Monthly Archives: April 2013

Why Would Syria Use Chemical Weapons Now?

Evidence of a chemical attack in Syria is underwhelming – and Tim Marshall asks why the Assad regime would choose to act now.
By Tim Marshall
May 01, 2013 “Information Clearing House” -“SKY” – There are many questions about the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in Syria including one of the most puzzling – if it’s true they were used, why were they used now?
Why attempt a very limited attack, resulting in no obvious military advantage?
Why use them knowing that you risk losing the diplomatic support of Russia and China, knowing you risk bringing in western intervention, and therefore risk losing the gains you’ve made militarily in the past few weeks?
Why now? It doesn’t make sense.
If the evidence of use was overwhelming, the question would still remain. But the evidence is underwhelming.
The British Ministry of Defence is said to have obtained soil samples from inside Syria which have tested positive for sarin.
However, it is not known who had the soil samples before they were passed to the British, and the MoD will not publish its findings.
Given the debacle over the use of intelligence in the Iraq War, its reluctance to go public with information suggests it is not sure of its veracity but there is also the problem that publishing even limited evidence risks compromising sources inside Syria.
It’s a similar story in the US where even the most hawkish member of the Senate, John McCain, agrees that the evidence “may not be airtight”.
The White House has backtracked from statements late last week and now admits that “the chain of custody (of evidence) is not clear so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions”.
This translates as “we have no idea where this evidence came from or who had it, or even if someone planted it and passed it on to us”.
On such a premise a case for war is not made.
The French have less information, but more clarity.
Foreign minister Laurent Fabius has said that Paris has “no evidence” that chemical weapons have been used in Syria.
They may have been, they may not, either way, the news surrounding the allegations has sparked a flurry of renewed debate about no fly zones, safe zones, and even Western intervention on the ground.
If it ever comes to the latter, it is almost certain that the first convoy into Syria will be bombed, as will the last one out, however many years and deaths of soldiers later.

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West’s WMD Lies Fray as Syrian Army Overruns Terrorist Proxies

Video – Full Speech -Sayed Nasrallah – Syria’s Friends Won’t Let It Fall in US, Israel, Takfiri Hands

Video – Full Speech -Sayed Nasrallah – Syria’s Friends Won’t Let It Fall in US, Israel, Takfiri Hands

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Afghanistan, Slush Funds and Sleaze

By Stephen M. Walt
May 01, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – One of the great successes of the Obama administration has been its ability to divert attention from the wars the United States is still fighting, such as Afghanistan. Given Obama’s decision to escalate and extend that war is looking worse and worse with time, you can understand why they are doing this. It’s possible that sending more troops bought Obama time and is making it easier to get out now; the problem is that we ended up squandering more lives and money without getting a significantly better outcome.
My real fear is that this is merely a preamble to telling ourselves a lot of self-serving myths about that war. Count on it: Our exit from Afghanistan will be accompanied by a lot of feel-good stories about the U.S./NATO effort there designed to convince Americans that the surge “worked” and that we really did give it our all. If things go south later on, that will be the Afghans’ fault, not ours, and so it won’t be necessary to learn any lessons from our mistakes. 
But two recent news stories suggest a very different read. The first, from Saturday’s New York Times, offered an account of the farewell gathering for the deparating French Ambassador in Kabul, Bernard Bajolet. According to the Times, Bajolet told the attendees:
“That the Afghan project is on thin ice and that, collectively, the West was responsible for a chunk of what went wrong, though much of the rest the Afghans were responsible for. That the West had done a good job of fighting terrorism, but that most of that was done on Pakistani soil, not on the Afghan side of the border. And that without fundamental changes in how Afghanistan did business, the Afghan government, and by extension the West’s investment in it, would come to little.”
And then there was this passage:
“At his farewell party, Mr. Bajolet wound up his realpolitik with a brisk analysis of what Afghanistan’s government needed to do: cut corruption, which discourages investment, deal with drugs and become fiscally self-reliant. It must increase its revenues instead of letting politicians divert them, he said.”
Think about that statement as you read the second story (from today’s Times) describing the millions of dollars of slush funds that the CIA has paid to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. But instead of purchasing Karzai’s loyalty or enhancing U.S. influence, the money merely contributed to the endemic corruption that has marred the NATO effort from day one. As the Times reported:
“The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” one American official said, “was the United States.”
There you have it: The French ambassador (and everyone else) says the Afghan government needs to reduce corruption, yet a key element of the U.S. effort there has been contributing to that problem. I wonder if H.R. McMaster, the general who was assigned to head up NATO’s anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan, knew what the CIA baksheesh office was up to. If so, he’ll be in a great position to write a sequel to his earlier book on the U.S. failure in Vietnam.
Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

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Did Muslims Attack America on 9/11?

War is War, No Matter What You Call It

Report: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Repeated Requests for a Lawyer Were Ignored

There is zero legal or ethical justification for denying a suspect in custody this fundamental right
By Glenn Greenwald 
May 01, 2013 “Information Clearing House” -“The Guardian” – The initial debate over the treatment of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev focused on whether he should be advised of his Miranda rights or whether the “public safety exception” justified delaying it. In the wake of news reports that he had been Mirandized and would be charged in a federal court, I credited the Obama DOJ for handling the case reasonably well thus far. As it turns out, though, Tsarnaev wasn’t Mirandized because the DOJ decided he should be. Instead, that happened only because a federal magistrate, on her own, scheduled a hospital-room hearing, interrupted the FBI’s interrogation which had been proceeding at that point for a full 16 hours, and advised him of his right to remain silent and appointed him a lawyer. Since then, Tsarnaev ceased answering the FBI’s questions.
But that controversy was merely about whether he would be advised of his Miranda rights. Now, the Los Angeles Times, almost in passing, reports something which, if true, would be a much more serious violation of core rights than delaying Miranda warnings – namely, that prior to the magistrate’s visit to his hospital room, Tsarnaev had repeatedly asked for a lawyer, but the FBI simply ignored those requests, instead allowing the interagency High Value Detainee Interrogation Group to continue to interrogate him alone:
“Tsarnaev has not answered any questions since he was given a lawyer and told he has the right to remain silent by Magistrate Judge Marianne B. Bowler on Monday, officials said.
“Until that point, Tsarnaev had been responding to the interagency High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, including admitting his role in the bombing, authorities said. A senior congressional aide said Tsarnaev had asked several times for a lawyer, but that request was ignored since he was being questioned under the public safety exemption to the Miranda rule.”
Delaying Miranda warnings under the “public safety exception” – including under the Obama DOJ’s radically expanded version of it – is one thing. But denying him the right to a lawyer after he repeatedly requests one is another thing entirely: as fundamental a violation of crucial guaranteed rights as can be imagined. As the lawyer bmaz comprehensively details in this excellent post, it is virtually unheard of for the “public safety” exception to be used to deny someone their right to a lawyer as opposed to delaying a Miranda warning (the only cases where this has been accepted were when “the intrusion into the constitutional right to counsel … was so fleeting – in both it was no more than a question or two about a weapon on the premises of a search while the search warrant was actively being executed”). To ignore the repeated requests of someone in police custody for a lawyer, for hours and hours, is just inexcusable and legally baseless.
As law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky explained in the Los Angeles Times last week, the Obama DOJ was already abusing the “public safety” exception by using it to delay Miranda warnings for hours, long after virtually every public official expressly said that there were no more threats to the public safety. As he put it: “this exception does not apply here because there was no emergency threat facing law enforcement.” Indeed, as I documented when this issue first arose, the Obama DOJ already unilaterally expanded this exception far beyond what the Supreme Court previously recognized by simply decreeing (in secret) that terrorism cases justify much greater delays in Mirandizing a suspect for reasons well beyond asking about public safety.
But that debate was merely about whether Tsarnaev would be advised of his rights. This is much more serious: if the LA Times report is true, then it means that the DOJ did not merely fail to advise him of his right to a lawyer but actively blocked him from exercising that right. This is a US citizen arrested for an alleged crime on US soil: there is no justification whatsoever for denying him his repeatedly exercised right to counsel. And there are ample and obvious dangers in letting the government do this. That’s why Marcy Wheeler was arguing from the start that whether Tsarnaev would be promptly presented to a federal court – as both the Constitution and federal law requires – is more important than whether he is quickly Mirandized. Even worse, if the LA Times report is accurate, it means that the Miranda delay as well as the denial of his right to a lawyer would have continued even longer had the federal magistrate not basically barged into the interrogation to advise him of his rights.
I’d like to see more sources for this than a single anonymous Congressional aide, though the LA Times apparently concluded that this source’s report was sufficiently reliable. The problem is that we’re unlikely to get much transparency on this issue because to the extent that national politicians in Washington are complaining about Tsarnaev’s treatment, their concern is that his rights were not abused even further:
“Lawmakers were told Tsarnaev had been questioned for 16 hours over two days. Injured in the throat, he was answering mostly in writing.
“‘For those of us who think the public safety exemption properly applies here, there are legitimate questions about why he was [brought before a judge] when he was,’ said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), a former federal prosecutor who serves on the House Intelligence Committee.
“Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the committee, wrote Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. asking for a full investigation of the matter, complaining that the court session ‘cut off a lawful, ongoing FBI interview to collect public safety information.'”
So now the Washington “debate” is going to be whether (a) the Obama DOJ should have defied the efforts of the federal court to ensure Tsarnaev’s rights were protected and instead just violated his rights for even longer than it did, or (b) the Obama DOJ violated his rights for a sufficient amount of time before “allowing” a judge into his hospital room. That it is wrong to take a severely injured 19-year-old US citizen and aggressively interrogate him in the hospital without Miranda rights, without a lawyer, and (if this report is true) actively denying him his repeatedly requested rights, won’t even be part of that debate. As Dean Chemerinsky wrote:
“Throughout American history, whenever there has been a serious threat, people have proposed abridging civil liberties. When that has happened, it has never been shown to have made the country safer. These mistakes should not be repeated. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be investigated, prosecuted and tried in accord with the US Constitution.”
There is no legal or ethical justification for refusing the request for someone in custody to have a lawyer present. If this report is true, what’s most amazing is not that his core rights were so brazenly violated, but that so few people in Washington will care. They’re too busy demanding that his rights should have been violated even further.
In March of last year, the New York Times’ Editorial Page Editor, Andrew Rosenthal – writing under the headline “Liberty and Justice for Non-Muslims” – explained: “it’s rarely acknowledged that the [9/11] attacks have also led to what’s essentially a separate justice system for Muslims.” Even if you’re someone who has decided that you don’t really care about (or will actively support) rights abridgments as long as they are applied to groups or individuals who you think deserve it, these violations always expand beyond their original application. If you cheer when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s right to counsel is denied, then you’re enabling the institutionalization of that violation, and thus ensuring that you have no basis or ability to object when that right is denied to others whom you find more sympathetic (including yourself).
For those who are still having trouble comprehending the point that objections to rights violations are not grounded in “concern over a murderer” but rather concern over what powers the government can exercise – just as objections to the US torture regime were not grounded in concern for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – perhaps the great American revolutionary Thomas Paine can explain the point,from his 1795 A Dissertation on the First Principles of Government:
“He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”
That’s the same principle that led then-lawyer-and-revolutionary John Adams to vigorously defend five British soldiers (of the hated occupying army) accused of one of the most notorious crimes of the revolutionary period: the 1770 murder of five colonists in Bostonas part of the so-called Boston Massacre. As the ACLU explained, no lawyers were willing to represent the soldiers because “of the virulent anti-British sentiment in Boston” and “Adams later wrote that he risked infamy and even death, and incurred much popular suspicion and prejudice.”
Ultimately, Adams called his defense of these soldiers “one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.” That’s because Adams understood what Paine understood: if you permit the government to trample upon the basic rights of those whom you hate, then you’re permitting the government to trample upon those rights in general, for everyone.
This is not a platitude they were invoking but an undeniable historical truth. Governments know that their best opportunity to institutionalize rights violations is when they can most easily manipulate the public into acquiescing to them by stoking public emotions of contempt against the individual target. For the reasons Paine and Adams explained, it is exactly in such cases – when public rage finds its most intense expression – when it is necessary to be most vigilant in defense of those rights.
Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon. He is the author of How Would a Patriot Act? (May 2006), a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power; A
Tragic Legacy (June, 2007), which examines the Bush legacy; and With Liberty and Justice For Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful

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Remarks at the UN International Meeting on Palestine in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Washington’s nuclear hypocrisy

By Michael Walker 
April 2009, President Barack Obama gave hope to nuclear disarmament activists around the globe. Speaking in the Czech Republic, he affirmed “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”. It was, and remains, the most laudable of objectives. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult to believe that the president is truly committed to eliminating these terrifying weapons of mass destruction. 
This might come as a surprise to those whose knowledge of the issue is limited to Washington’s dealings with North Korea and Iran, for the US government has made it plain that these nations’ purported nuclear activities will not be tolerated. As Secretary of State John Kerry declared during a visit to Seoul this month, “North Korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power.” Regarding Iran, President Obama emphasized in an interview aired on Israeli television in March that “I have been crystal clear about my position on Iran possessing a nuclear weapon. That is a red line for us.” 
These words have been matched by deeds. The Obama administration has been dogged in its efforts to punish these states for their alleged nuclear ambitions. A case in point occurred in March, when US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice led the way in pushing for the imposition of new sanctions on the reclusive North Korean regime following its third nuclear test. Tehran has likewise been targeted with crippling US and international economic sanctions. 
However, if we look beyond these two cases, the non-proliferation edifice begins to crumble. It was reported over the weekend, for example, that the United States intends to spend around US$10 billion enhancing its Europe-based nuclear weapons. This plan, which would involve turning the bombs into guided weapons that could be fired by F-35 warplanes, would represent “a significant upgrade of the US nuclear capability in Europe”, according to one expert. 
Then there is the matter of Washington’s cozy relations with nuclear weapons states India and Israel. The courting of India, a nation that conducted a so-called “peaceful nuclear explosion” as far back as 1974 and has never signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), is not a new phenomenon. The embrace of this South Asian giant began during George W Bush’s presidency, when his administration signed a 10-year defense agreement with New Delhi and blew a giant hole in the global non-proliferation regime by agreeing to a civil nuclear cooperation deal. 
President Obama’s team has been hypnotized by New Delhi’s potential as a buyer of US arms and military hardware. In 2010, the president paid a visit to India where he lobbied on behalf of US defense contractors Lockheed and Boeing, which were at the time bidding for a multi-billion dollar contract to provide the country’s military with 126 new warplanes. Although Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh torpedoed the US bids, preferring to negotiate with the French company Dassault, the Obama administration has continued its efforts to pry open the lucrative Indian market. 
Indeed, Andrew Shapiro, a high-ranking State Department official, recently boasted that “we have made tremendous progress in the [US-India] defense trade relationship,” with US military sales to New Delhi hitting roughly $8 billion, up from zero in 2008. He held out the appealing prospect of “billions of dollars more in the next couple of years”. In short, this logic holds that while India may have atomic weapons, what’s more important is that the country is an ally and buys large quantities of US military equipment. 
Unsurprisingly, Israel also gets special treatment on the nuclear front. An undeclared nuclear weapons state that has declined to sign the NPT, Israel is presumed to possess an arsenal of several hundred nuclear warheads. Notwithstanding this, the Israelis are showered with US military aid, averaging around $3 billion annually. 
The administration’s unstinting support for Israel was recently underlined when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel flew to the Middle East to discuss a multi-billion dollar arms deal for Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. As reported in the New York Times, this package is “intended to further increase Israel’s military edge over other powers in the region”. The secretary noted that the deal would send a “very clear signal to Iran”. One signal is certain to have been received loud and clear: while Washington permits its friends to have the ultimate weapon, a different set of rules applies to its enemies. 
If President Obama wishes to be taken seriously as an advocate of nuclear non-proliferation, he should be consistent. The US loses credibility when it vilifies North Korea and Iran while at the same time remaining silent about the atomic weapons of its friends. 
Here, then, is a policy suggestion for the president: impose sanctions against India and Israel, and end the arms deals with those nuclear states. Alas, such a course of action is unlikely, to say the least. Therefore, the outlook for nuclear non-proliferation and eventual disarmament remains bleak. 
Michael Walker has a PhD in international relations from the University of St Andrews. 

(Used with permission Foreign Policy in Focus.) 

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Israeli yellow card for US on Iran

US/Saudi covert operations in Chechnya: Ricin, diamonds, Stingers

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As the Cold War between the USSR and the USA drew down in the early 1990’s, organizations/institutions used to fund proxy wars-and destabilization efforts–between the two Empires became exposed. With the Cold War ostensibly over, the corrupt and illegal actions of such groups could no longer be ignored, or covered up, as the larger purpose of them was to fund the fight against the Red Menace of Communism.
One of the most notable instances of the demise of a Cold War machine was the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). Founded in 1972 it would survive under various guises until roughly 2002. BCCI was designed to avoid regulatory scrutiny. Direct involvement with BCCI’s illegal activities-including covering them up–would ultimately besmirch the names of members/advisors of every US presidential administration from Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton: Clark Clifford, Richard Helms, George Bush I, James Baker, William Casey, Bert Lance, and Marc Rich among them. BCCI clients included the intelligence agencies form the US and Saudi Arabia, the Medellin Cartel and Saddam Hussein. 
Bank accounts were opened at BCCI by US intelligence agencies in order to fund the Mujahideen not only in Afghanistan but in the Caucasian Region to include Chechnya and Dagestan. Once BCCI was shut down a new means of off-the-books funding was needed. It was then that the US and Saudi intelligence organizations figured out that diamonds from the African Continent would be a worthy convertible cash vehicle. Diamonds would make their way from Angola to Belgium. Once converted to cash, US and Saudi intelligence agencies could clandestinely purchase weapons, like Stinger Missiles, and bribe the appropriate personnel to get the nasty little weapons where they needed to be. In this case the anti-aircraft Stingers would land in the hands of Chechen rebels fighting against the Russian military. A transit and training point was (and remains) NATO and Israeli friendly Georgia.
According to the Russian research group Civil Research, “After signing the Khasavyurt Accord in Dagestan in 1996 ending the first Chechen War–and after the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria’s de facto independence-“it became absolutely clear that Chechnya became a key element in the process of controlled destabilization of the Caucasian Region. Hence well-known intelligence managers of such destabilization processes moved to solve Chechen problems. The creators and instigators of shadow money and arms flows began to appear.”
What’s the Story?
BCCI “worked in the interests of American and Saudi elites and was a means of organization and financing of controlled crises in different regions from South America to Middle Asia…BCCI took an active part in arms smuggling, financing of terrorist groupings, and drug money laundering.” According to Civil Research, BCCI accounts were surreptitiously used to fund the creation of nuclear weapons in Pakistan. The Board of directors of BCCI included two chiefs of the US Central Intelligence Agency–William Casey and Richard Helms; the head of the General secret service of Saudi Arabia from 1997-2001, Turki al-Feisal al-Saud; Camal Adkham -a former chief of the Saudi Arabia Secret service before; and Adnan Khashoggi-a Saudi multimillionaire, arms dealer, official representative of Saudi Bin Laden Group in the USA, and a key player in the Iran-Contra Affair under President Ronald Reagan.
“In 1997 Khashoggi introduced Khozh-Akhmed Nukhaev (Chechen Mafia leader and opponent of Radical Islam and the USA) to former US Secretary of State James Baker who headed the election campaigns of Ronald Reagan and George Bush I. Baker would also be called in to mediate the 2000 Election debacle in Florida. Baker was Khashoggi’s partner in BCCI and the Carlyle Group.” Civil Research believes that it is likely that during meetings between the two, “the decision to create a structure to control the process of destabilization in the Caucasian Region–some kind of Regional BCCI or Caucasian Common Market–was made. In April of 1997 Nukhaev registered the Caucasian-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Washington.
“We are inclined to think that Nukhaev’s structures were managed by American and Saudi Special Services and were financed by Khashoggi through BCCI,” said Civil Research. “The funds were used to purchase and deliver the modern means of Terrorist War to Chechnya: high accuracy weapons like anti-aircraft Stingers, satellite communication gear, intelligence tactics, sabotage devices, and well trained instructors mainly from the General Secret Service of Saudi Arabia…There are serious reasons to think that a batch of 70 Stingers came to Chechnya from Saudi Arabia.”
Once BCCI’s operations were exposed by the US Congress and an international assortment of regulators a new means of funding arms sales to anti-Russian, radicalized followers of Islam had to be found by NATO, US and Saudi intelligence agencies. Anti-Russian operations had also been conducted by then-active duty US Special Forces operating in Chechnya and Bosnia. These former American soldiers would find work, post-911, with companies like the former Blackwater (XE) and Triple Canopy.
Diamond Dogs
US, NATO and Saudi intelligence agencies turned to the diamond market to fund operations to destabilize Russia. According to Civil Research, in 1993 Aziz Ben Said Ben Ali al-Gamdi (a regular officer of General Secret Service of Saudi Arabia) went to Angola. “Later he would become known as Abu al Valid. During a business trip to Angola Abu al-Valid made contacts with the representatives both of UNITA and the legal government who were engaged in export of Angolan diamonds to Antwerp in Belgium. At the time Angola was filled with enterprising fragments of Soviet Special Services like Viktor Bute who not without success supported black and gray exports of Angolan diamonds to Belgium.”
The Angolan conflict didn’t interest the US, NATO or Saudi Special Services as much as did the acquisition and use of diamonds to create a considerable flow of cash for clandestine operations to further destabilize Russia by igniting Chechen radicalization.
By 1995 the Saudi Arabian Special Services had successfully created diamond flows from Luanda, Angola to Antwerp, Belgium to be used to fund radicalization and terror. Abu al-Valid showed up in Chechnya now as a Saudi Arabian resident and also as a representative of radical Islam grouping known as Brothers-Muslims. The first business contact of Abu al-Valid in Chechnya was with Nukhaev. A few months later Nukhaev was introduced to Khashoggi. Thus the construction of Caucasian Common Market” began. In 1997 Nukhaev, as an emissary of Caucasian Common Market, visited Belgium. By that time Antwerp was given the nickname Belgian Caliphate by the European press.
Meanwhile in Georgia
Lorenzo Vidino in How Chechnya Became a Breeding Ground for Terror (Middle East Quarterly Summer 2005) indicated that in 2002 a cadre of Islamic fundamentalists made camp in Pankisi Gorge in Georgia to plan and train. “According to Georgian officials, in early 2002, some sixty Arab computer, communications, and financial specialists, military trainers, chemists, and bomb-makers settled in the gorge. The group used sophisticated satellite and encrypted communications to support both operations in Chechnya and terrorists planning attacks against Western targets. The Pankisi Arabs later tried to buy explosives for what Georgian security officials believe was to have been a major attack on U.S. or other Western installations in Russia.”
Vidino also claimed that in 2003 there was an effort by the Pankisi Arabs to use Ricin to kill. “A 2003 plot involving ricin, a virulent and deadly toxin, demonstrated the Islamist co-option of the Chechen nationalist conflict and its transformation into a global jihadist training ground. According to U.S. intelligence sources cited in an Italian indictment, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi (the Jordanian terrorist alleged to mastermind much of the Iraqi insurgency) dispatched Adnan Muhammad Sadiq (Abu Atiya), a former Al-Qaeda instructor at a Herat, Afghanistan training camp, to Pankisi [Georgia]. In the gorge, Abu Atiya, a Palestinian who had lost a leg during the Chechen War, trained terrorists in the use of toxic gases. He also was behind a 2002 scheme to stage biological and chemical attacks against Russian or American interests in Turkey.”
John Stanton is a Virginia based writer specializing in national security. His latest book is The Raptor’s Eye. Reach him at

The Boston Marathon Mysteries

UK base carrying out Afghan drone strikes

By Robert Stevens 
30 April 2013
The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced last Thursday that remote controlled armed drones, used to murder and maim insurgents and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, are now being operated from the UK for the first time.
The UK’s armed forces have been using drones, officially known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), to monitor and attack insurgents in Afghanistan for at least six years. Previously these missions had been operated from the Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, as the British military did not have the capability to operate them from UK soil.
At Creech the drones were operated by the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) 39 Squadron. Described as an “elite unit formed in some haste during 2007”, the unit used state of the art surveillance technology to carry out sneak attacks on people several thousand miles away.
On Thursday it was acknowledged that a specially created mission base—operational since October—at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, England is now directing the drones.
In a deliberately vague statement the RAF said it had commenced supporting the International Security Assistance Force and Afghan ground troops with “armed intelligence and surveillance missions” remotely piloted from RAF Waddington.
There is no information on the individual missions flown from the UK, which are operated by RAF 13 Squadron and consist of 100 specially trained personnel. The Telegraph reported that the drones “take off and land under the guidance of pilots on the ground in Afghanistan but the pilots in Lincolnshire take over once they’ve reached a suitable height. They normally fly at between 15,000 to 20,000 feet.”
Last year the MoD stepped up its Afghanistan drone fleet by purchasing five more US-made MQ-9 Reaper drones, costing $16.9 million, to add to the five it already operated. The 10 will be operated from RAF Waddington in collaboration with the team in the US. Each is able to carry up to 14 Hellfire “tank-buster” air-to-surface missiles.
Only a fraction of information on the death and destruction drones inflict ever reaches the public domain. The RAF’s claim that they are used for “armed intelligence and surveillance missions” is aimed at concealing that their main purpose is to terrorise on a mass scale. Kat Craig, legal director of human rights charity Reprieve, recently commented, “The nature of drones means they hover above communities 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They present an aerial occupation, almost a form of collective punishment, that causes huge concern and distress to people living in those communities.”
RAF controlled drones have been a critical component of the filthy imperialist adventure in Afghanistan, having flown 45,000 hours in the last six years (an average of 20 hours per day) and fired around 350 weapons.
The RAF also leases the Israeli-made Hermes 450. According to the web site in October 2012, “more than 60,000 flight hours had been logged with Hermes 450s over Afghanistan and also previously Iraq under the urgent operational requirement service by early this year.”
A November 2011 report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that the UK will “spend over half a billion pounds on acquiring and sustaining armed Reaper drones on operations in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2015.”
At that time the RAF were, according to the Bureau’s report, “providing more than 1,200 hours of air support per month for the UK’s Afghan operations.”
The RAF is continually upgrading its drone warfare capability. It is intended that, by 2030, these will comprise 30 percent of the RAF’s capacity. Some £2 billion is being spent on upgrading to a new fleet of 30 drones, known as “The Scavenger programme,” which will be operational by the end of the decade.
The MoD publicly states that it has no record of figures on those killed as a result of drone strikes, whether “insurgent” or civilian. However, in December 2010 Prime Minister David Cameron bragged that 124 insurgents had been killed by British drone strikes up to that point. He has not been so forthcoming in giving details of the civilians slaughtered in cold blood by British drones, including the four killed and two injured when a drone blasted two trucks on the ground in the Now Zad district of north Helmand in July 2011.
These murders are just a fraction of those killed in drone attacks by the United States. The most recent estimates, according to research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, suggest that in Pakistan alone US drones killed up to 3,533 people between 2004 and 2013. About 890 of these are estimated to be civilians, of which an estimated 168 to 197 were children. Another 1,173 to 1,472 people were also injured. The majority of attacks were carried out under the administration of Barack Obama.
In December last year, the High Court in London rejected a request for a judicial inquiry into the alleged role of the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters spy centre in aiding US drone strikes in Pakistan’s northwest region. The case was brought by Noor Khan, a Pakistani man whose father was killed, along with 49 other people, by a US drone attack on March 17, 2011. Khan’s father, Malik Daud Khan, was chairing a peaceful tribal assembly meeting to discuss chromite mining rights in North Waziristan when he was killed by several missile strikes.
The Conservative/Liberal Democrat government has refused to comment on any aspect of the allegations. Lawyers for Foreign Secretary William Hague told the court that it was “territory of extreme sensitivity”. It would be “‘prejudicial to the national interest’ for them even to explain their understanding of the legal basis for any such activities”, they added.
Following the announcement that the new drones will be operated from RAF Waddington, the media largely sought to play down their crucial military role in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as their planned usage in further imperialist brigandage. BBC defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt blithely reported that the “overwhelming majority” of missions the British drones are used for involve surveillance. She added, “The UK has used its military drones and pilots only in areas acknowledged as conflict zones such as Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, while RAF drones do not take part in the CIA programme.”
The BBC kept up its propaganda following a demonstration by 400 people on Saturday protesting the use of drones and calling for their banning. The march began in the nearby town of Lincoln and ended at the heavily guarded perimeter fence of RAF Waddington.
BBC reporter Ed Thomas concluded his report from the protest by citing UK government statements defending the increased use of drones. Thomas repeated the bare-faced lie that “it also says that the drones are not only saving military lives but also civilian lives in Afghanistan.”
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Teachers’ struggles escalate across Mexico

By Rafael Azul 
30 April 2013
Across México last week, tens of thousands of teachers mobilized in rejection of the education reforms imposed by President Enrique Peña Nieto. On May Day this Wednesday, teachers and their supporters are planning mass mobilizations in Guerrero, Jalisco, and Mexico City to repudiate the education and labor policies promoted by Peña Nieto’s PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) and the other major Mexican political parties as the centerpiece of their “Pact for México.”
The education reform law, which was approved by the Mexican Congress and ratified by a majority of state legislatures, is being motivated as a means to improve student performance and weaken the power of the unions, attacks job security in teaching, making educators dependent on what the government calls “universal evaluation” exams. Even veteran teachers would be subject to sackings, depending on their evaluation. In the last few weeks, teachers have escalated their mobilizations in many parts of the country, including Jalisco, Michoacán, and Guerrero.
Peña Nieto’s so-called reforms have polarized a teachers union that for years had been divided between the official SNTE (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Educación) and the CNTE (Confederación National de Trabajadores de Educación). The SNTE President, Juan Díaz de la Torre, was appointed to lead the union by Peña Nieto after the arrest of its former president Elba Gordillo for allegedly embezzling millions of dollars in union funds. He fully backs the education reform and collaborates closely with Peña Nieto and the PRI.
The CNTE, and other SNTE factions, are organizing and mobilizing teachers across México against the reform.
The government’s policy would pave the way for the dismantling of public education and its replacement with religious and private schools.
Michoacán: Mexican teachers and normalistas (students at Normal (teaching) colleges) escalated their struggles across the state.
On April 27 In Morelia, the state capital, 500 normalistas from eight teaching colleges blocked downtown streets and occupied a shopping center. The demonstrators carried signs repudiating the education reform that makes the hiring of teachers contingent on examinations. Instead, they are demanding that the Michoacán government guarantee posts to Normal school graduates. In addition, the students and teachers are demanding the creation of 200,000 more teaching posts. Last month the teachers had petitioned the state government for decent wages and benefits, as well as free supplies, shoes and uniforms for the students.
The Michoacán state government has refused to oppose the Peña Nieto reforms, and argues that there is no money for more jobs, decent wages and benefits, or for supplies, shoes and uniforms.
Michoacan Governor Jesús Reina García vowed to prosecute teaching students and teachers for allegedly stealing state vehicles to block a highway outside of Morelia.
Two days earlier, Michoacán normalistas and teachers, members of the SNTE had taken over highway tollbooths, while 14,817 members of the CNTE walked off their jobs at 3,000 schools, affecting 25 percent of the State’s students.
Guerrero: Following the issuing of an arrest order last week against leaders of the teachers union over a protest that saw that saw the sacking of PRI and other political party offices, Guerrero police announced their intention to set up check points to prevent their escape. Minervino Morán, leader of the Oaxaca union, announced that mobilizations would continue across the state.
Adding to the teachers’ anger was the decision to release—supposedly for lack of evidence—Ismael Matadamas Salinas and Rey David Cortes Flores, two state security officers who had been charged with the murder of Gabriel Echeverría de Jesús and Jorge Alexis Herrera Pino, two normalistas from the Ayotzinapa Normal College. Police gunned down Herrera and Echeverría de Jesús during a protest march in 2011.
On Thursday, a group of 1,000 teachers stoned the state attorney’s office over the liberation of the arrested police officers. The protesters also stoned the offices of the PRI-affiliated union federation, the SNTE.
A massive protest march is planned in Guerrero for May 1. In addition to the Guerrero teachers, delegations are expected from Michoacán and Chiapas. “This is not over,” declared a Guerrero educator to CNN.
In response to the violent protests last week, the federal administration of president Enrique Peña Nieto, announced that it was sending security agents to “intervene, if necessary,” against the teachers. 
Jalisco: The state legislature has provisionally suspended imposing the measures of the education reform law in Jalisco, maintaining relative labor peace with teachers. However, all factions of the SNTE have called for marches on May Day and are inviting parents and members of other unions to join them in the repudiation of the new law.
Mexico City: On April 25, over 2,500 teachers and students marched in the nation’s capital fighting for the rejection of so-called universal evaluation that the Peña Nieto reform would mandate.
Baja California: On April 23, hundreds of protesting teachers invaded the state legislature in Mexicali, protesting the education reform. The protesters, chanting, “Fighting educators are educators that teach,” forced the legislature to suspend its session for the day.
Baja California Sur: On April 19, teachers belonging to the SNTE and to its dissident faction, the CNTE, fought each other for possession of the union headquarters in the city of La Paz. A CNTE spokesperson accused the SNTE leadership of attempting to “demobilize” teachers, who are rejecting Peña Nieto’s reforms across México. Though the Baja California Sur section of SNTE has so far not joined in the protest demonstrations, an SNTE spokesperson denounced the overcrowding that exists in the schools, with 50 or more students in elementary school classrooms, making effective teaching impossible.
Chiapas: Ten thousand educators marched in the city of Tuxla Guerrero on April 20; the Chiapas SNTE, dominated by the CNTE, has called for a teachers’ strike, set to begin on May 1. “We will not allow education to be subordinated to corporate interests,” declared CNTE leader Alelfo Alejandro Gómez. “We will aggressively defend free, public education.”

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New Zealand government to extend spy agency’s powers

Australian university union seeks to divert anger over Labor’s cuts

Study finds nearly half of New Yorkers living in or near poverty

By Philip Guelpa 
30 April 2013
New York City, the capital of world finance, where the Wall Street elite is reaping record profits, is also one of the most economically unequal cities in the world. One, if incomplete, measure of this social disparity comes in a new study by the city’s Commission on Economic Opportunity (CEO), which reports that as of 2011 over 20 percent of the residents in America’s most populous city lived in poverty.
This newly published report, “The CEO Poverty Measure, 2005 – 2011,” presents a view of the deteriorating economic conditions faced by a growing portion of the city’s population.
Shortly after it was first established in 2006, the CEO concluded that the official national poverty measure, originally developed by the Census Bureau in the early 1960s, “no longer provides useful information.” According to the CEO, the federal formula for calculating poverty substantially misrepresents the array of expenses, which make up the cost of living, undervaluing housing costs in particular.
The Commission therefore developed its own statistic, based on recommendations made by the National Academy of Sciences in 1995, which were subsequently ignored by the federal government. The CEO’s new calculation consistently shows that over the past seven years the rate of poverty in New York City has been two to three percentage points higher than that indicated by the federal number.
The CEO’s 2011 poverty threshold for New York City is an annual income of $30,945 for a family of four (two adults and two children), as compared to the corresponding federal threshold of $22,811. The CEO figure, however, still greatly underestimates the economic distress faced by the majority of New Yorkers who live in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
Although the report claims to show the beginnings of a “recovery” from the recession in 2011, four years after its official end in 2009, the data does not bear this out. During the period encompassed by the CEO’s study, from 2005 through 2011, the percentage of the city’s population in poverty declined slightly in the years immediately preceding the onset of the recession then rose to a new high in the following years. The index ranged from 20.3 percent in 2005 to a low of 19.0 percent in 2008, reflecting conditions immediately preceding the effects of the crash, and then climbed to 21.3 percent in 2011, a full percentage point higher than in 2005.
Furthermore, in 2011, 46 percent of New Yorkers were living on less than 150 percent of the poverty rate, $46,416 per year, a rise of 3 percent since 2009. In other words, nearly half of the city’s population was living in or near poverty.
The report notes between 2008 and 2010, the city’s poverty rate rose by 2.3 percentage points, despite increased use of existing “social safety net” mechanisms. Job losses and declining incomes caused a reduction in overall earnings for low-income families. The report states that subsequently, during 2011, although the rate of employment rose marginally, income did not. This contrast reflects an important feature of the so-called recovery—the increasing proportion of low-wage jobs. Wages for existing jobs are being cut and newly created jobs tend to have significantly lower pay than those lost since the start of the recession.
The CEO’s poverty rate statistic rose from 20.9 to 21.3 percent between 2010 and 2011. According to the report, the only reason it did not increase further was the initiation of the federal payroll tax cut in 2011, which has now expired, and the increasing use of Food Stamps. The CEO estimates that without these buffering factors, the poverty rate in 2011 would have been 23.6 percent.
The employment to population ratio, the percentage New Yorkers 18 through 64 years of age who were holding a job at the time they were surveyed, was 67.0 percent in 2011, the same as it was in 2005. It had peaked at 70.8 in 2008, again just before the recession began to take effect. Given the increase in proportion of low-wage jobs and the deepening cuts in social services, this seeming recovery actually masks a significant worsening of economic conditions for the working class.
In another measure of worsening employment conditions, the proportion of workers with full time jobs, those working at least 50 weeks out of a 12-month period, declined from 59.8 percent in 2008 to 56.3 percent in 2010, a loss of 3.5 percentage points. This remained essentially unchanged in 2011.
The average earnings of families in the lower income range, including the 25th to 40th percentiles, show a marked decline from 2008 through 2011, with the effects being most pronounced among the lowest income earners. As shown in the table below, those in the 40th percentile lost 12.9 percent of their income over this four-year span, while the 25th percentile lost 14.3 percent.
In still another indication of severe effects of the recession on the New York City population, federal and CEO figures both show that the proportion of the population judged to be in extreme poverty—or below 50 percent of the poverty threshold—has increased from 2008 through 2011. The federal statistics show a rise from 6.9 to 7.9 percent, while the CEO figures rose from 5.1 to 5.6 percent.
Examination of poverty rates by age group shows that between 2008 and 2011, impoverishment increased for those under 18 and for those between 18 and 64, with only a marginal decline for the elderly. Youth poverty increased from 23.1 to 24.7 percent, a 1.6-point rise. For working-age individuals, there was a 3-point increase, from 16.9 to 19.9 percent. Over the same period, rates of poverty rose for all racial and ethnic groups.
The report concludes with an entirely unwarranted prediction that the rate of poverty will decline in the coming years, “all else equal.” This is immediately followed by a series of observations, which contradict this prediction.
“Food Stamp benefit levels have not increased since they were raised by the 2009 Obama stimulus program. The benefit formula will revert to its pre-stimulus rules in November 2013, creating a reduction in benefits. Some of the economic stimulus-related income tax credit programs expired at the end of 2010. The number of weeks that Unemployment Insurance is available to the long-term jobless was cut in 2012. The reduction in the payroll tax rate expired at the end of 2012.
“The sequester—the cuts in Federal government spending that began on March 1, 2013—also threatens programs important to low-income Americans. Unemployment Insurance benefit levels for the long-term jobless who are receiving federally-funded benefits could fall by 11 percent. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that between 575,000 and 750,000 women and children will be denied WIC benefits by the end of the current Federal fiscal year. Funding for Federal housing programs, the backbone of the means-tested housing assistance so vital to low-income New Yorkers, will also suffer stiff reductions.”
These cuts, worsened by anemic job growth and reductions in wages and benefits mean that levels of poverty in New York City and across the country will continue to increase and accelerate over the coming years.
The Commission on Economic Opportunity was established under Mayor Michael Bloomberg ostensibly “to craft innovative approaches to reducing poverty in the City.” Quite to the contrary, however, under this administration income inequality among city residents has increased significantly.
The billionaire mayor’s bald-faced hypocrisy is currently highlighted by his policy toward school bus workers. The raw numbers tell the story. Prior to the city’s recent declaration that the employment protection program (EPP) was illegal, the average bus worker’s annual salary was approximately $35,000, just barely above the 2011 poverty threshold established by Bloomberg’s own commission. The substantial cuts being implemented by the private bus companies, 7.5 percent wage reduction, elimination of holiday pay, and significant reduction in medical benefits will drive these workers into poverty, as defined by the mayor’s own commission while many workers will lose their jobs altogether.

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Amid jobs collapse, French President Hollande backs austerity in Europe

More mass layoffs in Greece

US moves to expand Internet wiretaps

By Andre Damon 
30 April 2013
A US government task force is seeking to force companies such as Google, Dropbox and Facebook to create backdoors for wiretapping user communications, according to a report published Monday in the Washington Post.
According to the Post, the efforts are being driven by the FBI, part of the Obama administration’s Justice Department, though the White House has not formally announced a position. However, the panel is preparing legislation that would vastly expand police spying powers.
The FBI claims that, under current laws, internet communications companies can effectively refuse to comply with a court-ordered wiretap by claiming that there is no practical way for them to allow the government to spy on their users’ communications. The proposed law would force companies to rebuild their services to allow the government to monitor communications.
The proposed measure, which FBI General Counsel Andrew Weissmann last month called a “top priority” for the agency, is being developed as an extension of the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, known as CALEA, which granted the federal government sweeping powers to spy on US citizens.
Originally, the act applied only to digital telephone networks. However, it was extended in 2005 to include internet communications.
Internet service providers (ISPs), which control the connections between internet users, are currently forced to allow the government to spy on most users’ communications. However, the increasing adoption of SSL encryption, which both Facebook and Gmail implemented by default in 2010, limited the government’s power to collect personal data through the ISPs.
The FBI’s proposal would negate the privacy offered by encryption by forcing companies like Google and Facebook to allow direct access to the companies’ computer servers.
The creation of such backdoors would follow actions by Skype, the online chat and voice service, which last year voluntarily reengineered its architecture to allow the US and other governments to monitor chat communications following the company’s purchase by Microsoft.
The FBI argues that this vast expansion of spying powers would only be an extension of the existing law—which requires all phone and internet systems to allow wiretapping—to new technologies. But the proposal is much more than this, since services such as Dropbox and Facebook function more like data archives than traditional communications systems.
As a result, the efforts to monitor real-time communications could open up users’ entire messaging history and file systems for searches by the government.
Moreover, while the nominal reason for such a move is to force companies to comply with court orders, the reality is that once these systems are created, they can be easily exploited by a new warrantless wiretapping program, or even hackers working covertly for the government.
The panel’s proposal is part of a systematic attack on core constitutional rights and protections against government spying, first under Bush and then Obama.
In 2005 the New York Times reported that the Bush administration had for years been conducting an illegal wiretapping program outside of all court oversight. Additionally, the White House authorized the National Security Agency to catalog records of hundreds of billions of telephone calls.
In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama voted for a law, the FISA Amendments Act, that severely undermined restrictions on government spying, gave a legal fig-leaf to the illegal wiretapping conducted under the Bush administration, and shielded telecommunications companies that complied with the wiretapping program from lawsuits.
The 2008 act allowed the government, with the rubber stamp of the FISA court (originally set up in 1978), to carry out monitoring of every phone call, email and electronic communication between the US and overseas without probable cause. It opened the way for the expansion of spying directed at US citizens.
These operations clearly violate the spirit of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, which requires that the government obtain a warrant based on probable cause before conducting a search, and that all warrants specify the items and premises to be searched.
Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union concluded that the Department of Justice has increased the number of wiretaps by 60 percent since the end of the Bush Administration, with 37,616 phones monitored by the Department of Justice, which includes the FBI, in 2011 alone.
These wiretaps were conducted under the authorization of FISA courts, which function as secret tribunals that approve nearly all requests by intelligence agencies for wiretapping, giving a veneer of legality to unconstitutional government spying.
In March, Attorney General Eric Holder announced guidelines to permit intelligence officials to use the vast stores of data that have been accumulated by the government for up to five years after the data has been collected—increasing the limit from 180 days under Bush. The Electronic Privacy Information Center commented at the time, “The change represents a dramatic expansion of government surveillance and appears to violate the Privacy Act of 1974.”
The Obama administration is also reportedly constructing a new secret facility in Utah, due to become operational in September 2013, to store the data that are being accumulated.
The Washington Post’s report on the intensified drive to expand the government’s wiretapping comes in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, which are being used as the pretext for the implementation of police state measures, including the lockdown of Boston following the blasts.
The bombings have prompted calls for the expansion of government surveillance, including from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who said Sunday that “information sharing failed” in the US intelligence system, concluding that “We need to revisit our laws,” on domestic surveillance.
While enacted under the framework of the “war on terror,” the basic target of these actions is the American people and domestic opposition to the policies of the ruling class. It is part of a systematic dismantling of democratic principles, with the government asserting the right to imprison and even assassinate US citizens without due process.
Fearing the social upheavals that will inevitably come from the growth of social inequality, the ruling class is turning to increasingly repressive and dictatorial forms of rule.

Braying for war against Syria

Obama and U.S. Military Divided Over Syria

The Shia Street Waiting: Syrian Rebels’ Attacks on Shiites Drag Lebanon Into Conflict

By Nadezhda Kevorkova
April 29, 2013 “Information Clearing House” -“RT” – In order to engage Lebanese Hezbollah, the most powerful military group of the Islamic world, in the civil war Syrian rebels attack Shia sacred places and target 30, 000 Syrian Shia Muslims who live on the border with Lebanon.
Hezbollah is doing everything to delay its involvement.
Hezbollah is proud of the fact that it was not involved in the Lebanese Civil War in 1970-1990s and was able to bring all Lebanese parties and communities together. Hezbollah has always supported the Palestinians, had been liked by the people in Lebanon and Muslims in other countries. For 17 years, Hamas headquarters have been located in Daheih, Hezbollah controlled suburb of Beirut. This was a model for political and military cooperation between Shias and Sunnis. It’s all gone now – there is no united front, no solidarity, no joint resistance, which, according to Hezbollah, the party fought and suffered for, paying with the lives of its courageous soldiers. Now instead of this solidarity, Syrian rebels declared war on the Shias.
Political nuisance
Last week, there were two outrageous incidents in Lebanon. These events were supposed to prove that people in Lebanon don’t support Hezbollah. Some activists caught a Syrian refugee in Tripoli, put a sign over his neck, saying “I am Alawite Shabiha” and paraded him around town. (Shabiha is a colloquial term, it means “mobster”, the rebels use this word for the Syrian neighborhood watch units).
Salem al-Rafie, a 43-year-old school teacher in Sidon, issued an edict calling for a “general mobilization among Sunnis to protect Sunni brothers.” Few people responded to his call for a holy war on Shias, but they made this into a public act by forming a line in front of al-Rafie’s office, waiting to sign up for the jihad against Shias. This didn’t go any further, but the sheikh said it’s only a matter of time before this jihad against Shias begins.
The leader of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah called a “political nuisance” the fact that the Syrian opposition and the Arab Spring are being distracted from the obvious enemy of all Muslims – Israel and its supporters – and dragged into the internal strife of Sunnis against Shias, Hezbollah, Iran, etc. He says that the rage of Muslims has been subtly redirected. 
This “nuisance” often expresses itself in the killing of Shias. And the media that support the rebels report that they killed 10, 20, or even 40 members of the Resistance movement. Hezbollah does not comment on these reports. But people are waiting for a political reaction.
For many decades, Shias were the only Muslims who had a non-governmental military organization and a training base in Southern Lebanon and in Syria. It was Hezbollah, not the regimes in Arab countries that supported the Palestinians for many years. And now they are told that they are the enemy of Islam, as opposed to its heroic vanguard.
A martyr’s funeral
There are eleven martyrs in the Hojali family. Ten of them died fighting against Israel, and 24-year old Haidar Ahmad Hojali was shot by a Syrian rebel. His funeral in Nabatieh, southern Lebanon, turned into a major event – for many hours tens of thousands of people marched in the procession. The Shia street is waiting for Hezbollah to decide how it will respond to the killing of Shias and their exile from Syria.
In this community a family of a thousand is not considered all that large. The parents’ house is up on a hill, surrounded by fields. At noon, many people gather by the gate. The house itself is packed with close relatives. The martyr’s mother, aunts, grandmothers, and sisters are sitting in the room. Almost all of them have children in their lap. All the women are wearing black. Most of them look numb. If somebody begins to cry, the numbness goes away for a little bit, but later comes back. You have to understand how Shias view death and martyrs – it is the greatest reward you can get.
There are posters of this family’s first martyr all over Lebanon. He was the one who raised the Resistance flag on the last high point that was won in the war against the “occupation regime,” or as they say here – the “Zionist Enemy.” And they call Hezbollah – Resistance. Up until recently, they only had that one enemy killing people.
Nabatieh is all covered with black flags and martyrs’ portraits. All of them died fighting against Israel and its occupation of Lebanon and for freedom of Palestinians. Their names and faces are familiar to every resident. From their early days, children hear stories about their heroic deeds. Now, a new reality has arrived for Shi’ites: Syrian rebels proclaimed them non-Muslims, infidels and subject for repelling – they may be killed and their property may be taken away. This just does not make sense.
The family invited me for the funeral – permission is needed though. The people, even in grief, remain vigilant. Everyone who sees a stranger at the ceremony asks those who accompany him or her what that person might be and who let him or her attend. The way they ask is rather polite – quietly and only by moving the lips. Only when they get the reply, they are calmed.
No media people are present at the funeral.
It would be interesting to see Al-Arabiya or Al-Jazeera here. They would not dare come close though, a man who obtained my permission to attend, commented.
Nor are there any correspondents from the Al-Manar party TV channel affiliated to Hezbollah. Funerals are not shot or broadcast for a number of reasons: to avoid revealing Hezbollah members’ identities and to avoid showing how much the people are outraged – so as not to add fuel to the fire of the Syrian war ranging so much.
The men are taking the body of the youth to his home. They are shooting into the air. A prayer is heard from loudspeakers.
It is getting clear why they shoot at funerals – the shooting stops the tears that are making everything nearly unbearable. It helps one get mobilized and concentrated.
The body is taken on a stretcher upstairs – first into the dead man’s room, then into the room of his mother. The man has left a widow and a child.
The Hezbollah flag and the cover are removed from the body of a young man, wrapped in a white shroud, with a slight smile on his lips, a smile of a martyr all Muslims are familiar with. No sign of decomposition, although it’s rather warm and he died three days ago – the time it took to get his body taken to Nabatieh.
Dozens of people pay their last respects to him. Everyone wants to see the martyr’s face and keep it in memory. Children are taken up to let them see better the martyr’s face.
“Do you also want to keep his face in your memory?” the dead man’s aunt asks.
When a young lady, a mother with a child or an old lady wish so, the men step aside as if following a command, which seems incredible as the whole place is crammed.
The Shi’ites weep at funerals, both men and women – and not of the fear of death or sorrow the man has died so young. It is generally allowed to weep over those who passed away before you and whom you failed to protect from the bullet with your own body.
A different type of tension is felt at this funeral. As we were approaching the martyr’s home, the women would be asking one and the same question “How is that possible?” while the men kept silent.
“That” is the war of Syrian rebels against Shi’ites everybody knows about. Every family has relations in Shi’ite villages near the border. Many homes became shelters for refugees from Syrian villages – not only Shi’ites but also Sunnis. The news about the rebels in Syria proclaimed Shi’ites ‘non-Muslims’ and ‘enemies’ is an open secret. Humiliation, exiles, torture and beatings – all that came from Israeli occupiers – was understandable and common. Now it’s the turn of brothers-in-faith and this just does not make any sense. It’s one thing to have historical examples, theoretical discussions and even realities of Iraq where people may die in terrorist attacks during the Hajj – in mosques and streets.
Now though the sectarian hate has come to Lebanon, a country that had a civil war for a quarter of the century, although without any religious motives, only political.
All those who are attending the funeral are aware that the Syrian rebels have mined a Shi’a mosque where the granddaughter of Muhammad the Prophet is buried in Darayya near Damascus. The rebels have mined another mosque [Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque] near Damascus, where another granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad, Zaynab, was buried.
Grief-stricken and hardened by hardships, the men and women at Haidar Ahmad’ funeral shed no tears over the ruined architectural and cultural treasures of their mosques. They know that an act of violence on a holy ground signifies a war. What they want to know is what they are to do now that their brothers in faith have made it clear the war has begun? Is it the time to retaliate?
I talked about this with dozens of people, before and after the funeral. They all have questions, and no answers.
The deceased is moved to the ground floor, while visitors make their way out of the house via a narrow staircase. People gather in the street, except children. Men solemnly carry the body, they prey, and shoot a salute again. The body is placed on a hearse, and the long procession starts making its way into town.
The procession grows, with many people joining in– men of all ages. Women traditionally don’t take part in the funerals. But this time they can be seen along the way, all dressed in black and silent, looking from the windows and balconies.
Self-organization as statement of power
The procession floods the streets of Nabatieh – this town hasn’t seen anything like it ever before. Thousands of people solemnly wait for the procession to reach the cemetery. Perfect order is maintained despite the fact that all traffic is completely stopped. The closer to the cemetery, the more noticeable is Hezbollah’s presence: both veterans and young soldiers have come, some in fatigues, some in training uniforms. Many join the procession from the mosques, and their growing presence reinforces order and gives it a focus. Not all of the town residents are involved in Hezbollah. Many parents are unaware of their sons having joined for years. But when they die, the funeral reveals the truth, as there are no secret funerals. A proper public funeral is a matter of honor for any family. Many record funerals on their phones, demonstrating considerable shooting skills capturing the scenes without disclosing the actual identity of the fighters.
The martyr’s buried. The news spreads and people start leaving slowly. A funeral tells a lot about the local community. The most striking thing about it is a high level of self-organization, self-discipline and adherence to a code of behavior. Nothing is allowed to ruin the order. If anyone gets unwell, ambulances and medics are right there ready to provide medical aid, neighbors will give those in need a chair, some water, first aid – without agitation or excitement, efficiently and quickly.
“This is the ambulance service with the Resistance,” people tell me when they see I am surprised at the sudden appearance of equipped vans and medics.
“We cannot bury our fallen heroes in secret. Everyone is given a funeral like this. Therefore when you hear mass media reports of 40 or 20 martyrs having been killed, you should know that this is a lie. A group of fighters like that will have no difficulty moving through the country and no one will be able to stop them,” says one of the veterans. I heard the same from many in the Shia settlements on the border meaning that Hezbollah hasn’t engaged in the war and will not until ordered by its leader.
I ask them what photos are in the public domain that are usually referred to as the proof of Hezbollah being involved in action and suffering losses – the photos of dozens of coffins covered with the Resistance flags. They do some search on their phones and ask me to confirm, “Do you mean these photos?” I say yes.
“These are the photos of the remains of our soldiers captured by Israel a long time ago. They started retuning them to us many years after they took them in batches, that’s why we gave them collective funerals. In all other cases we give our fighters a family funeral,” – they explain to me.
“People have set up people’s committees on both sides of the border, in Lebanon and Syria – that’s to protect themselves. These committees have nothing to do with Hezbollah. Hezbollah will engage only if Hasan Nasrallah orders it to. If they leave us no choice, we’ll accept the challenge, and if there is a political decision.” The thousands of people at the funeral of the martyr somehow made me feel like they mean what they say, and they are ready for this decision.
Nadezhda Kevorkova is a war correspondent who has covered the events of the Arab Spring, military and religious conflicts around the world, and the anti-globalization movement.

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Divide and Rule: Iraq Government Has To Go

‘Misha’ Speaks: An Interview with the Alleged Boston Bomber’s ‘Svengali’

By Christian Caryl
April 29, 2013 “Information Clearing House” -“NYRB” – As the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombings continues, one of the more clouded aspects is the tale of “Misha,” a mysterious US-based Islamist who has been accused by members of the Tsarnaev family of radicalizing Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder of the two alleged bombers. “It started in 2009. And it started right there, in Cambridge,” Tamerlan’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, told CNN after the attacks. “This person just took his brain. He just brainwashed him completely.” These accusations set off a frenzied search for what some reports have called an Islamic Svengali, and over the past few days, the FBI has said it has located and has been talking to “Misha,” though his identity has remained unknown.
Today I was able to meet “Misha,” whose real name is Mikhail Allakhverdov. Having been referred by a family in Boston that was close to the Tsarnaevs, I found Allakhverdov at his home in Rhode Island, in a lower middle class neighborhood, where he lives in modest, tidy apartment with his elderly parents. He confirmed he was a convert to Islam and that he had known Tamerlan Tsarnaev, but he flatly denied any part in the bombings. “I wasn’t his teacher. If I had been his teacher, I would have made sure he never did anything like this,” Allakhverdov said.
A thirty-nine-year-old man of Armenian-Ukrainian descent, Allakhverdov is of medium height and has a thin, reddish-blond beard. When I arrived he was wearing a green and white short-sleeve football jersey and pajama pants. Along with his parents, his American girlfriend was there, and we sat together in a tiny living room that abuts the family kitchen.
Allakhverdov said he had known Tamerlan in Boston, where he lived until about three years ago, and has not had any contact with him since. He declined to describe the nature of his acquaintance with Tamerlan or the Tsarnaev family, but said he had never met the family members who are now accusing him of radicalizing Tamerlan. He also confirmed he had been interviewed by the FBI and that he has cooperated with the investigation:
I’ve been cooperating entirely with the FBI. I gave them my computer and my phone and everything I wanted to show I haven’t done anything. And they said they are about to return them to me. And the agents who talked told me they are about to close my case.
An FBI spokesman in Boston declined to comment on an ongoing case. Allakhverdov’s statements, however, seemed to bear out recent reports that the FBI have not found any connection between “Misha” and the bomb plot.
One question is why members of the Tsarnaev family have made accusations about Allakhverdov. A close friend of the family in Boston said that Misha was not known to have visited Tamerlan at home. I interviewed Allakhverdov in Russian and it seems likely that in whatever contact the two men had, they would have spoken Russian.
In many ways, Allakhverdov’s parents seem typical former-Soviet émigrés who had embraced middle class life in the United States. His father is an Armenian Christian and his mother is an ethnic Ukrainian. The family had lived in Baku, Azerbaijan, but had left in the early 1990s for the United States to escape growing persecution of Armenian Christians there. The family was welcoming to me but very nervous. “We love this country. We never expected anything like this to happen to us,” his father said.
See also
Boston terror suspects uncle was married to CIA officer’s daughter and even shared a home with the agent: Ruslan Tsarni, who publicly denounced his two terrorist nephews’ actions and called them ‘Losers’, even lived with his father-in-law agent Graham Fuller in his Maryland home for a year.

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I Could Justify Fighting in Afghanistan — Until the Boston Bombing

Noam Chomsky: Obama’s Attack on Civil Liberties Has Gone Way Beyond Imagination

Under Obama’s administration, if you meet with someone in a terrorist group and advise them to turn to nonviolent means, then that’s material assistance to terrorism.
Mike Stivers Interviews Noam Chomsky
April 29, 2013 “Information Clearing House” -“Alternet” Mike Stivers: Anyone following issues of civil liberties under Obama knows that his administration’s policies have been disastrous. The signing of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which effectively legalizes indefinite detention of US citizens, the prosecution of more whistleblowers than any previous president, the refusal to close Guantanamo, and the adoption of ruthless positions in trials such as Hedges vs. Obama and Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project don’t even encapsulate the full extent of the flagrant violations of civil, political and constitutional rights. One basic question that a lot of people seem to be asking is, why? What’s the rationale?
Noam Chomsky: That’s a very interesting question. I personally never expected anything of Obama, and wrote about it before the 2008 primaries. I thought it was smoke and mirrors. The one thing that did surprise me is his attack on civil liberties. They go well beyond anything I would have anticipated, and they don’t seem easy to explain. In many ways the worst is what you mention, Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project. That’s an Obama initiative and it’s a very serious attack on civil liberties. He doesn’t gain anything from it – he doesn’t get any political mileage out of it. In fact, most people don’t even know about it, but what it does is extend the concept of “material assistance to terror” to speech.
The case in question was a law group that was giving legal advice to groups on the terrorist list, which in itself has no moral or legal justification; it’s an abomination. But if you look at the way it’s been used, it becomes even more abhorrent (Nelson Mandela was on it until a couple of years ago.) And the wording of the colloquy is broad enough that it could very well mean that if, say, you meet with someone in a terrorist group and advise them to turn to nonviolent means, then that’s material assistance to terrorism. I’ve met with people who are on the list and will continue to do so, and Obama wants to criminalize that, which is a plain attack on freedom of speech. I just don’t understand why he’s doing it.
The NDAA suit, of which I’m a plaintiff – it mostly codifies existing practice. While there has been some protest over the indefinite detention clause, there’s one aspect of it that I’m not entirely happy with. The only protest that’s being raised is in response to detention of American citizens, but I don’t see why we should have the right to detain anyone without trial. The provision of the NDAA that allows for this should not be tolerated. It was banned almost eight centuries ago in the Magna Carta.
It’s the same with the drone killings. There was some protest over the Anwar Al-Awlaki killing because he was an American citizen. But what about someone who isn’t an American citizen? Do we have a right to murder them if the president feels like it?
On Obama’s 2012 election campaign web site, it clearly states that Obama has prosecuted six whistleblowers under the Espionage Act. Does he think he’s appealing to some constituency with that affirmation?
I don’t know what base he’s appealing to. If he thinks he’s appealing to the nationalist base, well, they’re not going to vote for him anyway. That’s why I don’t understand it. I don’t think he’s doing anything besides alienating his own natural base. So it’s something else.
What it is is the same kind of commitment to expanding executive power that Cheney and Rumsfeld had. He kind of puts it in mellifluous terms and there’s a little difference in his tone. It’s not as crude and brutal as they were, but it’s pretty hard to see much of a difference.
It also extends to other developments, most of which we don’t really know about, likethe surveillance state that’s being built and the capacity to pick up electronic communication. It’s an enormous attack on personal space and privacy. There’s essentially nothing left. And that will get worse with the new drone technologies that are being developed and given to local police forces.
That expansion of the surveillance state, do you see that as another facet of expanding executive power?
It’s an enormous expansion of executive power. I doubt that they can do much with this information that’s being stored. I’ve had plenty of experience with the FBI in simpler years when they didn’t have all this stuff. But they had tons of information. They were just drowning in it and didn’t know how to use it. It’s sort of like walking into the New York Public Library and saying “I want to be a chemist.” You’ve got all the information there, but it’s not doing any good.
Might that change with enhanced technology and search capabilities?
There will be new ways of combing through the data electronically to pick up things that look like suspicious connections, almost all of which will mean nothing, but they may find some things. It’s kind of like the drone killings. You have what’s called “intelligence.” Sometimes it means something; other times it means nothing. It also means that if you have suspicions of somebody for some reason, whatever it is, you can go in there and find all sorts of incriminating stuff. It may not be legally incriminating, but it will be used to intimidate people – threatening to publicize things people meant to be private.
Do you think nonviolent, verbal dissent could eventually be criminalized?
It could be criminalized. Anybody who has looked at law enforcement at all knows that one of the techniques is to try to force confession or plea-bargaining by just using material that the person doesn’t want publicized. That’s very common. You can threaten to expose something even if it didn’t happen, or it’s just a rumor. That’s a powerful weapon to get people to cooperate or submit, and I suspect we’re going to see a lot of that. We already do see a lot of it in the criminal courts. Most cases don’t come to trial. They’re settled. And a lot of them are settled in this way.
There’s an alarming quote from Chris Hedges in reference to the NDAA suit. He said, “If we lose [the suit], the power of the military to detain citizens, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in military prisons will become a terrifying reality.” How much weight does this case hold?
We’ve already lost that right. If you look at the criminal systems and the truly oppressed populations, like the black male population, for them, due process is sometimes existent, but overwhelmingly they just don’t have it. You can’t hire a lawyer; you don’t get a decent defense and you don’t have resources. That’s how the prisons are filled.
Do you think the left in general could become another oppressed population in the future?
I don’t think there’s much of a threat there. I doubt that there’ll be anything like what there was in the 60s. We’re nowhere near the days of COINTELPRO. That was the FBI, and it was pretty harsh. It went as far as political assassinations. Again, the worst of which was directed towards blacks. It’s harder to attack privileged whites.
It’s the same with the drug wars. The police can go to downtown Harlem and pick up a kid with a joint in the streets. But they can’t go into the elegant apartments and get a stockbroker who’s sniffing cocaine.
You can see the same with incarceration rates, which are increasing outrageously. That all started with Reagan. He started a race war. There’s a great book by Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow. She points out, and she’s quite right, that it’s very analogous to what happened after reconstruction when slavery was technically eliminated, but it just turned into criminalization of black life. You ended up with a large part of the black, mostly male population in jail, and they become slave labor. This runs deep in American history. It’s not going to be easy to extricate. Privileged whites on the left will never be subject to this, though. They have too much political power.
How do the military-industrial complex and market forces in general perpetuate these systems of injustice?
Very much so. Just look at the incarceration rates now. They’re driven by privatized prison systems. The development of the surveillance technology like drones is also highly commercialized by now. The state commercializes a lot of this activity, like the military does. I’m sure there were more contractors in Iraq than soldiers.
Is there any way that political economic reform – like, say, overturning Citizens United – might rein in these industrial complexes?
Well, I don’t think Citizens United is likely to be overturned, and it is, of course, a rotten decision, but it does have some justifications. And there are some civil libertarians like Glenn Greenwald who more or less supported it on free speech grounds. I don’t agree with it, but I can see the argument.
On the other hand, things like detention without trial, well, that strikes right at the heart of Anglo American law dating back to the 13th century. That’s the main part of the Charter of Liberties, the core of the Magna. Now that had a narrow scope; it was mostly limited to free men.
It’s interesting to see the way in which due process is being reinterpreted by Obama’s Justice Department in regards to the drone killings. Attorney General Eric Holder was asked why the administration was killing people without due process. Well, there was due process, he said, because they discuss it within the executive branch. King John in the 13th century would have loved that.
In two years, we’re going to get to the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, and it’ll be a funeral. Not just this, but every other aspect. Take rendition, for example. One of the provisions of Magna Carta is that you can’t send someone across the seas for punishment. Much of the world participates in rendition now.
Is there potential for legal redress in cases like Hedges vs. Obama? How viable is that strategy?
Well, I was asked by Chris Hedges to participate and I’m one of the plaintiffs. I think it’s a viable strategy. But NDAA is not the worst of it by far. Holder vs. Humanitarian Law is certainly worse. Legal strategies are certainly worth pursuing, and they can achieve results. Our system of law is flawed. But it’s still a system of law. It’s not Saudi Arabia.
There has been considerable outrage towards the Bradley Manning case – what do you make of the campaign to support him?
Bradley Manning is another case of radical violation of the Magna Carta. Here’s a guy, an American citizen. He’s been held in prison without trial for about a year and a half, a large part of it in solitary confinement, which is torture, and he’s never going to get a civil trial. It’ll be a military trial if he even gets one.
It’s pretty remarkable to see that things like this are acceptable and not even worthy of comment. And Bradley Manning isn’t even the worst case. Take, say, the first Guantanamo prisoner who went to what’s called “trial” under Obama. Omar Khadr, his name is. Take a look at his history. He’s a 15-year-old boy in his village in Afghanistan. Soldiers invade the village, so he shoots at them, trying to defend it. That makes him a terrorist. So he was sent to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, which is worse than Guantanamo. There’s no Red Cross, no supervision, no nothing. He was there for a couple of years, and then sent to Guantanamo for another couple of years. Finally there came a chance to have a hearing before a military tribunal. This is mostly under Obama, for the record. His lawyers were told, You have two choices: You can plead guilty and you get another eight years in Guantanamo. Or you can plead innocent, in which case, you’re here forever. So those are the choices his lawyers were given, practically in those words. So they told him to plead guilty. He’s actually a Canadian citizen, and though they could have gotten him out anytime they wanted, Canada finally had the courage to step on the master’s toes and asked for him to be released, though he remains imprisoned.
The point of this is that we accept it. There’s virtually no protest over the fact that a 15-year-old child is treated this way.
Is it possible that we might see a revival of the global justice movement of the 1980s to launch large-scale movements against these practices and policies?
There is a global justice movement, and it does important work. But it doesn’t conform to the prevailing doctrinal system of the powerful, so it doesn’t make it into the public view. There was an interesting report published recently by the Open Society Institute, “Globalizing Torture.” There were some very interesting aspects to that. It wasn’t commented on much, but Latin American analyst Greg Grandin at New York University wrote a comment on it that was very important. He said that if you look at the map of countries that participated in the US torture practices – which remember, is a violation of Magna Carta – most of the world participated. Most of Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. But there was one striking omission: Latin America. There wasn’t a single Latin American country that participated. Which is striking because Latin America used to be under the thumb of the United States. They did what we wanted or else we would overthrow their governments. Furthermore, during that whole period, Latin America was one of the world centers of torture. But now they’ve liberated themselves enough, so they’re the one area of the world that didn’t participate. That helps explain the passionate hatred of Chavez and Morales and others who have taken Latin America out of the US’s reach. Those are very important changes. It shows that things can be done.
In your time as an activist and writer, do you see states on a trajectory toward more openness, transparency and accountability, obviously with movements pushing that, or do you see them as more opaque, unaccountable and exclusive?
These things are always going on in parallel. In many respects it’s more open and transparent. But there’s a backlash to try to restore obedience, passivity and power structures. That struggle has gone on throughout history. Over hundreds of years, they do move toward openness, freedom and justice. Like Martin Luther King said, the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice. It’s very slow, and it often bends backwards and that’s true of basically any movement you can think of. Civil rights, women’s rights, freedom of expression, etcetera. And we should remember that, in a lot of these movements, the United States has been a global leader. Freedom of speech is protected in the US beyond any country I know – certainly more than the European countries in all sorts of ways. And it’s not in the Bill of Rights, incidentally. It comes mostly from Supreme Court Cases of the 1960s, some of them in the context of the civil rights movement. That’s what large-scale popular movements do. They push things forward.
Do you see potential for a movement like that in response to recent policy and practice in regards to surveillance?
There should be. Nobody could have predicted what happened in the 60s. In the 50s, things were totally dead. I lived through it, so I know. There was very little activism going on. Then, all of a sudden, things started to happen. Unpredictably. A couple of black kids sat in at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. It could have ended there. Cops could have come and thrown the kids in jail and it would have been over. But it grew into a huge popular movement. That could happen again.

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Australia’s Boom is Anything but for its Aboriginal People

Recovery for the 7 Percent

By Paul Craig Roberts
“From the end of the recession in 2009 through 2011 (the last year for which Census Bureau wealth data are available), the 8 million households in the U.S. with a net worth above $836,033 saw their aggregate wealth rise by an estimated $5.6 trillion, while the 111 million households with a net worth at or below that level saw their aggregate wealth decline by an estimated $600 billion.” Pew Research, “An Uneven Recovery, by Richard Fry and Paul Taylor.
April 29, 2013 “Information Clearing House” -“PCR” – Since the recession was officially declared to be over in June 2009, I have assured readers that there has been no recovery. Gerald Celente, John Williams (, and no doubt others have also made it clear that the alleged recovery is an artifact of an understated inflation rate that produces an image of real economic growth.
Now comes the Pew Research Center with its conclusion that the recession ended only for the top 7 percent of households that have substantial holdings of stocks and bonds. The other 93% of the American population is still in recession. 
The Pew report attributes the recovery for the affluent to the rise in the stock and bond markets, but does not say what caused these markets to rise.
The stock market’s recovery does not reflect rising consumer purchasing power and retail sales. The labor force is shrinking, not growing. Job growth lags population growth, and the few jobs that are created are primarily dead-end jobs in lowly paid domestic services. Retail sales adjusted for inflation and real median household income have been bottom bouncing since 2009. 
To the extent that there is profit growth in US corporations, it comes from labor cost savings from offshoring US jobs and from bringing in foreign workers on work visas. By lowering labor costs, corporations boost profits and thereby capital gains for those 7 percent who have large holdings of financial assets. Those in the 93 percent who are displaced by foreign workers experience income reductions. This transfer of the incomes of the 93 percent to the 7 percent via jobs offshoring and work visas is the reason for the stark rise in US income inequality.
Another source of the stock market’s rise is the Federal Reserve’s policy of quantitative easing, that is, the printing of $1,000 billion dollars annually with which to support the too-big-to-fail banks’ balance sheets and to finance the federal budget deficit. The cash that the Fed is pouring into the banks is not finding its way into business and consumer loans, but the money is available for the banks to speculate in derivatives and stock market futures. Thus, the Fed’s policy, which is directed at keeping afloat a few oversized banks, also benefits the 7 percent by driving up the value of their stock portfolios.
The reason bond prices are so high that real interest rates are negative is that the Fed is purchasing $1,000 billion of mortgage-backed “securities” and US Treasury debt annually. The lower the Fed forces interest rates, the higher go bond prices. If you are among the 7 percent, the Fed has produced capital gains for your bond portfolio. But if you are a saver among the 93 percent, you are losing purchasing power because the interest you receive is less than the rate of inflation.
The Pew report puts it this way: Since the “recovery” that began in June 2009, wealthy households experienced a 28 percent rise in their net worth, while everyone else lost 4 percent of their assets. 
Is this the profile of a democracy in which government serves the public interest, or is it the profile of a financial aristocracy that uses government to grind the population under foot?
Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. His internet columns have attracted a worldwide following. His latest book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West is now available.

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Syria: Terrorists attempt to murder PM

Italian bank scandal reveals depth of financial crisis

Governing coalition suffers huge losses in Iceland

Pennsylvania plans sell-off of state liquor stores

By Douglas Lyons 
29 April 2013
The workforce of Pennsylvania Wine & Spirits stores has come under fierce attack from the Republican lawmakers and the media. Pennsylvania controls 600 stores and employs about 5,000 workers, with a majority of these jobs being full-time at wages sufficient to sustain a family. The privatization of the state liquor stores would destroy these jobs and replace them with workers mostly making the minimum wage, with no benefits.
On March 21, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a privatization bill that would eliminate the state monopoly and force workers to find jobs elsewhere. Republican Governor Tom Corbett praised the measure, saying, “Finally a bill to bring Pennsylvania into the 21st century.”
The bill has been subsequently passed on to the state Senate, where it will be altered and sent back to the House for another vote.
Under the bill, the state will essentially sell 1,200 licenses to allow stores to sell wine and liquor. Existing beer distributors would be given the first choice to buy the licenses. Once the existing state stores have been closed, an additional 600 licenses may be sold.
The workers in these stores, however, will be offered little to make up for the loss of their jobs. Laid-off workers would be granted three more points on the Civil Service exam, receive $1,000 or $2,000 every year to return to school part-time and full-time, respectively, and businesses would be exempt from paying taxes for two years if they hire a former worker.
Under conditions in which the state is laying off thousands of workers, there is little chance these workers will find another government job. Instead, most of them will be forced to accept jobs at lower pay and fewer benefits or join the ranks of the unemployed.
A manager of a store in Hanover, Pennsylvania, told the World Socialist Web Site, “My wife and I both work for the state and we would lose everything.” Asked if this bill would create jobs and if he would want to work for a new boss at a private store, he replied, “It won’t create jobs, it will only destroy jobs. I don’t want to work for a minimum wage job at a Giant or Wal-Mart.” Other workers responded likewise, with one person saying that private companies have “no pay, no benefits. I will retire early.”
These state stores, scattered throughout Pennsylvania, are self-sufficient and funded by the revenue generated from wine and liquor sales. This amounted to $414.17 million last fiscal year after taxes. The surplus after paying the employees and other costs over a three-year span has been $290 million, according to the LCB (Liquor Control Board) web site. Instead of private companies using it to generate more profits, the surplus is sent to the state’s general fund, where, to some extent, it is used to benefit the state’s population.
The media and supporters of privatization have argued that it will bring in more money for Pennsylvania and the purchasing of alcohol will be more convenient.
The Corbett administration has proposed that $1 billion from the sales of licenses would be used for education. It is unlikely that the sale of licenses will generate that much money—over $550,000 per license—to reach this total. Furthermore, the Corbett administration has already cut more than $1 billion from public education. The administration was hoping that tying the sale of state stores to education would generate support for the measure. Some lawmakers are in fact seeking to amend the bill to divert that money away from education.
Once the funds from the initial sell-off dry up, the state will receive very little from these stores. In fact, some estimates show that after 10 years the state will be losing $170 million a year in profits; and will face a total shortfall of $444 million every year when income used from state stores to fund other expenditures, such as the state police, is counted.
The primary beneficiaries of this proposed system are the corporations who have the capital to buy licenses and buildings. They will be hiring workers with very little training at mostly minimum wage. As a result, most will be unknowledgeable about the wine they are selling. “I love wine, that is what I do,” said a state worker. “Nobody will know anything about these [pointing to hundreds of bottles] working for minimum wage.”
Moreover, more “convenience” amounts to consumers being able to purchase alcoholic beverages in grocery stores or other establishments, where it may be more easily accessible to people who are already intoxicated or underage.
The major union representing 3,500 workers of the present workforce, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), has stuck with the Democrats, who have portrayed themselves as opposed to the privatization of the stores. If fact, the Democrats seek to achieve the same goals, but with the assistance of the UFCW.
On its web site, UFCW Local 1776 has called on Pennsylvania to “modernize, not privatize,” signaling that the UFCW would work with the Corbett administration to eviscerate the wages and benefits of workers. One aspect of the modernization process is “changes in personnel: elimination of Civil Service for new hires, creating efficiencies, cost savings, better service, and increased profitability.” In other words, the union has offered its own scheme for low paying jobs with little or no benefits.

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New questions on Boston bombing suspects’ ties to US intelligence

By Andrea Peters 
29 April 2013
Information continues to come to light raising questions about the relationship between American intelligence agencies and the Tsarnaev brothers, who are suspected of carrying out the April 15 bombing at the Boston marathon.
The brothers’ parents continue to insist that their sons are innocent, with the mother claiming they were set up by the American state and “controlled” by the FBI.
US authorities have acknowledged that the Tsarnaev brothers were investigated by the FBI and CIA. However, they claim that at most the intelligence and security agencies are guilty of a “failure to communicate” what they knew about the two.
This is an echo of the “failure to connect the dots” explanation that was given for the failure of the CIA and FBI to prevent the 9/11 attacks, even though many of the perpetrators were known to these agencies and were being tracked. Despite the staggering security lapses that were acknowledged in the aftermath of 9/11, no high-level officials were fired. Robert Mueller, who headed the FBI in 2001, remains the head of the top federal police agency.
Details continue to emerge over the close surveillance by state intelligence agencies of the Tsarnaevs and their associates. In March 2011, the Russian federal security services (FSB) intercepted a call between Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two brothers, and his mother, in which they “vaguely discussed jihad.”
In another wiretapped conversation, Tsarnaev’s mother spoke with someone in the Caucasus who is under FBI investigation, although the reasons for the investigation have not been revealed.
According to news reports, the recorded calls were one of the things that prompted the Kremlin to alert the FBI to the Tsarnaevs in 2011, and then contact the CIA about them later in the year, after the FBI dropped its investigation. The FBI claims that the Russian government did not say at the time why it was issuing these warnings and did not share the content of the wiretapped conversations.
The manner in which these issues are being handled testifies to the breakdown of democratic processes in the United States. None of these questions is being seriously investigated in the media or made the subject of public congressional hearings. Instead, the Boston bombings are being seized upon to argue for boosting the authority and power of the intelligence agencies.
As the events in Boston graphically demonstrated, this will only facilitate plans already well advanced for the imposition of dictatorial forms of rule. The Boston Marathon bombing was seized upon as the pretext for placing the entire city of Boston and a number of its suburbs under a police-military lockdown and carrying out house-to-house warrantless searches.
The American mass media have ignored an April 24 report in the Russian newspaper Izvestia that it is in possession of documents from the Georgian Interior Ministry revealing that Tamerlan Tsarnaev attended a workshop in Georgia in the summer of 2012 sponsored by an organization called the Caucasus Fund, whose purpose was to recruit operatives in the northern Caucasus.
Based on statements by Colonel Grigoriy Chanturiya, a Georgian counterintelligence specialist, Izvestia claims that the Caucasus Fund was founded in 2008, after the Russo-Georgian war, in order to develop intelligence assets in southern Russia. According to Chanturiya’s report, the Caucasus Fund had a monthly budget of about $22,000 and had spent approximately $2.7 million since it began operations.
In 2008, Russia and the US nearly went to war in the Caucasus, when the US-backed Georgian government attacked the Russian-controlled breakaway region of South Ossetia. Although the White House backed away from a full-scale military confrontation with the Kremlin, it had advance knowledge of the Georgian attack on Russian forces and did not stop it. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had visited the country one month prior to the attack.
According to Izvestia, the Caucasus Fund was shut down in late 2012 over concerns that it had attracted the attention of the Russian secret services. The former vice president of the organization told the newspaper that since January of this year it had ceased operating almost entirely. He did not say why.
The Caucasus Fund allegedly worked with the regime in Tbilisi and the Jamestown Foundation, a US think tank headed by a number of senior figures from the US political and military establishment, including former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.
The Georgian Interior Ministry has denied Izvestia ’s allegations, insisting that Tsarnaev never set foot in Georgia and that no one named Grigoriy Chanturiya works for the ministry.
However, the Caucasus Fund has acknowledged holding a joint conference with the Jamestown Foundation in 2011. It wrote in an April 24 statement that it aims to “establish and develop scientific, cultural, and humanitarian relations between the peoples of the South and North Caucasus.”
The northern Caucasus is a restive region in southern Russia, bordering the ex-Soviet republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan in the southern Caucasus. It includes the republic of Chechnya, where a separatist movement has been active since the collapse of the Soviet Union and against which Moscow has waged two bloody wars. Chechen separatism has become increasingly intertwined with a burgeoning Islamic extremist movement in the Muslim-majority region.
Powerful sections of the American ruling class have long given support to Chechen separatism. The American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus (ACPC), sponsored by the right-wing organization Freedom House, has led such efforts for many years. A 2004 article in the British Guardian newspaper entitled “The Chechens’ American Friends” noted that ACPC portrayed Chechen separatism as a “fashionable ‘Muslim’ cause,” deserving and requiring US support.
The director of programs in the Caucasus for the Jamestown Foundation formerly worked for Freedom House.
In the US media, the Izvestia report has been mentioned only by a few foreign policy publications, which have dismissed it as a “conspiracy theory.”
In fact, the close ties between the US foreign policy establishment and Chechen Islamist forces form a critical part of the background to the Boston bombings. By suppressing such information the media are denying to the public key information regarding not only the identity of possible forces involved in the bombing, but also the reactionary implications of Washington’s ongoing collaboration with Islamist terrorist forces in the Middle East.
The US is working in alliance with Muslim extremists in Syria, who function as Washington’s proxy force in the war to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In this war, Chechen Islamists play a major role. The Muhajireen Brigade of foreign Islamists fighting as part of the Syrian opposition is led by an ethnic Chechen, Abu Omar al-Shishani, and reportedly includes many other Chechens.
Before his death last October, the Chechen Abu Bara was a brigade commander in the Al-Nusra Front, the Al Qaeda-affiliated group that is playing the dominant military role in the US proxy war against Assad.
The US government has a long tradition of cultivating ties with such reactionary forces. It played a central role in fomenting radical Islamism in Afghanistan before and during the Soviet-Afghan war of the 1980s, in an effort to undermine Soviet influence in the region. The emergence of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, which evolved out of the organization that oversaw logistical support to the Islamist anti-Soviet fighters, was the direct product of this war.
The US intelligence community is so familiar with the consequences of losing control of its former assets that it has coined a term for it: blowback. However, the media have avoided raising any possibility that the Boston bombings might be an example of blowback, or an operation carried out with the tacit support or assistance of forces within the state.

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Bangladesh: Death toll nears 400 in building collapse

84 million US adults lack adequate health care coverage

By Kate Randall 
29 April 2013
Nearly half of US adults ages 19 to 64—an estimated 84 million people—did not have health insurance for all of 2012, or had coverage that did not adequately protect them from high health care costs.
A new report from the New York-based Commonwealth Fund documents the fact that growing numbers of workers and their family members are foregoing care because they cannot afford it, or are struggling under the weight of mounting medical bills.
This health care crisis will not be remedied by the full implementation of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act in January 2014. Many of the currently uninsured or underinsured will be shunted into inferior plans with large out-of-pocket costs, or will simply not be able to afford coverage offered by private health insurers on the so-called exchanges. Many low- and middle-income households will continue to lack adequate insurance and be forced to skip care or medications due to cost.
The only age group to show an improvement in health care coverage in the Commonwealth Fund report was young adults, ages 19 to 26, where the percentage of uninsured at any time during the prior year fell from 48 percent in 2010 to 41 percent in 2012. This is most likely due to a provision of the new health care bill already in effect that allows people in this age group to be covered under their parents’ insurance plans. Uninsured rates for all other age groups increased or remained the same.
Forty-six percent of all US adults did not have insurance for the full year, or had coverage that provided insufficient protection from health costs. Nearly a third—55 million—were uninsured at some time in 2012. Some 30 million people—an additional 16 percent—were insured, but had such high out-of-pocket costs that they could be considered underinsured, according to the report.
In the period from 2003 to 2012, the number of uninsured or underinsured people rose from 61 million (36 percent of adults) to 81 million (46 percent). Half of the uninsured/underinsured (40 million) in 2012 came from households with incomes under 133 percent of the federal poverty level ($14,856 for an individual or $30,657 for a family of four). Among adults earning between 133 percent and 249 percent of the federal poverty level, an estimated 21 million went for a period without coverage or were underinsured in 2012.
More than two of five adults—75 million people—reported problems with medical bills. Problems included an inability to their pay bills, being contacted by a collection agency, or being forced to change their way of life to meet medical costs. Of those reporting problems paying bills, 32 million said they had received a lower credit rating as a result, making it more difficult and expensive to obtain credit to purchase a home or car and threatening higher credit card interest rates and reductions in credit lines.
An estimated 28 million people reported using all of their savings to pay off medical bills. One-quarter of adults reported being unable to pay for basic necessities such as food, heat or rent due to medical costs, while 17 million delayed career or education plans. Four million people reported filing for bankruptcy; 5 million took out a second mortgage or other loan. Those unable to find a way to finance their medical care have been forced to go without.
In 2012, a staggering 80 million adults ages 19 to 64 (43 percent) reported problems getting needed health care due to cost, an increase of 17 million people since 2003. People in this group were far less likely to have a regular source of health care, or be up to date on recommended cholesterol, blood pressure, colon cancer and other screenings. Only 49 percent of women with incomes below 133 percent of the federal poverty level had a mammogram in the recommended timeframe.
The Commonwealth Fund report shows people going without vitally needed care in record numbers in 2012, including:
* 53 million who had a medical problem, but did not visit a doctor or clinic;
* 50 million not filling a needed prescription;
* 49 million skipping tests, treatments and follow-ups recommended by a health care provider;
* 37 million not getting care from a specialist, despite being referred by their doctor.
An estimated 66 million people reported having hypertension, diabetes, asthma, emphysema, lung disease or heart disease. Twenty-eight percent of these chronically ill adults reported skipping doses or not filling prescriptions for their regular medications because they could not afford to pay for it, putting their health and lives at risk. Among those chronically ill who were uninsured at the time of the survey, 60 percent reported not being able to pay for their medications.
Growth in health care premiums is a major burden, particularly for lower income households. In 2012, the average annual premium for single coverage in employer-based plans climbed to $5,615 for an individual plan and $15,745 for family plans. Employers have also shifted the proportion of these premiums employees are required to cover, as well as increasing deductibles and co-payments.
The poor and those who must purchase their own insurance have been particularly hard hit by premium costs. More than one-third of those with incomes below 133 percent of the federal poverty level spent 10 percent or more of their income on premium costs. Among those who must purchase their own coverage, 31 percent reported spending 10 percent or more of their income on premiums.
Under the Obama health care overhaul, individuals and families will be required to obtain health care coverage or pay a penalty. Those who are not insured through their employer and are not eligible for government programs such as Medicaid will be required to purchase coverage on the insurance exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act and may obtain subsidies to do so based on income.
But this will not provide relief to the vast majority of those who are currently uninsured and underinsured. An article to be published this week in theJournal of General Internal Medicine notes that most low-income households, despite receiving subsidies, will be able to afford only the lowest-tier of health care on the exchanges, the so-called Bronze plans.
While someone making up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level will be required to pay only 2 percent of his or her income to obtain Bronze coverage, these inferior plans will cover only 60 percent of costs, leaving the insured with the responsibility to pick up the remaining 40 percent. This will inevitably lead to “insured” families skipping care, treatments and medications.
Physicians for a National Health Program calculates that a 56-year-old making $45,900 will pay an estimated $4,361 in premiums for individual Bronze coverage, after subsidies, and up to $4,167 in additional deductibles and co-pays. This means that more than 18 percent of his or her income will go toward health care costs.
Obamacare, far from guaranteeing decent medical care for all, will institutionalize inferior and inadequate care for tens of millions of Americans and lead to a reduction in coverage or an increase in costs for millions more who are currently covered under employer-sponsored plans. It will at the same time guarantee increased profits for the insurance industry by supplying it with millions of additional paying customers.

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A Grand Coalition for austerity in Italy

Chemical Weapons Charade in Syria

By Sharmine Narwani
April 28, 2013 “Information Clearing House” -“Al-Akhbar” – Let us be clear. The United States can verify absolutely nothing about the use of chemical weapons (CWs) in Syria. Any suggestion to the contrary is entirely false.
Don’t take it from me – here is what US officials have to say about the subject:
A mere 24 hours after Washington heavyweights from the White House, Pentagon, and State Department brushed aside Israeli allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the White House changed their minds. They now believe “with varying degrees of confidence” that CWs have been used “on a small scale” inside Syria.
For the uninitiated, “varying degrees of confidence” can mean anything from “no confidence whatsoever” to “the Israelis told us” – which, translated, also means “no confidence whatsoever.”
Too cavalier? I don’t think so. The White House introduced another important caveat in its detailed briefing on Thursday:
“This assessment is based in part on physiological samples. Our standard of evidence must build on these intelligence assessments as we seek to establish credible and corroborated facts. For example the chain of custody is not clear so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions.”
“The chain of custody is not clear.” That is the single most important phrase in this whole exercise. It is the only phrase that journalists need consider – everything else is conjecture of WMDs-in-Iraq proportions.
I asked a State Department spokesperson the following: “Does it mean you don’t know who has had access to the sample before it reached you? Or that the sample has not been contaminated along the way?”
He responded: “It could mean both.”
Chuck Hagel expands on that jaw-dropping admission: “We cannot confirm the origin of these weapons.” Although he goes on to conclude anyway: “but we do believe that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime.”
Four-year-olds shouldn’t have confidence in the US intelligence community at this point. Yet we are supposed to believe that the Syrian government must be behind a chemical weapons attack because Hagel says so.
Let’s consider the facts. The Syrian government has clearly stated it would not use chemical weapons during the crisis “regardless of the developments” unless “Syria faces external aggression.”
The US and other western states have warned for more than a year now that as the government of Bashar al-Assad begins to “topple,” the likelihood of using CWs as a desperate last measure will increase.
The White House reiterated this point yesterday: “Given our concern that as the situation deteriorated and the regime became more desperate, they may use some of their significant stockpiles of chemical weapons.”
Assad’s government is clearly not on its last leg. If anything, the Syrian army has made tremendous gains in the past few weeks by thwarting rebel plans to storm Damascus, pushing them out of key surrounding suburbs, and cutting off their supply lines in different parts of the country.
This recent reversal of fortunes tends to validate the observations of those who have met with Assad and say the president remains confident that he can repel rebel forces whenever and wherever he chooses to do so.
Which frankly removes a major “motive” from any calculation by the Syrian government to use chemical weapons against civilians.
The constant reference to CWs in this conflict is suspect – there is no conceivable military advantage to be gained from the use of these munitions. Writing for Foreign Policy in December, Charles Blair says using CWs against rebels makes no tactical or strategic sense:
“The regime would risk losing Russian and Chinese support, legitimizing foreign military intervention, and, ultimately, hastening its own end. As one Syrian official said, ‘We would not commit suicide.’”
In fact, there is plenty of evidence that the government has calibrated its military responses throughout this conflict to avoid scenarios that would create a pretext for foreign military intervention on “humanitarian grounds.”
Just as there is evidence aplenty that rebel forces will go to great lengths to create a pretext for foreign intervention that would help them oust Assad.
On March 19, a suspected chemical weapons attack near Aleppo prompted the Syrian government to ask the United Nations to launch an investigation. Witnesses reported the “smell of chlorine in the air,” which led to speculation that this could have been a rebel-led attack given that opposition militias had seized Syria’s only chlorine gas bottling plant, east of Aleppo, that August.
The use of chlorine gas-based explosives by insurgents was seen not so long ago in Iraq, where attacks against both authorities and civilians are traceable to 2006. US military spokespeople, at the time, claimed that insurgent tactics had become deadlier, seeking to draw maximum attention and impose widespread suffering.
The Iraq connection and insurgent tactics there are important to the Syrian conflict because of the influx of jihadist rebels flooding over the Iraqi border, bringing with them experience and know-how from fighting the US occupation. That border also allegedly hosts training camps for groups in both countries allied with al-Qaeda – a development that has come to light since a recent announcement linking al-Nusra Front to al-Qaeda’s central group.
The White House’s allegations on Thursday specified a sarin gas connection to at least one other suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria. Even if this were true, a clear-cut connection linking the use of a CW explosive to the Syrian government is not at all inevitable. In 2004, an IED roadside bomb – a common insurgent tactic – containing the nerve agent was detonated in Iraq. There are no guarantees whatsoever that chemical munitions have not found their way into the hands of rogue elements – or in fact that they are not producing them in small quantities themselves.
At this point, almost everything being discussed in relation to chemical weapons inside Syria is conjecture – and to be honest – highly suspect.
The Times of London (which is behind a paywall so I cannot link to it) just published a detailed and timely “investigation” of an alleged CW attack in Aleppo, claiming: “the Syrian regime prefers to gas its opponents in this small-scale way, testing the elasticity of President Obama’s ‘red line.’”
The article then goes on to describe the harrowing account of what appears to be a sarin gas attack from a victim, witnesses, and medical staff. But experts are now questioning these accounts, saying that the evidence is “far from conclusive.”
In reference to the video of the alleged CW attack referenced by The Times, Jean Pascal Zanders, a senior researcher at the European Union Institute for Security Studies, tells McClatchy News that there are red flags in the footage.
“Why only one person?” he said, referring to the video showing one patient it said was a victim. “Why do I find the hospital setting, again, unlike what I would expect in a case of chemical exposure? Why is the guy ‘foaming’ in the hospital, considering the rapid action of sarin.” Zanders explained that without an antidote, death is possible within one minute after exposure to sarin.”
The Times article then gets even stranger. To quote:
“In the chaos of Syria’s civil war, no hospital in the rebel-held areas has the facilities to test which gas was used. Yet medical sources in northern Syria have told The Times that in the immediate aftermath of the attack a team from “an American medical agency” arrived at the hospital in Afrin. They took hair samples from the casualties for testing at ‘an American laboratory.’
It is likely that these samples formed part of the evidence cited by the US Defence Secretary yesterday.”
Really? A CW attack takes place in the middle of the night in Aleppo, and in its “immediate aftermath” an “American medical agency” arrives to collect samples for testing?
There’s more…
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Free Syrian Army Chief of Staff General Salim Idriss says that Israel is knowledgeable about the Syrian government’s use of CWs, because the Mossad has agents in the country: “Israel has this information because there are many, many members of security services who are now very active in Syria.”
Idriss is, of course, referencing the statements by Israel this week that kicked off all the recent speculation on Syrian CWs:
Israeli army intelligence analyst Brig. Gen. Itai Brun has been quoted far and wide on this issue, mainly referencing the April Aleppo incident highlighted by The Times and debunked by experts.
It is likely that all the speculation in the past few days revolves around an incident that is looking more and more like the “false flag” operations anti-rebel Syrians have been warning about this past year. Given where the “evidence” is coming from, and the alleged presence of a western of American “medical agency” present on the ground, it is quite remarkable that Washington went full-press on this.
It is almost as bad as the account in 2011 of a middle-aged, Iranian-American, ex-car dealer who, by virtue of some familial relationship with a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, decided to collude with a Mexican drug cartel to plot the assassination of the Saudi ambassador in Washington at a popular DC eatery.
Having just passed the ten year anniversary of an Iraqi invasion and occupation based entirely on false and falsified data on Weapons of Mass Destruction, western media needs not to be asking about “red lines” as much as for iron-clad evidence.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East. You can follow Sharmine on twitter@snarwani.

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Syria and Sarin Gas: US Claims Have a Very Familiar Ring

Arming the Syrian Rebels is Pouring Petrol on the Fire

Assad believes he is fighting for his life. His fall would not only see Syria’s collapse, but could engulf Lebanon and even Iraq. We must look to the alternatives: better a distant hope than an imminent disaster, writes Sir Andrew Green. 
By Sir Andrew Green, former British Ambassador to Syria
April 28, 2013 “Information Clearing House” -“The Telegraph” – Reports of the use of chemical weapons in Syria threaten to propel us into another disastrous intervention in the Middle East. Our political leaders must stop, calm down and think carefully through the consequences of any form of military intervention in Syria. Harmless-sounding “assistance to the opposition” threatens to be a slippery slope that will drag us into the chaos that is developing in Syria.
For the time being there is some caution about the interpretation of the evidence – and so there should be after the scandalous misuse of intelligence on Iraqi WMD. The talk is of “limited but growing evidence”, of “varying degrees of confidence” and of the small scale of any use. There is not even clear evidence as to which side, if any, is responsible.
The intelligence might yet firm up. We might even get some real evidence. But before sounding off with our indignation, we need to consider what we can actually do about it.
We could, I suppose, bomb some of their chemical facilities, but that would require a massive strike to take out Syrian air defences. This would be no easy task as the Syrians have a substantial air defence capability, provided by the Russians, to counter Israeli air power. The Americans could no doubt succeed at some military cost and a huge political cost. Few in the Middle East care for Assad, but nor is there any appetite for yet more American bombs on Arab targets.
Happily, the American public have lost their own appetite for Middle Eastern wars. 
So will we intervene to “secure” the storage sites? Contingency plans are said to exist. Special forces have been gearing up. But the task is a nightmare. There are literally dozens of sites. Are they to be held for days by pockets of troops? Can they safely destroy these weapons in a short period of time? How they distinguish friend from foe? Do we do this independently of the Israelis, or are we to be perceived throughout the region as their military allies?
It will be obvious that any action of this kind must be absolutely a last resort, only to be considered if these weapons were about to fall into the hands of potential terrorists.
Let us assume that, at least for the time being, our political leaders rule out any direct military intervention. What are they actually trying achieve?
For a long time, the talk was of “removing Assad”, as if he was some kind of dictator in the mould of Saddam Hussein. I have met both Bashar al-Assad and his father, Hafez, from whom he took over as president. His father was terrifying – utterly ruthless and a conspirator to his finger tips. 
His own staff fidgeted nervously in his presence. He was indeed like Saddam – except that his cruelty was not random. It was calculated and targeted at anyone who dared to cross him.
The young Assad, Bashar, is nothing of the kind. Those who knew him well when he was training at an opthalmologist in Britain report a pleasant, well-mannered and quietly professional young man. Back in Damascus, after his father’s death, he was not much more than a figurehead president. To meet, he was, before all these troubles, sensible, reasonable and courteous.
So the only effect of “removing Assad” would be to have him replaced by one of the ruthless generals that have held the Syrians in their grip for 40 years.
If Bashar has been overestimated, his Alawite clan have been seriously underestimated. They are a mountain clan, an obscure sect loosely linked to the Shia, who number only about 10 per cent of Syria’s 22 million people. Nevertheless, they have been the backbone of the Syrian army since French colonial times before the Second World War.
For the past 40 years they have been strengthening their grip on the country and have been violently suppressing the opposition, led by the Muslim Brotherhood. With that history behind them, they simply dare not lose power. If they were to, they believe that they and their families would be massacred. After the events of the last two years, they could well be right.
They have not held power alone. The many minorities – Christian, Druse, Kurds and others – preferred their rule to that of the Sunni majority. Indeed a fair number of Sunnis preferred an effectively secular regime to an alternative that might be run by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Living in Syria, one was very conscious that it was a tough police state. The only Syrians who spoke to a foreign ambassador were those with a licence to do so. After a visit to, say, Aleppo, everyone I met would be questioned afterwards by one of the six secret police forces wanting to know what had been discussed. Syrians had come to take this in their stride, knowing that the alternative would be either an Islamic dictatorship or a descent into sectarian competition, not to say strife.
This is the essential background to any decisions that the West may now take in the present crisis. Unfortunately, it is not understood. The British government talks of recent events being a red line for the international community to do more to support those members of the opposition who “want a good outcome”. They want to train and arm them so as to put pressure on the regime and bring it to an end.
That, regrettably, is a serious misreading of the situation. The Alawites and their supporters will fight to the bitter end. With the military support of Russia and Iran, plus the political support of China (all for their own good reasons) the regime can last a while yet. If it eventually falls, Syria will descend into chaos. That is why so many of us who know Syria have been, from the start, strongly opposed to a “regime change” policy, however dressed-up.
The chaos will be intensified by the sectarian divisions in Syria and by the fact that these are revenge societies. For personal and traditional reasons, those who have suffered will be determined to exact revenge on the perpetrators or their families. 
Eventually, one of the many opposition groups will come out on top. The strongest candidate is Al-Nusra, the jihadist group who say they are allied to al-Qaeda, who have been the most courageous and effective of the opposition fighters. They have a further and critical advantage. They and their leaders are secret, while their competitors are publicly known. I would certainly not put it past them to intimidate and, if necessary, murder their competitors or any rival leaders who challenge them.
This is why I feel sure that our policy is pointing in the wrong direction. Supplying arms to the opposition would simply be pouring petrol on the fire – quite apart from the risk of the weapons falling into the wrong hands. The collapse of Syria would be a disaster, not only for that country but for Lebanon and perhaps Iraq and, indeed, more widely.
As we look over this precipice, we must have the courage to take a pace back. Indeed, we should reverse the policy of arming the opposition. Instead, we should enter into a serious dialogue with the Russians and, if necessary, the Iranians, designed to reduce the flow of weapons to both sides. Only when both sides realise that a military victory is no longer possible can we hope to have the beginnings of a political process. Better a distant hope than an imminent disaster.
Sir Andrew Green was the British Ambassador to Syria from 1991 to 1993. 
© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2013

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US, Israel and Saudi Arabia Propping Up al-Qaeda in Syria

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