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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Suharto, the model killer, and his friends in high places by John Pilger

Bill Clinton and Suhatro in 1994

In an article for the Guardian, John Pilger says the death of General Suharto, the former dictator of Indonesia, is an opportunity to review the role of this "model" for high crimes in the modern era - from Indonesia, to Chile, to Vietnam - and the powerful friends who ensured he would never suffer the fate of Saddam Hussein.

In my film 'Death of a Nation', there is a sequence filmed on board an Australian aircraft flying over the island of Timor. A party is in progress, and two men in suits are toasting each other in champagne. “This is an historically unique moment,” says one of them, “that is truly uniquely historical.” This is Gareth Evans, Australia’s foreign minister. The other man is Ali Alatas, principal mouthpiece of the Indonesian dictator, General Suharto. It is 1989, and the two are making a grotesquely symbolic flight to celebrate the signing of a treaty that allowed Australia and the international oil and gas companies to exploit the seabed off East Timor, then illegally and viciously occupied by Suharto. The prize, according to Evans, was “zillions of dollars”.

Beneath them lay a land of crosses: great black crosses etched against the sky, crosses on peaks, crosses in tiers on the hillsides. Filming clandestinely in East Timor, I would walk into the scrub and there were the crosses. They littered the earth and crowded the eye. In 1993, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Australian Parliament reported that “at least 200,000” had died under Indonesia’s occupation: almost a third of the population. And yet East Timor’s horror, which was foretold and nurtured by the US, Britain and Australia, was actually a sequel. “No single American action in the period after 1945,” wrote the historian Gabriel Kolko, “was as bloodthirsty as its role in Indonesia, for it tried to initiate the massacre.” He was referring to Suharto’s seizure of power in 1965-6, which caused the violent deaths of up to a million people.

To understand the significance of Suharto, who died on Sunday, is to look beneath the surface of the current world order: the so-called global economy and the ruthless cynicism of those who run it. Suharto was our model mass murderer – “our” is used here advisedly. “One of our very best and most valuable friends,” Thatcher called him, speaking for the West. For three decades, the Australian, US and British governments worked tirelessly to minimise the crimes of Suharto’s gestapo, known as Kopassus, who were trained by the Australian SAS and the British army and who gunned down people with British-supplied Heckler and Koch machine guns from British-supplied Tactica “riot control” vehicles. Prevented by Congress from supplying arms direct, US administrations from Gerald Ford to Bill Clinton, provided logistic support through the back door and commercial preferences.

In one year, the British Department of Trade provided almost a billion pounds worth of so-called soft loans, which allowed Suharto buy Hawk fighter-bombers. The British taxpayer paid the bill for aircraft that dive-bombed East Timorese villages, and the arms industry reaped the profits. However, the Australians distinguished themselves as the most obsequious. In an infamous cable to Canberra, Richard Woolcott, Australia’s ambassador to Jakarta, who had been forewarned about Suharto’s invasion of East Timor, wrote: “What Indonesia now looks to from Australia …is some understanding of their attitude and possible action to assist public understanding in Australia...”

Covering up Suharto’s crimes became a career for those like Woolcott, while “understanding” the mass murderer came in buckets. This left an indelible stain on the reformist government of Gough Whitlam following the cold-blooded killing of two Australian TV crews by Suharto’s troops during the invasion of East Timor. “We know your people love you,” Bob Hawke told the dictator. His successor, Paul Keating, famously regarded the tyrant as a father figure. When Indonesian troops slaughtered at least 200 people in the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, East Timor, and Australian mourners planted crosses outside the Indonesian embassy in Canberra, foreign minister Gareth Evans ordered them destroyed. To Evans, ever-effusive in his support for the regime, the massacre was merely an “aberration”. This was the view of much of the Australian press, especially that controlled by Rupert Murdoch, whose local retainer, Paul Kelly, led a group of leading newspaper editors to Jakarta, fawn before the dictator.

Here lies a clue as to why Suharto, unlike Saddam Hussein, died not on the gallows but surrounded by the finest medical team his secret billions could buy. Ralph McGehee, a senior CIA operations officer in the 1960s, describes the terror of Suharto’s takeover of Indonesia in 1965-6 as “the model operation” for the American-backed coup that got rid of Salvador Allende in Chile seven years later. “The CIA forged a document purporting to reveal a leftist plot to murder Chilean military leaders,” he wrote, “[just like] what happened in Indonesia in 1965.” The US embassy in Jakarta supplied Suharto with a “zap list” of Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) members and crossed off the names when they were killed or captured. Roland Challis, the BBC’s south east Asia correspondent at the time, told me how the British government was secretly involved in this slaughter. “British warships escorted a ship full of Indonesian troops down the Malacca Straits so they could take part in the terrible holocaust,” he said. “I and other correspondents were unaware of this at the time... There was a deal, you see.”

The deal was that Indonesia under Suharto would offer up what Richard Nixon had called “the richest hoard of natural resources, the greatest prize in south-east Asia”. In November 1967, the greatest prize was handed out at a remarkable three-day conference sponsored by the Time-Life Corporation in Geneva. Led by David Rockefeller, all the corporate giants were represented: the major oil companies and banks, General Motors, Imperial Chemical Industries, British American Tobacco, Siemens and US Steel and many others. Across the table sat Suharto’s US-trained economists who agreed to the corporate takeover of their country, sector by sector. The Freeport company got a mountain of copper in West Papua. A US/ European consortium got the nickel. The giant Alcoa company got the biggest slice of Indonesia’s bauxite. America, Japanese and French companies got the tropical forests of Sumatra. When the plunder was complete, President Lyndon Johnson sent his congratulations on “a magnificent story of opportunity seen and promise awakened”. Thirty years later, with the genocide in East Timor also complete, the World Bank described the Suharto dictatorship as a “model pupil”.

Shortly before he died, I interviewed Alan Clark, who under Thatcher was Britain’s minister responsible for supplying Suharto with most of his weapons. I asked him, “Did it bother you personally that you were causing such mayhem and human suffering?”“No, not in the slightest,” he replied. “It never entered my head.”

“I ask the question because I read you are a vegetarian and are seriously concerned about the way animals are killed.”


“Doesn’t that concern extend to humans?”

“Curiously not.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

‘Reality Is Totally Different’: Iraqis on ‘Success’ and ‘Progress’ in Their Country by Dahr Jamail

This March 19 will be the fifth anniversary of the shock-and-awe air assault on Baghdad that signaled the opening of the invasion of Iraq, and when it comes to the American occupation of that country, no end is yet in sight. If Republican presidential candidate John McCain has anything to say about it, the occupation may never end. On January 7th, he assured reporters that he was more than fine with the idea of the U.S. military remaining in Iraq for 100 years.

“We’ve been in Japan for 60 years. We’ve been in South Korea 50 years or so… As long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. That’s fine with me.”
He said nothing, of course, about Iraqis “injured or harmed or wounded or killed.” In fact, amid the flurries of words, accusations, and “debates” which have filled the airways and add up to the primary-season presidential campaign, there has been a near thunderous silence on Iraq lately — and especially on Iraqis.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll indicated that 64% of Americans now feel the war in Iraq was not worth fighting. American opinion on the war and occupation, in fact, seems remarkably unaffected by the positive spin — all those “success” stories in the mainstream media — of these post-surge months. The media now tells us that Iraq is going to be taking a distinct backseat to domestic economic issues, that Americans are no longer as concerned about it.

Once again, with rare exceptions, that media has had a hand in erasing the catastrophe of Iraq from the American landscape, if not the collective consciousness of the public. What, it occurred to me recently, do my friends and acquaintances back in Iraq (where I covered the occupation for eight months during the years 2003-2005) think not just about their lives and the fate of their country, but about our attitudes toward them? What do they think about the “success” — and the silence — in America?

On October 6, 2004, George W. Bush proclaimed: “Iraq is no diversion; it is the place where civilization is taking a decisive stand against chaos and terror — and we must not waver.”
Iraqis, of course, continue to witness firsthand this “decisive stand against chaos and terror.” In our world, however, they are largely mute witnesses. Americans may argue among themselves about just how much “success” or “progress” there really is in post-surge Iraq, but it is almost invariably an argument in which Iraqis are but stick figures — or dead bodies. Of late, I have been asking Iraqis I know by email what they make of the American version (or versions) of the unseemly reality that is their country, that they live and suffer with. What does it mean to become a “secondary issue” for your occupier?

In response, Professor S. Abdul Majeed Hassan, an Iraqi university faculty member wrote me the following:

“The year of 2007 was the bloodiest among the occupation years, and no matter how successful the situation looks to Mr. Bush, reality is totally different. What kind of normal life are he and the media referring to where four and a half million highly educated Iraqis are still dislocated or still being forcefully driven out of their homes for being anti-occupation? How can the people live a normal life in a cage of concrete walls [she is referring to concrete walls being erected by the Americans around entire Baghdad neighborhoods], guarded by their kidnappers, killers, and occupation forces? What kind of normal life can you live where tens of your relatives and your beloved ones are either missing or in jail and you don’t even know if they are still alive or, after being tortured, have been thrown unidentified in the dumpsters?

“What kind of normal life can you live when you have to bid farewell to your family each time you go out to buy bread because you don’t know if you are going to see them again? What is a normal life to Mr. Bush? If we’re lucky, we get a few hours of electricity a day, barely enough drinking water, no health care, no jobs to feed our kids…

“Little teenage girls are given away in marriage because their families can’t protect them from militias and troops during raids. Women cannot move unescorted anymore. What kind of educations are our children getting at universities where 60% of the prominent faculty members have been driven out of their jobs — killed or forced to leave the country by government militias? Is it normal that areas [on the outskirts of Baghdad] like Saidiya and Arab Jubour are bombed because the occupation forces are afraid to enter the areas for fear of the resistance? It is always easier to control ghost cities. It becomes very peaceful without the people.”

On January 8th, President Bush held video teleconferences with General David Petraeus and Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, as well as with the U.S.-backed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and with members of U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Iraq.

Afterwards, he told reporters at a press conference, “It was clear from my discussions that there’s great hope in Iraq, that the Iraqis are beginning to see political progress that is matching the dramatic security gains for the past year.” Members of the PRTs, he claimed, had told him that”[l]ife is returning to normal in communities across Iraq, with children back in school and shops reopening and markets bustling with commerce.” Bush thanked members of those teams for “making 2007, particularly the end of 2007, become incredibly successful beyond anybody’s expectations.”

Mohammad Mahri’i, an Iraqi journalist, has a rather different take on the situation: “The problem with Bush is that his people believe him every time he lies to them,” he writes me. “His reconstruction teams are invisible and I wish they could show me one inch above the ground that they built.”

Maki al-Nazzal, an Iraqi political analyst from Fallujah who has been forced to live abroad with his family, thanks to ongoing violence and the lack of jobs or significant reconstruction activity in his city, which was three-quarters destroyed in a U.S. assault in November 2004, offered me his thoughts on the Western mainstream coverage of Iraq.

“The media should not follow the warlords’ and politicians’ propaganda. It is our duty to search for the truth and not repeat lies like parrots. The U.S. occupation is bad and no amount of media propaganda can camouflage the mess inside occupied Iraq. We are ashamed of the local and Western media [for] marketing the naked lies told by generals and politicians. Comparing two halves of 2007 is ridiculous.

“Bush and his heroes, [head of the Coalition Provisional Authority L. Paul] Bremer, [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld and now Petraeus always lied to their people and the world about Iraq. U.S. soldiers are getting killed on a daily basis and so are Iraqi army and police officers. Infrastructure is destroyed. In a country that used to feed much of the Arab world, starvation is now the norm. It is ironic that Iraq was not half as bad during the 12 years of sanctions. Our liberation has pushed us into a state of unprecedented corruption.”

General David Petraeus, U.S. surge commander in Iraq, insists that “we and our Iraqi partners will… continue to look beyond the security realm to help the Iraqis improve basic services, revitalize local markets, repair damaged infrastructure and create conditions that allow displaced families to return to their homes.”

Iraqis know differently. Al-Nazzal is realistic:

“Petraeus wants us to celebrate the return [to Baghdad] of 50,000 Iraqis who were starving in Syria, when five million remain in exile and internally displaced. What he conveniently forgets to mention is that those who returned found their houses either destroyed or occupied by others. He also wants to be praised for handing over the nation’s security to militias he allowed to form rather than to academics and technocrats. Iraq has no medicines in its hospitals, no electricity, no potable water, no real security, and no well-guarded borders. Nevertheless, some people say they are happy for what is going on in Iraq!”

Much as they would like to believe the claims of success and progress from American officials, Iraqis — surrounded by disaster — cannot do so.

37-year-old Sammy Tahir, a Kurdish education advisor living in Baghdad, offers the following assessment of the cautious but upbeat claims being made by Petraeus and others:
“No improvement in any service can be found in Iraq. On the contrary, we are much worse now and we are back to painting old buildings to make them look better. Kurdistan is still full of displaced Iraqis from southern and mid-Iraq.”

About this Mari’i writes:

“It was the generals who destroyed Iraq in the first place and I do not see any improvement in basic services. For example, most of Baghdad has been without electricity for about two weeks at the time of writing!”

Professor Hassan shares a similar view:

“What the Americans hadn’t destroyed by the end of the military operations of 2003, they have finished off over the past four years, and I don’t think that the occupation forces and their assigned government would like to do anything about the displacement of Iraqi families, simply because they are the ones who created that situation.

“The sectarian violence, which led to this mass displacement, was initiated by the U.S. and its allies to divide the Iraqi community in accordance with American plans and the published ‘new’ Iraqi constitution, which emphasizes sectarian issues. The occupation would like to divide Iraq into small sectarian and ethnic regions to be able to easily command, control, and conquer them. The major objective of the occupation is to control oil production and reserves in Iraq and the Middle East region. Displacing families is, to them, acceptable collateral damage.”
According to Tahir:

“Children always went to school before the late 2007 crackdown and it was mainly the military operations that stopped them from doing so in some areas where the Americans attacked towns and villages. Bush has been saying the same words since 2003, but things have always gotten progressively worse in Iraq. He and his generals are destroying both Iraq and the U.S. by continuing this war. The U.S. economy will never hold against the expenses of war and Iraq is totally destroyed.”

During a surprise visit to Baghdad on January 15th, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said that last year’s “surge” of American forces was paying dividends and suggested that she could “help push the momentum by her very presence” in Iraq.

Mahri’i’s offers a lament for the American presence and those “dividends”:

“It seems that Americans do not care about what has been done to Iraq. They decorated Bremer, who is a war criminal, with top medals. [In December 2004, Bush bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on him.] Why not honor another criminal like Petraeus and other Bush administration officials with the same medals for lying to them while their soldiers and our people are getting killed?”

Tahir, on the other hand, has a warning: “It seems that all U.S. politicians and the majority of Americans think the way [Sen.] McCain does. But they should not think Iraq is Japan or South Korea.”

Mahri’i agrees: “Such leaders will write the final page of history for their country. If Americans keep electing such adventurers, then I can see the end of their country approaching fast.”
Professor Hassan states what is clearly on the minds of many Iraqis as the occupation grinds on and the American presidential race revs up, though she may be more charitable than many of her compatriots:

“Most Americans figured out the real reasons behind the invasion of Iraq and the terrible consequences of that war for them, currently and in the future. The American people I know are kind, considerate, and understanding. I am sure they will do what it will take to end this occupation. They know by now that this is not a war of the American people; it is the oil companies’ war, so why should they sacrifice their young men and women for oil companies’ greed?”

Last October, speaking of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation at Stanford University, where he is now a visiting fellow of the Hoover Institute, former CENTCOM Commander General John Abizaid told the audience, “Of course it’s about oil, we can’t really deny that.” General Abizaid’s comment came roughly a month after former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan wrote in his memoir, “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”

While many in the U.S., along with Bush administration officials and leading presidential candidates (both Democratic and Republican) continue to refuse to grasp the magnitude of the catastrophe that is the occupation of Iraq, Iraqis don’t have the same luxury.

Early on in my time in Iraq, during the first year of the occupation, the Iraqis I met were generally quick to differentiate between the policies of the U.S. government and the desires of the American people.

Over time, after brutal U.S. military operations against cities like Najaf, Fallujah, Al-Qa’im, Samarra, and Ramadi, after Abu Ghraib, after Haditha, after the near-total collapse of their country’s infrastructure and the shredding of its social fabric, I began to witness occupation-weary Iraqis ceasing to draw that same critical line.

Recently, a resident of Baquba (who asked not to be identified by name for fear of retribution for talking to the media), told my Iraqi colleague Ahmed Ali, “The lack of security is a direct result of the occupation. The Americans crossed thousands of miles to destroy our home and kill our men. They are the reason for all our disasters.”

Abu Tariq, a merchant from Baquba, believes the U.S. military intentionally destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure. He told Ali,

“The Americans destroyed the electricity, water-pumping stations, factories, bridges, highways, hospitals, schools, burnt the buildings, and opened the borders for the strangers and terrorists to get easily into the country. The one who does all these things is void of humanity. I hate America and Americans.”

Abu Taiseer, another resident of Baquba, summed up Iraqi bitterness this way:

“At the very beginning of the occupation, the people of Iraq did not realize the U.S. strategy in the area. Their strategy is based on destruction and massacres. They do anything to have their agenda fulfilled. Now, Iraqis know that behind the U.S. smile is hatred and violence. They call others violent and terrorists while what they are doing in Iraq and in other countries is the origin and essence of terror.”

Jalal al-Taee, a retired teacher, told Ali what more Iraqis than ever likely believe:

“In Baquba, people have severe hatred towards the Americans and a large number of residents have become enemies of the U.S. army. The people of Diyala province have been oppressed and treated unjustly by the U.S. army and the [Baghdad] government. In order to improve the situation, the U.S. army should let the people of this city rule it by themselves.”

Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist, is the author of the recently published Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books, 2007). Over the last four years, Jamail has reported from occupied Iraq as well as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Turkey. He writes regularly for Tomdispatch.com, Inter Press Service, Asia Times, and Foreign Policy in Focus. He has contributed to the Sunday Herald, the Independent, the Guardian, and the Nation magazine, among other publications.

Published on Monday, January 28, 2008 by TomDispatch.com

He maintains a website, Dahr Jamail’s Mideast Dispatches, with all his writing.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Why The Right Loves a Disaster by Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein

Moody’s, the credit-rating agency, claims the key to solving the United States’ economic woes is slashing spending on Social Security. The National Assn. of Manufacturers says the fix is for the federal government to adopt the organization’s wish-list of new tax cuts. For Investor’s Business Daily, it is oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, “perhaps the most important stimulus of all.”

But of all the cynical scrambles to package pro-business cash grabs as “economic stimulus,” the prize has to go to Lawrence B. Lindsey, formerly President Bush’s assistant for economic policy and his advisor during the 2001 recession. Lindsey’s plan is to solve a crisis set off by bad lending by extending lots more questionable credit. “One of the easiest things to do would be to allow manufacturers and retailers” — notably Wal-Mart — “to open their own financial institutions, through which they could borrow and lend money,” he wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal.

Never mind that that an increasing number of Americans are defaulting on their credit card payments, raiding their 401(k) accounts and losing their homes. If Lindsey had his way, Wal-Mart, rather than lose sales, could just loan out money to keep its customers shopping, effectively turning the big-box chain into an old-style company store to which Americans can owe their souls.

If this kind of crisis opportunism feels familiar, it’s because it is. Over the last four years, I have been researching a little-explored area of economic history: the way that crises have paved the way for the march of the right-wing economic revolution across the globe. A crisis hits, panic spreads and the ideologues fill the breach, rapidly reengineering societies in the interests of large corporate players. It’s a maneuver I call “disaster capitalism.”

Sometimes the enabling national disasters have been physical blows to countries: wars, terrorist attacks, natural disasters. More often they have been economic crises: debt spirals, hyperinflation, currency shocks, recessions.

More than a decade ago, economist Dani Rodrik, then at Columbia University, studied the circumstances in which governments adopted free-trade policies. His findings were striking: “No significant case of trade reform in a developing country in the 1980s took place outside the context of a serious economic crisis.” The 1990s proved him right in dramatic fashion. In Russia, an economic meltdown set the stage for fire-sale privatizations. Next, the Asian crisis in 1997-98 cracked open the “Asian tigers” to a frenzy of foreign takeovers, a process the New York Times dubbed “the world’s biggest going-out-of-business sale.”

To be sure, desperate countries will generally do what it takes to get a bailout. An atmosphere of panic also frees the hands of politicians to quickly push through radical changes that would otherwise be too unpopular, such as privatization of essential services, weakening of worker protections and free-trade deals. In a crisis, debate and democratic process can be handily dismissed as unaffordable luxuries.

Do the free-market policies packaged as emergency cures actually fix the crises at hand? For the ideologues involved, that has mattered little. What matters is that, as a political tactic, disaster capitalism works. It was the late free-market economist Milton Friedman, writing in the preface to the 1982 reissue of his manifesto, “Capitalism and Freedom,” who articulated the strategy most succinctly. “Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

A decade later, John Williamson, a key advisor to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (and who coined the phrase “the Washington consensus”), went even further. He asked a conference of top-level policymakers “whether it could conceivably make sense to think of deliberately provoking a crisis so as to remove the political logjam to reform.”

Again and again, the Bush administration has seized on crises to break logjams blocking the more radical pieces of its economic agenda. First, a recession provided the excuse for sweeping tax cuts. Next, the “war on terror” ushered in an era of unprecedented military and homeland security privatization. After Hurricane Katrina, the administration handed out tax holidays, rolled back labor standards, closed public housing projects and helped turn New Orleans into a laboratory for charter schools — all in the name of disaster “reconstruction.”

Given this track record, Washington lobbyists had every reason to believe that the current recession fears would provoke a new round of corporate gift-giving. Yet it seems that the public is getting wise to the tactics of disaster capitalism. Sure, the proposed $150-billion economic stimulus package is little more than a dressed-up tax cut, including a new batch of “incentives” to business. But the Democrats nixed the more ambitious GOP attempt to leverage the crisis to lock in the Bush tax cuts and go after Social Security. For the time being, it seems that a crisis created by a dogged refusal to regulate markets will not be “fixed” by giving Wall Street more public money with which to gamble.

Yet while managing (barely) to hold the line, the House Democrats appear to have given up on extending unemployment benefits and increasing funding for food stamps and Medicaid as part of the stimulus package. More important, they are failing utterly to use the crisis to propose alternative solutions to a status quo marked by serial crises, whether environmental, social or economic.

The problem is not a lack of ideas “alive and available” — to borrow Friedman’s phrase. There are plenty available, from single-payer healthcare to legislating a living wage. Hundreds of thousands of jobs can be created by rebuilding the ailing public infrastructure and making it more friendly to public transit and renewable energy. Need start-up funds? Close the loophole that lets billionaire hedge fund managers pay 15% capital gains instead of 35% income tax, and adopt a long-proposed tax on international currency trading. The bonus? A less volatile, crisis-prone market.

The way we respond to crises is always highly political, a lesson progressives appear to have forgotten. There’s a historical irony to that: Crises have ushered in some of America’s great progressive policies. Most notably, after the dramatic market failure of 1929, the left was ready and waiting with its ideas — full employment, huge public works, mass union drives. The Social Security system that Moody’s is so eager to dismantle was a direct response to the Depression.

Every crisis is an opportunity; someone will exploit it. The question we face is this: Will the current turmoil become an excuse to transfer yet more public wealth into private hands, to wipe out the last vestiges of the welfare state, all in the name of economic growth? Or will this latest failure of unfettered markets be the catalyst that is needed to revive a spirit of public interest, to get serious about the pressing crises of our time, from gaping inequality to global warming to failing infrastructure?

The disaster capitalists have held the reins for three decades. The time has come, once again, for disaster populism.

Published on Sunday, January 27, 2008 by The Los Angeles Times

Naomi Klein is the author of many books, including her most recent, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, which will be published in September.Visit Naomi’s website at http://www.naomiklein.org/, or to learn more about her new book, visit http://www.shockdoctrine.com/. --

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Destabilization of Pakistan by Prof. Michel Chossudovsky

[Part Two: Pakistan and the "Global War on Terrorism" at http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=7746]The assassination of Benazir Bhutto has created conditions which contribute to the ongoing destabilization and fragmentation of Pakistan as a Nation.

The process of US sponsored "regime change", which normally consists in the re-formation of a fresh proxy government under new leaders has been broken. Discredited in the eyes of Pakistani public opinion, General Pervez Musharaf cannot remain in the seat of political power. But at the same time, the fake elections supported by the "international community" scheduled for January 2008, even if they were to be carried out, would not be accepted as legitimate, thereby creating a political impasse.

There are indications that the assassination of Benazir Bhutto was anticipated by US officials:
"It has been known for months that the Bush-Cheney administration and its allies have been maneuvering to strengthen their political control of Pakistan, paving the way for the expansion and deepening of the “war on terrorism” across the region.

Various American destabilization plans, known for months by officials and analysts, proposed the toppling of Pakistan's military...

The assassination of Bhutto appears to have been anticipated. There were even reports of “chatter” among US officials about the possible assassinations of either Pervez Musharraf or Benazir Bhutto, well before the actual attempts took place. (Larry Chin, Global Research, 29 December 2007)

Political Impasse

"Regime change" with a view to ensuring continuity under military rule is no longer the main thrust of US foreign policy. The regime of Pervez Musharraf cannot prevail. Washington's foreign policy course is to actively promote the political fragmentation and balkanization of Pakistan as a nation.

A new political leadership is anticipated but in all likelihood it will take on a very different shape, in relation to previous US sponsored regimes. One can expect that Washington will push for a compliant political leadership, with no commitment to the national interest, a leadership which will serve US imperial interests, while concurrently contributing under the disguise of "decentralization", to the weakening of the central government and the fracture of Pakistan's fragile federal structure.

The political impasse is deliberate. It is part of an evolving US foreign policy agenda, which favors disruption and disarray in the structures of the Pakistani State. Indirect rule by the Pakistani military and intelligence apparatus is to be replaced by more direct forms of US interference, including an expanded US military presence inside Pakistan. This expanded military presence is also dictated by the Middle East-Central Asia geopolitical situation and Washington's ongoing plans to extend the Middle East war to a much broader area.

The US has several military bases in Pakistan. It controls the country's air space. According to a recent report: "U.S. Special Forces are expected to vastly expand their presence in Pakistan, as part of an effort to train and support indigenous counter-insurgency forces and clandestine counterterrorism units" (William Arkin, Washington Post, December 2007).

The official justification and pretext for an increased military presence in Pakistan is to extend the "war on terrorism". Concurrently, to justify its counterrorism program, Washington is also beefing up its covert support to the "terrorists."

The Balkanization of Pakistan

Already in 2005, a report by the US National Intelligence Council and the CIA forecast a "Yugoslav-like fate" for Pakistan "in a decade with the country riven by civil war, bloodshed and inter-provincial rivalries, as seen recently in Balochistan." (Energy Compass, 2 March 2005). According to the NIC-CIA, Pakistan is slated to become a "failed state" by 2015, "as it would be affected by civil war, complete Talibanisation and struggle for control of its nuclear weapons". (Quoted by former Pakistan High Commissioner to UK, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Times of India, 13 February 2005):

"Nascent democratic reforms will produce little change in the face of opposition from an entrenched political elite and radical Islamic parties. In a climate of continuing domestic turmoil, the Central government's control probably will be reduced to the Punjabi heartland and the economic hub of Karachi," the former diplomat quoted the NIC-CIA report as saying.
Expressing apprehension, Hasan asked, "are our military rulers working on a similar agenda or something that has been laid out for them in the various assessment reports over the years by the National Intelligence Council in joint collaboration with CIA?" (Ibid)

Continuity, characterized by the dominant role of the Pakistani military and intelligence has been scrapped in favor of political breakup and balkanization. According to the NIC-CIA scenario, which Washington intends to carry out: "Pakistan will not recover easily from decades of political and economic mismanagement, divisive policies, lawlessness, corruption and ethnic friction," (Ibid) .

The US course consists in fomenting social, ethnic and factional divisions and political fragmentation, including the territorial breakup of Pakistan. This course of action is also dictated by US war plans in relation to both Afghanistan and Iran.

This US agenda for Pakistan is similar to that applied throughout the broader Middle East Central Asian region. US strategy, supported by covert intelligence operations, consists in triggering ethnic and religious strife, abetting and financing secessionist movements while also weakening the institutions of the central government.

The broader objective is to fracture the Nation State and redraw the borders of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistan's Oil and Gas reservesPakistan's extensive oil and gas reserves, largely located in Balochistan province, as well as its pipeline corridors are considered strategic by the Anglo-American alliance, requiring the concurrent militarization of Pakistani territory.

Balochistan comprises more than 40 percent of Pakistan's land mass, possesses important reserves of oil and natural gas as well as extensive mineral resources.

The Iran-India pipeline corridor is slated to transit through Balochistan. Balochistan also possesses a deap sea port largely financed by China located at Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea, not far from the Straits of Hormuz where 30 % of the world's daily oil supply moves by ship or pipeline. (Asia News.it, 29 December 2007)

Pakistan has an estimated 25.1 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proven gas reserves of which 19 trillion are located in Balochistan. Among foreign oil and gas contractors in Balochistan are BP, Italy's ENI, Austria's OMV, and Australia's BHP. It is worth noting that Pakistan's State oil and gas companies, including PPL which has the largest stake in the Sui oil fields of Balochistan are up for privatization under IMF-World Bank supervision.

According to the Oil and Gas Journal (OGJ), Pakistan had proven oil reserves of 300 million barrels, most of which are located in Balochistan. Other estimates place Balochistan oil reserves at an estimated six trillion barrels of oil reserves both on-shore and off-shore (Environment News Service, 27 October 2006) .

Covert Support to Balochistan SeparatistsBalochistan's strategic energy reserves have a bearing on the separatist agenda. Following a familiar pattern, there are indications that the Baloch insurgency is being supported and abetted by Britain and the US. The Baloch national resistance movement dates back to the late 1940s, when Balochistan was invaded by Pakistan. In the current geopolitical context, the separatist movement is in the process of being hijacked by foreign powers.

British intelligence is allegedly providing covert support to Balochistan separatists (which from the outset have been repressed by Pakistan's military). In June 2006, Pakistan's Senate Committee on Defence accused British intelligence of "abetting the insurgency in the province bordering Iran" [Balochistan]..(Press Trust of India, 9 August 2006). Ten British MPs were involved in a closed door session of the Senate Committee on Defence regarding the alleged support of Britain's Secret Service to Baloch separatists (Ibid). Also of relevance are reports of CIA and Mossad support to Baloch rebels in Iran and Southern Afghanistan. It would appear that Britain and the US are supporting both sides. The US is providing American F-16 jets to the Pakistani military, which are being used to bomb Baloch villages in Balochistan. Meanwhile, British alleged covert support to the separatist movement (according to the Pakistani Senate Committee) contributes to weakening the central government.
The stated purpose of US counter-terrorism is to provide covert support as well as as training to "Liberation Armies" ultimately with a view to destabilizing sovereign governments. In Kosovo, the training of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in the 1990s had been entrusted to a private mercenary company, Military Professional Resources Inc (MPRI), on contract to the Pentagon. The BLA bears a canny resemblance to Kosovo's KLA, which was financed by the drug trade and supported by the CIA and Germany's Bundes Nachrichten Dienst (BND). The BLA emerged shortly after the 1999 military coup. It has no tangible links to the Baloch resistance movement, which developed since the late 1940s. An aura of mystery surrounds the leadership of the BLA.

Baloch population in Pink: In Iran, Pakistan and Southern Afghanistan
Washington favors the creation of a "Greater Balochistan" which would integrate the Baloch areas of Pakistan with those of Iran and possibly the Southern tip of Afghanistan (See Map above), thereby leading to a process of political fracturing in both Iran and Pakistan.
"The US is using Balochi nationalism for staging an insurgency inside Iran's Sistan-Balochistan province. The 'war on terror' in Afghanistan gives a useful political backdrop for the ascendancy of Balochi militancy" (See Global Research, 6 March 2007).

Military scholar Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters writing in the June 2006 issue of The Armed Forces Journal, suggests, in no uncertain terms that Pakistan should be broken up, leading to the formation of a separate country: "Greater Balochistan" or "Free Balochistan" (see Map below). The latter would incorporate the Pakistani and Iranian Baloch provinces into a single political entity.

In turn, according to Peters, Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) should be incorporated into Afghanistan "because of its linguistic and ethnic affinity". This proposed fragmentation, which broadly reflects US foreign policy, would reduce Pakistani territory to approximately 50 percent of its present land area. (See map). Pakistan would also loose a large part of its coastline on the Arabian Sea.

Although the map does not officially reflect Pentagon doctrine, it has been used in a training program at NATO's Defense College for senior military officers. This map, as well as other similar maps, have most probably been used at the National War Academy as well as in military planning circles. (See Mahdi D. Nazemroaya, Global Research, 18 November 2006)

"Lieutenant-Colonel Peters was last posted, before he retired to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, within the U.S. Defence Department, and has been one of the Pentagon’s foremost authors with numerous essays on strategy for military journals and U.S. foreign policy." (Ibid)

It is worth noting that secessionist tendencies are not limited to Balochistan. There are separatist groups in Sindh province, which are largely based on opposition to the Punjabi-dominated military regime of General Pervez Musharraf

"Strong Economic Medicine": Weakening Pakistan's Central Government

Pakistan has a federal structure based on federal provincial transfers. Under a federal fiscal structure, the central government transfers financial resources to the provinces, with a view to supporting provincial based programs. When these transfers are frozen as occurred in Yugoslavia in January 1990, on orders of the IMF, the federal fiscal structure collapses:
"State revenues that should have gone as transfer payments to the republics [of the Yugoslav federation] went instead to service Belgrade's debt ... . The republics were largely left to their own devices. ... The budget cuts requiring the redirection of federal revenues towards debt servicing, were conducive to the suspension of transfer payments by Belgrade to the governments of the Republics and Autonomous Provinces.

In one fell swoop, the reformers had engineered the final collapse of Yugoslavia's federal fiscal structure and mortally wounded its federal political institutions. By cutting the financial arteries between Belgrade and the republics, the reforms fueled secessionist tendencies that fed on economic factors as well as ethnic divisions, virtually ensuring the de facto secession of the republics. (Michel Chossudovsky, The Globalization of Poverty and the New World Order, Second Edition, Global Research, Montreal, 2003, Chapter 17.)

It is by no means accidental that the 2005 National Intelligence Council- CIA report had predicted a "Yugoslav-like fate" for Pakistan pointing to the impacts of "economic mismanagement" as one of the causes of political break-up and balkanization. "Economic mismanagement" is a term used by the Washington based international financial institutions to describe the chaos which results from not fully abiding by the IMF's Structural Adjustment Program. In actual fact, the "economic mismanagement" and chaos is the outcome of IMF-World Bank prescriptions, which invariably trigger hyperinflation and precipitate indebted countries into extreme poverty.

Pakistan has been subjected to the same deadly IMF "economic medicine" as Yugoslavia: In 1999, in the immediate wake of the coup d'Etat which brought General Pervez Musharaf to the helm of the military government, an IMF economic package, which included currency devaluation and drastic austerity measures, was imposed on Pakistan. Pakistan's external debt is of the order of US$40 billion. The IMF's "debt reduction" under the package was conditional upon the sell-off to foreign capital of the most profitable State owned enterprises (including the oil and gas facilities in Balochistan) at rockbottom prices .

Musharaf's Finance Minister was chosen by Wall Street, which is not an unusual practice. The military rulers appointed at Wall Street's behest, a vice-president of Citigroup, Shaukat Aziz, who at the time was head of CitiGroup's Global Private Banking. (See WSWS.org, 30 October 1999). CitiGroup is among the largest commercial foreign banking institutions in Pakistan.
There are obvious similarities in the nature of US covert intelligence operations applied in country after country in different parts of the so-called "developing World".

These covert operation, including the organisation of military coups, are often synchronized with the imposition of IMF-World Bank macro-economic reforms. In this regard, Yugoslavia's federal fiscal structure collapsed in 1990 leading to mass poverty and heightened ethnic and social divisions. The US and NATO sponsored "civil war" launched in mid-1991 consisted in coveting Islamic groups as well as channeling covert support to separatist paramilitary armies in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia. A similar "civil war" scenario has been envisaged for Pakistan by the National Intelligence Council and the CIA: From the point of view of US intelligence, which has a longstanding experience in abetting separatist "liberation armies", "Greater Albania" is to Kosovo what "Greater Balochistan" is to Pakistan's Southeastern Balochistan province. Similarly, the KLA is Washington's chosen model, to be replicated in Balochistan province.

The Assassination of Benazir Bhutto

Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi, no ordinary city. Rawalpindi is a military city host to the headquarters of the Pakistani Armed Forces and Military Intelligence (ISI). Ironically Bhutto was assassinated in an urban area tightly controlled and guarded by the military police and the country's elite forces. Rawalpindi is swarming with ISI intelligence officials, which invariably infiltrate political rallies. Her assassination was not a haphazard event.
Without evidence, quoting Pakistan government sources, the Western media in chorus has highlighted the role of Al-Qaeda, while also focusing on the the possible involvement of the ISI.

What these interpretations do not mention is that the ISI continues to play a key role in overseeing Al Qaeda on behalf of US intelligence. The press reports fail to mention two important and well documented facts:

1) the ISI maintains close ties to the CIA. The ISI is virtually an appendage of the CIA.

2) Al Qaeda is a creation of the CIA. The ISI provides covert support to Al Qaeda, acting on behalf of US intelligence.

The involvement of either Al Qaeda and/or the ISI would suggest that US intelligence was cognizant and/or implicated in the assassination plot. [Part Two: Pakistan and the "Global War on Terrorism" at http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=7746]

Michel Chossudovsky is the author of the international bestseller America’s "War on Terrorism" Global Research, 2005. He is Professor of Economics at the University of Ottawa and Director of the Center for Research on Globalization.

To order Chossudovsky's book America's "War on Terrorism", click here

Do You Remeber When Heath Ledger Called John Howard A Dick For Invading Iraq? by John/Togs Tognolini

Heath Ledger as Ned Kelly

Like everyone else I was stunned when I heard of Heath Ledger's death. His death is a tragic loss. I had just seen him play one of the alter-ego's of Bob Dylan in I'm Not There. Below is section of the interview Heath did with Andrew Denton on Enough Rope in 2003. John/Togs Tognolini

.......Andrew Denton: They're turning ugly, aren't they? Did you manage to watch any of the Academy Awards?

Heath Ledger: No, I was working all day. .

Andrew Denton: Of course, Michael Moore…I have a transcript of the speech Michael Moore made.

Heath Ledger: It's fantastic.

Andrew Denton: Fantastic speech. I'll read the last little bit. He got pretty much booed off the stage. He said, "We live in a time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. Whether it's the fiction of duct tape or the fiction of orange alerts, we are against this war, Mr Bush. Shame on you, and any time you've got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up." You were in Melbourne the other day, leading the march. I saw you on TV last week, after a bit of thought referring to our Prime Minister as 'a dick'.

Heath Ledger: Yeah.

Andrew Denton: You stand by that?

Heath Ledger: Well…yes, I do stand by that, absolutely.

Andrew Denton: There are those…and they've written over the weekend to suggest that you've been duped, that you're grandstanding.

Heath Ledger: Well, you know what? It's like… Screw it, man, everyone has their right to their opinion and that's mine. And, look, I'm not alone, am I?

Audience: No.

Andrew Denton: And to those who'd say, "Get your hand off it,
Ledger, what do you know?"

Heath Ledger: Yeah, look, I do… I mean…yeah, the unfortunate truth is none of us know enough and we will never know enough. But, screw it. Our country…we've never… This is the first time in the history of our country that we're an aggressor, and we're not an aggressive nation or people. I'm certainly not, and I'm very proud of my country and I'm the very proud of the people here. We shouldn't be a part of this. It's not a fight for humanity. It's a fight for oil. And screw it and screw them. I think we should all pull out and live a peaceful existence down here.

Andrew Denton: Do… Are three people around you saying, "Just pull back, Heath. Don't say this, don't blow it?"

Heath Ledger: Yeah, but at the end of the day, what am I going to blow? My career? At the end of the day, my career is so insignificant in this…this war. It just is, and I'm willing to lose a few jobs over it. God. Yeah. I'll start to cry soon.

Andrew Denton: No, it's a man of passion. I like that.

Heath Ledger: Well, we need more of it and I think it's only going to get…we're only going to get more and more support. I don't know how much effect it will have on it, but hopefully we can stop this thing before it's too late. Unfortunately, you know, within the human kind of instinct, we don't… It's like, I could tell you, Andrew, "Don't touch the fire because if you touch it you'll burn yourself," and you'll go, "OK." But then when I'm looking that way, you'll go over and you'll touch it and burn yourself and then you'll learn. I just hope we don't take it that far. I hope we learn before something disastrous happens.

Andrew Denton: Sadly, I think the fire has begun.

Heath Ledger: It has............


US Troops Will Be In Iraq for 10 More Years By PATRICK COCKBURN Baghdad.

US military forces will not stay in Iraq for anything like as long as some American politicians are demanding, says the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari. He said crucial issues about "Who is in charge in Iraq--we or you?" would be settled in negotiations between Iraq and the United States, starting this month.

The Republican presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, caused anger among Iraqis this month by saying during the New Hampshire primary that US military forces might stay in Iraq "for 100 years". Mr Zebari, asked by The Independent in Baghdad if the American army would be in Iraq in 10 years, said: "Really, I wouldn't say so."

Mr Zebari is much more confident than he was a year ago that "al-Qa'ida has been crushed, its network has been shattered" though it has not been completely eliminated. He says he thinks it dangerous if the Shia-Kurdish government, of which he is one of the most powerful members, does not pay and absorb into its own security forces the 70,000-strong Sunni Awakening movement which is fighting al-Qa'ida.

"That is the danger," said Mr Zebari. "The Awakening movement is not that well organized and it could be easily manipulated by al-Qa'ida." He added that it was an illusion that the Sunni political parties and their leaders "represent the Sunni community".

Mr Zebari originally made his name as the energetic spokesman and foreign representative of the Kurdistan Democratic Party during its long years of resistance to Saddam Hussein. He has been the most successful of Iraqi ministers since he was appointed in 2004, cultivating good relations with the US and Iran. Three years ago, insurgents tried to assassinate him using a vehicle packed with a ton of explosives, including a naval torpedo, which was detected near his home before it was detonated.

For all Mr Zebari's optimism, Iraq remains an extraordinary violent country. Yesterday, a suicide bomber in a police uniform killed Brigadier-General Salih Mohammed Hasan, the chief of police of Mosul, northern Iraq's largest city. He had been inspecting the ruins of a building in which 20 civilians had been killed and 150 wounded in an explosion the previous day.

The Iraqi leaders are eager to sign by July a bilateral treaty with the US which would in effect determine who rules Iraq. It would settle issues such as Iraqi sovereignty, command and control of Iraqi security forces, and the immunity of foreign troops and private security companies. The Iraqi intelligence service, at present controlled and financed by the CIA, will be brought under Iraqi government control.

Above all, said Mr Zebari, "the duration of the American presence here will be negotiated ... so their presence will not be open-ended". Although sovereignty was theoretically returned to Iraq in June 2004, the US remains very much in charge of security.

Mr Zebari says that he has no doubt that the new agreement would be denounced as a sell-out in Iraq, but it was necessary for Americans and Iraqis to end uncertainty about their future relations.

The Foreign Minister sees US support for the Iraqi government as being essential to prevent foreign invasion. "If we did not have the Americans here we would have seen many interventions by our neighbors, the latest of which was the massing of the Turkish troops [on Iraq's northern border]."

Syria has also made it more difficult for al-Qa'ida members to cross into Iraq and Iran has restrained the Shia militias and cut back on sending sophisticated Iranian-made roadside bombs into Iraq. "We convinced many countries that you are playing with fire, you have a snake by the tail" in supporting the insurgency in Iraq, says Mr Zebari.

Paradoxically, Iran is a strong supporter of the present government in Baghdad, which is dominated by religious parties from the majority Shia community. But Iran is a rival of the US for influence over the Iraqi government and does not want to see a threatening American army permanently encamped in Iraq and on its borders. Mr Zebari has tried to foster dialogue between Tehran and Washington, though with mixed success. But he is convinced that Iran has played a crucial role in restraining the Mehdi Army, the powerful Shia militia at present observing a ceasefire. Baghdad has invited the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to visit Iraq.

Mr Zebari would not confirm reports that Iran has recently taken a tougher line, postponing talks with US representatives several times in recent weeks. This follows a US National Intelligence Estimate saying that Iran is not developing a nuclear bomb.
The Iranians may also be worried that the Awakening movement is a US-run Sunni militia that will never give its loyalty to a Shia government.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of 'The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq', a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006. His forthcoming book 'Muqtada! Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia revival and the struggle for Iraq' is published by Scribner in April.

A Lesson in How to Create Iraqi Orphans. And Then How to Make Life Worse for Them by Robert Fisk

Robert Fisk

It’s not difficult to create orphans in Iraq. If you’re an insurgent, you can blow yourself up in a crowded market. If you’re an American air force pilot, you can bomb the wrong house in the wrong village. Or if you’re a Western mercenary, you can fire 40 bullets into the widowed mother of 14-year-old Alice Awanis and her sisters Karoon and Nora, the first just 20, the second a year older. But when the three girls landed at Amman airport from Baghdad last week they believed that they were free of the horrors of Baghdad and might travel to Northern Ireland to escape the terrible memory of their mother’s violent death.

Alas, the milk of human kindness does not necessarily extend to orphans from Iraq - the country we invaded for supposedly humanitarian reasons, not to mention weapons of mass destruction. For as their British uncle waited for them at Queen Alia airport, Jordanian security men - refusing him even a five-minute conversation with the girls - hustled the sisters back on to the plane for Iraq.

“How could they do this?” their uncle, Paul Manouk, asks. “Their mum has been killed. Their father had already died. I was waiting for them. The British embassy in Jordan said they might issue visas for the three - but that they had to reach Amman first.” Mr Manouk lives in Northern Ireland and is a British citizen. Explaining this to the Jordanian muhabarrat at the airport was useless.

Western mercenaries killed their 48-year-old Iraqi Armenian mother, Marou Awanis, and her best friend - firing 40 bullets into her body as she drove her taxi near their four-vehicle convoy in Baghdad - but tragedy has haunted the family for almost a century; the three sisters’ great-grandmother was forced to leave her two daughters to die on their own by the roadside during the 1915 Armenian genocide. Mrs Awanis’ friend, Jeneva Jalal, was killed instantly alongside her in the passenger seat.

The Australian “security” company whose employees killed Mrs Awanis and her friend - “executed” might be a better word for it, because that is the price of driving too close to armed Westerners in Baghdad these days - expressed its “regrets”. The chief operating officer of Unity Resources Group claims that she drove her car at speed towards the company’s employees and that they feared she was a suicide bomber.

“Only then did the team use their weapons in a final attempt to stop the vehicle,” Michael Priddin said. “We deeply regret the loss of these lives.” He refused to identify the killers or their nationality. Westerners in Baghdad - especially those who kill the innocent - are once they are known, rich in regrets. But they are less keen to ensure that the bereaved they leave behind are cared for.

Karoon was sick and had papers allowing her to enter Jordan; the family assumed that her siblings would be permitted to enter the country with her. Mr Manouk, an electrical engineer in Co Down, said that he went to the office of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees in Amman and that they told him that the sisters had to come in.

“I also sought visas for them at the British embassy but the visa section said that the three had to be in Amman before they could do anything to help them. Karoon was told by the Jordanians she could come into Amman but that her other sisters could not. She would not leave her sisters. So all three went back to Baghdad the same day.

“I just could not believe this. At the airport I pleaded with the Jordanian security people to let me spend five minutes with my nieces - just five minutes only - but they refused.”
Mrs Awanis had two sisters in Iraq, Helen and Anna, who are looking after the girls until Mr Manouk - or anyone else - finds a way of rescuing them.

“I have a Jordanian friend who had at first arranged to enrol the two eldest girls in the university in Jordan, but it was of no use,” Mr Manouk says. “I had an awful evening at the airport. In my distress, I am writing to King Abdullah for his help. We are trying to get a settlement for my nieces with the Australian company whose people shot their mother. But they are not liable under Iraqi law. I want a proper settlement by law - through lawyers - not just a cash handout, which is the way Americans do things in Iraq.”

Like so many Armenian families, the Manouks are overshadowed by a history of mass murder. During the Armenian genocide of 1915, perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks, Paul Manouk’s grandfather - the three Iraqi orphans’ great-grandfather - was taken from his family by Turkish policemen in a line of other men and never seen again. His father, then just six years old, survived along with his mother. “But my father’s sister, we believe, was taken by a Kurdish man as his wife,” Mr Manouk said.

“My grandfather’s two other sisters had a terrible fate. Their legs had swollen on the long march south from their home in Besni, near Marash, and they could not keep walking, so my grandmother took the decision to leave them on the roadside and keep the son so that our ‘line’ would survive. The two little girls were never seen again.”

The family had almost reached the border of the Ottoman province of Mesopotamia - modern-day Iraq - on the long march of ethnic cleansing when, like tens of thousands other Armenians, they lost their loved ones through exhaustion and starvation. A million-and-a-half Armenians died in the genocide.

After the British occupation of Iraq in 1917, British troops escorted the remains of the Manouk family to Basra where one of the aunts looking after the three Awanis sisters still lives.
Their father, Azad Awanis, died after a heart operation in 2004. Mrs Awanis was driving her Oldsmobile taxi through the dangerous streets of Baghdad to earn money for her family after her husband’s death, little realising that her new job - and a bunch of trigger-happy mercenaries - would orphan her children.

Paul Manouk met his British wife in Edinburgh in 1974, when he was studying for a PhD in medicine. A normally imperturbable man, he describes himself as still being in a state of shock at the killing of his younger sister.

“I wonder what her face was like when she died. She wasn’t in a bad area. Marou was coming back from church when she was shot, along with her friend. Another woman, in the back of the car, was wounded.” A 15-year-old boy survived. According to Mr Manouk, his sister was “riddled with bullets from the chest upwards”.

–Robert Fisk
Published on Friday, January 25, 2008 by The Independent/UK

It’s Time to Hold Democratic House Leaders in Contempt-Enough is enough by Naomi Wolf

Naomi Wolf

Like many of us, after having watched helplessly as the Bush administration trampled the Constitution and made a mockery of checks and balances over the course of five bitter years, I was hopeful when the American people elected a Democratic Congress in November of 2006. Finally, I imagined, we would have a whiff of legality and the hint of a restoration of the rule of law in the land. Perhaps we would even have congressional committees to oversee the administration’s subversions of the rule of law and investigate the wide range of abuses that it had perpetrated since 2001.

There has been a bit of movement — which is why the thousands of Americans I have met who are appalled at these abuses but feel powerless to raise their voices effectively should take heart, but not stop their fight. To some extent, these raised voices have yielded some action: Congress has in fact held numerous hearings on issues — ranging from torture to warrantless wiretapping — that had been taboo to contend with when the administration was heedlessly, and unopposed, using a hyped narrative of `the global war on terror’ to subdue American liberties. Most prominently, we got some of the bad guys out of town. Citizen-driven congressional investigations into the politicization of the Department of Justice, for example, spurred the resignations of many key Bush administration officials, including the mild-mannered gatekeeper of the first bolgia of Hell, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

And yet, where it counts most, Democratic leaders in Congress have completely abdicated their constitutional oversight role. What they are doing now reprises the worst failures of other self-paralyzed Parliaments in societies that were facing crackdowns on civil liberties and the rule of law, and their voluntary self-emasculation may go down in history as one of those turning points at which leaders cave shamefully to transformative pressure that leaves a country far less than its founded ideal. Through their actions, they are potentially causing irreparable harm to the institution of Congress itself.

At issue is the failure of White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers to comply with congressional subpoenas to testify about the 2006 firings of a handful of U.S. Attorneys. We now have an America in which Congress says, “We subpoena you.” And potential criminals say, “Yeah? F— off.”

As most people know, the Bush administration asserted executive privilege on behalf of Bolten and Miers and refused to allow them to comply with the subpoenas to testify before the House Judiciary Committee last July. It is widely understood that executive privilege only protects certain conversations and correspondences with the president and is not intended to be a blanket privilege — protecting possible wrongdoers against having to appear before Congress AT ALL.

By going far beyond specific exchanges between the president and other officials, the White House essentially asserted that Congress has no power over the executive branch and could not question executive branch officials about their activities. This is an affront to our Constitution. In the shootout of this executive power grab, it effectively leaves one branch of government fatally wounded on Main Street.

Guess what? In America, Congress is not supposed to be tied up and left for dead as potential criminals walk away with impunity. Within weeks, the few brave members of the House Judiciary Committee who were apparently still sentient and still aware of their role as Americans appropriately passed a criminal contempt resolution against both Bolten and Miers.
It was then in the hands of Democratic leaders in the House to bring the resolution to the floor for a vote.

Since then, the citizens of this High Noon scenario have been hiding under the bar stools as the black hats swagger through the nation’s abandoned thoroughfare, and chaparral rolls through the streets. Democratic leaders are hiding from the call of destiny and offering nothing but delays and excuses to avoid producing any semblance of cojones.

In July, they said there would be a vote in September. In September, they said there would be a vote in October. In October, they said a vote would be “more likely” in November. In December, it appeared as if there would be a vote in December - which was then changed to January. If this was my twelve-year-old justifying an unfinished school project, she would be grounded. If it is your congressional representatives justifying an advanced case of cowardice, they should be fired.

Then, less than two weeks ago, on January 14, the Washington Post reported, under a headline, “House Democrats Target Bolten, Miers,” that the House would likely take up the resolutions in the next “couple of weeks.” With this information coming from “Democratic leadership aides,” it appeared as if — Hallelujah! — the long wait for some semblance of justice and a faint breeze of courage might be over.

But two days ago, Politico reported that the votes on criminal contempt citations had been — Say it ain’t so! — “postponed” by House Democrats. Now they were not expected “for weeks.” Moreover, after “Democratic leadership aides” asserted in October that Congress “would be able to round up the 218 votes needed to push through the resolution from Democrats alone,” a Democratic “insider” was now saying, “When we have the votes, we’ll go ahead with this. Right now, the votes are just not there.”

So let me get this straight. The Democrats in Congress cannot even get their own members together to defend the Constitution against a supremely unpopular executive who has essentially spit in their faces, eaten their lunch and the nation’s, and publicly called them out as powerless. Not to mention the fact that they are setting a precedent for the future that any executive can emasculate any Congress and defy any subpoena after having committed possibly any crime. Still they are trembling under the barstools — summoning up, perhaps, the courage to crawl out fully prone and toss their untouched guns humbly at the feet of the posse.

Remember this: each and every member of Congress took an oath — and the oath was not to some abstract government, it was an oath TO YOU — to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Unlike many good people across the political spectrum who are appalled at this dismantling of the three-part system the founders put in place and the besmirching of the rule of law, Congressional Republicans have clearly decided to place their allegiance to the president and their party over their allegiance to the Constitution.
This is bad enough; this is, in fact, treason. But the Democrats do not even have that party allegiance as an excuse for their treachery. They would be standing up for their party, the institution of Congress, and the Constitution by passing the contempt resolutions. What more will it take to get them to act?

Those who think — as Pelosi apparently does — that they may rock the boat through a contempt citation in a way that endangers a possible Democratic victory in September are badly misreading the public mood — as well as severely misreading the historical record.

If you don’t punish those who break the law at this stage of a crackdown on liberty — through contempt citations, through the use of Congress’s jail cell for those who are found guilty of contempt, and/or through the investigations of a truly independent prosecutor — you are not going to have a transparent, accountable election in November. You will have set a benchmark for impunity and you will get greater and greater crimes committed in the certainty of impunity.

If you doubt the dangers of this, think of the Gulf of Hormuz threat a few weeks ago — oops, hoax. Because the press is actually asking questions, the Pentagon’s narrative of a vicious Iranian provocation was sidelined. But it is purely naive to believe that a White House that would ignore subpoenas and impose yet another false threat scenario on the American people will conduct a transparent election in the fall, especially if it can get away with murder — the murder of the rule of law — today.

Tell your representative to move forward with contempt. And if your representatives fail to act, the punishment should not just be removal from office in the next election; they should also be subject to investigations themselves — for abetting crimes against the Constitution.
Contempt is at issue, indeed.

Published on Saturday, January 26, 2008 by Huffington Post

Naomi Wolf is the author of The New York Times bestseller “The End of America” (Chelsea Green) and is the co-founder of the American Freedom Campaign.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Invasion Day statement, January 26, 2008, by Sam Watson, Brisbane Indigenous community leader and Socialist Alliance member.

Sam Watson

This Invasion Day, 2008, is the opportunity to commence a major change in the position of Indigenous rights in Australia. The time has come to show proper respect and sensitivity to the Aboriginal Stolen Generations, and allow a lengthy period so that there can be consultation across the indigenous communities and all our people are given the opportunity to be involved. The Reconciliation process was allowed 10 years and substantial resources to be undertaken, so the Stolen Generation should be given time for proper consideration.

The Rudd Labor government is showing disrespect for our people and our customs by rushing the process of an apology to the Stolen Generation, in order to serve the larger ALP political agenda. The government wants to make an apology on February 11 and 12, in order for the matter to be resolved and moved off the front pages of the newspapers, so they can concentrate on their bigger game of being re-elected in 2010.

I propose that there should be a national monument erected in front of Parliament House to honor the victims. This moment, when the Australian government offers up an apology will become a significant and defining moment in the short history of this nation.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin still haven’t made any attempt to meet with the genuine leaders of the Aboriginal community. We endorse Macklin’s decision to close down the National Indigenous Advisory Council, which is only a handful of Howard’s puppets.

However, the new government now needs to put into practice genuine consultation with the Aboriginal people, in order to make a real apology and to begin to right the wrongs of the past – including offering real compensation to the Stolen Generations.

We must reject the invasion of the Northern Territory by the previous government, and any attempt to extend this intervention to Queensland or other state. We need to seriously challenge Black deaths in custody, and continued discrimination against Indigenous people in all areas of society.

We call on the Australian people to mobilize to defend human rights in all sectors of our country, as well as internationally. Australia needs to recognize that the wealth of this society was gained from the stolen land and resources of the Indigenous people.

Now is the time to remember this history by negotiating a Treaty to truly recognize the rights of the original people of this country, and to provide fair compensation for the theft of their land and resources.

We call on all supporters of Indigenous rights to rally in Canberra, at the opening of federal parliament on February 12, to defend the interests of the Stolen Generations and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

For more information, contact Sam on 0401 227 443; or Paul on 07 3831 2644.


Brazil Amazon Deforestation Soars

The Brazilian government has announced a huge rise in the rate of Amazon deforestation, months after celebrating its success in achieving a reduction.

In the last five months of 2007, 3,235 sq km (1,250 sq miles) were lost.

Gilberto Camara, of INPE, an institute that provides satellite imaging of the area, said the rate of loss was unprecedented for the time of year.

Officials say rising commodity prices are encouraging farmers to clear more land to plant crops such as soya.

The monthly rate of deforestation saw a big rise from 243 sq km (94 sq miles) in August to 948 sq km (366 sq miles) in December.

“We’ve never before detected such a high deforestation rate at this time of year,” Mr Camara said.

His concern, outlined during a news conference in Brasilia on Wednesday, was echoed by Environment Minister Marina Silva.

Expensive soya

Ms Silva said rising prices of raw materials and commodities could be spurring the rate of forest clearing, as more and more farmers saw the Amazon as a source of cheap land.

“The economic reality of these states indicate that these activities impact, without a shadow of a doubt, on the forest,” she said.

The state of Mato Grosso was the worst affected, contributing more than half the total area of forest stripped, or 1,786 sq km (700 sq miles).

The states of Para and Rondonia were also badly affected, accounting for 17.8% and 16% of the total cleared respectively.

The situation may also be worse than reported, with the environment ministry saying the preliminary assessment of the amount of forest cleared could double as more detailed satellite images are analysed.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is due to attend an emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss new measures to tackle deforestation in the Amazon.

The latest figures will be an embarrassment for the Brazilian president, correspondents say.
Last year, President Lula said his government’s efforts to control illegal logging and introduce better certification of land ownership had helped reduce forest clearance significantly.

Even as he celebrated the success, though, environmentalists were warning that the rate was rising again.

Published on Thursday, January 24, 2008 by BBC News/UK

Desperate Iraqi Farmers Turn to Opium By PATRICK COCKBURN

The cultivation of opium poppies whose product is turned into heroin is spreading rapidly across Iraq as farmers find they can no longer make a living through growing traditional crops.
Afghan with experience in planting poppies have been helping farmers switch to producing opium in fertile parts of Diyala province, once famous for its oranges and pomegranates, north- east of Baghdad.

At a heavily guarded farm near the town of Buhriz, south of the provincial capital Baquba, poppies are grown between the orange trees in order to hide them, according to a local source.
The shift by Iraqi farmers to producing opium is a very recent development. The first poppy fields, funded by drug smugglers who previously supplied Saudi Arabia and the Gulf with heroin from Afghanistan, were close to the city of Diwaniyah in southern Iraq. The growing of poppies has now spread to Diyala, which is one of the places in Iraq where al-Qa'ida is still resisting US and Iraqi government forces. It is also deeply divided between Sunni, Shia and Kurd and the extreme violence means that local security men have little time to deal with the drugs trade. The speed with which farmers are turning to poppies is confirmed by the Iraqi news agency al-Malaf Press, which says that opium is now being produced around the towns of Khalis, Sa'adiya, Dain'ya and south of Baladruz, pointing out that these are all areas where al-Qa'ida is strong.
The agency cites a local agricultural engineer identified as M S al-Azawi as saying that local farmers got no support from the government and could not compete with cheap imports of fruit and vegetables. The price of fertilizer and fuel has also risen sharply. Mr Azawi says: "The cultivation of opium is the likely solution [to these problems]."

Al-Qa'ida is in control of many of the newly established opium farms and has sometimes taken the land of farmers it has killed, said a local source. At Buhriz, American military forces destroyed the opium farm and drove off al-Qa'ida last year but it later returned. "No one can get inside the farm because it is heavily guarded," said the source, adding that the area devoted to opium in Diyala is still smaller than that in southern Iraq around Amara and Majar al-Kabir.
After being harvested, the opium from Diyala is taken to Ramadi in western Iraq. There are still no reports of heroin laboratories being established in Iraq, unlike in Afghanistan.

Iraq has not been a major consumer of drugs but heroin from Afghanistan has been transited from Iran and then taken to Basra from where it is exported to the rich markets of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf. Under Saddam Hussein, state security in Basra was widely believed to control local drug smuggling through the city.

The growing and smuggling of opium will be difficult to stop in Iraq because much of the country is controlled by criminalized militias. American successes in Iraq over the past year have been largely through encouraging the development of a 70,000-strong Sunni Arab militia, many of whose members are former insurgents linked to protection rackets, kidnapping and crime. Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the powerful Shia militia, the Mehdi Army, says that criminals have infiltrated its ranks.

The move of local warlords, both Sunni and Shia, into opium farming is a menacing development in Iraq, where local political leaders are often allied to gangsters. The theft of fuel, smuggling and control of government facilities such as ports means that gangs are often very rich. It is they, rather than impoverished farmers, who have taken the lead in financing and organising opium production in Iraq.

Initial planting in fertile land west and south of Diwaniya around the towns of Ash Shamiyah, al-Ghammas and Shinafiyah were said to have faced problems because of the extreme heat and humidity. Al-Malaf Press says that it has learnt that the experiments with opium poppy-growing in Diyala have been successful.Although opium has not been grown in many of these areas in Iraq in recent history, some of the earliest written references to opium come from ancient Iraq.

It was known to the ancient Sumerians as early as 3400BC as the "Hul Gil" or "joy plant" and there are mentions of it on clay tablets found in excavations at the city of Nippur just east of Diwaniyah.

from CounterPunch

Patrick Cockburn is the author of 'The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq', a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006. His forthcoming book 'Muqtada! Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia revival and the struggle for Iraq' is published by Scribner in April.

Tens of Thousands of Palestinians Seeking Basic Supplies Flood Egypt for Second Day from Democracy Now!

A Palestinian family, their belongings crammed into a taxi, wait to be allowed through the Rafah border crossing to start a new life in Egypt.
Thousands of Palestinians are pouring into Egypt from Gaza for a second consecutive day after militants destroyed most of a border wall in the town of Rafah on Wednesday. Gazans are rushing across the border to stock up on food, fuel, medicines and other basic supplies, which have become scarce or unaffordable after months of economic isolation. We go to Gaza to speak with Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer and to to Tel Aviv to speak with Israeli journalist Gideon Levy. [includes rush transcript]
Mohammed Omer, Palestinian journalist from Rafah. He writes for several publications including the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. He maintains a blog at RafahToday.org.
Gideon Levy, Israeli journalist with Ha’aretz newspaper. He was recently awarded the 2008 Euro-Med Journalist Prize for Cultural Dialogue.

Rush TranscriptThis transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.

Related Democracy Now! Stories
As Gaza Plunges into Darkness, Israeli and Palestinian Fighters-Turned-Peace-Activists Speak Out (1/22/2008)

AMY GOODMAN: Thousands of Palestinians are pouring into Egypt from Gaza for a second consecutive day after militants destroyed most of a border wall in the town of Rafah on Wednesday. Gazans are rushing across the border to stock up on food, fuel, medicines and other basic supplies, which have become scarce or unaffordable after months of economic isolation. Hundreds of Egyptian security forces have moved into the area but are so far making no attempt to stem the traffic.

According to Time magazine, over 350,000 Palestinians have crossed the border, nearly one-fifth of Gaza’s entire population. Dismissed Palestinian Prime Minister and Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh said the border crossing is a direct result of the siege.

ISMAEL HANIYEH: [translated] What happened at Rafah was an expression of a popular rage, and it is evidence that despair has reached its climax and the siege cannot continue.
AMY GOODMAN: The border crossing comes on the sixth day of an Israeli blockade that has cut off all deliveries to Gaza. Israel says it’s trying to stop Palestinian militants from launching rockets at nearby Israeli towns. Over the past ten days, more than 200 rockets and mortars have been fired into Israel, lightly wounding ten people. Meanwhile, over the same period,

Israeli army raids in Gaza have killed more than forty people.

Israel said it bears no responsibility for security at the Rafah crossing but expects Egypt would reseal the border with Gaza and stop allowing the free passage of Palestinians. This is Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aryeh Mekel.

ARYEH MEKEL: Israel has no presence in that area. It is the Egyptians that are stationed alongside the border between Gaza and Egypt, and therefore it is the responsibility of Egypt to ensure that the border operates in a proper way according to the signed agreements. We expect the Egyptian government to solve the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: But Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has not indicated when he plans to close the crossing. He told reporters Wednesday he allowed Palestinians to come into Egypt because they’re starving. President Mubarak’s comment came after days of protests against the Egyptian government’s support for Israel.

PRESIDENT HOSNI MUBARAK: [translated] Let them come in and buy food, then go back, as long as they are not carrying weapons. And I even spoke to the government. And if they need food or the authorities that can help feed them, we are willing to help them.

AMY GOODMAN: For the latest news from Gaza, I’m now joined on the phone from Gaza by Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer. He lives in the Rafah refugee camp and writes for several publications, including the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. He maintains a blog at rafahtoday.org. He just returned from there and joins me on the line from Gaza City.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Mohammed. Can you describe what’s happening now on the border?

MOHAMMED OMER: Thank you very much, Amy. In the border right now, still the people are flooding into the Rafah border, and the streets are crowded by large numbers of people, as more than 350,000 Palestinians are getting into the Egypt, in and out, coming to Egypt. And little spots—

And also breaking news, I have received some information from the spokesman of Minister of Health telling me that a group of doctors from Egypt have managed to come to Gaza to operate for Palestinian patients in the Palestinian hospitals, and they were bringing some medicine with them. In the Gaza Strip, most of the people are going towards the south, and they are heading to the south. They’re trying to get medicine, food and all their needs.

I’ve met with some people. Among the people is Saad al-Buleimi [phon.], thirty-four years old, and his brother Mohammed. And they couldn’t believe that Rafah border is open. They are living in the middle of the Gaza Strip, and it’s time for them—both of them have shared and carried their mother, who has been stuck in Gaza for many months, and she couldn’t get out to go for operation in Egypt. Then, today, she was able to get through and go for the hospital for her operation.

GOODMAN: Mohammed Omer, Time magazine has said 350,000 Palestinians have crossed into Egypt, a fifth of the population of Gaza. Is that possible?

MOHAMMED OMER: It is possible. And I can tell you the number is increasing today. Yesterday, people were not believing that. They were staying mostly home. But still, the number was large enough to describe more than 200,000 people who are crossing. But today it’s much more than that. Wherever you go in the streets, you ask people, “Where are you going?” they say Rafah. Everyone is heading to Rafah. They’re going to Rafah to buy things.
And what they are buying—I’ve seen people buying cows and buying veal and buying sheep and buying cheese and buying medicine, and some who buy also fish and some who buy medication and some—so there are different people. And even some people that I found buying candles, because there is no candles any longer in the Gaza Strip, due to the siege involved in Gaza. And I’ve also talked to some people, and I’ve figured out that they are buying also washing powder, which wasn’t allowed into the Gaza Strip during the last few weeks by the Israeli occupation forces.

So people are quite happy right now, getting closer to the border. But the problem that they could not go as far as—after El Arish. They can just go inside the area of Rafah, the Egyptian Rafah, and El Arish area in Egypt, but it is difficult for them to get as close as that. I can see also some numbers of people in wheelchairs, mostly the people who were injured in the last few attacks, getting out through the Rafah terminal crossing by their families who take them to the near hospital for medication.

AMY GOODMAN: Is Israel still attacking Gaza?

MOHAMMED OMER: There is a military buildup right now in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. Nearly fifty tanks are patrolling in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. I’m not sure if that’s a start of a new attack or if that’s a normal regime of patrolling. But there is also hovering of F-16s and helicopters from time to time. There has been no major attacks in the last twenty-four hours since the people have managed to cross through the Egyptian border. But the last period has been quite difficult for the Palestinian population in the last week.

Since the 1st of January—or sorry, since the 1st of January, 2008, seventy-six Palestinians were killed by the Israeli occupation forces, and 293 were injured also by the Israeli occupation forces, only in the last month, this month, in January, while on the other hand, from eight to six Israelis were injured as a result of more than 150 Kassam rockets, homemade rockets, launched from Gaza. The situation is still not easy. There are still people, despite the fact, who still have the mourning tents, as they have lost their relatives. And still, the hospitals are treating the people who were injured as a result of the recent attacks on Gaza.

In general, the mood in Gaza, most of the people are desperate to go to Egypt, some who go for the medication, some who go to buy things. But the people are quite happy that now there is a chance for them to get out and get what they need.

But the thing also that there is not that much supplies in the Egyptian stock now, because many people take the empty gallons, and they try to go to fill it in with petrol in order to heat their houses or to light their houses, since Israel has taken the decision to shut off all the borders again, and they say that Egypt is going to take responsibility over the Gaza Strip, which means that no aid will come to the Gaza. And I’ve talked also to the spokesman and head of the [inaudible] Palestinian generation company, and he confirmed to me that they know that the Palestinian—the Israeli side has stopped supplying Gaza with the fuel. And he was afraid that it might mean that one of the main generators in the Gaza Strip will end, will stop by the end of the day or at least at the end of the day or ’til the evening as a result of the shortages of fuel coming to the Gaza Strip through the Karni crossing.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Mohammed Omer. He is a Palestinian journalist who lives in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza. Originally, at the beginning, the Egyptian forces opened fire on the border in Rafah, the Egyptian government coming under fierce criticism for that. What happened?

MOHAMMED OMER: That was on Wednesday, when a group of people—or it was on Tuesday, when a group of people went to the border, mainly women affiliated to Hamas, went to the border and tried to open the border. I was in the area myself, and I saw that, and I saw the—there was some clashes. They were trying to push the women back. But the problem here, that they could not do that in the next day. The first day they have managed—they succeed, because the number of the women were not great. It was nearly 2,000 women with some men who were coming through, trying to break into the siege. They were having thirty injured people and sick people who need medication in Egypt, and they were calling the Israeli security forces—sorry, the Egyptian security forces to let them inside, but then they did not let them inside as a result of that.

And for that situation, since then, nearly since—the problem that—what happened, that they lived nearly—that Israel, according to Camp David agreement that allows only 750 soldiers, Egyptian soldiers, to patrol on the border. They could not allow more people to be on the border or more soldiers to be on the border. For that reason, it was difficult also to control the large numbers of people who were flooding into the borderline.

I’ve talked to a spokesman and one security officer at the Egyptian side, and he confirmed to me that it was also a humanitarian issue, that we could not watch our brothers in Gaza and our sisters in Gaza starve to death, and we just watching like that. We had to open the border for them to come for a few days to get food and to get the basic things that they need. As long as they don’t bring weapons or take weapons, then they just take the medicine and take what they need and then leave. So this is—it came from a humanitarian side, but it’s also that Israel has restricted the number; 750 Egyptian soldiers are allowed only to be in the border. But I would expect if there is a more number of soldiers, it might be that they would have stopped them. But they say it’s a humanitarian issue, and for that reason they have decided to let the people go through.

Now the Egyptian security forces are watching people at the moment, while they are crossing in, but they are mainly not preventing them. They are only preventing them from going as far into Egypt, like Alexandria or Cairo or Al-Isma’iliyah. But they are allowing them in just the area of El Arish and Rafah border area, where most of the stocks, unfortunately, have run out of fuel. The petrol stations have run out of fuel at the moment in Egypt, this part, because it’s not possible for people to get the medication they need, when they went to the pharmacy to look for medication. And they found even the pharmacies have no medicine at all left, because the people are taking as much as possible, believing that the siege has not ended and it will continue for the next few months, at least.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohammed Omer is a Palestinian journalist living in the Rafah refugee camp, speaking to us from Gaza City. Right now, we’re going to go to break. When we come back, we’re also going to go to Tel Aviv to talk with Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, and we’re going to look at the US presidential candidates’ stand on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Stay with us.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Tel Aviv to Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, who is a regular columnist for Haaretz newspaper, recently awarded the 2008 Euro-Med Journalist Prize for Cultural Dialogue.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Gideon Levy. Your response to what’s happening in Gaza right now and the Israeli government saying this is now the Egyptian government’s responsibility?

GIDEON LEVY: I think nobody should be surprised. When you try to make an experiment in human beings, putting them into a huge cage for months and months, you can’t expect that they will not do anything possible to find a way out. And anyone who claims he’s surprised for what happened really is not understandable.

I also understand the Egyptian attitude. What could they do? They couldn’t stand and shoot in hundreds of thousands of people, of refugees, who are trying to get some food, as simple as this.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure that the situation will remain for long, and I’m afraid that very soon the siege will be completed again, and again we’ll face this humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Gideon Levy, the figures from the United Nations right now, they are saying 79 percent of Palestinians in Gaza Strip live in poverty. The water supply to the Gaza Strip is approximately half the international standard, the UN saying Palestinians say 40 percent of Gazans lack drinking water. Are these the figures that you understand?

GIDEON LEVY: Those are the almost minimal figures, because I don’t deal with figures, I deal usually with human beings. And I have a few friends there who keep on informing me. Unfortunately, the Israeli government, the Israeli IDF, the Israeli army, does not let Israeli journalists into Gaza in the last fourteen or fifteen months. So I’m better informed over the phone.

And I can tell you that all the statistics are nothing vis-a-vis the reality. People are waking up in Gaza into a reality which I don’t think many Westerners, including Israelis, can imagine it at all: no future, no perspectives, no fuel for the car, no electricity in those very, very cold nights, and big life threat day after day, because don’t forget that the Israeli army is being active there almost every day from the air, from the sea and also from the territory itself.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Gideon Levy, speaking to us from Tel Aviv, the response overall in Israel? I mean, the rationale of the Israeli government not to allow Israeli journalists into Gaza to Rafah, their rationale, and what is the population saying?

GIDEON LEVY: Could you repeat the last part of your question?

AMY GOODMAN: What is the Israeli population response to this right now? And what’s the Israeli government rationale for keeping you out of Gaza?

GIDEON LEVY: Yeah. Unfortunately, for a long time, the Israeli public opinion is quite indifferent to the Palestinians’ agony, to the suffering, to the life under occupation in general. And same for now. People are only concerned if weapons will be smuggled into Gaza now, when the gates are open, and nobody really shares any kind of—maybe I’m naive to expect it, but nobody shares any kind of solidarity with 1.5 million people, who most of them are innocent people who wish only to find some work, some food and some way of normal living.

Now, about us, the Israeli journalists, we are prevented to go into a Gaza ever since Hamas is in power. And this is also something that should be mentioned, because I think, by this, the Israeli government prevents us from informing our readers or our viewers how does it really look there in Gaza. We could understand it if it was the last few weeks, because they were claiming that there are warnings that we may be kidnapped. But now, when it became a constant situation of over one year, it’s really a source of concern. The problem is that nobody really cares in Israel, because nobody really cares in Israel about life in Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Gideon Levy, speaking to us from Tel Aviv, he’s a columnist for Haaretz newspaper. Thanks for joining us from there.

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