party, with a few waiting on the sidelines to see how things unfold first.

The party will be established along democratic lines, from the bottom up. For several weeks from April 29, 6000 booths will be set up all over the country for people to sign up to the new party. Next, the new joiners will be divided up into basic cells of 200 people based on territorial divisions, universities and factories. Out of each, a spokesperson will be elected to participate in the founding congress. No quotas have been set aside for party officials, nor will anyone automatically secure a place in the congress.

Even Chavez will have to be elected by his local cell if he is to participate in the conference. The founding conference will run for approximately three months. As the congress deliberates, spokespeople will return to their local cell, back to the congress, then back to the community and so on. On December 2, a referendum of all members will decide whether or not to approve the founding program of the new party. To ensure transparency and democracy, the national electoral commission will run the whole process. It will be a truly democratic and participatory process, never seen before on this scale, with the aim of drawing together the real leaders from the communities into a process of discussion and debate aimed at driving the process forward. Without doubt, the more this revolution deepens the more desperate the opposition will become.

At the same time as Chavez was giving his speech, a small explosive was detonated in the building that houses the legislative council of the state of Miranda. This followed two other explosions in shopping centres earlier that week. Although no-one was killed, the intent was clear. May 28 is the expiration day of RCTV’s license, a television station that openly participated in the 2002 coup plot. While the government never shut it down, it has decided to hand RCTV’s license over to community media as part of a program of expanding access to media.

Chavez warned that the government had reliable information that the opposition had begun a destabilisation plan aimed to culminate on the day of the expiry of the license, of which the bombs and the attempts by big capital to create food shortages are only the first steps. But the Venezuelan people, side by side with the military, have etched in their memories the events of April 13, 2002, because as they say in Venezuela, “every 11 has its 13”.
From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #707 25 April 2007.

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Fisk Takes Western Officials - and Reporters - to Task‘How do our journalists go to war without history books?’ by Theodore May

BEIRUT - In wide-ranging remarks during a lecture at the American University of Beirut on Thursday, veteran British journalist Robert Fisk sharply criticized US policy in Iraq, analyzed shortcomings in Western journalism on the Middle East and reflected on the state of politics in the region, saying he was “distressed” by what he called the people’s hesitancy to question rulers.The lecture, entitled “After the Collapse: Disengagement in the Middle East,” ran for about 45 minutes and was followed by more than 20 minutes of questions. A live telecast of the remarks was broadcast in a second room to accommodate an overflow crowd.

Fisk, who lived and reported in Lebanon throughout the Civil War, has for many years worked in the region as a correspondent for Britain’s Independent newspaper. He is also the author of the widely read “Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War,” among other titles.
In a spirited style that kept the audience laughing, Fisk lampooned Western journalists for their lack of historical perspective when reporting from the Middle East.
“I asked myself, how do our journalists go to war without history books?” he said.

In order to drive home his point about how poorly journalists had covered the Iraq war and how ignorant of history they had been, Fisk retold the story of the failed 1917-1920 British occupation of the country in a way that mirrored the current track of the United States there. The US excursion has been a “fingerprint parallel of history,” he said.

Again pointing a finger at Western journalists, Fisk ran through articles from The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times, noting that although the incidents reported in the articles took place in Iraq, the only sources cited were US officials.

Fisk discussed journalists’ tendency to illustrate division in the Middle East, such as divisions between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds in Iraq, by using maps. He then noted that journalists rarely dare to show such disunity within their own countries, noting that a US paper would never run maps of the racial divisions in Washington.

Turning to foreign policy, Fisk recommended that Western countries adopt a more compassionate approach in their interactions with Middle Eastern countries. “I don’t think that we Westerners care about the people of the Middle East, care about you,” he said.
Fisk also charged that democracy was never part of the plan for Iraq.
“It was only when the Shiites threatened to join the insurgency that we wanted democracy,” he said.

Criticizing what he believes are “futile, appalling policies in Iraq,” Fisk said of the US, “I think that superpowers have a visceral need to project military strength.”

Fisk said he believes that people in the Middle East want democracy and that they may want Western products as well. What they don’t want, he argued, is the West.
Asked during the question-and-answer session if he had any criticisms for people in the Middle East, Fisk said he had two.

First, he said he was “deeply distressed and deeply depressed” by the people’s willingness to accept things like torture and dictatorship. “I would like to see a Middle East that questions its own rulers much more than it does,” he said.

Second, Fisk said residents of the Middle East would do well to learn more about the United States. He lamented what he called a lack of American Studies departments at Middle Eastern universities in comparison with the numerous Middle Eastern studies departments at American universities.

Fisk punctuated his remarks with moments of optimism. “Lebanon’s refusal to re-enter civil war is probably the finest thing I’ve witnessed,” he said.
Ultimately, Fisk had a simple message for all Middle Easterners: “The only people who can decide your future is you.”

Copyright (c) 2007 The Daily Star from

Published on Friday, April 27, 2007 by Daily Star (Lebanon) from Common Dreams

Open letter to ALP conference delegates Reject Work Choices! Defend the Right to Strike!

After Kevin Rudd was elected as federal Labor leader, he promised that a
Rudd government would “tear up Work Choices”.

So we were shocked to hear Kevin Rudd announce to the National Press
Club on April 17 that a Rudd government would keep key elements in Howard’s Work
Choices legislation, in particular the attack on the right to strike and the
ban on industry-wide (“pattern”) bargaining.

Rudd uses the rhetoric of “fairness” and “balance” between the interests of
employers and employees. But there is no balance in what he has announced.

First, the right to strike for the promotion and protection of workers'
social and economic interests is an internationally recognised human right.
Rudd’s proposal that workers would only be allowed to strike during the
bargaining period for a new enterprise agreement—and only as a result of a
secret ballot run by an external agency—is totally unjust.

Under both Rudd’s and Howard’s IR regimes, it is illegal for workers to
respond with industrial action to unfair management actions such as the
victimisation of union activists, restructuring of the workplace or unsafe
work practices.

Even protected industrial action would not be automatic. Workers could wait
weeks for the electoral commission to conduct a secret ballot, giving an
employer plenty of time to stockpile goods or contract out work. Employers
can also appeal against union applications for secret ballots, possibly
preventing workers from even having the right to vote for industrial action
during bargaining.

Rudd made no mention of any penalties for employers who lock out workers or
sack workers and replace them with cheaper workers. The restrictions are all
on the workers’ side.

Second, Kevin Rudd says “employees … will not be able to strike in support
of an industry-wide agreement.” This means that workers in more weakly
organised workplaces who have only gained improvements through industry-wide
campaigns will continue as second-class citizens on minimum wages and

Any union that tries to improve the position of workers in such workplaces
will be threatened with penalties—like Work Choices. This too is a blatant
breach of international labour standards.

Kevin Rudd is not “tearing up” Work Choices. He is creating Work Choices

We therefore reject the industrial relations policy announced by Kevin Rudd
at the National Press Club and call on ALP conference delegates to vote
against Rudd’s IR policy and draft an IR policy which enshrines the right to
strike and restores all workers’ rights which were stripped away under Work
Choices and the Workplace Relations Act.

Signatories (positions for purpose of identification only):
Dean Mighell, Secretary, Southern States Branch, Electrical Division,
Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union.
Chris Cain, Western Australian Branch Secretary, Maritime Union of Australia
Jamie Doughney, Victorian State President, National Tertiary Education Union
Jim Casey, Senior Vice-President, Fire Brigade Employees Union
Joan Doyle, Victorian Branch Secretary, P and T Group, Communications,
Electrical and Plumbing Union
Ian Bray, Western Australian Assistant Branch Secretary, Maritime Union of
Greg Hardy, Victorian Secretary, Mining and Energy Division, Construction,
Forestry, Mining and Energy Union
Chris White, former Secretary, United Trades and Labour Council (South
Australia) and now Canberra-based labour law researcher
Tim Gooden, Secretary, Geelong Trades Hall Council
Margaret Donehue, President, South West Trades and Labour Council
John Parker, Secretary, Gippsland Trades and Labour Council
Susan Price, President, University of New South Wales Branch, National
Tertiary Education Union
Andrew Hall, Section Secretary, Electoral and Employment Regulation Section,
National Councillor, Community and Public Sector Union
Jeremy Smith, President, University of Ballarat Branch, National Tertiary
Education Union
Carol Williams, President, Monash University Branch, National Tertiary
Education Union

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut: A Passionate Writer and Opponent of Injustice by Alan Maass

Kurt Vonnegut’s life and art were shaped by personal tragedies. His mother committed suicide. His sister and her husband died within days of each other, leaving three children. One of his sons suffered from schizophrenia.

Kurt Vonnegut

But Vonnegut’s writing also reflected his connection to some of the most terrible public tragedies of the 20th century. Like the characters in his novel Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut survived the firebombing of the German city of Dresden during the Second World War. Captured during the Battle of the Bulge, he and a group of fellow prisoners were put to work there, shortly before British and US warplanes dropped wave after wave of incendiary bombs on a city with no military targets. More than 130,000 people were burned alive or asphyxiated in the inferno that Dresden became, but the story of this war crime remained mostly untold until Vonnegut wrote about it.

Dresden left Vonnegut with a hatred of war — up to and including the latest US interventions in the Middle East, which he opposed with his typical rage, despite failing health. The world of Vonnegut’s novels can be grim — full of world-ending catastrophes like the frozen doom of Cat’s Cradle. His most sympathetic characters are often traumatised by the world’s cruelties and stricken by a sense of powerlessness — something encapsulated in the famous phrase “So it goes” from Slaughterhouse Five, a gesture of resignation that follows every mention of a death. But as despairing as his vision of the world was, Vonnegut was also bitterly opposed to the class of people who benefited from society’s disasters — who justified and even welcomed them.

His novels Breakfast of Champions and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater expose the absurdity of the idea that those who enjoy wealth and power have any special talents. And woven into the plots of these and other books are retellings of US history that puncture the myths about the US taught in school and reinforced by the media. Near the start of Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut writes: “[T]eachers of children in the United States of America wrote this date on blackboards again and again, and asked the children to memorize it with pride and joy: 1492.

The teachers told the children that this was when their continent was discovered by human beings. Actually, millions of human beings were already living full and imaginative lives on the continent in 1492.

That was simply the year in which sea pirates began to cheat and rob and kill them. “Here was another piece of evil nonsense which children were taught: that the sea pirates eventually created a government which became a beacon of freedom to human beings everywhere else … “Actually, the sea pirates who had the most to do with the creation of the new government owned human slaves. They used human beings for machinery, and, even after slavery was eliminated, because it was so embarrassing, they and their descendants continued to think of ordinary human beings as machines.”

Like his hero Mark Twain, Vonnegut was hilarious in his writing and speaking — but absolutely merciless in showing up the greedy, narrow-minded and ignorant. His disgust with the rich and powerful extended to the US political system. As much as he despised Republican maniacs from Richard Nixon to George Bush Jr., Vonnegut was no less contemptuous of two-faced Democrats. Imagining himself a “visitor from another planet” in one of several books of essays, Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons, Vonnegut wrote, “The two real political parties in America are the Winners and the Losers. The people do not acknowledge this. They claim membership in two imaginary parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, instead. Both imaginary parties are bossed by Winners. When Republicans battle Democrats, this much is certain: Winners will win.” By contrast, Vonnegut’s sympathies — and what hopes he allowed himself — were with working people and their capacity to do the right thing in a world that constantly does the wrong one. This led Vonnegut to celebrate the socialist tradition in the US.

As Joel Bleifuss, editor of In These Times — the left magazine that Vonnegut kept up a correspondence with in recent years — pointed out, the two people Vonnegut was most likely to quote were Jesus and US socialist pioneer Eugene V. Debs. The world got less interesting, as The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart put it, with Kurt Vonnegut’s death. But his voice remains, calling out for sanity and decency in an insane and obscene world that needs to be changed.

Reprinted from Socialist Worker United States

From: Cultural Dissent, Green Left Weekly issue #707 25 April 2007.

Textile workers reject non-union agreement by Tony Iltis, Melbourne

Workers at Wangaratta fabric manufacturer Bruck Textiles defeated a second attempt by management to implement a non-union agreement in votes held on April 19 and 20. Bruck tried to entice workers to sign its sub-standard non-union agreement with a 3% annual pay increase that wouldn’t even keep up with inflation.

Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union Victorian state secretary Michele O’Neil said the dispute shows that “workers want the protection of a collective union agreement. They don’t want to be pushed into non-union agreements containing some starting pay rates less than the federal government’s minimum, that remove guaranteed Christmas annual leave breaks and open up being stood down without pay, as well as major shift changes without agreement from workers.” O’Neil added: “What are a number of starting pay rates less than that of the Australian Fair Pay and Condition Standards doing in a post-Work Choices agreement? The Howard government is blatantly failing on its empty promise that wages would be ’protected by law’ under its IR regime. The best protection workers have from the anti-worker laws is to be a member of a union.”

From: Australian News, Green Left Weekly issue #707 25 April 2007.

London Cartoonist Steve Bell Draw's Howard As A Fat, Bald, Racist Gronk by John/Togs Tognolini

The Evil Dwarf is not fat and he has some hair. Who's the freak in the suit?

Steve Bell is a great cartoonist.

John/Togs Tognolini

The Day After ANZAC Day by John/Togs Tognolini

The day after another ANZAC Day, its worth to reflecting on what the day means, particularly with John Howard’s militarisation of Australian history. It’s worth looking at an interview I did with Brian Day, a former SAS Warrant Officer and a founder of the Australian Vietnam Veterans Association, from 1992.

“Togs: How far do you think Australia has to go in actually coming to grips with Vietnam and the war in Indochina?

Brian: Jesus! I don't really think that sections of Australian society, political, military and otherwise will ever admit Vietnam was a mistake. They just won't. There is too many people who still believe in the so¬ called ANZAC tradition. Now I have a great belief in certain parts of the ANZAC tradition because the ANZAC tradition was a very hard won honour.

[The soldiers in this picture are;

top row; Sergeant Norton Niblet Mentioned in Dispatches, Wounded in Action three times, Lance Sergeant Stephen Tognolini Military Medal and Bar, Wounded in Action twice, Lance Sergeant Victor Edwards Military Medal and Bar,

Middle row; Sergeant J.S. Sheringham Wounded in Action, Company Sergeant Major George Hunt, Distinguished Conduct Medal, Wounded in Action twice, Killed in Action July 4 1918, Company Sergeant Major William Trevascus Distinguished Conduct Medal and Bar, Mentioned in Dispatches, Wounded in Action and Boer War Veteran,

Bottom row; Lance Corporal J.H. Cotterell Military Medal, Died of Wounds September 18 1918, and Lance Corporal J.J. Craigie Military Medal

Querrieu, France, 27 June 1918, brother non-commissioned officers of the 21st Battalion.

The 21st Battalion fought at; Suvla and Gallipoli, The Somme, Pozieres, Bapaume, Bullecourt, Ypres 1917, Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcappelle, Passchendaele, Hamel, Amiens, Albert, Mont St Quentin, Hindenburg Line, Beaurevoir, Montbrehain.

The 21st Battalion's casualties were 872 killed, 2434 wounded (including gassed) A battalion was a force of 1,000 soldiers.]

For example if you look at our casualties in World War One where the ANZAC tradition was formed and if you look at Australia and New Zealand they suffered the highest casualties of any nations in World War One, per percentage of those put in the field and the ANZAC tradition after World War One. Although a lot of people have tried to put it down; the facts of battle, the things that occurred in battle, the amounts of times the Australians actually did heroic things in battle is well documented and can't be taken away. Where other armies lost places, the Australians took them back and that happened on a couple of occasions. So, the ANZAC tradition was there and the ANZAC tradition should always remain.

What I don't like about it is that people tend to use the ANZAC tradition as a form of propaganda to brainwash people into believing that war is good.So, the ANZAC tradition should be kept within its' correct perspective. The ANZAC tradition is the gallantry of men. The mateship of men. The ability to fight. The ability to stay together and do a job under terrible adverse conditions.

Nowhere should the ANZAC tradition say that war is good. Some good comes out of war. It must because the Japanese and the Germans were defeated in World War Two and that was good. So, good does come out of war if the war is just. But I don't think the ANZAC tradition should be used for political or for propaganda purposes to affect the minds of young people. So that they believe one, that we are the best soldiers in the world and all the other soldiers, the Asian soldiers and all these German soldiers and all these others are no good because that's not so. That is not so.

The ANZAC tradition should make our youth aware of war. It shouldn't make them want to go to war. ANZAC Day shouldn't make people want to go to war. ANZAC Day should make people aware of war and what war does.That's the part that upsets me. Is the way that it is used. And the way it was used in the Australian Army to make people believe when they went to Vietnam that what they were doing was correct.See for example, I just could not believe and found it very difficult in the end to believe that the Australian Army had been used for political and military gain in South East Asia. I always thought the Australian Army would be used for good things. I just didn't believe that our government would have used the Australian Army as a cheap mercenary outfit to run around the world killing people to make politicians happy or more powerful and this security of Australia.

That the Vietnamese could ever come down and invade us, you know, the Domino Theory, that was all crap. But people actually used the ANZAC tradition in conjunction with these theories to convince people like myself and thousands and thousands of others that by going to Vietnam we were serving our country and we weren't. We were serving the politicians. We were serving the Americans and we were there basically doing in Vietnam what the Japanese did in Asia and what the Germans did in Europe. We invaded a foreign country to stop those people from having the government they wanted, whether we agree with it or not, surely the first thing is democracy. By going there we were actually killing democracy. We weren't helping people to become democratic.”

Some readers might remember Brian from John Pilger’s book A Secret Country where he said, “I remember one night a very senior American officer, who was a close friend of mine, said he had nothing but praise for the expertise and discipline of the Australian soldier. He told me, ‘We really like having you guys here.’ And I said, ’Why’s that? And he said, ‘You’re very good, you’ve helped us a lot….it’s like the British having the Ghurkhas, we have the Australians.”

I’m working on a review of Les Carlyon’s books, The Great War and Gallipoli. These two works are what I would call “safe history”. They don’t devlve deep enough into class and power. And sadly Carlyon dosn't even look at race, Aboriginal ANZAC's don't get a mention in both works. his massive works unfornately falls into the tragic adventure scenario, they had to go and fight. In The Great War, Carlyon borders on being an apologist for the British Mass Butcher, General Douglas Haig.

One of the results of Howard’s militarisation of history is that the stories of ordinary people, soldiers and people on the homefront are swept to the side. They become smothered by “safe history”. Let’s not talk about ANZAC being a part of the mass mutiny in the British army at Etaples in 1917, and ANZACs' shooting British military police and training instructors (who came from the British prison system and were widely hated as sadistic trench dodgers). Wilfred Owen called Etaples, “the bull ring.” Like the above interview with Brian, holes can be poked into myths and cracks in the parchment of legends can be exposed to proper examination.

I believe that history is telling what happened and why. Free from any romantic nonsense of adventures. I believe in empathy and in studying my own family’s history with ANZAC in both World War One and Two, I know history can hurt and we should not let any politician or set of cronies play on it too justify imperial adventures such as Iraq and Afganistan.

U.S. Frees International Terrorist by Amy Goodman

A terrorist lives in Miami. He is not in hiding, or part of some sleeper cell. He’s an escaped convict, wanted internationally for blowing up a jetliner. His name is Luis Posada Carriles. As the nation was focused on the Virginia Tech shooting, the Bush administration quietly allowed Posada’s release from a federal immigration detention center.

Cuban poster about Luis Posada Carriles

It was Oct. 6, 1976, a clear day in the Caribbean. Cubana Airlines Flight 455 departed from Barbados, bound for Cuba, with a stop in Trinidad. Posada then ran a private investigative firm in Venezuela. Two of his employees were on the flight, deplaned in Trinidad and left C-4 plastic explosive on board, disguised as a tube of toothpaste. Shortly after takeoff, the bomb exploded and the plane went down. All 73 people on board were killed.

Among them were six young Guyanese students on their way to Cuba to study medicine. Now an American citizen, Roseanne Nenninger, sister of Raymond Persaud, one of those students, was 11 years old when her brother was killed: “We had a huge farewell party for our brother and everyone came, the family members, everyone from the local community, all his friends, school friends, so it was a great day for all of us. And the next day, we all went to the airport. He was dressed in his brown suit that was made by a tailor especially for him getting on a plane. It was his first time on an airplane. We watched him walk on the tarmac and head onto the airplane. And it was a great moment for all of us.”

Within hours, he was dead. He was just one of the victims, one of 73. There was also the entire Cuban Olympic fencing team, young athletes. Each with a name, each with a story. The Cubana Airlines bombing remains to this day the only midair bombing of a civilian airliner in the Western Hemisphere. Posada was tried and convicted in Venezuela of organizing the bombing. He was imprisoned, then escaped in 1985.

Posada, who will be 80 next year, is a Cuban-born Venezuelan national. He has been a violent opponent of Fidel Castro since the early 1960s. Declassified CIA and FBI documents reveal the extent of Posada’s violent career. Through the decades he hopscotched around Latin America, smuggling arms, running drugs, plotting coups, working with Augusto Pinochet’s dreaded secret police, assisting with Oliver North’s illegal Contra war against Nicaragua—the list goes on. He was a paid CIA “asset,” and also served in the U.S. Army, rising to the rank of second lieutenant, at Fort Benning, Ga. He has been implicated in the bombing of hotels in Havana. He was caught and convicted of attempting to assassinate Castro in Panama.

Thanks to the Federation of American Scientists’ Government Secrecy Project and the private, nonprofit National Security Archive at George Washington University, the public can read for itself the declassified documents. These documents show what it means for U.S. intelligence agencies to work with “unsavory” characters. Endeavors like the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba of 1961 and the failed Iran-Contra program need operatives, and so the U.S. government hires violent criminals and overlooks their conduct, as long as the policy objectives are being pursued.

And so it is ironic that on the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, April 19, following the mass slaughter on the Virginia Tech campus, the U.S. government quietly released this convicted terrorist and mass murderer.

We learn the names of the Virginia Tech victims, their accomplishments and their aspirations. Naming the victims, hearing their stories, dignifies their lives, helps us comprehend the magnitude of the loss. So too should we learn about the 73 innocent civilians killed on Cubana Airlines Flight 455.

Venezuela wants Posada extradited. The U.S. has refused. Washington, D.C.-based attorney Jose Pertierra is representing Venezuela in this case. He says international law is clear: “The law says you extradite or prosecute, but you don’t free him into the streets of Miami.”

The Bush administration, and disgraced Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, should designate Luis Posada Carriles the terrorist that he is. Justice, and the memory of his many victims, demands it.
Amy Goodman

Published on Wednesday, April 25, 2007 by

Denis Moynihan assisted in the research for this article. Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 500 stations in North America.

© 2007 Amy Goodman; distributed by King Features Syndicate

ANZAC - For Whom? By Shane Elson

For the last ten years I've been trying to work out why I have lost interest
in the ANZAC day memorials. I attended my first when I was 15 and played in
the Municipal band. We played at a Dawn Service and my dad, a WWII vet, took
me down to the war memorial. It would be almost 20 years later that I spoke
to him about his war time 'adventures' and found out what his experience had

It wasn't until many years later that I started to discover the truth about
the ANZAC legend and the wars Australian service people had died in. I
started to find out about the way our governments treated the widows and
families of the dead they supposedly 'honoured'. I started to find out about
the non-physical injuries our service people carried and how these injuries
tore apart families and how the dying continued in the garages and back
yards and in the cars and off buildings and cliffs and how the number of war
widows and orphans continued to grow long after the last shots had been

And then along came the Howard government.

There is no denying that Howard is a populist. Any balanced and reasonable
commentator or political observer will tell you this. He is a man blown
about by the winds of fortune and change as much as he is, as some describe
him, a 'cunning' politician. One of the first moves by the Howard government
was to open up the ANZAC day memorials to a form of insidious privatisation.
I'll try and explain what I mean.

Howard's agenda is not at all removed from the neo-conservative push being
resisted around the globe. This ideology believes that each of us is solely
responsible for our own lives. These neocons believe that if you're born
into poverty then there is nothing a society can do to help you. You must
get out of your poverty solely by applying yourself to moving up the
economic ladder (sound familiar?). This same philosophy applies to every
aspect of our individual lives.

These neo-conservatives are not stupid. Far from it. They know how
ridiculous this sounds. In order to take our minds off thinking about how
ridiculous their proposals are, they try and find ways of distracting us.
The three main ways of doing this are highlighting crime, sex and
nationalism. They embark on literal crusades against crime and rail about
'deviant' sexuality, be it homosexuality, youth sexuality, pensioner
sexuality or whatever. If all that fails they turn to nationalism, the most
destructive of all tendencies among societies.

But here they face another dilemma. They have told us for so long "there is
no such thing as society", to quote Lady Thatcher, that we almost believe
them. Our so called leaders have told us that the only ones who think in
terms of society are 'lefties' and 'radicals' and other nefarious types who
will, if we allow them, break into our houses (crime), rape (sex) our women
and burn our flag (nationalism). In short, its only bad people who think in
terms of society.

Having convinced enough of us to keep voting them back in, Howard's bunch
had to find a way of 'uniting' us even though their campaign and policies
are about dividing us. To achieve this end they had to find something that
crossed state borders and tapped into the basic good within us. They had to
find something, to use the psychoanalytic term, by which to sublimate our
needs. That is, to provide some new form of activity that would distract us
from our real need. ANZAC provides just the right amount of 'goodness' and
nostalgia to become something by which Howard wanted to define himself.

Seeing himself as Churchillian type leader, Howard unleashed the chains, not
only of the GST, but also of the 'creatives' in the PR and image management
industry to have a go at 'modernising' ANZAC. What has evolved over the last
few years is a bastard child that on the one hand wants to convince us that
war is peace and on the other, that to not embrace the remembrance of war is
to be unpatriotic. Orwell would be proud of what is being attempted as our
collective consciousness is sucked down the memory hole and burnt to a

It was only a couple of years ago that it finally dawned on me why I had
lost interest in attending the ANZAC memorials. It was when I saw a McDonald's ad featuring the most egregious display of corporate sentimentalism I have ever seen. I watched this ad with my jaw literally on the ground and realised that the sacred had been turned into the profane, that ANZAC was now a fully commercialised venture.

What? Do you mean they'll soon be charging all those 'wonderful young
Australians', who John Howard says he won't have a bad word said against
them, an entrance fee to access Lone Pine and Anzac cove? You betcha. When
we allow the memory of a society to be sold for crass commercialism we
really need to ask ourselves some questions!

As far as Howard is concerned we can't be allowed to focus on the misery and
deprivation that hundreds of thousands of Australians face each day due to
the policies implemented by his government. We can't focus on the grief and
anger of veteran's families denied compensation for death or injury caused
by military misdeed. We can't be allowed to focus on the disintegration of
our society in the face of the privatisation of everything. We can't speak
about the loss of our national soul under the impost of the dollar. These
are the reasons I have become disillusioned with the memorial of ANZAC day.

All ANZAC day does for me now is leave me feeling empty. I want to
understand what it was like for the diggers. I want to embrace these men and
women and tell them how grateful I am. I want them to be able to tell me how
they feel and what it is they fought for.

I think I would be right in saying that most of them fought to make our
nation safe and a better place to bring up their and our kids. I think I
would also be right in saying they certainly didn't fight to allow the
commercialisation of their memory to be aided and abetted by their elected
representatives. I wonder if we, those of us still young enough, have the
true "spirit of ANZAC" and will do what Howard says we should do and fight
to make sure that we look out for the war widows and their families. And not
only them but also the poor, the disabled and the downtrodden. After all, if
that's what the diggers fought for, shouldn't that be the ANZAC legend we're
supposed to embrace?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

George W. Bush’s insanity By Harold Pinter

Earlier this year I underwent a major cancer operation. Both the operation and its sequelae were like a nightmare. I felt like a man who was unable to swim, lost in the aquatic depths of an infinite and dark ocean. But I didn’t drown, and I’m very happy to be alive.

Harold Pinter

After coming out of a personal nightmare, I found myself in an even more annoying public nightmare: the nightmare of US hysteria, ignorance, arrogance, stupidity and belligerency. The most powerful nation that has ever existed in the world was at war with the rest of the world. ¨If you’re not with us, you’re against us¨, has said President Bush. He has also said: ¨We will not let the worst weapons of the world to fall in the hands of the worst leaders of the world¨. Exactly. Look at yourself in the mirror, pal. That’s you.

The United States is now developing advanced systems of ¨mass destruction weapons¨, ready to be used when they want. They have more weapons than all the rest of the world together. They have abandoned the international treaties on biological and chemical weapons, and have rejected the international inspection of their own factories. The hypocrisy of their statements, contradicted by their own facts, sounds almost like a joke.

The US believes that the three thousand deaths in New York are the only deaths that count, the only deaths that matter. They are American deaths. The other deaths are unreal and abstract, and they have no consequences. They never mention the three thousand deaths in Afghanistan.
They never mention the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children who have died because of the US and British sanctions that have deprived them of the basic medications. They never mention the effects of depleted uranium used by the United States in the Golf War. The radiation levels in Iraq are terribly high. Children are born without brain, without eyes, without genitals. When they are born with ears, mouths or rectum, all it comes out of them is blood.

They never mention the two hundred thousand people who were killed in Eastern Timor in 1975 by an Indonesian government that was inspired and supported by the United States.
They never mention the five hundred thousand deaths in Guatemala, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Argentina and Haiti because of the supported and subsidized actions from the United States.

They no longer mention the millions of deaths in Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia.
They seldom mention the desperate situation of the Palestinian people, a key factor of worldwide concern.

What a way to misjudge the present! What a way to distort history!
The peoples never forget. They never forget the deaths of their own, the never forget torture and mutilation, they never forget injustice, they never forget oppression, they never forget the terrorism by the great nations. They not only remember, they also hit back.

The atrocity that took place in New York was predictable and inevitable. It was an act of revenge against the constant and systematic actions of state terrorism, for many years and everywhere, by the United States.

In Great Britain, they are now warning the public, so they adopt a ¨¨watchful¨ attitude towards the possible preparation of terrorist actions. The language they use is by itself ridiculous.
How can public watchfulness take place? With a handkerchief covering the mouth in order to prevent the effects of a poisonous gas? However, the terrorist attacks are quite likely to happen, the inevitable result of the despicable and shameful servile attitude of our prime minister towards the US. Apparently, a terrorist attack with toxic gases was avoided a few days ago in the London subway. But something like that could perfectly happen. Thousands of children use the London subway everyday to go school. If an attack with toxic gases killed them, the responsibility would fall completely on our prime minister’s shoulders. There is no need to say that the prime minister never uses the subway to travel.

The planned war against Iraq is in fact a plot for the premeditated murder of thousands of civilians, allegedly with the purpose of freeing them from their dictator.
The US and Great Britain have set out on a journey that can only lead to an escalade of violence across the globe and end up in a catastrophe.

It is obvious, however, that the Unites States is eager to attack Iraq. I think they will. Not to control their oil, but because the US administration has now become a bloodthirsty wild animal. Bombs are the only language they know. Many Americans, as we know, are horrified by their government’s attitude, but it seems like there’s nothing they can do about it.
Unless Europe finds the solidarity, the intelligence, the courage and the will to defy and resist the power of the United States, it will eventually deserve the definition given by Alexander Herzen, which was recently quoted by the London newspaper The Guardian: ¨We are not the doctors. We are the disease¨.

Harold Pinter won the Literature Nobel Prize in 2005.

from Cuba Now-Arts & Culture April 23, 2007

The Iraqi Crisis That Has No Name by Dahr Jamail

Since the shock-and-awe invasion of Iraq began in March 2003, that country’s explosive unraveling has never left the news or long been off the front page. Yet the fallout beyond its borders from the destruction, disintegration, and ethnic mayhem in Iraq has almost avoided notice. And yet with — according to United Nations estimates — approximately 50,000 Iraqis fleeing their country each month (and untold numbers of others being displaced internally), Iraq is producing one of the — if not the — most severe refugee crisis on the planet, a crisis without a name and without significant attention.

For the last two weeks, I’ve been in Syria, visiting refugee centers and camps, the offices and employees of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and poor neighborhoods in Damascus that are filling up with desperate, almost penniless Iraqi refugees, sometimes living 15 to a room. In statistical and human terms, these few days offered a small window into the magnitude of a catastrophe that is still unfolding and shows no sign of abating in any immediately imaginable future.

Let’s start with the numbers, inadequate as they are. The latest UN figures concerning the refugee crisis in Iraq indicate that between 1-1.2 million Iraqis have fled across the border into Syria; about 750,000 have crossed into Jordan (increasing its modest population of 5.5 million by 14%); at least another 150,000 have made it to Lebanon; over 150,000 have emigrated to Egypt; and — these figures are the trickiest of all — over 1.9 million are now estimated to have been internally displaced by civil war and sectarian cleansing within Iraq.

These numbers are staggering in a population estimated in the pre-invasion years at only 26 million. At a bare minimum, in other words, at least one out of every seven Iraqis has had to flee his or her home due to the violence and chaos set off by the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Yet, as even the UN officials on the scene admit, these are undoubtedly low-end estimates. “We rely heavily on the official numbers given to us by the Syrian government concerning the Iraqi refugees coming here,” Sybella Wilkes, the regional public information officer for the UNHCR told me, while we talked recently at the main refugee processing center in Douma, a city on the outskirts of the Syrian capital. Even the high-end UNHCR estimate of 1.2 million Iraqi refugees in Syria (a country of only 17 million people) was, she told me, probably too low.

According to Wilkes, the Syrian government, using tallies taken from its southern border posts, privately estimates the number to be closer to 1.4-1.5 million Iraqis in Syria. The UNHCR operation here, desperately under-funded and short of staff, does not have people on the border tallying numbers and has no way to check on the real magnitude of the disaster underway.
Yet, in their work, they can feel its oppressive weight daily. Erdogan Kalkan, a 35-year-old Turkish UNHCR employee of 15 years, told me that the overworked staff has already scheduled a total of 35,000 appointments with refugees seeking aid in Syria; only 25,000 of those have actually had their cases addressed — and that barely scratches the surface of the problem. “We have been increasing our processing capacity from the beginning,” he said, while puffing on a cigarette. We were speaking in a newly converted warehouse where Iraqi families now can meet with UNHCR workers in cramped white cubicles and be interviewed about why they left Iraq and what their most immediate needs are.

UNHCR’s budget for Iraqis in Syria in 2006 was a bare $700,000, less than one dollar per refugee crossing the border. UNHCR needs far greater financial resources even to begin to help the mass of Iraqi refugees in the country, as well as food, medicine, and aid from other UN agencies. At the moment, it is essentially the only UN agency assisting Iraqis in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. UNICEF and other UN agencies have voiced interest, but as yet have provided little support in Syria, according to Kalkan.

Adham Mardini, the public information assistant for UNHCR in Damascus, told me their budget in Syria has risen precipitously to $16 million for 2007, although that, too, remains far below what would be necessary simply to fulfill the most basic needs of the most desperate of the refugees. It adds up to a little over $13 per Iraqi refugee per year — if you don’t include the refugees in Syria from Somalia, Palestine, Afghanistan, and other war-torn areas for whom UNHCR is also responsible (along with UNHCR overhead). Iraqi refugees receive food supplements from UNICEF, but only in the most severe cases of need, and cash is simply unavailable for distribution.

Back in late 2006, UNHCR in Damascus started out as the most modest of operations — with two processing clerks, each seeing between five and seven cases daily. Now, there are 25 clerks processing more than 200 cases daily, not to mention guards, drivers, new computers, a Red Crescent aid station at the center, a new bathroom, and plans for adding a child center, psychological counseling services, and a community center before the Secretary General of the UN visits later this month.

Yet all of this is still nowhere near enough to keep up with the implacable flood of Iraqis entering Syria every month. Iraqis, who now comprise a little over 8% of the population of this small country, tell stories about why they left their land and what they are dealing with today, which these numbers, staggering as they are, do not.

More Than Numbers “I left everything behind,” Salim Hamad, a former railroad worker from Baghdad, told me. “My house was empty when I left, and I have no idea what became of it.” We met in a small tea shop in the sprawling Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus. It is perhaps not inappropriate that Yarmouk is primarily a Palestinian refugee camp, since the Iraqi diaspora represents the largest exodus of refugees in the Middle East since the state of Israel was created in 1948. The camp is an uninspiring mass of high, grey apartment buildings through which snake crowded roads. According to locals, tens of thousands of Iraqis have already joined their ranks, with the numbers increasing daily, and Salim Hamad is not atypical of the new arrivals.

Five months ago, Salim had to sell his car, his furniture, and most of his other belongings simply to raise enough money to bring his wife and three children to Syria. They had grown tired and fearful, he told me, of seeing corpses in their streets every day.

Because Jordan’s pro-U.S. King Abdullah had long since clamped down on Iraqi entry to his country, for Salim and countless others, Syria has been the only available destination. Yarmouk, with electricity and running water, is, in fact, one of the better areas for refugees. The two other main refugee camps into which Iraqis are now flooding, Jaramana and Sayada Zainab, present far grimmer living conditions, including more than 10 people sleeping in rooms without beds, lacking potable drinking water and in some cases heat, and with intermittent electricity.
Other Iraqis are living in poorer city neighborhoods, eating up their savings, sometimes relying on the goodwill of Syrian friends or relatives. Given visa restrictions, which prohibit Iraqis from working here (except, of course, in the black market economy), when often meager savings run out, the crisis is sure to worsen exponentially.

UNHCR recently offered the following staggering projection: According to its best estimates about 12% of Iraq’s population, now assumed to be about 24 million people, will be displaced by the end of 2007. We’re talking about nearly 3 million ever more destitute Salim Hamads by the New Year. (Add to that Iraq’s growing population of internal refugees and its spiraling civilian death tolls and you have the kind of decimation of a nation rarely seen — with, undoubtedly, more to come.)

A report released March 22 by the NGO Refugees International calls the flight of Iraqis from war-torn Iraq “the world’s fastest growing displacement crisis.”

“The situation now is pushing Syria and Jordan to the maximum,” the UNCHR’s Wilkes told me. “Syria’s ‘open door’ policy is extraordinary, but economically and socially we wonder how long it can be maintained. We’re very aware of the impact on these governments this crisis is having. We’re hoping the international community will help share the burden.”

The primary trigger for this crisis was the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, and yet President Bush and his top officials have taken no significant steps whatsoever to share in the resulting refugee burden. To date, the administration has issued only 466 visas to Iraqis. Under recent pressure from the UN, it has said that it would offer an additional 7,000 visas — but without either announcing the criteria for accepting such refugees or even when the visas might be issued. Upon hearing this paltry number, an Iraqi refugee said to me in disbelief: “Seven thousand out of over four million Iraqis who have either fled their country or are internally displaced?… I don’t know if he could insult us more if he tried.”

“I ask all nations, particularly the United States, to do all that they can to help us,” was the way Qasim Jubouri, a banker who fled Baghdad with his family in order to keep them alive, put the matter to me. “Since the U.S. government caused all of this, shouldn’t they also be responsible for helping us now?”

Like Salim, he too left for Syria with nothing more than some clothing and his meager savings. Now, the money he brought is running out and he has no idea how he will feed his family when it’s gone.

Thirty-two year-old Ali Ahmed has a similar tale to tell. “I was a financial manager of seven companies in Baghdad, but I had to leave my house, my car, and just about everything.” After militiamen fired on his car in the once upscale Mansoor district of Baghdad, Ali fled to Jordan. He returned to Iraq to try again, but once more faced death in an attack in which six employees from his management firm were killed.

And even that wasn’t the end of it. “We had 11 engineers from one company detained by the Mehdi Army [the militia of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr]. We never heard from them again. I knew then that I had to drop everything and run for my life.”

Ali does not see himself returning soon. “I don’t expect to go back for at least 15-20 years. I have left everything behind, and now I have nothing but a small food store I run here. But it is not enough. Not the UN, nor any government, least of all the Iraqi government, is doing enough to help us.” (The Syrian government, thus far, maintains a policy of looking the other way when it comes to modest or menial jobs Iraqis find which don’t put Syrians out of work.)

Another Iraqi refugee told me of being detained by Mehdi Army militia members and having a rod forced down his throat as part of his “interrogation.” He was lucky to come out of the experience alive. Many, on either side of the worsening sectarian struggle, do not. The slaughter of Sunnis by the Medhi Army and the slaughter of Shiites by Sunni extremist groups have become commonplace.

Despite the fact that Sadr recently ordered his militia to focus all its attacks on occupation forces, scores of dead bodies turning up on Baghdad’s streets each day prove otherwise.
Iraqis who worked with, or have been in any way associated with, the American military or occupation authorities are faring at least as badly, if not worse. Everyone collaborating in any way with U.S. forces in Iraq is now targeted — along with their families.
“I used to work with the Americans near Kut,” Sa’ad Hussein, a 34-year-old electrical engineer told me, “I worked for Kellogg, Brown, and Root [then a subsidiary of oil-services giant Halliburton] to construct an Iraqi base there until I got my death threat on a piece of paper slipped under my door on my return to Baghdad. I had no choice but to flee.”

“Things are getting so much worse in Iraq,” was the way Salim Hamad, who fled five months ago, summed up life in his former homeland as our interview was ending. “There is a big difference between those who left four years ago and those who left four days ago. Everything in Iraq is based on sectarianism now and there is no protection — neither from the Americans, nor the Iraqi government.”

Fleeing “Freedom and Democracy”

Sa’ad Hussein, who arrived in Damascus only three months ago, described the Baghdad he left as a “city of ghosts” where the black banners of death announcements hang on most streets. There is, he claimed (and this was verified by others we spoke to among the more recent refugees), normally only one hour of electricity a day and no jobs to be found.
“I was an ex-captain in the Iraqi Army, and I think that’s why I was threatened, in addition to working with the occupation authorities,” he explained. When asked how many of his former Sunni army colleagues had also received death threats, he replied, “All of them.” It was not safe, he told me, for him to go back to the now largely Shi’ite Iraqi Army because, “I may be killed. This is the new freedom and democracy we have.”

On all measurable levels, life in Baghdad, now well into the fifth year of U.S. occupation, has become hellish for Iraqis who have attempted to remain, which, of course, only adds to the burgeoning numbers who daily become part of the exodus to neighboring lands. It is generally agreed that the delivery of security, electricity, potable water, health care, and jobs — that is, the essentials of modern urban life — are all significantly worse than during the last years of the reign of Saddam Hussein.

“The Americans are detaining so many people,” Ali Hassan, a 41-year-old from the Hay Jihad area of Baghdad said as we spoke in front of the central UNHCR office in downtown Damascus. “And my brother was killed by Shi’ite militiamen after he refused to give them the keys to empty Sunni houses we were looking after.”

As scores of other refugees crowded around photographer Jeff Pflueger and me, wanting to tell their stories, Hassan, a Shi’ite who also fled Baghdad just three months ago, added, “Now I can’t go back. I am a refugee and I still don’t feel secure because I still fear the Mehdi Army.”
“So many Iraqis never leave their homes now because they are too afraid to go out due to the militias,” Abdul Abdulla, a 68-year-old who fled Baghdad with his family insisted, having literally grabbed the microphone I was using to tape my interview with Hassan.

From the volatile Yarmouk area of Baghdad, Abdulla, a Sunni, said Shia militia members waited on the outskirts of his neighborhood in order to detain anyone trying to leave. “We stayed in our homes, but even then some people were being detained from their own houses. These death squads started coming after [former U.S. ambassador John] Negroponte arrived. And the Iraqi Government is definitely involved because they depend on [the militias].”

While talking with Abdulla, I noticed a woman in a black abaya or gown covering her entire body, one of her arms in a cast, standing nearby. When I approached Eman Abdul Rahid, a 46-year-old mother from Baghdad, she willingly told me her sad story, all too typical of civilian life in the Iraqi capital today. “I was injured,” she said, “because I was near a car bomb, which killed my daughter… There is killing, and threats of more killing, and explosions daily in Baghdad.”
“America is the reason why Iraq was invaded, so we would like the American administration to give aid to us refugees,” she added, “I would like people to read this and tell Bush to help us.”

Six Months and Counting

Sundays and Mondays at the UNHCR refugee processing center in Douma are mob scenes. Refugees, some of whom have been waiting several months for their first interview at the center, an event crucial to finding aid, arrive in taxis, minibuses, on foot, or on buses specially hired by UNHCR. They line up outside a freshly painted white and blue gate, manned by security guards, and slowly trickle into the converted warehouse to wait eagerly for their names and numbers to be called.

On one of my Monday visits, as my friend Jeff and I approached the warehouse-turned-processing center there were more than 1,000 Iraqis crowded around the entrance hoping to get in. Taxis honked their way through the gathering crowds of refugees, each of whom held a number representing his or her place in line, along with passports and other required papers.
As we were being escorted inside the center by UNHCR public information assistant Adham Mardini, he told us that the previous day between 6,000 and 7,000 Iraqi refugees had descended on the place. On that day alone, 2,179 future appointments had been scheduled, each representing an average of 3.6 people, since many of them are set by the heads of families.
“Sundays and Mondays are always crazy here because these are the days we set their appointments,” he commented. “And these people now have to wait up to six months just for their interview.”

Some Iraqis showing up are, however, in need of emergency care. Refugees often arrive without medicines, and with serious heart problems, kidney failure, sizeable burns across their bodies, or ill-healed wounds — and that’s not even to speak of the psychological problems they face from violence seen or experienced or from lives completely uprooted. All of this, the minimalist UNHCR center must try to face. A surprising number of arrivals are simply put in ambulances to be taken either to local hospitals or treated by the Syrian Red Crescent.

Under a makeshift roof outside the warehouse but inside the outer gate, families lucky enough to have their numbers come up on this day are filling out forms. Men stand writing on sheets of paper pressed against walls; women hold crying babies amid the cacophony and chaos. Periodically, a UNHCR volunteer appears at the door of the building with a bullhorn to announce the names of those who should prepare to be interviewed. Most of them have been waiting at least four months for this day.

Iraqis continue to crowd through the door from the road as I talk with Mardini. “As you can see, the Baghdad security plan is working very well,” he says with a wry smile. From hundreds of miles away, it’s his organization which is providing what “security” is available and it can’t hope to keep up with the steadily increasing numbers of desperate Iraqis.

To make matters worse, UNHCR officials have been noticing an increase in Kurdish refugees from the previously more peaceable northern regions of Iraq. “Over 50% of all newcomers in the last two weeks are Kurds,” Kalkan, the UNHCR veteran of 15 years whom I’d spoken with before, says as he joins Mardini and me at the door. The two of them express a modest mix of frustration and discouragement, given the circumstances. After all, just as UNHCR in Damascus begins to ramp up to accommodate the massive numbers of refugees they have to deal with, the flow increases confoundingly.

Perhaps an hour later, when we make our way back to the street, the hoard of refugees has miraculously dwindled to only a few dozen forlorn Iraqis outside the now-closed door. We can’t understand what made them all disappear so quickly.

“I came here three times to get this appointment because it was so crowded,” an Iraqi doctor tells me, as he holds number 525, showing his place in line. “I arrived today at five AM with my family of eleven for this appointment and now they have postponed it!”

He had been one away in line when the door was closed for the day. Due to the burgeoning number of refugees, half the UNHCR interviewers had to be shifted to the task of scheduling future appointments for newcomers. Thus, half of the interviews for this day had been cancelled.

“Now I have to wait another two months,” the doctor told me, as I stared into his tired eyes. He’s still holding his number in his hand as a small crowd begins to build around us and others start to pour out similar stories of frustration and despair. As voices rise in frustration, Jeff flashes me a look of concern and we decide to thank them for their time and move on. Other than writing their collective tale of woe and taking their photos to show the world the faces of this growing crisis, there is little else we can do.
Abu Talat

Abu Talat, a 58-year-old father of four, was my primary interpreter during my eight months in Iraq. Six months ago he finally gave up hope of remaining in his home in Baghdad, took his family, and like hundreds of thousands of other Iraqis fled to Syria. One of the luckier refugees, he had enough savings to rent a humble two-room apartment in Damascus.
He has always been, and remains, a proud man. Having served in the Iraqi Army until 1990, he holds military traits like dignity, honesty, and honor in the highest regard. While I’ve always offered to help him in any way I could as his life disintegrated, only once did he ever accept a meager sum of money from me.

Upon my arrival in Syria, he invited me to his home to share dinner with his family. After the meal, while we were drinking strong tea, he asked his daughter to show me the certificate from the UNHCR which proves that they are officially refugees. He handed me the paper and watched me as I read it.

The document lists him as the head of the family. A black-and-white photo of him is at the top of the page, and the names and ages of his family members at the bottom. Just above them is the following text:

“This is to certify that the above named person has been recognized as a refugee by the United Nations by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees pursuant to its extended mandate. As a refugee, (he/she) is a person of concern to the office of the United High Commissioner for Refugees, and should, in particular, be protected from forcible return to a country where (he/she) would face threats to his or her life or freedom. Any assistance accorded to above/named individual would be most appreciated.”

I glanced at him, not knowing what to say, then handed the paper back. He looked it over himself, as if in disbelief, then let his gaze focus on nothing in particular, while his chest heaved as he visibly struggled to master the urge to weep. Finally, he said to no one in particular, “I am now a refugee.”Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist who has covered the Middle East for the last four years, eight months of which were in occupied Iraq. Jamail is currently writing for Inter Press Service and Al-Jazeera English, and is a regular contributor to Jamail’s forthcoming book, Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Independent Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books) will be released this October. Jamail is currently reporting from Lebanon. His reports are regularly available on his website, Dahr Jamail’s MidEast Dispatches.

Jeff Pflueger is a San Francisco Bay Area based photographer and web developer. His work has appeared in National Geographic Adventure, Men’s Journal, Outside, and other periodicals. Pflueger has worked closely with Dahr Jamail for 3 years building and maintaining his website. He also maintains his own website. Some of his photos from Syria can be seen be clicking on the links in this article.

Copyright 2007 Dahr Jamail

Published on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 by

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Two Who Got It Right: Scott Ritter in Conversation With Robert Scheer

Robert Scheer: I want to get to the book. But before that, some general questions. We’ll go back and forth. Maybe for an hour, or something like that, and then ask questions, if that’s all right. Even if it’s not all right, that’s the way we’re going to do it. [Audience laughs.] I want to begin---and I don’t want to single out any candidate. But ... Hillary Clinton last week .... [Audience laughs.] ... said that when she voted for the Iraq war, it was based on false intelligence. Others have made that claim—not necessarily candidates. What is your response to that?

Robert Scheer and Scott Ritter

Scott Ritter: First of all, it’s a pleasure to be here tonight and to have an opportunity to talk with you and be in the company of Mr. Scheer.

Hillary wants us to believe that the vote she made was a vote made in good faith. She wants us to believe that she was a victim of misleading intelligence. She wants us to believe that she is an individual of strong character and that we can trust her to do the right thing when it comes to leading our nation should she be elected to the highest office in the land. The most powerful office, by the way, in the entire world. She asks too much.

For us to say that Hillary was misled is for us to believe that there wasn’t ... that we need to erase eight years of Bill Clinton presidency. I know that Bill and Hillary didn’t have the closest of relationships during this period of time. I’m not being facetious here. It’s very possible that she could have been doing her thing and he was doing his thing: running the country. But even Hillary had to be aware that it was Bill Clinton that initiated the policy of regime change when it comes to Saddam Hussein. It was Bill Clinton that initiated the policy of economic sanctions, base containment and destabilization to achieve regime change. It was under Bill Clinton’s tenure that the CIA undermined the weapons inspectors, creating the perception of a noncompliant Iraq when the facts spoke other.

Never forget that the CIA today commits to the reality that Iraq was disarmed in the summer of 1991. The CIA today says, “Yes, this was true.” As a weapons inspector, we were reporting these facts to the CIA in the fall of 1993, right in the beginning of Bill Clinton’s tenure. It was the Clinton administration that refused to accept the findings of the weapons inspectors, instead maintaining the perception of a noncomplying Saddam in order to continue United Nations-based economic sanctions for the purpose of undermining Saddam’s regime, leading to regime change. Bill Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998, authorizing $100 million of U.S. taxpayers’ funds to go into overthrowing Saddam Hussein. The Iraq Liberation, which made it public law-of-the-land policy to change the regime in Baghdad.

And now Hillary is saying, “Oops”? She got it wrong? No. Hillary and the other politicians who voted in favor of war in 2002 took the route of political expediency. She, like John Kerry before her and others, were examining, weighing the costs/benefits of this vote. She and others knew that, should she vote against this war, she would be subjected to immediate and harsh criticism that would undermine her viability as a national political leader. With all due respect to Hillary Clinton and her current posturing, she is—frankly speaking—a damn liar and should be treated as such, and never be given the opportunity to lead the United States of America. [Audience applauds.]

Scheer: I didn’t expect it to be quite so partisan. [Audience laughs.] Let’s change the mood a little bit. I didn’t want this to be so much Hillary bashing, but, how can we learn? Bill Clinton—let’s take it away from Hillary and put it on Bill—he did resist the call to go to war in a number of different ways. He did try, for instance, to work out an arrangement with North Korea. He did resist a lot of this. What would have been the reason for going for regime change? What was the idea? That Saddam Hussein was a destabilizing force?

Ritter: Again, I give Bill Clinton the benefit of the doubt here. I think it’s only fair to note that the initiator of regime-change policy in regards to American-Iraqi relations was George Herbert Walker Bush. And the reason George Herbert Walker Bush chose to eliminate Saddam Hussein from power was that Saddam Hussein had become a political embarrassment to the first Bush administration. Because Saddam Hussein’s existence reminded everybody of the reality of the Reagan administration and the George Herbert Walker Bush administration’s very close ties with Saddam Hussein.

We were just talking at dinner about the fact that Saddam Hussein—the two crimes he was being tried for before he was executed, were crimes that took place prior to Donald Rumsfeld’s visit, when Donald Rumsfeld embraced Saddam, passed on a message that said, “You are a friend of the American people.” George Herbert Walker Bush sent Sen. Bob Dole to Iraq in March of 1990 with the same message. “You are a true friend of the American people.” It’s only in August 1990, when Saddam invades Kuwait, that he suddenly becomes the personification of evil. And it’s the requirement to get the American public from going from viewing Saddam as a true friend to the personification of evil worthy of military intervention that we had to change the mind-set. Saddam Hussein became the Middle East equivalent—and this is where Bush made his fatal mistake—the Middle East equivalent of Adolf Hitler, requiring Nuremberg-like retribution. These are direct quotes from a speech made by George Herbert Walker Bush in October of 1990. Now, when you call someone the Middle East equivalent of Adolf Hitler, requiring Nuremberg-like retribution, that means at the end of the day he has to be gone, in prison, held to account.

At the end of the Gulf War in 1999, Saddam Hussein was still in power. We didn’t go into Baghdad. We were never supposed to go into Baghdad; we were supposed to simply liberate Kuwait, which we did. Now Saddam Hussein is still in power and George Herbert Walker Bush has a political problem. And this is the point that I’ve made from day one. Why is regime change so important? It’s not about national security. Saddam Hussein never posed a threat to the national security of the United States that warranted American military intervention, whether it be in 1991 or 2003 or any time in between.

Scheer: But it’s kind of a depressing thought that you don’t have adults watching the store. Because I can go back way before George Walker Bush and ask, why did Jimmy Carter declare the mujahedeen in Afghanistan freedom fighters and challenge the seculars who were in Kabul? And that’s where 9/11 comes from. Why did Eisenhower overthrow Mossadegh in Iran? And that’s why we have the bloody madness in Iran right now. We can go through a whole history of the last 50 years where, in the name of making things better, we make things worse. You’re a guy who’s been out there in the field, sort of left holding the bag. You’re not nave about Saddam Hussein. You know he was a bad guy. You describe in one of your books—I forget which one—being at the Baghdad airport looking for weapons of mass destruction, and so forth. You understand. Yet, in retrospect, as I understand your writing, you don’t think Saddam Hussein was really the worst thing that could have happened.

Ritter: I was driving down the California coast a couple of days ago, went past Camp Pendleton, watched the Marines out there doing their thing, almost deviated off course, shaved my head and rejoined because I really love the Marine Corps. I miss that time. I appreciate their service to country, etc. But one of the things that’s imperative before we ask our men and women who honor us by serving in the military to make the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country, is that it’s a cause worthy of the sacrifice. That means we have to study the cause and know the cause, understand the cause.

While I was driving there I was listening to the radio and there was a song—we talked about it—a Green Day song. One of the lyrics is “calling on idiot America.” [Editor’s note: Actually, “calling out to idiot America."] And it just became so obvious to me that the American public doesn’t know squat about the world we live in. Here we are, we’re having a national debate about Iraq. “Where do we go with Iraq? What do we do in Iraq?” How can you debate something you don’t know? How can you solve a problem you haven’t defined?

And here we are talking about Saddam.... How easily we, the people of the United States of America—and I use that term because it is derived from the preamble of the Constitution, a document which defines who we are and what we are as a nation—how easily we, the people, are deceived. How easily we, the people, are manipulated. How easily we are pushed in one direction or the other. How quickly we bought into Saddam Hussein being the personification of evil. And while we were calling him the Middle East equivalent of Adolf Hitler, how little we knew of Iraq. How many people here truly know the difference between a Shia and a Sunni? Don’t feel bad if you don’t; the head of the Intelligence Committee of the United States Congress certainly doesn’t. How many people here know whether al-Qaida is a Sunni-based organization or a Shia-based organization? Don’t be upset if you don’t because the head of the Intelligence Committee certainly doesn’t. Do you know where Wahhabism ... do you know what Wahhabism ... ?

The point is, I throw out a lot of these terms, which are very relevant about modern-day Iraq, and you have complete ignorance about it. Not maybe you in the audience, because you’re here trying to make an effort to try and learn. But Los Angeles, last time I checked, has a population greater than 400 people. The vast majority of the people walking and driving the streets of L.A. today, or any city and town in America, know nothing about Iraq, and yet they feel free to have opinions about Iraq.

Saddam Hussein was a product of Iraq’s modern history. Saddam Hussein was a product of a nationalist movement that had its roots with Nasser in Egypt, that recognized that in modern Arab society you have tendencies to rip this society apart, called religion, that schism between Shia and Sunni. So you better damn well know the difference between those two if you want to talk about coming up with a solution, Mr. [Silvestre] Reyes, congressman from Texas, head of the House Intelligence Committee! But we might want to remind Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House, who appointed this man. I bet you she couldn’t pass the pop quiz, either. None of them can. You better know that there’s not just the difference between Sunni and Shia, but a difference between Kurd and Arab, a difference between a Turkmen and a Kurd. You better know the difference between Wahhabism and those who embrace the following of Saddam Hussein. You better know the different religious holidays. You better know all of this. Saddam Hussein did. You better know that tribes have a tendency to rip society apart, too. That’s why Baathism, modern Baathism—and I’m not here condoning Baathism, I’m just stating reality—rejected tribalism, rejected ethnicity, rejected religion, and spoke of a unified secular Iraqi state. In order to achieve that vision, Saddam Hussein had to suppress the very tendencies that rise up and tear modern Iraq apart. And we condemned him for this? We called him a war criminal for this? Yet now we’re in Iraq, we took away the glue that held together, and we’re doing the same damn thing, but even worse. We’ve accused Saddam Hussein over the course of 30 years of killing 400,000 Iraqi people. Hell, it’s taken us four years and we’ve killed 600,000.

Scheer: Your story, your analysis, has held up splendidly. The analysis of the people that you are disagreeing with has fallen apart. Whatever one thinks, history has vindicated you. What do they say to you now?

Ritter: They don’t say anything at all.

[Audience laughs.]

You see, the worst mistake they could make at this point in time would be to engage in a debate. I would love to have a debate with the formulators of policy. I challenge any one of them at any time. “Let’s talk about this. Let’s do it in a public forum. Let’s have winner-takes-all so that if you lose the debate, you jump off the cliff. And I can guarantee you: At the end of the debate, the entire neocon community will be in a heap at the bottom of the cliff and I’ll be standing at the top. [Audience laughs, applauds.] But they don’t want to engage in that debate. All they want to do is ignore me and continue to push forward with their....

Scheer: You interest me because you won’t toe any line and you’re still a Republican, right?

Ritter: I’m an American, first and foremost, but I will say this: I’m a registered Republican and I’m not going to leave the Republican Party. I believe that in order to cure it, good people have to stay in it.

Scheer: My point in bringing that up was not to make you.... You were telling me in the restaurant—your three goals, sort of three obligations you feel, and I find that interesting. Maybe you should repeat that, if you can.

Ritter: I was asked what motivates me, what drives me. The first thing is good citizenship. As a citizen, you have to invest yourself into your country. You have to give something; it’s not just about take. As a Republican, I’ll quote a Democrat. “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” That’s what makes a citizen great, it’s giving something to your country. I am able to give in a certain area. I served in the military, I served, as you know, as a weapons inspector. And I am positioned—unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view—when government is not telling the truth about certain issues. As a citizen, I have a duty and responsibility to speak out. Bad citizenship would be to take the path of least resistance and sit back and say, “Well, I’m just not going to get involved.” No. You jump in and you say, “Wrong!” because America is about doing the right thing. So it’s about telling the truth, it’s about being a good citizen, about investing yourself.

I believe in how America interfaces with the rest of the world. We live in this giant globe. We are 300 million people and there are 6.8 billion others out there? And we’re dictating the codes, the coexistence? One of the problems is—and I come back—ignorance. The American people are some of the most ignorant people you’re going to meet on the face of the Earth about the world we live in. That’s the bottom line. We can’t pass basic tests about global geography, let alone American geography. And as an American citizen I have a duty and responsibility to participate in the process of informing and educating the American public so it can rise above its ignorance so it won’t be intimidated by fear derived from that ignorance and they’ll make the right decision. These are the things that motivate me. Trust me: It’s not about making money, because if it was I’ve certainly taken the wrong path.

Scheer: But now that you’ve signed up with Truthdig, that’s going to change overnight. [Audience laughs.] I just want to set the record straight so we aren’t tormented by this by someone writing an article somewhere. You did loathe Saddam Hussein, right?

Ritter: Loathe is a strong word.

Scheer: I’ve read your books. You thought this guy was a bloody dictator.

Ritter: I’m a realist.

Scheer: Yeah.

Ritter: And I’m somebody who believed in a policy of regime change. I believe that we should’ve strived to change the policy of the regime of Saddam Hussein. But there’s a big difference between changing a regime through a pattern of interface with Iraq that promotes growth of democratic institutions within Iraq so that Saddam Hussein is done away with without any loss of American life, and a policy of regime change that has us invading, occupying and destroying a nation. I’ve always committed to a policy of regime change. In fact, in February of 2003, right before the war, I was supposed to go to Iraq with a delegation of people including Nelson Mandela and others. We had a six-point peace plan that the Iraqi had agreed to. And, basically, these six points would have led to regime change. Not necessarily Saddam Hussein being dragged out and hung, but the embrace of democratic institutions, U.N.-sponsored elections, things like that that change the character of the nation for the better.

Scheer: Yeah. The policy that George W. Bush is now following towards North Korea and Cheney has embraced—they will now be taken off the terrorist list, [Ritter laughs] they will become good actors, democracy will flower—could have applied to Saddam Hussein. Let me ask you a question.... That we’re there now, and most people—certainly in this room, but most ... actually, most people in the country—know it was a big mistake and very costly. But then they say you just can’t get out. And we were in—talking again in that restaurant and we had that argument about—Vietnam for about 15 years, or something. You can’t just get out. And then when we got out, under the most ignominious circumstances, lifting people off the embassy and everything, quite the opposite happened than we expected. And now we have George W. Bush actually visit Vietnam and sit under a statue of the same Ho Chi Minh, and so forth. So what do you say to the argument, “Can we get out now?” and “How would we get out?” And so forth.

Ritter: Not only can we get out, we must get out. There is no positive thing that will come from the continued presence of American troops inside Iraq. We’re not contributing anything, anything positive. All these lunatics in Fox News and others can talk about building schools, painting schools ... whatever you want, and that’s just absurd in the extreme. I don’t even think anyone’s selling that poison anymore. They’re talking about the potential of doing good, but no one’s talking about us actually doing good because we’re not doing good. So, can we get out? Absolutely. Six months and we can have everybody out of Iraq. It’s a piece of cake. It’s not hard to do that.

“Should we get out?” is the question. Do we have a moral responsibility, having gone into Iraq and broken it so bad—you know the old Pottery Barn rule: you broke it, you own it?—should we stay and try and fix it? And, again, I believe this is fair debate to have. It’s a very legitimate debate to have. I would, first of all, say that it’s a debate that all Americans must be participants in, because to stay in Iraq.... I believe you don’t talk about solving a problem unless you’ve properly defined the problem. If we’re going to say the problem revolves around saving Iraq, rebuilding it, we’re talking about decades-long involvement that’s going to cost trillions of dollars—not billions: trillions of dollars—and will cost us significantly more lives. And it may not work. Some people say it’s a gamble worth taking. Fine. I’d just ask the American people to pass a pop quiz. Tell me about the city of Karbala. Tell me about the city of Baghdad. Tell me about the city of Kirkuk. Explain to me the significance of these three cities both in terms of Iraqi history past, current and future. And if you’re sitting there shaking your head, going, “What the hell is he talking about?” ladies and gentlemen, we need to get out of Iraq right now! Because if you can’t answer that question right now, you are not even equipped to weigh in intelligently about a policy decision that has America committed to several decades of involvement in this nation.

Karbala is the birthplace of Shiism. That’s where Hussein [in the seventh century] was wiped out by Sunni apostates, creating not only the Shia faith but creating the schism between the Shia and the Sunni.

Baghdad was sacked in the 12th century by the Mongols. As a result of the sack of Baghdad, the Sunnis said, “We got defeated because we lost pure Islamic faith.” It’s the birth of Wahhabism. Wahhabism, Osama bin Laden’s version of Sunni Islamic fundamentalism, was derived by foreign occupation of Baghdad. Huh? We’re at war with al-Qaida and the Wahhabists. And we just empowered them by occupying Baghdad. If it isn’t sinking into your head yet, it never will.

Kirkuk. Oil. Kurds. Turkmen. Shia. Kirkuk. If you’re going to have any hope of a unified Iraq, you have to tell me how Kirkuk is going to emerge from any post-Saddam environment, a unified city. Kirkuk is where the formal civil war in Iraq will start. Not Baghdad, not Karbala: Kirkuk.

And if you don’t know this, if you can’t tell me why, if you can’t tell me who the players are, ladies and gentlemen, you’re ill equipped to enter into a debate about the long-term presence of Americans in Iraq. So that’s where I come down to. Can we get out of Iraq? Absolutely. Should we get out of Iraq? If we, the people of the United States of America, don’t know enough about a country where we’re asking our armed services to give the ultimate sacrifice for, then we have no business being in that country

Scheer: All right.

[Audience applauds.]

Scheer: George W. Bush, reluctantly, or what have you, has followed a different model now with North Korea. It’s no longer unilateral. We defer to the South Koreans, to the Chinese, to the Russians, to the Japanese. Right? We take seriously the notion of multiparty actors who know more about the region than we do, who know more about what’s happening. We are now going to take Korea—not only will we give them aid and comfort, we’re going to take them off the terrorism list. Their guy is coming to New York. They’ve invited the U.N., and so forth. Why is that not a model that should be followed or would be followed with Iran?

Ritter: First of all, here’s the problem with Bush’s policy on North Korea. The people who made this policy are the same people who said they could never buy into this. These are the people who condemned Bill Clinton for what he did. I have to be questioning their motives. It’s not as though Bush came in and did what a CO does when a division [is] just failing abysmally. “You’re all fired, here’s the new team in, and here’s the new way forward.” So why would we go down this path with North Korea, which everybody who made this policy rejects? Because we have no intention of following through. There are so many caveats built into this that—. Trust me on this one: This North Korean policy will collapse inside of a year. But, what he’s done with the timing right now is to take North Korea off the map as far as the American people are concerned. We no longer have to worry about the proliferation of nuclear weapons in North Korea because Bush has just solved it magically, overnight, by a wave of a magic wand. Now we can focus solely on Iran and not have to worry about the North Korea problem.

Scheer: So we’re going to ignore North Korea, that’s actually exploded such a weapon.

Ritter: Yep.

Scheer: And we’re going to focus on Iran, that seems to be—what?—10 years away from having any.

Ritter: The funny thing about 10 years is, when someone says someone is 10 years away from having a nuclear weapon, ladies and gentlemen, if that’s the standard you use, every nation is 10 years away from having a nuclear weapon. Being 10 years away from having a nuclear weapon means you don’t have anything. Nothing. You’re starting from scratch. Yeah, you know, you can sit there. But what the CIA is saying—when they say they’re 10 years away—is: “We don’t have any hard data on Iran. We’re just making this stuff up as we go along.” The most current one is that Iran is one year away from having it. You heard the talk. They can have fissile material in one year. That’s derived from the premise that they will get 3,000 centrifuges to be up and running tomorrow and to run, nonstop, for a year—a year of nonstop operation, at the end of which you’re going to get 20 kilograms of 85 percent enriched, highly enriched uranium. Theoretically, that’s possible. Right now the Iranians can only get 164 centrifuges up and running; they have another 164 cascade-ready, but they’re testing it. And they have bits and pieces of the total 3,000, but they can’t assemble them. Here’s the other, unknown secret, ladies and gentlemen: They can’t do it. They can’t do it. Centrifuges are complex. They’re about yea big. Cylindrical tube. They have to spin around at 70,000 rpm. Did you ever play with a gyroscope as a kid? Spin it up and hold it in your hand and just doing this? That’s mass. It’s moving you because the mass is shifting around. That’s only a couple of hundred rpm. Seventy-thousand rpm. If it’s not perfectly balanced, it blows up, falls apart. To be perfectly balanced, not only do you have to have precision machining throughout, you have to have ball bearings, magnets. The Iranians don’t have enough ball bearings and magnets that work, so when they spin these things up, they tend to pop, and when you pop open in a centrifuge, it shuts down. They can’t get them running for a day, let alone a year. Then, there’s the problem of feeding in the gas, the uranium hexafluoride. It’s contaminated with a substance called molybdenum. Molybdenum—even if you’re just talking about a few, microscopic pieces of it—when it spins up at 70,000 rpm, develops a mass the equivalent of several kilograms. And what happens when you have something spinning with several thousand kilograms moving around inside? It pops. It blows up. The Iranians can’t do it. Everybody knows this. Except we, the people of the United States of America, who continue to believe anything we’re told by a media that repeats without question the assertions put forward by an administration that doesn’t give a damn about disarming Iran and is only focused on regime change using the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran as an excuse. [Audience applauds.]

Scheer: I do think applause is in order. The question I have, sitting here, I’m thinking, if you’re so smart, why aren’t you president? [Audience laughs.] Where did you learn all that stuff? In the Marines?

Ritter: A lot of people mock the Marine Corps, and sometimes it deserves to be mocked. Because we shave our heads they call us jarheads, and blockheads, and other terms of endearment. The most intellectual, philosophical conversations I’ve ever had—and I’ve been to Harvard, I’ve been to Yale, I’ve been to Columbia, I’ve been to Berkeley, etc.—are at a bar on a Friday night in a Marine Corps officer club with my fellow officers. Because—you know what?—unlike your Harvard and Yale and Columbia and Berkeley students, we understand what life and death is about. We understand what we are being committed to. We have philosophical discussions. We study the art of war. We study philosophy. And we challenge everything. And that’s the big thing: challenge everything. We take nothing at face value. Battalion commander puts out a new policy. We sit there and we tear it apart. “What the hell is the old man talking about? That won’t work. This won’t work.” We challenge because our lives depend upon it. As an intelligence officer I was told: “Never tell your boss what he or she wants to hear. That’s not your job. Your job is to tell them what the facts are. That’s your job.”

Scheer: So what do people say to you now, privately, when you run into your old buddies. Do they say, “You’ve got it right but we can’t speak out”? Why isn’t there more dissent?

Ritter: It depends who they are. I’ll tell you, inspectors more and more are sending me e-mails, calling me up saying, “Wow, Ritter, you were right, we were wrong. We apologize. We’re on your side. Da-da-da.” Military guys, they’ve always been on my side—the ones that I know. Again, I don’t mean to be insulting of anybody, but there’s three circles of people I care about: my family, my friends, and my colleagues. And I will tell you, without exception, the people who fall into those three categories, the people who know me, the only people who know me, have been on my side 100 percent. When you get outside of that, people who don’t know me, they seek to project any sort of personality trait on me that they want to. I’m a disgruntled employee. I’m this, I’m that, I’m the other thing. I don’t care about what they think. What I care about are the people who know me. And I’ll tell you, my colleagues in the Marine Corps, United States Army and the armed forces of the United States of America have been behind me 100 percent. Because they knew me before I challenged the United States on Iraq. They knew me when I was challenging the United States on the Iran-Iraq war. They knew me when I was challenging the United States on the Soviet ballistic missile production rates. They knew me when I was challenging the United States on claims of killing Scud missiles during the first Gulf War. They knew that, as an intelligence officer, I brought the highest degree of integrity possible to the game. I wasn’t always right, but I never deliberately misled anybody.

Scheer: Really, what you’re talking about is you’re someone who’s asked to pay the price for our folly. That it’s not a game, it’s not a talk show thing, right? It’s not a way of winning elections. And yet most of the foreign policy issues that you discuss in your book and we talk about have been used as part of a game, a political game. Hillary, for example. I didn’t mean to single out Hillary. She’s not alone. Biden takes a similar position. There are others. Kerry certainly took that position before he changed, and so forth. What I get from you in reading your books, rereading some of them, is a sense of outrage. I can only think of Kevin Tillman, Pat Tillman’s brother, who wrote a marvelous piece before the election and truthfully said the same thing. We put people in harm’s way, not because we really think there’s a national security objective, but because it’s important to some other agenda. I just want to know why there aren’t more Scott Ritters. Why doesn’t it drive more people crazy? Why aren’t more people speaking out about that?

Ritter: I can’t answer that question. I’m very honest about who I am and what I am. And I’ll tell you this: I am somebody who is a true believer. I joined the Marine Corps, I love my country, I was black-and-white about the world we lived in, I was a Reagan Republican. I didn’t even know what being a Reagan Republican meant. I just knew that that sounded good and that’s what I wanted to do. I registered Republican. I voted Republican. I didn’t study the candidates; I just went into the booth and went [making stamping motion] Republican, Republican, Republican, Republican, Republican, Republican. Because I thought that’s what good Republicans did. I went out and did my job. I did what I was told to do. I did it very well. But then I found that—as you said—you think you’re doing something that’s part of the greater good only to find that you’re actually serving as a front for somebody’s political ambition, that has nothing to do with the national security of the United States of America. That you’re asked to make sacrifices, or worse, if you’re a leader, you’re asking people who are trusting you by following you to make sacrifices. That these guys back there aren’t willing to write the check.

Now why aren’t there more Scott Ritters? What does it take to cross that line? Americans are inherently trustful. I was at a book-signing the other day in La Quinta in Palm Springs, and one of the guys in the audience stood up, and before he asked his question, he apologized. He said: “In 2003 I thought you were a nut, I thought you were crazy, I thought you were off the reservation. I couldn’t believe a word you said.” And he apologized. And I said: “There’s no reason to apologize. You had every right to believe that.” When everybody else is saying this, and you’ve got this lone-wolf character saying something else, you have a right to be distrustful of that lone-wolf character, especially when he’s talking about a subject that’s not easy for you to investigate independently. You’re dependent upon a media that’s feeding you for the most part disinformation. Today I have the benefit of the doubt because everything I said turned out to be right, so I come in with a little more leverage. But the point is that the only thing that gave me the strength to speak out in 1998 was that I was uniquely positioned by circumstances of history to have total knowledge about a very difficult subject. Even my fellow inspectors, they didn’t have total knowledge; they only had different pieces of the pie, and they were hesitant to commit to confronting the powers that be, because in the back of their minds they were saying, “There’s things I might not know.” And that’s the problem. There will always be questions in the back of the minds of most well-meaning people, that “maybe I don’t know something. Maybe these guys know something more than I do. I don’t want to be the one who seems unpatriotic by stepping forward. I’m going to be trustful of the system.” Ladies and gentlemen, I hope we’ve learned as American citizens that we can no longer be trustful of the system. The system is inherently corrupt because we are not engaged. The only way to reform the system is to invest in the system intellectually, emotionally, morally. And we’re not doing that. There will be more Scott Ritters, Bob Sheers, other people. I believe everybody in this room has it in you to do the same that I did, that you’ve [motioning to Robert Scheer] done, that other people have done, if you empower yourself with knowledge and information. But, void of that, you simply wallow in ignorance.

Scheer: Thinking about nuclear weapons and reading your book, and the whole idea that we scare people with these things—and they are very scary. ... There’s a certain assumption that some people can be trusted with them but others cannot, and your book sort of deals with that issue. Because it’s very disturbing for instance in the Mideast—well, why should Israel have it? And how are you going to tell these Iranians that they can’t have it? India, for example. The majority of people in India think they need one. Majority of people in Pakistan think they need one. And when you talk about this sort of ethnocentric view, it’s actually startling that most Americans seem to be unaware or don’t care that we are actually the only ... that the one nation we think can be most trusted with these weapons is the one nation in the world that actually used these weapons to kill large numbers of people. [Audience member: That’s right.]

Ritter: And more importantly, it’s not that we used them: We’re the only nation out there right now that has embraced a policy of pre-emptively using nuclear weapons in a non-nuclear environment, the current nuclear posture of the Bush administration. We’re the only nation that doesn’t view our nuclear weapons as a deterrence but rather as a viable tool of problem solving. Hence the renaming of certain categories of weapons as usable nuclear weapons that are fully integrated into the initial strike plans of many of our military contingencies that exist today. And what does this say? That old saying that absolute power corrupts absolutely is absolutely true. Nuclear weapons give you a false sense of security. It’s an argument I’ve made over and over again with the Israelis, that the nuclear weapon possessed by Israel only hastens the guarantee of Israel’s demise. That if Israel wants to live long-term and enjoy the fruits of peace and prosperity, they not only need to figure out how to live as co-equals with their Arab partners in the region but they need to get rid of their nuclear weapons. Because if you own a nuclear weapon, those who oppose you will always seek to have the equivalent of it. Iraq, when they were trying to acquire their nuclear weapon, realized it would take many years to get a nuclear weapon, and that’s why they went very rapidly forward with chemical and biological weapons, strategic weapons that gave them equivalency of the Israeli nuclear weapon in terms of deterrence. Look at the tracing. We started with a nuclear bomb; the Russians got it. The Russians got it; the Chinese got it to counter the Russians. The Chinese got it; the Indians got it. The Indians got it; the Pakistanis got it. Where’s it going to stop? It’s never going to stop. The only way to deal with nuclear weapons is to walk that dog all the way backwards to the very beginning, and it ends with nobody having nuclear weapons. That’s it. [Audience applauds.]

Scheer: And just so we understand what these weapons do, if that had been a primitive nuclear weapon of, say, the kind we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in Manhattan, there would not be a Manhattan and we wouldn’t be having this discussion because we wouldn’t be having civil liberty. So we shouldn’t underestimate the power of these weapons

Ritter: Both the physical power, but also the psychological power of these weapons.

Scheer: Yes, the psychological power is very real. I remember visiting Chernobyl after that disaster and the absolute fear that gripped the scientists and the military people around there. But going along with that line—. So, we’re concerned about the proliferation of weapons. You mentioned Pakistan. We had sanctions against Pakistan when they developed their weapon. Those sanctions were lifted because Pakistan was needed to be an ally in the war on terror, and then it turns out, of course, as you mention in your book, the case of Khan, and you have a very lively discussion that it was the “father of the Pakistan bomb” who was actually the major person involved in this proliferation of this technology. And then just yesterday, I believe, George W. Bush, President Bush, chided Pakistan for actually abandoning the war on terror in Pakistan. The Taliban is growing, the al-Qaida, the leaders of course have not been captured. So how do you connect this with the war on terror? Do you think that this president has made us any safer? That he’s dealing with this in any serious way?

Ritter: The global war on terror is a misnomer. You can’t have a global war on terror; it’s just impossible to do that. The mistake we made on September 12th, one of many, was invoking war as a response to a criminal act. I’m not here to debate conspiracy theories on 9/11. I’m going to go with my working premise, which is, we were attacked by terrorist criminals who committed a crime by hijacking four airplanes, and then committed mass murder with these weapons. That’s where I start: A crime was committed against America. A crime was committed against the world. And the appropriate response—.

Scheer: Using very primitive weapons, though.

Ritter: In a very sophisticated way.

Scheer: Yeah.

Ritter: It wasn’t nuclear bombs; it was airplanes.

Scheer: But there were $3 knives.

Ritter: Yeah, using the box cutters and all that.

Scheer: Which now has justified this enormous buildup of sophisticated weaponry. But go on.

Ritter: And also, TSA getting me to take my shoes off tonight at the airport. The bottom line is: A crime was committed. The appropriate response was we turn to the world as the world was willing to receive us and we say, “We must unite in defense of the rule of law.” [Audience applauds.] That lawless elements cannot be tolerated in global society. Instead we declared a war on terror, and what did we do? We became terrorists ourselves. How do you differentiate between somebody flying an airplane into a building, killing 3,000 people, and an American bomber flying at 30,000 feet and dropping a 2,000-pound bomb on an Afghan wedding party because we misidentify the target? Who’s the terrorist? How do we condemn the al-Qaida operatives for sneaking across the border and blowing things up?

Scheer: To play devil’s advocate here, the one was done deliberately, the other was not.

Ritter: Terrorism is terrorism. OK, what about the MEK? What about the CIA funding of Baluchi operatives in Pakistan who crossed the border into Iran, blowing up a car bomb, killing Iranian revolutionary guards? Is that not an act of terror? Or is that an act of freedom fighters expressing their natural desire to do the right thing? The point is, the global war on terrorism is a misnomer. We have created more harm than good. Again, you don’t solve a problem without defining the problem. And what we’ve done by reacting the way we have in Afghanistan is, we have not defeated the Taliban. NATO is getting ready to receive a major spring offensive by the Taliban. Al-Qaida not only was not defeated, al-Qaida has grown larger. When we attacked al-Qaida in 2001 when we responded on their attack on us, they numbered around 8,000 operatives. Today we’re talking 30-40,000 al-Qaida operatives. They have greater bases. We’ve turned Iraq into a recruiting ground of Wahhabist Islamic fundamentalism of a virulent, anti-American nature. The world we live in is a much more dangerous place than you can possibly imagine because of George W. Bush’s global war on terror. The smartest thing we could do is declare victory and say it’s over. “The global war on terror is over. Done. We win. Now let’s talk about bringing to justice criminals who violate the law on a massive scale.” And then we get the world to join us. But by declaring a global war on terror, we’ve empowered ourselves because this is an American, unipolar world, to do things such as the expansion of NATO. ... What does the expansion of NATO have to do with the global war on terror? The Russians want to know that question, because as a response to the global war on terror we’ve not only expanded NATO, but we’re now putting missile defense facilities in Poland and Czechoslovakia, prompting Russia to threaten to pull out of the INF treaty and build a whole new family of short-range and intermediate-range nuclear weapons armed against Europe. So ask the Europeans how safe they feel now, threatened by Soviet nuclear missiles we were supposed to have terminated in 1987. No, the world is a much more dangerous place thanks to George W. Bush.

from Truthdig:Drilling Beneath the Headlines