Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Ain't it great? We've had the fewest reported American deaths in Iraq in a year. Yay for US!

This fact does not address the point that we should never have attacked, invaded, and occupied Iraq in the first place. Cheney/Bush need to be held accountable for their actions.

It is sad and depressing to watch military people leave this evening for yet another deployment to Iraq. This madness should have ended years ago because we never should have embarked upon such folly in the first place.

Semper Fidelis and Peace...

Gaza: The Logic of Colonial Power

As so often, the term 'terrorism' has proved a rhetorical smokescreen under cover of which the strong crush the weak

By Nir Rosen

December 31, 2008 -- I have spent most of the Bush administration's tenure reporting from Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia and other conflicts. I have been published by most major publications. I have been interviewed by most major networks and I have even testified before the senate foreign relations committee. The Bush administration began its tenure with Palestinians being massacred and it ends with Israel committing one of its largest massacres yet in a 60-year history of occupying Palestinian land. Bush's final visit to the country he chose to occupy ended with an educated secular Shiite Iraqi throwing his shoes at him, expressing the feelings of the entire Arab world save its dictators who have imprudently attached themselves to a hated American regime.

Once again, the Israelis bomb the starving and imprisoned population of Gaza. The world watches the plight of 1.5 million Gazans live on TV and online; the western media largely justify the Israeli action. Even some Arab outlets try to equate the Palestinian resistance with the might of the Israeli military machine. And none of this is a surprise. The Israelis just concluded a round-the-world public relations campaign to gather support for their assault, even gaining the collaboration of Arab states like Egypt.

The international community is directly guilty for this latest massacre. Will it remain immune from the wrath of a desperate people? So far, there have been large demonstrations in Lebanon, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Iraq. The people of the Arab world will not forget. The Palestinians will not forget. "All that you have done to our people is registered in our notebooks," as the poet Mahmoud Darwish said.

I have often been asked by policy analysts, policy-makers and those stuck with implementing those policies for my advice on what I think America should do to promote peace or win hearts and minds in the Muslim world. It too often feels futile, because such a revolution in American policy would be required that only a true revolution in the American government could bring about the needed changes. An American journal once asked me to contribute an essay to a discussion on whether terrorism or attacks against civilians could ever be justified. My answer was that an American journal should not be asking whether attacks on civilians can ever be justified. This is a question for the weak, for the Native Americans in the past, for the Jews in Nazi Germany, for the Palestinians today, to ask themselves.

Terrorism is a normative term and not a descriptive concept. An empty word that means everything and nothing, it is used to describe what the Other does, not what we do. The powerful – whether Israel, America, Russia or China – will always describe their victims' struggle as terrorism, but the destruction of Chechnya, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the slow slaughter of the remaining Palestinians, the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan – with the tens of thousands of civilians it has killed … these will never earn the title of terrorism, though civilians were the target and terrorising them was the purpose.

Counterinsurgency, now popular again among in the Pentagon, is another way of saying the suppression of national liberation struggles. Terror and intimidation are as essential to it as is winning hearts and minds.

Normative rules are determined by power relations. Those with power determine what is legal and illegal. They besiege the weak in legal prohibitions to prevent the weak from resisting. For the weak to resist is illegal by definition. Concepts like terrorism are invented and used normatively as if a neutral court had produced them, instead of the oppressors. The danger in this excessive use of legality actually undermines legality, diminishing the credibility of international institutions such as the United Nations. It becomes apparent that the powerful, those who make the rules, insist on legality merely to preserve the power relations that serve them or to maintain their occupation and colonialism.

Attacking civilians is the last, most desperate and basic method of resistance when confronting overwhelming odds and imminent eradication. The Palestinians do not attack Israeli civilians with the expectation that they will destroy Israel. The land of Palestine is being stolen day after day; the Palestinian people is being eradicated day after day. As a result, they respond in whatever way they can to apply pressure on Israel. Colonial powers use civilians strategically, settling them to claim land and dispossess the native population, be they Indians in North America or Palestinians in what is now Israel and the Occupied Territories. When the native population sees that there is an irreversible dynamic that is taking away their land and identity with the support of an overwhelming power, then they are forced to resort to whatever methods of resistance they can.

Not long ago, 19-year-old Qassem al-Mughrabi, a Palestinian man from Jerusalem drove his car into a group of soldiers at an intersection. "The terrorist", as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz called him, was shot and killed. In two separate incidents last July, Palestinians from Jerusalem also used vehicles to attack Israelis. The attackers were not part of an organisation. Although those Palestinian men were also killed, senior Israeli officials called for their homes to be demolished. In a separate incident, Haaretz reported that a Palestinian woman blinded an Israeli soldier in one eye when she threw acid n his face. "The terrorist was arrested by security forces," the paper said. An occupied citizen attacks an occupying soldier, and she is the terrorist?

In September, Bush spoke at the United Nations. No cause could justify the deliberate taking of human life, he said. Yet the US has killed thousands of civilians in airstrikes on populated areas. When you drop bombs on populated areas knowing there will be some "collateral" civilian damage, but accepting it as worth it, then it is deliberate. When you impose sanctions, as the US did on Saddam era Iraq, that kill hundreds of thousands, and then say their deaths were worth it, as secretary of state Albright did, then you are deliberately killing people for a political goal. When you seek to "shock and awe", as president Bush did, when he bombed Iraq, you are engaging in terrorism.

Just as the traditional American cowboy film presented white Americans under siege, with Indians as the aggressors, which was the opposite of reality, so, too, have Palestinians become the aggressors and not the victims. Beginning in 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were deliberately cleansed and expelled from their homes, and hundreds of their villages were destroyed, and their land was settled by colonists, who went on to deny their very existence and wage a 60-year war against the remaining natives and the national liberation movements the Palestinians established around the world. Every day, more of Palestine is stolen, more Palestinians are killed. To call oneself an Israeli Zionist is to engage in the dispossession of entire people. It is not that, qua Palestinians, they have the right to use any means necessary, it is because they are weak. The weak have much less power than the strong, and can do much less damage. The Palestinians would not have ever bombed cafes or used home-made missiles if they had tanks and airplanes. It is only in the current context that their actions are justified, and there are obvious limits.

It is impossible to make a universal ethical claim or establish a Kantian principle justifying any act to resist colonialism or domination by overwhelming power. And there are other questions I have trouble answering. Can an Iraqi be justified in attacking the United States? After all, his country was attacked without provocation, and destroyed, with millions of refugees created, hundreds of thousands of dead. And this, after 12 years of bombings and sanctions, which killed many and destroyed the lives of many others.

I could argue that all Americans are benefiting from their country's exploits without having to pay the price, and that, in today's world, the imperial machine is not merely the military but a military-civilian network. And I could also say that Americans elected the Bush administration twice and elected representatives who did nothing to stop the war, and the American people themselves did nothing. From the perspective of an American, or an Israeli, or other powerful aggressors, if you are strong, everything you do is justifiable, and nothing the weak do is legitimate. It's merely a question of what side you choose: the side of the strong or the side of the weak.

Israel and its allies in the west and in Arab regimes such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have managed to corrupt the PLO leadership, to suborn them with the promise of power at the expense of liberty for their people, creating a first – a liberation movement that collaborated with the occupier. Israeli elections are coming up and, as usual, these elections are accompanied by war to bolster the candidates. You cannot be prime minister of Israel without enough Arab blood on your hands. An Israeli general has threatened to set Gaza back decades, just as they threatened to set Lebanon back decades in 2006. As if strangling Gaza and denying its people fuel, power or food had not set it back decades already.

The democratically elected Hamas government was targeted for destruction from the day it won the elections in 2006. The world told the Palestinians that they cannot have democracy, as if the goal was to radicalise them further and as if that would not have a consequence. Israel claims it is targeting Hamas's military forces. This is not true. It is targeting Palestinian police forces and killing them, including some such as the chief of police, Tawfiq Jaber, who was actually a former Fatah official who stayed on in his post after Hamas took control of Gaza. What will happen to a society with no security forces? What do the Israelis expect to happen when forces more radical than Hamas gain power?

A Zionist Israel is not a viable long-term project and Israeli settlements, land expropriation and separation barriers have long since made a two state solution impossible. There can be only one state in historic Palestine. In coming decades, Israelis will be confronted with two options. Will they peacefully transition towards an equal society, where Palestinians are given the same rights, à la post-apartheid South Africa? Or will they continue to view democracy as a threat? If so, one of the peoples will be forced to leave. Colonialism has only worked when most of the natives have been exterminated. But often, as in occupied Algeria, it is the settlers who flee. Eventually, the Palestinians will not be willing to compromise and seek one state for both people. Does the world want to further radicalise them?

Do not be deceived: the persistence of the Palestine problem is the main motive for every anti-American militant in the Arab world and beyond. But now the Bush administration has added Iraq and Afghanistan as additional grievances. America has lost its influence on the Arab masses, even if it can still apply pressure on Arab regimes. But reformists and elites in the Arab world want nothing to do with America.

A failed American administration departs, the promise of a Palestinian state a lie, as more Palestinians are murdered. A new president comes to power, but the people of the Middle East have too much bitter experience of US administrations to have any hope for change. President-elect Obama, Vice President-elect Biden and incoming secretary of state Hillary Clinton have not demonstrated that their view of the Middle East is at all different from previous administrations. As the world prepares to celebrate a new year, how long before it is once again made to feel the pain of those whose oppression it either ignores or supports? © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

May We No Longer Be Silent


The title of my article comes from the sermon of the Episcopal Bishop of Washington DC, John Bryson Chane, delivered on October 5, 2008, at St. Columba Church. The bishop’s eyes were opened to Israel’s persecution of Palestinians by his recent trip to Palestine. In his sermon he called on “politicians seeking the highest office in [our] land” to find the courage to “speak out and condemn violations of human rights and religious freedom denied to Palestinian Christians and Muslims” by the state of Israel.

Bishop Chane’s courage was to no avail. When America’s new leader of “change” was informed of Israel’s massive air attack on the Gaza Ghetto, an area of 139 square miles where Israel confines 1.4 million Arabs and tightly controls the inflow of all resources--food, medicine, water, energy--America’s president-elect Obama had “no comment.”

According to the Jerusalem Post ( December 26), “at 11:30 a.m., more than 50 fighter jets and attack helicopters swept into Gazan airspace and dropped more than 100 bombs on 50 targets. . . . Thirty minutes later, a second wave of 60 jets and helicopters struck at 60 targets . . . More than 170 targets were hit by IAF aircraft throughout the day. At least 230 Gazans were killed and over 780 were wounded . . .”

As I write, news reports are that Israel is sending tanks and infantry reinforcements in preparation for a ground invasion of Gaza.

Israel’s excuse for its violence is that from time to time the Palestinian resistance organization, Hamas, fires off rockets into Israel to protest the ghetto life that Israel imposes on Gazans. The rockets are ineffectual for the most part and seldom claim Israeli casualties. However, the real purpose for the Israeli attack is to destroy Hamas.

In 2006 the US insisted that the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank hold free elections. When free elections were held, Hamas won. This was unacceptable to the Americans and Israelis. In the West Bank, the Americans and Israelis imposed a puppet government, but Hamas held on in Gaza. After unheeded warnings to the Gazans to rid themselves of Hamas and accept a puppet government, Israel has decided to destroy the freely elected government with violence.

Ehud Barak, who is overseeing the latest act of Israeli aggression, said in interviews addressed to the British and American publics that asking Israel to agree to a ceasefire with Hamas would be like asking the US to agree to a ceasefire with al Qaeda. The terrorism that Israel inflicts on Palestinians goes unremarked.

According to the London Times (December 28), “Britain and the United States were on a collision course with their European allies last night after refusing to call for an end to Israeli airstrikes on Hamas targets in Gaza. The wave of attacks marked a violent end to President George W. Bush’s sporadic Middle East peace efforts. The White House put the blame squarely on Hamas.” The British government also blamed Hamas.

For the US and UK governments, Israel can do no wrong. Israel doesn’t have to stop withholding food, medicine, water, and energy, but Hamas must stop protesting by firing off rockets. In violation of international law, Israel can drive West Bank Palestinians off their lands and out of their villages and give the stolen properties to “settlers.” Israel can delay Palestinians in need of emergency medical care at checkpoints until their lives ebb away. Israeli snipers can get their jollies murdering Palestinian children.

The Great Moral Anglo-Americans couldn’t care less.

In his 2005 Nobel Lecture, British playwright Harold Pinter held the United States and its British puppet state accountable for “the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought.” Everyone knows that such crimes occurred in the Soviet Union and in its East European empire, but “US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognized as crimes at all,” this despite the fact that “the United States’ actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.”

Soviet crimes, like Nazi ones, are documented in gruesome detail, but America’s crimes “never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

America’s is “a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words ‘the American people’ provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don’t need to think.”

Pinter presents a long list of American crimes and comes to Iraq: “The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was . . . an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading--as a last resort--all other justifications having failed to justify themselves--as liberation.” Americans and their British puppets “have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it ‘bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East.”

“How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal?” Pinter’s question can also be asked of Israel. Israel has been in violation of international law since 1967, protected by the United States’ veto of UN Resolutions condemning Israel for its violent, inhumane, barbaric, and illegal acts.

American evangelical Christians, who are degenerating into Zionists, are Israel’s greatest allies. Jesus is forsaken as Christians swallow whole the Israeli lies. A couple of years ago the US Presbyterian Church was so distressed by Israel’s immorality toward Palestinians that the church attempted to disinvest its investment portfolio from assets tainted with Israel. But the Israel Lobby was stronger. The Presbyterian Church was unable to stand up for Christian principles and knuckled under to the Israel Lobby’s pressure.

This is hardly surprising considering that the US government doesn’t stand for Christian principles either.

America’s doctrine of “full spectrum dominance” means that, like Lenin’s dictatorship, America is not bound by law or morality, but by power alone.

Pinter sums it up in a speech he had dreams of writing for President George W. Bush:

“God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden’s God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam’s God was bad, except he didn’t have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don’t chop people’s heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don’t you forget it.”

If only our ears could hear, this is the speech we have been hearing from Israel for 60 years.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at:

Alternative Theory of 9/11?

Joel Brinkley: Does His Article on Richard Falk Demonstrate the Right "Frame of Mind" to Teach Journalism at Stanford?

By Elizabeth Woodworth

December 31, 2008 - In a companion essay, I discussed the response of some articles in the mainstream press to the claim, made by some defenders of Israel, that Professor Richard Falk should be removed from his current position of UN rapporteur on human rights abuses in the Palestinian Territories -- a claim that was reflected in the refusal of Israel on December 14, 2008, to allow him to enter the country. I included in this essay a discussion of an article by reporter Joel Brinkley because, although it was published before Israel's action against Falk, it could be read as a defense of that action. Brinkley, who had previously worked for the New York Times, argued that Falk did not have the right "frame of mind" for his UN position. In the present essay, I will focus on Brinkley's argument for this charge, suggesting that it shows that he does not have the right frame of mind for his own current position as visiting professor of journalism at Stanford University.

Brinkley's Discussion of 9/11 Brinkley's charge that Falk is unfit for his UN role is quite remarkable, given Falk's stature. He is Professor Emeritus of International Law and Practice at Princeton University and currently Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He has had published (as author or editor) over 60 books by academic and other mainstream presses. He is also widely respected and sought after as a speaker and conference participant.

Brinkley's case against Falk rests on linking him to the millions of Americans who believe the "unusual theory," as Brinkley calls it, that the 9/11 attacks were a "false flag" operation -- "a conspiracy planned and executed by the Bush administration." This is a theory of which Brinkley, he admits, had been unaware "until a row broke out last month between Falk and U.N. monitors who try to defend Israel."

Is it not extraordinary that Brinkley, a former New York Times reporter deemed qualified by Stanford University to teach its journalism students, had not been aware that many Americans believe that 9/11 was a false flag operation, carried out to provide a pretext for attacking Muslim countries? Mainstream newspapers, magazines, and television shows have for years been reporting this belief, especially on the anniversaries of 9/11. TV talk-show hosts have debated members of the "9/11 truth movement" who advocate the false flag theory, including former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura.

Nation-wide polls, moreover, have shown this belief to be shared by millions of Americans. In 2006, for example, a Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll found that 36% of Americans considered it likely that "federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to stop them 'because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East.'" This poll, which shows that this theory is not as "unusual" as Brinkley claims, was widely reported in the press, including Time magazine.

When I saw that Brinkley had been completely unaware of the 9/11 controversy, I could not help wondering how his reading habits differ from those of Sarah Palin.

Early in his article, Brinkley suggests that Falk is unsuited for his present UN position because he advocates this alternative theory of 9/11. Brinkley wrote: "U.N. monitors who already view Falk with grave distrust are now throwing up his advocacy of the 9/11 conspiracy theory as further evidence that he is not qualified to serve as an important U.N. envoy."

But a few paragraphs later, discussing a Scottish newspaper article by Falk about 9/11 that angered an organization called UN Watch, Brinkley writes: "In it, Falk does not say flatly that the [9/11 conspiracy] theories are correct---just that they warrant further investigation." So, without pointing out that the "U.N. monitors" who said otherwise were wrong, Brinkley concedes that Falk is not a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. This means that the title of Brinkley's article as published in the San Francisco Chronicle --"9/11 Conspiracy Theorist Should Leave U.N. Job" -- is misleading.

We can thus see that Brinkley's call for Falk's resignation or dismissal rests solely upon Falk's belief that the events of September 11 "warrant further investigation." It is, in other words, Falk's open-mindedness about this issue that makes him unqualified to write about human rights abuses in the Palestinian Territories. How can Brinkley justify such a claim?

Brinkley continues his argument by approvingly quoting Hillel Neuer, the director of UN Watch -- one of the "U.N. monitors" to whom Brinkley had referred -- who said: "Falk has a very serious mandate. People who question whether 9/11 happened are not serious people."

At this point, any good journalism professor would raise two issues. First, no one questions "whether 9/11 happened." The only debate is about who made it happen.

Second, the journalism professor would ask whether it is indeed true that no "serious people" have questioned the official theory of 9/11. The professor might, in fact, give his or her students the assignment of finding out. If so, the students could learn from a site called "Patriots Question 9/11" that a large number of serious people have indeed questioned the government's version of 9/11. Among them are:

" Hundreds of architects and engineers, including the following engineers: Jack Keller, an emeritus professor at Utah State University who has been praised by Scientific American as a leading contributor to science and technology; Robert Bowman, who was the head of the "Star Wars" program during the Ford and Carter administrations; and two structural engineers at the prestigious Swiss Federal Institute of Technology;

" Dozens of pilots, including Russ Wittenberg, who flew commercial airliners for 35 years after serving as a fighter pilot in Vietnam, and former Navy "top gun" pilot Ralph Kolstad;

" Dozens of scientists, including physicist David Griscom, a fellow of the American Physical Society who worked for over 30 years at the Naval Research Laboratory, and Lynn Margulis, a National Medal of Science winner;

" Dozens of former military officers, including Colonel Ronald D. Ray, decorated Vietnam veteran who became deputy assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan Administration, and General Leonid Ivashov, who on 9/11 was the chief of staff for the Russian armed forces;

" Several former intelligence officers, including senior CIA analyst Bill Christison and CIA presidential briefer (for Carter and Reagan) Ray McGovern.

An open mind might have led Brinkley to discover that all of these "serious people" reject the government's account of 9/11. But he took, he admitted, only "a cursory look" at some books, articles and Websites about 9/11. On that basis, he charged that Richard Falk -- one of the world's most respected professors of international law -- was unfit for his UN role simply because he said that the false flag theory about 9/11 should be given further study. What kind of model is this for journalism students?

Brinkley, moreover, made an outrageous comparison, writing:

"These 9/11 conspiracy theorists remind me of the people who used to think that Neil Armstrong didn't really land on the moon 40 years ago; the entire exercise was actually carried out in a water tank. It's a free country; you're entitled to think whatever you like. But this is fringe stuff. Would we ever have appointed an advocate of the water-tank theory to a senior position in government?"

If I were a journalism professor, this statement would provide me with two more examples of errors to avoid.

First, after having conceded that Falk is not himself one of the "9/11 conspiracy theorists," Brinkley here treats him as if he were. I would encourage my students not to contradict themselves, especially within the space of a single article.

Second, the fact that the 9/11 theorists remind Brinkley of the water-tank theorists does not mean that the two groups are actually anything alike. The water-tank theory is not supported by hundreds of scientists and professionals in relevant fields. Opinion polls do not show over a third of the US population holding this theory. It is indeed "fringe stuff." But this says nothing about the theory that 9/11 was a false flag operation. I would use Brinkley's error here to illustrate the fact that journalists should not confuse their subjective impressions, especially when based upon almost total ignorance of the issue at hand, with objective reality.

Reporters, of course, sometimes make mistakes. And their readers will sometimes let them know when they have done so. One would hope that our journalism professors would point out that, when the readers are right, reporters should acknowledge this fact and, when possible, issue retractions.

In the case of Brinkley, some readers did try to help him overcome his ignorance about 9/11. One well-informed researcher into the events of September 11, responding to Brinkley's apparent assumption that there are no credible critics of the official account, told him about three former members of the CIA, including Ray McGovern and William Christison, plus a former commanding general of US Army Intelligence. This correspondent also informed Brinkley that the Patriots Question 9/11 website contains "information about these and 1,000 other credible critics of the official account of 9/11."

How did Brinkley respond? Did he, as an inquiring and responsible journalist would, thank the correspondent, promise to check out the proffered information as soon as possible, and then, if he realized he had been mistaken, issue a retraction, including a public apology to Professor Falk? No. He wrote: "Thanks for your note. You and the CIA veterans are certainly entitled to your opinions, as I am to mine. All best, Joel Brinkley."

It would appear that, in writing this dismissive note, Brinkley did not even take the time to comprehend what the correspondent was trying to tell him. Brinkley had implied that no serious people challenge the official account of 9/11. The correspondent told him that there were four former intelligence officers, plus a thousand other credible people, who have criticized that account. But Brinkley's response -- that we are all entitled to our opinions -- assumed that the correspondent was asserting that these critics were correct, rather than simply pointing out that these were credible people.

If I were a journalism professor, this would provide me with another teaching point: "When readers write to you, trying to help you become better informed about a subject on which you have written, pay attention to what they are saying -- you might learn something."

But there is an even more serious problem with Brinkley's reply, in which he said he was as entitled to his opinion as the CIA officials were to theirs. That is true in their roles as US citizens, because the US Constitution enshrines liberty of thought. But surely Brinkley would not think that scientists as scientists are entitled to their opinions regardless of the facts.

Scientists, to be members of the scientific community in good standing, must show respect for the relevant empirical evidence.

Should not the same also apply to journalists? Is that not at least the professional ideal, which should be taught in schools of journalism? Surely no reputable school of journalism would teach its students that they, as journalists, are "entitled to their opinions" in the sense that they can simply write what they wish about various subjects with virtually no effort to discover the relevant facts.

Of course, the same empirical principle -- that opinions, to be responsible opinions, must not be contradicted by the relevant knowable facts -- applies to the intellectual community in general.

With that in mind, let us ask whether Brinkley, as a member of the intellectual community, is as entitled to his opinion as former CIA officials Ray McGovern and William Christison are to theirs. This would be true only if these men had not studied the relevant facts before forming their present opinions any more than Brinkley had.

But that is not the case. I have it on good authority that McGovern, after first being exposed to the idea of official complicity in the attacks, studied writings and talked to people on both sides of the issue for over a year before concluding that the 9/11 truth community was right. And Christison, revealing that coming to his present opinion was no easy matter, wrote in the summer of 2006: "I spent the first four and a half years since September 11 utterly unwilling to consider seriously the conspiracy theories surrounding the attacks of that day. . . . [I]n the last half year and after considerable agony, I've changed my mind."

McGovern and Christison have earned the right to their opinions. It appears that Brinkley has not. He seems, moreover, unconcerned about this fact. This apparent indifference to evidence was further revealed in his response to a second researcher into the events of September 11, who tried to supply him with relevant information.

Pointing out that Brinkley had referred to the alternative theory about 9/11 as "fringe stuff," this correspondent quoted Time magazine's response to the Scripps-Howard poll of 2006, which, as I mentioned earlier, found that 36 percent of the American public thought it likely that US officials were complicit in the attacks. Time wrote: "Thirty-six percent adds up to a lot of people. This is not a fringe phenomenon. It is a mainstream political reality."

This correspondent, realizing that Brinkley's "fringe stuff" comment meant that those who accept the alternative view of 9/11 are people who, no matter how numerous, need not be taken seriously, also informed him of two articles written by physicists and chemists providing evidence that explosives had brought down the World Trade Center buildings -- articles that have been published in respected, peer-reviewed, scientific journals. The same correspondent also informed Brinkley of an edited volume, containing eight essays contradicting the official view, that was published by the prestigious Elsevier Press.

Brinkley again responded dismissively, writing: "Thanks very much for your note. I have read a bit of the literature on this subject, and I understand why many people are concerned. I simply don't share that view. All the best, Joel Brinkley."

What view did Brinkley not share? Was it that Time magazine had said that the rejection of the official story is "not a fringe phenomenon." No. Was it that several world class science publishers had accepted ten papers written by members of the 9/11 truth community, thereby demonstrating that they considered them "serious people"? No. Again ignoring the point of a letter intended to help him overcome his ignorance, he casually replied that he, having read "a bit of the literature," did not share the view of the people who had written those papers---which he almost certainly had not read.

Brinkley again implied, therefore, that his opinion, being based on having read only "a bit of the literature," was as valid as the opinion of scientists and other members of the 9/11 community who had been studying and writing about the relevant evidence for several years.

Who Has the Inappropriate "Frame of Mind"? In concluding his argument that Falk should be dismissed from his UN role, Brinkley -- now remembering that Falk did not endorse the idea that 9/11 was a false flag operation but merely said that this theory warrants further investigation -- wrote that the problem is that Falk "believes that the U.S. government is capable of such unspeakable evil. What does that tell you about his frame of mind for his United Nations job?"

This conclusion raises two problems. How exactly would this belief show Falk to have an inappropriate "frame of mind" for his UN role? Brinkley seems to assume a logical connection between Falk's questioning of the official 9/11 account and his suitability for the UN role, but such a connection is far from self-evident.

The second problem involves something else that Brinkley considers self-evident: that it is absurd to believe that leaders of the Bush administration would have been morally capable of deliberately causing the deaths of thousands of Americans by arranging the 9/11 attacks. But it is not.

It is now widely accepted that the Bush administration lied us into the war in Iraq, and more Americans have died in this war than died on 9/11. Would Brinkley try to claim that, whereas engineering the 9/11 attacks would have been an "unspeakable evil," lying us into the war in Iraq was qualitatively different -- a merely "speakable evil"?

Brinkley's suggestion that the Bush administration was simply too decent to orchestrate 9/11 also runs up against another fact. It is now known that, shortly after 9/11, the White House ordered the EPA to announce, when news reports had already stated otherwise, that the air at the World Trade Center site was safe to breathe, thereby leading the clean-up and rescue crews to fail to take adequate precautions. EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley later wrote in an official report:

"The White House Council on Environmental Quality influenced, through the collaboration process, the information that EPA communicated to the public through its early press releases when it convinced EPA to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones."

Some experts believe that the resulting respiratory problems from the toxic air, which have been found in over half of the 40,000 Ground Zero workers, may eventually result in more premature deaths than occurred on 9/11 itself.

These documented actions clearly undermine Brinkley's conviction that the Bush administration would have been morally incapable of allowing or arranging the 9/11 attacks. Furthermore, as this conviction is Brinkley's only basis for charging that Falk does not have the right "frame of mind" to carry out the role he has been given, his argument would appear to have no basis at all.

I can only conclude that Brinkley's charge against Falk would be more accurately applied to himself. Given the "frame of mind" he has demonstrated in this episode, I am dismayed that he will be shaping journalists of tomorrow at one of America's premier universities.

Elizabeth Woodworth is a retired Canadian professional librarian, a career public servant, and a freelance writer on social justice issues.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Warfare, corruption breed terrorism

by Michael Munk, Guest opinion
Tuesday December 30, 2008, 11:31 AM

David Oliver Relin's "Message to Obama" (Opinion, Dec. 28) surely reflects not only his humanitarian concern for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also delivers some well deserved criticism of U.S. policies in the region. But, like the man upon whom he places his hope for change, he fails to recognize the elephant in the room that is at the heart of what he
calls the "growing crisis."

The elephant is his own nation's military occupation of Afghanistan and its daily violation of Pakistani sovereignty. By tracing U.S. policy after 9/11 solely to "rebuilding" Afghanistan, he conveniently ignores that we invaded a country that did not attack us and imposed upon it an exiled oil company consultant from Chicago as president. He's right that the people of the
region "share a common extremist enemy" but that enemy is the occupiers, not the indigenous groups fighting to expel the foreign fighters. In this case, the "root causes of terrorism" are not just poverty and ignorance but rather the terror warfare and endemic corruption the U.S. invasion has laid upon the poor of those lands.

Relin hopes Obama can solve the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India so that Pakistan can turn its military against its own people in the Northwest border areas. In a nation where many consider the fight against the "extremists" as doing the bidding of the "Crusaders" and want no part of it, that sounds like a recipe for civil war.

Relin sees the poppy industry as another target of an escalated U.S. campaign and acknowledges the complicity of the Karzai group in it. That is another consequence of our occupation: one of the actual achievements of the Taliban confirmed by international officials was the elimination of that business.

So he hopes Obama could replace the corrupt Karzai with a "new candidate" -- an act likely to confirm the popular belief abroad that we are an imperialist power.

Finally, despite his best efforts, our writer fails to even raise the real question that confronts President Obama: Why are we in Afghanistan/Pakistan? Bush justified the Afghan invasion and overthrow of the Taliban on the vague claim that it "harbored" Al-Qaeda -- but the Afghans themselves were not involved in 9/11. And now that they are regrouping and gaining popular
support, our occupation exists only to prop up an unpopular and corrupt narco-state. Other political leaders are coming to understand that, and that's why Relin predicts Obama "may not be able to convince our reluctant allies to commit combat forces."

I join with Relin when he says it's time to send "a surge of humanitarian help to the poorest areas" of the region. But make sure it goes to the poor -- not to the former exiles and NGOs that waste so much to distribute it. Instead, call it war reparations, give it directly to local tribal leaders and make clear to their people how much they get, and bring the troops home.

That's how I hope President Obama will produce "the change we can believe in."

Michael Munk, a retired college professor, is the author of "The Portland Red Guide."

Israel's War Crimes

by Richard Falk

The Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip represent severe and massive violations of international humanitarian law as defined in the Geneva Conventions, both in regard to the obligations of an Occupying Power and in the requirements of the laws of war

Even the most naive American voter cannot be expected to see the morally, legally and politically questionable death sentence given to Saddam Hussein a milestone in the Bush Administration's illegal war in Iraq. As the milestones pile up, so do the bodies.

Those violations include:
Collective punishment: The entire 1.5 million people who live in the crowded Gaza Strip are being punished for the actions of a few militants.

Targeting civilians: The airstrikes were aimed at civilian areas in one of the most crowded stretches of land in the world, certainly the most densely populated area of the Middle East.

Disproportionate military response: The airstrikes have not only destroyed every police and security office of Gaza's elected government, but have killed and injured hundreds of civilians; at least one strike reportedly hit groups of students attempting to find transportation home from the university.

Earlier Israeli actions, specifically the complete sealing off of entry and exit to and from the Gaza Strip, have led to severe shortages of medicine and fuel (as well as food), resulting in the inability of ambulances to respond to the injured, the inability of hospitals to adequately provide medicine or necessary equipment for the injured, and the inability of Gaza's besieged doctors and other medical workers to sufficiently treat the victims.

Certainly the rocket attacks against civilian targets in Israel are unlawful. But that illegality does not give rise to any Israeli right, neither as the Occupying Power nor as a sovereign state, to violate international humanitarian law and commit war crimes or crimes against humanity in its response. I note that Israel's escalating military assaults have not made Israeli civilians safer; to the contrary, the one Israeli killed today after the upsurge of Israeli violence is the first in over a year.

Israel has also ignored recent Hamas diplomatic initiatives to re-establish the truce or ceasefire since its expiration on 26 December.

The Israeli airstrikes today, and the catastrophic human toll that they caused, challenge those countries that have been and remain complicit, either directly or indirectly, in Israel's violations of international law. That complicity includes those countries knowingly providing the military equipment including warplanes and missiles used in these illegal attacks, as well as those countries who have supported and participated in the siege of Gaza that itself has caused a humanitarian catastrophe.

I remind all Member States of the United Nations that the UN continues to be bound to an independent obligation to protect any civilian population facing massive violations of international humanitarian law--regardless of what country may be responsible for those violations. I call on all Member States, as well as officials and every relevant organ of the United Nations system, to move on an emergency basis not only to condemn Israel's serious violations, but to develop new approaches to providing real protection for the Palestinian people.

Richard Falk is professor of international law at Princeton University and the UN's special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories.

Forum Editorial: Republican fortunes look bleak

The Forum - 12/30/2008

Since Nov. 4, Republicans have been gallantly trying to put a happy, or at least hopeful, face on the party’s dismal condition. While it’s not a matter of life support, it is looking more and more like political wasting disease.

By any honest measure, Republicans took a beating on Election Day. Presidential candidate John McCain never found his footing. His choice for vice president, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, had thoughtful Republican loyalists questioning his judgment after their initial swoon. His response to the nation’s financial crisis was uneven and amateurish, and was a significant factor in his loss. He pandered to the far right, which long-time McCain admirers saw as out of character and independents saw as a cynical sellout.

A weak presidential candidate created no coattail effect for Republicans running for seats in Congress. Democrats increased their margin in the House and got within one seat of a veto-proof majority in the Senate.

The nation rejected traditional Republican themes and elected a relatively unknown liberal senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, who promptly moved toward the middle by naming key advisers with reputations as pragmatists, not ideologues. In the process Obama won praise from conservative Republicans, who had been working against his election.

What now for the GOP? Party thinkers and strategists have no roadmap. Some want the party to return to its small-government, no-taxes, family-values orthodoxy. Others are urging a big-tent change, by which Republicans can attract the right-of-center independents who tipped for Obama in November. The contest is for the soul of the party, and the outcome will determine whether Republicans can regain influence in 2010 and 2012 or be exiled to the political wilderness for a generation or more.

Right now the GOP is a minority party being run by a minority within the party – the right wing. The election results reveal a former national party that has become regional, centered mostly in the South. Democrats dominate all of New England, most of the mid-Atlantic, the Great Lakes states and the West Coast. Obama had significant support in the Southwest and even in the Plains states. If Republicans want to be a national political party, they must broaden their diminished appeal.

The future for the Senate, for example, doesn’t look good for Republicans. New Hampshire’s Sen. Judd Gregg is the only major Republican left standing in that former GOP stronghold. His seat is up in 2010. Look for Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania to be in trouble if Democrats recruit good candidates.

Probably the only hope Republicans have for 2010 is a failure of the new Obama administration to lift the nation out of recession. That perverse strategy puts the GOP in the awkward and dangerous position of wishing harm on the nation to advance their political agenda. And if Obama characterizes Republicans as obstructionists and opportunists, Republicans will lose again.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Obama Adviser Aligns with White House in Criticism of Rocket Attacks on Israel

by Ewin MacAskill

WASHINGTON - Barack Obama yesterday appeared to line up behind the Bush administration in support of Israel's attack on Gaza. Speaking on CBS's Face the Nation, his chief adviser, David Axelrod, initially repeated the Obama team's formula that there could only be one president at a time and that president was George Bush.

But he went on to recall comments that Obama made in July at Sderot, the Israeli town that is the target of rocket attacks from Palestinian militants in Gaza.

At the time, Obama said : "If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that. I would expect Israelis to do the same thing."

A similar sentiment was expressed by Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, on Saturday. She said: "The United States strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza." She added: "The ceasefire should be restored immediately. The United States calls on all concerned to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the innocent people of Gaza."

Gordon Johndroe, the White House security spokesman, also blamed Hamas, whom he referred to as terrorists and thugs. Rice briefed Obama by phone for about eight minutes on Saturday and further calls are planned to ensure he is up to speed on the issue by the time he takes office.

Although Obama has repeatedly said he would not comment on policy matters until he becomes president on 20 January, he has largely abandoned this in relation to the economic crisis, on which he has spoken regularly over the last few weeks, often at odds with Bush. So far, Obama has given no hint on his policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though he has said finding a peace plan would be an early priority of his administration.

Before running for president, he provoked suspicion among Israelis and some US Jewish groups when he expressed sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians. But after winning the Democratic nomination earlier this year he veered in the other direction, voicing strong support for Israel in a speech in Washington to the Israeli lobby group Aipac.

Yesterday , the Washington Post quoted an unnamed senior Bush administration official saying he thought the Israelis launched the attack because of uncertainty over Obama's policy. The official said the Israelis acted "because they want it to be over before the next administration comes in". He added: "They can't predict how the next administration will handle it. And this is not the way they want to start with the new administration."

Israeli officials denied this, saying the Israeli election in February was more a factor than Obama's take-over.

Bush started his presidency determined not to expend much effort on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, after watching his predecessor, Bill Clinton, devote his last months in office in a futile attempt to bring peace.

Over the last year, Bush has made half-hearted attempts at reheating peace plans.

Obama's proposed secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and various other foreign policy advisers would like to mount another attempt at resolving the conflict. But Obama has other foreign policy issues competing for his attention such as the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and the escalating conflict in Afghanistan. © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

Leaders Lie, Civilians Die, and Lessons of History are Ignored

By Robert Fisk

December 29, 2008 -- -We've got so used to the carnage of the Middle East that we don't care any more – providing we don't offend the Israelis. It's not clear how many of the Gaza dead are civilians, but the response of the Bush administration, not to mention the pusillanimous reaction of Gordon Brown, reaffirm for Arabs what they have known for decades: however they struggle against their antagonists, the West will take Israel's side. As usual, the bloodbath was the fault of the Arabs – who, as we all know, only understand force.

Ever since 1948, we've been hearing this balderdash from the Israelis – just as Arab nationalists and then Arab Islamists have been peddling their own lies: that the Zionist "death wagon" will be overthrown, that all Jerusalem will be "liberated". And always Mr Bush Snr or Mr Clinton or Mr Bush Jnr or Mr Blair or Mr Brown have called upon both sides to exercise "restraint" – as if the Palestinians and the Israelis both have F-18s and Merkava tanks and field artillery. Hamas's home-made rockets have killed just 20 Israelis in eight years, but a day-long blitz by Israeli aircraft that kills almost 300 Palestinians is just par for the course.

The blood-splattering has its own routine. Yes, Hamas provoked Israel's anger, just as Israel provoked Hamas's anger, which was provoked by Israel, which was provoked by Hamas, which ... See what I mean? Hamas fires rockets at Israel, Israel bombs Hamas, Hamas fires more rockets and Israel bombs again and ... Got it? And we demand security for Israel – rightly – but overlook this massive and utterly disproportionate slaughter by Israel. It was Madeleine Albright who once said that Israel was "under siege" – as if Palestinian tanks were in the streets of Tel Aviv.

By last night, the exchange rate stood at 296 Palestinians dead for one dead Israeli. Back in 2006, it was 10 Lebanese dead for one Israeli dead. This weekend was the most inflationary exchange rate in a single day since – the 1973 Middle East War? The 1967 Six Day War? The 1956 Suez War? The 1948 Independence/Nakba War? It's obscene, a gruesome game – which Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, unconsciously admitted when he spoke this weekend to Fox TV. "Our intention is to totally change the rules of the game," Barak said.

Exactly. Only the "rules" of the game don't change. This is a further slippage on the Arab-Israeli exchanges, a percentage slide more awesome than Wall Street's crashing shares, though of not much interest in the US which – let us remember – made the F-18s and the Hellfire missiles which the Bush administration pleads with Israel to use sparingly.

Quite a lot of the dead this weekend appear to have been Hamas members, but what is it supposed to solve? Is Hamas going to say: "Wow, this blitz is awesome – we'd better recognise the state of Israel, fall in line with the Palestinian Authority, lay down our weapons and pray we are taken prisoner and locked up indefinitely and support a new American 'peace process' in the Middle East!" Is that what the Israelis and the Americans and Gordon Brown think Hamas is going to do?

Yes, let's remember Hamas's cynicism, the cynicism of all armed Islamist groups. Their need for Muslim martyrs is as crucial to them as Israel's need to create them. The lesson Israel thinks it is teaching – come to heel or we will crush you – is not the lesson Hamas is learning. Hamas needs violence to emphasise the oppression of the Palestinians – and relies on Israel to provide it. A few rockets into Israel and Israel obliges.

Not a whimper from Tony Blair, the peace envoy to the Middle East who's never been to Gaza in his current incarnation. Not a bloody word.

We hear the usual Israeli line. General Yaakov Amidror, the former head of the Israeli army's "research and assessment division" announced that "no country in the world would allow its citizens to be made the target of rocket attacks without taking vigorous steps to defend them". Quite so. But when the IRA were firing mortars over the border into Northern Ireland, when their guerrillas were crossing from the Republic to attack police stations and Protestants, did Britain unleash the RAF on the Irish Republic? Did the RAF bomb churches and tankers and police stations and zap 300 civilians to teach the Irish a lesson? No, it did not. Because the world would have seen it as criminal behaviour. We didn't want to lower ourselves to the IRA's level.

Yes, Israel deserves security. But these bloodbaths will not bring it. Not since 1948 have air raids protected Israel. Israel has bombed Lebanon thousands of times since 1975 and not one has eliminated "terrorism". So what was the reaction last night? The Israelis threaten ground attacks. Hamas waits for another battle. Our Western politicians crouch in their funk holes. And somewhere to the east – in a cave? a basement? on a mountainside? – a well-known man in a turban smiles.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Gaza Today: This is only the Beginning

by Ewa Jasiewicz

As I write this, Israeli jets are bombing the areas of Zeitoun and Rimal in central Gaza City. The family I am staying with has moved into the internal corridor of their home to shelter from the bombing. The windows nearly blew out just five minutes ago as a massive explosion rocked the house. Apache's are hovering above us, whilst F16s sear overhead.

UN radio reports say one blast was a target close to the main gate of Al Shifa hospital - Gaza and Palestine's largest medical facility. Another was a plastics factory. More bombs continue to pound the Strip.

Sirens are wailing on the streets outside. Regular power cuts that plunge the city into blackness every night and tonight is no exception. Only perhaps tonight it is the darkest night people have seen here in their lifetimes.

Over 220 people have been killed and over 400 injured through attacks that shocked the strip in the space 15 minutes. Hospitals are overloaded and unable to cope. These attacks come on top of existing conditions of humanitarian crisis: a lack of medicines, bread, flour, gas, electricity, fuel and freedom of movement.

Doctors at Shifaa had to scramble together 10 make shift operating theatres to deal with the wounded. The hospital's maternity ward had to transform their operating room into an emergency theatre. Shifaa only had 12 beds in their intensive care unit, they had to make space for 27 today.

There is a shortage of medicine - over 105 key items are not in stock, and blood and spare generator parts are desperately needed.

Shifaa's main generator is the life support machine of the entire hospital. It's the apparatus keeping the ventilators and monitors and lights turned on that keep people inside alive. And it doesn't have the spare parts it needs, despite the International Committee for the Red Cross urging Israel to allow it to transport them through Erez checkpoint.

Shifaa's Head of Casualty, Dr Maowiye Abu Hassanyeh explained, 'We had over 300 injured in over 30 minutes. There were people on the floor of the operating theatre, in the reception area, in the corridors; we were sending patients to other hospitals. Not even the most advanced hospital in the world could cope with this number of casualties in such a short space of time.'

And as IOF Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenaz said this morning, 'This is only the beginning.'

But this isn't the beginning, this is an ongoing policy of collective punishment and killing with impunity practised by Israel for decades. It has seen its most intensified level today. But the weight of dread, revenge and isolation hangs thick over Gaza today. People are all asking: If this is only the beginning, what will the end look like?


Myself and Alberto Acre, a Spanish journalist, had been on the border village of Sirej near Khan Younis in the south of the strip. We had driven there at 8am with the mobile clinic of the Union of Palestinian Relief Committees. The clinic regularly visits exposed, frequently raided villages far from medical facilities. We had been interviewing residents about conditions on the border. Stories of olive groves and orange groves, family farmland, bulldozed to make way for a clear line of sight for Israeli occupation force watch towers and border guards. Israeli attacks were frequent. Indiscriminate fire and shelling spraying homes and land on the front line of the south eastern border. One elderly farmer showed us the grave-size ditch he had dug to climb into when Israeli soldiers would shoot into his fields.

Alberto was interviewing a family that had survived an Israeli missile attack on their home last month. It had been a response to rocket fire from resistance fighters nearby. Four fighters were killed in a field by the border. Israel had rained rockets and M16 fire back. The family, caught in the crossfire, have never returned to their home.

I was waiting for Alberto to return when ground shaking thuds tilted us off our feet. This was the sound of surface to air fired missiles and F16 bombs slamming into the police stations, and army bases of the Hamas authority here. In Gaza City , in Diere Balah, Rafah, Khan Younis, Beit Hanoon.

We zoomed out of the village in our ambulance, and onto the main road to Gaza City , before jumping out to film the smouldering remains of a police station in Diere Balah, near Khan Younis. Its' name - meaning 'place of dates' - sounds like the easy semi-slang way of saying 'take care', Diere Bala, Diere Balak - take care.

Eyewitnesses said two Israeli missiles had destroyed the station. One had soared through a children's playground and a busy fruit and vegetable market before impacting on its target.

Civilians Dead

There was blood on a broken plastic yellow slide, and a crippled, dead donkey with an upturned vegetable cart beside it. Aubergines and splattered blood covered the ground. A man began to explain in broken English what had happened. 'It was full here, full, three people dead, many many injured'. An elderly man with a white kuffiyeh around his head threw his hands down to his blood drenched trousers. 'Look! Look at this! Shame on all governments, shame on Israel, look how they kills us, they are killing us and what does the world do? Where is the world, where are they, we are being killed here, hell upon them!' He was a market trader, present during the attack.

He began to pick up splattered tomatoes he had lost from his cart, picking them up jerkily, and putting them into plastic bags, quickly. Behind a small tile and brick building, a man was sitting against the wall, his legs were bloodied. He couldn't get up and was sitting, visibly in pain and shock, trying to adjust himself, to orientate himself.

The police station itself was a wreck, a mess of criss-crossed piles of concrete - broken floors upon floors. Smashed cars and a split palm tree split the road.

We walked on, hurriedly, with everyone else, eyes skyward at four apache helicopters - their trigger mechanisms supplied by the UK 's Brighton-Based EDM Technologies. They were dropping smoky bright flares - a defence against any attempt at Palestinian missile retaliation.

Turning down the road leading to the Diere Balah Civil Defence Force headquarters we suddenly saw a rush of people streaming across the road. 'They've been bombing twice, they've been bombing twice' shouted people.

We ran too, but towards the crowds and away from what could possibly be target number two, 'a ministry building' our friend shouted to us. The apaches rumbled above.

Arriving at the police station we saw the remains of a life at work smashed short. A prayer matt clotted with dust, a policeman's hat, the ubiquitous bright flower patterned mattresses, burst open. A crater around 20 feet in diameter was filled with pulverised walls and floors and a motorbike, tossed on its' side, toy-like in its' depths.

Policemen were frantically trying to get a fellow worker out from under the rubble. Everyone was trying to call him on his Jawwal. 'Stop it everyone, just one, one of you ring' shouted a man who looked like a captain. A fire licked the underside of an ex-room now crushed to just 3 feet high. Hands alongside hands rapidly grasped and threw back rocks, blocks and debris to reach the man.

We made our way to the Al Aqsa Hospital. Trucks and cars loaded with the men of entire families - uncles, nephews, brothers - piled high and speeding to the hospital to check on loved ones, horns blaring without interruption.

Hospitals on the brink

Entering Al Aqsa was overwhelming, pure pandemonium, charged with grief, horror, distress, and shock. Limp blood covered and burnt bodies streamed by us on rickety stretchers. Before the morgue was a scrum, tens of shouting relatives crammed up to its open double doors. 'They could not even identify who was who, whether it is their brother or cousin or who, because they are so burned' explained our friend. Many were transferred, in ambulances and the back of trucks and cars to Al Shifa Hospital.

The injured couldn't speak. Causality after casualty sat propped against the outside walls outside, being comforted by relatives, wounds temporarily dressed. Inside was perpetual motion and the more drastically injured. Relatives jostled with doctors to bring in their injured in scuffed blankets. Drips, blood streaming faces, scorched hair and shrapnel cuts to hands, chests, legs, arms and heads dominated the reception area, wards and operating theatres.

We saw a bearded man, on a stretcher on the floor of an intensive care unit, shaking and shaking, involuntarily, legs rigid and thrusting downwards. A spasm coherent with a spinal chord injury. Would he ever walk again or talk again? In another unit, a baby girl, no older than six months, had shrapnel wounds to her face. A relative lifted a blanket to show us her fragile bandaged leg. Her eyes were saucer-wide and she was making stilted, repetitive, squeaking sounds.

A first estimate at Al Aqsa hospital was 40 dead and 120 injured. The hospital was dealing with casualties from the bombed market, playground, Civil Defence Force station, civil police station and also the traffic police station. All leveled. A working day blasted flat with terrifying force.

At least two shaheed (martyrs) were carried out on stretchers out of the hospital. Lifted up by crowds of grief-stricken men to the graveyard to cries of 'La Illaha Illa Allah,' there is not god but Allah.

Who cares?

And according to many people here, there is nothing and nobody looking out for them apart from God. Back in Shifa Hospital tonight, we meet the brother of a security guard who had had the doorway he had been sitting in and the building - Abu Mazen's old HQ - fall down upon his head. He said to us, 'We don't have anyone but God. We feel alone. Where is the world? Where is the action to stop these attacks?'

Majid Salim, stood beside his comatosed mother, Fatima. Earlier today she had been sitting at her desk at work - at the Hadije Arafat Charity, near Meshtal, the Headquarters of the Security forces in Gaza City. Israel's attack had left her with multiple internal and head injuries, tube down her throat and a ventilator keeping her alive. Majid gestured to her, 'We didn't attack Israel, my mother didn't fire rockets at Israel. This is the biggest terrorism, to have our mother bombarded at work'.

The groups of men lining the corridors of the over-stretched Shifaa hospital are by turns stunned, agitated, patient and lost. We speak to one group. Their brother had both arms broken and has serious facial and head injuries. 'We couldn't recognise his face, it was so black from the weapons used' one explains. Another man turns to me and says. 'I am a teacher. I teach human rights - this is a course we have, 'human rights'. He pauses. 'How can I teach, my son, my children, about the meaning of human rights under these conditions, under this siege?'

It's true, UNRWA and local government schools have developed a Human Rights syllabus, teaching children about international law, the Geneva Conventions, the International Declaration on Human Rights, The Hague Regulations. To try to develop a culture of human rights here, to help generate more self confidence and security and more of a sense of dignity for the children. But the contradiction between what should be adhered to as a common code of conducted signed up to by most states, and the realities on the ground is stark. International law is not being applied or enforced with respect to Israeli policies towards the Gaza Strip, or on '48 Palestine, the West Bank, or the millions of refugees living in camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

How can a new consciousness and practice of human rights ever graduate from rhetoric to reality when everything points to the contrary - both here and in Israel ? The United Nations have been spurned and shut out by Israel , with Richard Falk the UN's Special Rapporteur on Human Rights held prisoner at Ben Gurion Airport before being unceremoniously deported this month - deliberately blinded to the abuses being carried out against Gaza by Israel . An international community which speaks empty phrases on Israeli attacks 'we urge restraint...minimise civilian casualties'.

The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated regions on the planet. In Jabbaliya camp alone, Gaza 's largest, 125,000 people are crowded into a space 2km square. Bombardment by F16s and Apaches at 11.30 in the morning, as children leave their schools for home reveals a contempt for civilian safety as does the 18 months of a siege that bans all imports and exports, and has resulted in the deaths of over 270 people as a result of a lack of access to essential medicines.

A light

There is a saying here in Gaza - we spoke about it, jokily last night. 'At the end of the tunnel...there is another tunnel'. Not so funny when you consider that Gaza is being kept alive through the smuggling of food, fuel and medicine through an exploitative industry of over 1000 tunnels running from Egypt to Rafah in the South. On average 1-2 people die every week in the tunnels. Some embark on a humiliating crawl to get their education, see their families, to find work, on their hands and knees. Others are reportedly big enough to drive through.

Last night I added a new ending to the saying. 'At the end of the tunnel, there is another tunnel and then a power cut'. Today, there's nothing to make a joke about. As bombs continue to blast buildings around us, jarring the children in this house from their fitful sleep, the saying could take on another twist. After today's killing of over 200, is it that at the end of the tunnel, there is another tunnel, and then a grave?', or a wall of international governmental complicity and silence?

There is a light through, beyond the sparks of resistance and solidarity in the West Bank, '48 and the broader Middle East. This is a light of conscience turned into activism by people all over the world. We can turn a spotlight onto Israel's crimes against humanity and the enduring injustice here in Palestine, through coming out onto the streets and pressurizing our governments; demanding an end to Israeli apartheid and occupation, broadening our call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and for a genuine Just Peace.

Through institutional, governmental and popular means, this can be a light at the end of the Gazan tunnel.

Ewa Jasiewicz is an experienced journalist, community and union organizer, and solidarity worker. She is currently Gaza Project Co-coordinator for the Free Gaza Movement.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

How Can Anyone Believe There Is 'Progress' in the Middle East?

A test of Obama’s gumption will come scarcely three months after his inauguration

by Robert Fisk

If reporting is, as I suspect, a record of mankind's folly, then the end of 2008 is proving my point.

Let's kick off with the man who is not going to change the Middle East, Barack Obama, who last week, with infinite predictability, became Time's "person of the year". But buried in a long and immensely tedious interview inside the magazine, Obama devotes just one sentence to the Arab-Israeli conflict: "And seeing if we can build on some of the progress, at least in conversation, that's been made around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be a priority."

What is this man talking about? "Building on progress?" What progress? On the verge of another civil war between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, with Benjamin Netanyahu a contender for Israeli prime minister, with Israel's monstrous wall and its Jewish colonies still taking more Arab land, and Palestinians still firing rockets at Sderot, and Obama thinks there's "progress" to build on?

I suspect this nonsensical language comes from the mental mists of his future Secretary of State. "At least in conversation" is pure Hillary Clinton - its meaning totally eludes me - and the giveaway phrase about progress being made "around" the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is even weirder. Of course if Obama had talked about an end to Jewish settlement building on Arab land - the only actual "building" that is going on in the conflict - relations with Hamas as well as the Palestinian Authority, justice for both sides in the conflict, along with security for Palestinians as well as Israelis, then he might actually effect a little change.

An interesting test of Obama's gumption is going to come scarcely three months after his inauguration when he will have a little promise to honor. Yup, it's that dratted 24 April commemoration of the Armenian genocide when Armenians remember the 1.5 million of their countrymen - citizens of the Ottoman empire slaughtered by the Turks - on the anniversary of the day in 1915 when the first Armenian professors, artists and others were taken off to execution by the Ottoman authorities.

Bill Clinton promised Armenians he'd call it a "genocide" if they helped to elect him to office. George Bush did the same. So did Obama. The first two broke their word and resorted to "tragedy" rather than "genocide" once they'd got the votes, because they were frightened of all those bellowing Turkish generals, not to mention - in Bush's case - the US military supply routes through Turkey, the "roads and so on" as Robert Gates called them in one of history's more gripping ironies, these being the same "roads and so on" upon which the Armenians were sent on their death marches in 1915. And Mr Gates will be there to remind Obama of this. So I bet you - I absolutely bet on the family cat - that Obama is going to find that "genocide" is "tragedy" by 24 April.

By chance, I browsed through Turkish Airlines' in-flight magazine while cruising into Istanbul earlier this month and found an article on the historical Turkish region of Harput. "Asia's natural garden", "a popular holiday resort", the article calls Harput, "where churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary rise next to tombs of the ancestors of Mehmet the Conqueror".

Odd, all those churches, isn't it? And you have to shake your head to remember that Harput was the centre of the Christian Armenian genocide, the city from which Leslie Davis, the brave American consul in Harput, sent back his devastating eyewitness dispatches of the thousands of butchered Armenian men and women whose corpses he saw with his own eyes. But I guess that all would spoil the "natural garden" effect. It's a bit like inviting tourists to the Polish town of Oswiecim - without mentioning that its German name is Auschwitz.

But these days, we can all rewrite history. Take Nicolas Sarkozy, France's cuddliest ever president, who not only toadies up to Bashar al-Assad of Syria but is now buttering up the sick and awful Algerian head of state Abdelaziz Bouteflika who's just been "modifying" the Algerian constitution to give himself a third term in office.

There was no parliamentary debate, just a show of hands - 500 out of 529 - and what was Sarko's response? "Better Bouteflika than the Taliban!" I always thought the Taliban operated a bit more to the east - in Afghanistan, where Sarko's lads are busy fighting them - but you never can tell. Not least when exiled former Algerian army officers revealed that undercover soldiers as well as the Algerian Islamists (Sarko's "Taliban") were involved in the brutal village massacres of the 1990s.

Talking of "undercover", I was amazed to learn of the training system adopted by the Met lads who put Jean Charles de Menezes to death on the Tube. According to former police commander Brian Paddick, the Met's secret rules for "dealing" with suicide bombers were drawn up "with the help of Israeli experts". What? Who were these so-called "experts" advising British policemen how to shoot civilians on the streets of London? The same men who assassinate wanted Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and brazenly kill Palestinian civilians at the same time? The same people who outrageously talk about "targeted killings" when they murder their opponents? Were these the thugs who were advising Lady Cressida Dick and her boys?

Not that our brave peace envoy, Lord Blair, would have much to say about it. He's the man, remember, whose only proposed trip to Gaza was called off when yet more "Israeli experts" advised him that his life might be in danger. Anyway, he'd still rather be president of Europe, something Sarko wants to award him. That, I suppose, is why Blair wrote such a fawning article in the same issue of Time which made Obama "person" of the year. "There are times when Nicolas Sarkozy resembles a force of nature," Blair grovels. It's all first names, of course. "Nicolas has the hallmark of any true leader"; "Nicolas has adopted..."; "Nicolas recognizes"; "Nicolas reaching out...". In all, 15 "Nicolases". Is that the price of the Euro presidency? Or will Blair now tell us he's going to be involved in those "conversations" with Obama to "build on some of the progress" in the Middle East?

Copyright 2008 Independent News and Media Limited

Bush Winks at Israel’s Slaughter in Gaza, While Obama and Clinton Are Silent

By Matthew Rothschild

Israel recklessly bombed Gaza on Saturday, killing at least 205 Palestinians and wounding at least 350 more, according to Palestinian health officials.

This wholly disproportionate response to Hamas’s immoral but largely ineffective rocket attacks on Israel is guaranteed to further enflame the Middle East.

Not lost on anyone there will be the Bush Administration’s winking at Israel’s attacks.

White Houses spokesman Gordon Johndroe laid all the blame on Hamas.

"Hamas's continued rocket attacks into Israel must cease if the violence is to stop," Johndroe said.

Then even as he gave a perfunctory nod toward safeguarding civilians, he showed no displeasure with Israel going after Hamas: "The United States urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties as it targets Hamas in Gaza," Johndroe said.

Meanwhile, President-elect Barack Obama and Secretary of State-to-be Hillary Clinton were shamefully silent in the first hours after the attack.

Bush’s reaction, and the non-reaction by Obama and Clinton, underscores the point that Hanan Ashrawi made on Saturday. “Israel has gotten used to not being held accountable and to being a country that is above the law,” said the Palestinian legislator and human rights activist. She called the bombings a “massacre.”

With Washington condoning Israel’s assault, the violence may only get worse.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, “The operation will be deeper and expanded as much as necessary. . . . It won’t be short, and it won’t be easy.”

A Hamas spokesperson vowed revenge and said Hamas “will continue the resistance until the last drop of blood."

This cycle of violence will get bloodier and bloodier unless and until Washington finally prevails on Israel to make a just settlement with the Palestinians.

Bush did not have the inclination to do so. Neither, it appears, does Obama.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Top Ten Myths about Iraq, 2008

by Juan Cole

1. Iraqis are safer because of Bush's War. In fact, conditions of insecurity have helped created both an internal and external refugee problem:

' At least 4.2 million Iraqis were displaced. These included 2.2 million who were displaced within Iraq and some 2 million refugees, mostly in Syria (around 1.4 million) and Jordan (around half a million). In the last months of the year both these neighbouring states, struggling to meet the health, education and other needs of the Iraqi refugees already present, introduced visa requirements that impeded the entry of Iraqis seeking refuge. Within Iraq, most governorates barred entry to Iraqis fleeing sectarian violence elsewhere.'

2. Large numbers of Iraqis in exile abroad have returned. In fact, no great number have returned, and more Iraqis may still be leaving to Syria than returning.

3. Iraqis are materially better off because of Bush's war. In fact, A million Iraqis are "food insecure" and another 6 million need UN food rations to survive. Oxfam estimated in summer, 2007, that 28% of Iraqi children are malnourished.

4. The Bush administration scored a major victory with its Status of Forces Agreement. In fact, The Iraqis forced on Bush an agreement that the US would withdraw combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, 2009,and would completely withdraw from the Country by the end of 2011. The Bush administration had wanted 58 long-term bases, and the authority to arrest Iraqis at will and to launch military operations unilaterally.

5. Minorities in Iraq are safer since Bush's invasion. In fact, there have in 2008 been significant attacks on and displacement of Iraqi Christians from Mosul. In early January of 2008, guerrillas bombed churches in Mosul, wounding a number of persons. More recently, some 13,000 Christians have had to flee Mosul because of violence.

6. The sole explanation for the fall in the monthly death rate for Iraqi civilians was the troop excalation or surge of 30,000 extra US troops in 2007. In fact, troop levels had been that high before without major effect. The US military did good counter-insurgency in 2007. The major reason for the fall in the death toll, however, was that the Shiites won the war for Baghdad, ethnically cleansing hundreds of thousands of Sunnis from the capital, and turning it into a city with a Shiite majority of 75 to 80 percent. (When Bush invaded, Baghdad was about 50/50 Sunni and Shiite). The high death tolls in 2006 and 2007 were a by-product of this massive ethnic cleansing campaign. Now, a Shiite militiaman in Baghdad would have to drive for a while to find a Sunni Arab to kill.

7. John McCain alleged that if the US left Iraq, it would be promptly taken over by al-Qaeda. In fact, there are few followers of Usamah Bin Laden in Iraq. The fundamentalist extremists, if that is what McCain meant, are not supported by most Sunni Arabs. They are supported by no Shiites (60% of Iraq) or Kurds (20% of Iraq), and are hated by Iran, Syria, Turkey, and Jordan, who would never allow such a takeover.

8. The Iraq War made the world safer from terrorism. In fact, Iraq has become a major training ground for extremists and is implicated in the major bombings in Madrid, London, and Glasgow.

9. Bush went to war in Iraq because he was given bad intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction capabilities. In fact, the State Department's Intelligence & Research (I & R) division cast doubt on the alarmist WMD stories that Bush/Cheney put about. The CIA refused to sign off on the inclusion of the Niger uranium lie in the State of the Union address, which made Bush source it to the British MI6 instead. The Downing Street Memo revealed that Bush fixed the intelligence around the policy. Bush sought to get up a provocation such as a false flag attack on UN planes so as to blame it on Iraq. And UN weapons inspectors in Feb.-Mar. of 2003 examined 100 of 600 suspected weapons sites and found nothing; Bush's response was to pull them out and go to war.

10. Douglas Feith and other Neoconservatives didn't really want a war with Iraq (!). Yeah, that was why they demanded war on Iraq with their 1996 white paper for Bibi Netanyahu and again in their 1998 Project for a New American Century letter to Clinton, where they explicitly called for military action. The Neoconservatives are notorious liars and by the time they get through with rewriting history, they will be a combination of Gandhi and Mother Teresa and the Iraq War will be Bill Clinton's fault. The only thing is, I think people are wise to them by now. Being a liar can actually get you somewhere. Being a notorious liar is a disadvantage if what you want to is get people to listen to you and act on your advice. I say, Never Again.

See also my article in The Nation, "Iraq: The Necessary Withdrawal," and this piece in the Toronto Star.

© 2008 Juan Cole

Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His most recent book Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) has just been published. He has appeared widely on television, radio and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. His weblog on the contemporary Middle East is Informed Comment.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

At Last, Giving Bush The Boot

by H.D.S. Greenway

The image of shoes being thrown at George W. Bush during his tarnished legacy tour of Iraq has already entered legend. That a Saudi offered to pay $10 million for just one of the shoes attests to the power of symbolism. The Turkish cobbler who made the shoes is being inundated with new orders from around the world.

It was outrageous, and the Iraqi government may have been embarrassed, but you can count on a substantial number of Arab boys born this month being named Muntader, after Muntader al Zaidi, the thrower. He is in deep trouble in Iraq, but for much of the world he is goody-two-shoes.

In Bush's last pathetic days, with the world going broke and his administration in a moral chapter 11, he continues to misrepresent his culpability in the calamities that have befallen the country on his watch. The most egregious was his statement, when asked if he had any regrets, that he wished the intelligence on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction could have been better. Bush blithely ignored the efforts his administration went to in order to twist the intelligence to his liking. The march to war was one of the greatest frauds of our time.

Bush's legacy includes an unnecessary war in Iraq, and a mismanaged war in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, a congressional report warns that the United States is to be attacked by nuclear or biological weapons within the next few years.

Bush's legacy is one of great carelessness. Bush was careless about the way he went to war in Iraq, with no clear plan on what to do with the country once the troops reached Baghdad. There was a carelessness about Afghanistan, letting Osama bin Laden escape, and drawing away assets to fight in Iraq before Afghanistan was stabilized. To this day there is no clear policy for Afghanistan, other than more troops and more war. "That's not a policy," said the former ambassador to India, Frank Wisner, "that's a delivery system. "There was carelessness about how Bush handled the Israeli-Palestine issue, uttering noble thoughts but with no follow-up, allowing his underlings to first undermine Secretary of State Colin Powell, and then Condoleezza Rice. There was carelessness in the delegation of power to Vice President Cheney, allowing Cheney to undermine negotiations with North Korea.

There was carelessness in the way the administration handled even natural disaster, the "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" quote being the lasting footnote on how Hurricane Katrina was met.

There was carelessness during the Bush years about the entire oversight of America's financial system, with regulators, as President-elect Barack Obama put it, "asleep at the switch" while the financial train went off the rails. The Security and Exchange Commission looked the other way while Bernard Madoff pulled off what may be the biggest Wall Street heist in history. There was "not a lot of adult supervision," said Obama.

"At least Bush kept us safe," I have heard it said, because no terrorist attack on US soil has come since 2001. But there is no escaping that 9/11 happened on Bush's watch, and there was a great carelessness in the way Bush's people refused to consider the danger from Al Qaeda, while terrorism experts, such as Richard Clarke, with his "hair on fire" from anxiety, tried to warn them.

There was more than carelessness involved in the erosion of civil liberties and unlawful activities perpetuated by the Bush administration. Nothing has so hurt America's standing in the world as the decision to allow torture. We now know that the worst of the scandals of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo can be traced up to the highest levels of Bush's administration.

A weary world would like to see the back of the Bush administration, not the least the Republican party to which Bush has done so much damage.

With a legacy of wars , water-boarding, and a cesspit of scandal and financial collapse, the Bush legacy has at least one defender. "Mr. Bush served some good purpose to the economy before he left, " said the newly prosperous Turkish shoe maker.

As for al-Zaidi's pair, they've been destroyed - perhaps to prevent idolatry.

© 2008 The Boston Globe

H.D.S. Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe.

Monday, December 22, 2008

They Lied About Iraq in 2003, and They're Still Lying Now

by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Triumphalists are getting off on Iraq again, intoning hallelujah songs as they did after staging the fall of Saddam's statue then again and again, sweet lullabies to send us into blissful sleep and wake to a new dawn. The composers and orchestrators - Blair, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Straw, Hoon and Rice - still believe history is on their side.

Bush visited his troops at Camp Victory in Iraq this month and said: "Iraq had a record of supporting terror, of developing and using weapons of mass destruction, was routinely firing at American military personnel, systematically violating UN resolutions ... Iraqis, once afraid to leave their homes are going back to school and shopping in malls ... American troops are returning home because of success." Only one shoe and one without a sharp stiletto was hurled at him by Muntadar al-Zaidi, an Iraqi who begged to differ.

Gordon Brown, also in Iraq, spun his own fairy tale of Baghdad, where everyone is living happily ever after and British soldiers come home proud heroes. The reality is that some of our soldiers are broken - physically and mentally - fighting this illegal and unpopular war and that too many did terrible things in the land of endless tears. General Sir Mike Jackson now blames the Americans for their "appalling" decisions. And yet he too insists the campaign was a success.

Even the choral backers of Bush and Blair, once oh-so-influential, sound tinny now, out of tune. In a new book, The Liberal Defence Of Murder, Richard Seymour names many usually enlightened individuals who cheered on the disgraceful crusade and have now gone silent. Others who supported the adventure have escaped through passages of ingenious exculpation. Most Tories, for example, now say they were hypnotised by the Government's false dossiers.

Really? Even hard-of-hearing Mrs Kirkpatrick down the road - she's 79 - understood that we were being deceived. The UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Scott Ritter both told us there were no WMDs. Ken Clarke said this weekend: "I opposed the Iraq war. I'm not sure whether anybody believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction that were a threat to anybody. Most American spies didn't believe that, most British spies didn't believe that and most of the Foreign Office didn't believe that".

Nor did the Opposition but it still backed Blair because Conservatives love wars and one against a swarthy potentate was irresistible.

So to Iraqis, the beneficiaries of our noble "sacrifices". This week Nahla Hussein, a left-wing, feminist Kurdish Iraqi, was shot and beheaded for her campaigning zeal. Fifty-seven Iraqis were blown up in Kirkuk. Christians in Mosul are being savagely persecuted and sharia law has replaced the 1959 codified entitlements given to women in family disputes. Women in Iraq have fewer rights today than under Saddam. Yes, there is some normality in parts but tensions between Shias and Sunnis are explosive. When troops are withdrawn next year, expect more bloodshed. The resources of Iraq, meanwhile, are being plundered.

For these blessings, one million Iraqis had to die and their children still suffer from illnesses caused by our weapons and our war. Five million Iraqis are displaced and, of these, the US took in 1,700. It is easier for an Iraqi cat or dog to gain entry to the land of the free. Try Baghdad Pups, which offers (for a hefty fee) to get the adopted pets of US soldiers into America. In 2007, 39,000 Iraqis sought refuge in the EU countries and we took in 300. Sweden, which has no responsibility for the havoc, gave refuge to 18,000.

I have been talking to exiled Iraqis in London. One young man has a child whose mother killed herself after giving birth during the war. He both loves and hates this country, as did Bilal Abdullah, the NHS doctor convicted for dreadful plans to blow up people in the UK. A beautiful Iraqi woman told me her nephew gave plastic flowers to our soldiers when first they went into Basra. Last year, they shot him dead, mistaking him for an enemy.

On Friday, I met an Iraqi artist, Yousif Nasser, whose studio has become a hub for other exiles, artists, musicians and the mentally ill seeking art therapy. A gentle, melancholic man, he showed me his series titled "Black Rain", enormous works depicting the violence in Iraq: "There are no bodies, only pieces, bits, of a little bit of this and that. People don't buy my pictures - they are too dark. How can I tell you what has happened to my country? I have no words, only these images."

I have words, too weak and inadequate to carry the rage felt by millions at the renewed arrogance of the villains who first devastated Iraq and now garland themselves. Lies, lies and now delusion. There is no glory to be salvaged in this desert.

© 2008 The Independent

Trying to Redefine Role of US Military in Iraq

by Elisabeth Bumiller

WASHINGTON - It is one of the most troublesome questions right now at the Pentagon, and it has started a semantic dance: What is the definition of a combat soldier? More important, when will all American combat troops withdraw from the major cities of Iraq?

The short answers are that combat troops, defined by the military as those whose primary mission is to engage the enemy with lethal force, will have to be out of Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, the deadline under a recently approved status-of-forces agreement between the United States and Iraq.

The long answers open up some complicated, sleight-of-hand responses to military and political problems facing President-elect Barack Obama.

Even though the agreement with the Iraqi government calls for all American combat troops to be out of the cities by the end of June, military planners are now quietly acknowledging that many will stay behind as renamed "trainers" and "advisers" in what are effectively combat roles. In other words, they will still be engaged in combat, just called something else.

"Trainers sometimes do get shot at, and they do sometimes have to shoot back," said John A. Nagl, a retired lieutenant colonel who is one of the authors of the Army's new counterinsurgency field manual.

The issue is a difficult one for Mr. Obama, whose campaign pledge to "end the war" ignited his supporters and helped catapult him into the White House. But as Mr. Obama has begun meeting with his new military advisers -- the top two, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are holdovers from the Bush administration -- it has become clear that his definition of ending the war means leaving behind many thousands of American troops.

One reason is that Mr. Obama is facing rapidly approaching, and overlapping, withdrawal deadlines, some set by the Bush administration and the Iraqis, and some set by him.

After June 2009 looms May 2010, 16 months after Mr. Obama's inauguration, the month he set during the campaign to have American combat forces out of Iraq entirely. Next comes December 2011, the deadline in the status-of-forces agreement to have all American troops out of Iraq.

To try to meet those deadlines without risking Iraq's fragile and relative stability, military planners say they will reassign some combat troops to training and support of the Iraqis, even though the troops would still be armed and go on combat patrols with their Iraqi counterparts. So although their role would be redefined, the dangers would not.

"If you're in combat, it doesn't make any difference whether you're an adviser: you're risking your life," said Andrew Krepinevich, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a research group. "The bullets don't have ‘adviser' stenciled on some and ‘combat unit' on another."

There are 146,000 American troops in Iraq, including service and support personnel. Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, declined to tell reporters this month how many troops might remain in cities after the June 2009 deadline, and said the exact number still had to be negotiated with the Iraqis.

But some experts, like Michael E. O'Hanlon, a senior fellow in at the Brookings Institution, argue that roughly 10,000 American troops should remain in Baghdad after next June, with thousands more in other cities around the country.

For his part, General Odierno made clear that the Iraqis still needed help - and that the United States would hardly disappear. "What I would say is, we'll still maintain our very close partnership with the Iraqi security forces throughout Iraq, even after the summer," he told reporters.

Military officials say they can accomplish that by "repurposing" whatever combat troops remain. Officially, a combat soldier is anyone trained in what are called combat-coded military occupation specialties -- among them infantry, artillery and Special Forces -- to engage the enemy. But combat troops can be given different missions. From the military's point of view, a combat soldier is not so much what he is called but what he does.

For example, in an area south of Baghdad that was once called the "triangle of death" because of the Sunni insurgents there, a combat brigade of 4,000 to 5,000 soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division has been replaced with what the Army calls a transition task force of 800 to 1,200 troops with the mission of training and advising the Iraqi Army.

"It's no longer Americans providing the muscle," Colonel Nagl said. "Now it's Iraqi patrols with a small group of American advisers tucked inside."

Either way, no one expects the American presence to end soon, clearly not Defense Secretary Gates. When asked by Charlie Rose in a PBS interview last week how big the American "residual" force would be in Iraq after 2011, Mr. Gates replied that although the mission would change, "my guess is that you're looking at perhaps several tens of thousands of American troops."

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company