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Friday, November 25, 2005

Katrina trip: short timeline

27 October 2005

As soon as I returned from the Gulf Region I decided that I have to report on what I had seen there, and that I want to do a good job of it. In fact that was my intent even before I started the trip. Whether I succeed remains to be seen as I am still working on a detailed report. That is clearly taking some time, so here goes a short timeline outlining the details of this trip.

As I have already reported we took off on Monday, September 26. As I have also reported the next day, Tuesday, September 27 I ended up stranded in Tuscaloosa, AL where I spent the following day investigating my options for moving on, trying to decide which way to go, contemplating this world and drinking beer. On the morning of Thursday, September 29, I managed to rent a car - which was not trivial in that area at that time, I got lucky - and drove on down. At about 5 PM that day I got to Covington, LA where I was searched by the military and law enforcement personnel who - and here comes this blessing in disguise - told me that there was a curfew in effect in town and after 9 PM I risked being arrested for just being on the street. So I moved on heading West and soon found myself in Baton Rouge. The center of city did not look particularly welcoming with a massive police and military presence around the emergency shelter - which, if I remember correctly occupied one of the major hotels - and the overall feel of instability in the air. So I decided to get out of there and find a place where I could orient myself and decide where to go next.

I found just such a place within at most a half-hour - a hotel on the outskirts of the city. The first thing I asked them was about the curfew - and, thankfully, there was none. Nor, of course, were there any rooms available at the hotel. But they did have a computer with an Internet connection which they kindly allowed me to use and soon enough I found the new location for the Veterans for Peace relief operation:

Saving Ourselves After Katrina (SOS)

Servicing the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Louisiana
New location for ALL shipments, drop-offs and volunteer check-in:

Saving Ourselves, 2810 Mill St, Mobile, AL 36607

Tel.: 1-866-372-9SOS

The structure there may be a little confusing as the VFP is working with S.O.S. and several other groups but that was the central location for the effort. That was also where I decided to go.

And go there I did. To avoid the traffic along the coast I decided to take Route 98 through Missisipi. On the way there, in Columbia, MS I saw vehicles lined up alongside the road. The time was about 11:30 PM. Those turned out to be people waiting to enter the local Expo Center - which I was told was for the most part a rodeo arena - which has been converted into a Red Cross facility. The objective of those waiting in line was to receive an allowance of either $345 or $375 (I forget which as I was a little tired at the moment and the Red Cross has not provided a meaningful answer to my inquiries regarding the mechanics of the situation). As I was talking to the people waiting in those vehicles I was accosted by a whole slew of the law enforcement officers (some had insginia, others did not) who searched both myself and my vehicle. They started out by threatening to execute me. The exchange went somewhat like this.

"Hands on the vehicle, or you'll be shot. Where you from?"


"This ain't Boston here. This is Missisipi. We shoot people here. We shoot the fuck out of them."

Having announced this achievement of note they did not shoot me, did not even arrest me or take any of my belongings - though they did make a mess of them. At any rate, they let me go, and at least at the moment I did not make any waves as I was concerned both for my own safety but more so for the people on the roadside who clearly did not have the resources to just take off and go.

I finally got tired of driving and stopped over at the Inn on the Hill in Hattiesburg. They allowed me to camp out in my car in front of the hotel - as, needless to say, there were no rooms to be had. However, tired as I was I could not really sleep so I struck a conversation with the two people working the front desk, a white woman and a black man. Both of them suffered some damage from Katrina. The woman had sheltered a friend from New Orleans. According to her that man - a Korean War veteran and a diabetic to boot - had to suffer a nightmare of being stranded in the streets of New Orleans, prevented by the armed police from staying on a highway overpass, then lifted to a field somewhere in Louisiana and left with about 150 fellow survivors for three days without any supplies - be that food or water or camping equipment. In the course of those three nighmarish days he witnessed three deaths, all female, one of them pregnant. He suffered snake and insect bites, was airlifted to an Austin, TX hospital and miraculously survived.

His story is, unfortunately, far from unique. I plan on clearing some details by hopefully arranging a direct interview with that New Orleans man himself and reporting on it separately.

At about 7 AM on Friday I took off for Mobile. In about three hours I was at the warehouse. The first day there I spent helping manage the goods as by the time I arrived all the delivery trips had already been planned and I obviously was not part of any of them. Frankly having been awake for over a whole day I was in a state when routine work of moving boxes was about all I was capable of intellectually.

September 30, 2005

S.O.S. Warehouse

Mobile, AL

This is me. In the background are generators. They were a hot item, as were chainsaws as there were a lot of trees to be cut.

And, of course, cleaning supplies and food and medicine - and many other things - were also in demand.

Note that for all it has to show this warehouse at the time was no more than two weeks into its operation.

Working with this volunteer operation I met a number of very interesting people. Unfortunately, my stay was short as I left a mere two days later.

They were a fun group. All the nights there were parties. Some may call that excess - but one must have a way of relieving stress even in the best of times - which those in many ways were not. Here are some of the pictures I got to take over the next two days.

Angela Woodall

SOS Camp

Theodore, AL

(Smith & Elmo)


She interviewed me on camera. First time being a subject of an interview for me.





S.O.S. Camp

Theodore, AL

Partying again...

You can see the rest of the pictures in this photo gallery.

After the work day was over on Friday - which ended early, at about 3 PM as far as I can recall - Carl Webb and I headed over to a local library to use the Internet. I purchased my return ticket there and then we headed over to the camp - which consisted of two houses in Theodore, AL at the corner of Smith Street and Elmo Ave.

That night the usual party took place. I was also interviewed by Angela Woodall (I have yet to see the footage). Then I guess I crashed.

The next day, Saturday, one of the volunteers, Nikki, and myself went on a delivery run to the Gulf coast of Missisipi. We delivered supplies to a church in Moss Point. That church was a major relief center, having fed about a thousand meals to the survivors in the first week after Katrina hit.

We also drove down the coast all the way to Ocean Springs in an attempt to assess the situation. On our way we found one field kitchen-type food distribution point with which we established contact. The idea was to have them receive supplies from the operation in Mobile. As I left the following day I don't know if that particular relationship ever came to fruition but that sort of approach was how the operation was run - and whether you view it as a success or not, it did manage to deliver the much needed supplies many places where other, more powerful groups - such as the Red Cross or FEMA - had yet to reach.


Ocean Springs, MS

About 50 m from the coast

The concrete markings in the background mark a spot where a house once stood.

Ocean Springs, MS
A house once stood here...

Missisipi gulf coast

Saturday night was, of course, party night. We were also joined by a very special stray canine guest.
Stray female dog

Theodore, AL


Stray dog examined by medics


S.O.S. Camp

Theodore, AL

As I would learn later one of the volunteers, Ken, who is a Florida resident planned on taking her home with him.

The next day was an official day off as for the first time since the start of the relief operation nothing had to be done in an emergency mode. For some of the volunteers that ended up being their first day off in about a month.

The crowd went to a beach in Flordia but I was a bit tired and decided to stay. I talked some more to those who also stayed behind, snapped some more photos and then flew to New York. I was sad to leave but when I arrived to Atlanta for a change over to New York I couldn't wait to finally get there and see a familiar city.


S.O.S. Camp

Theodore, AL

Neighborhood dog


S.O.S. Camp

Theodore, AL

S.O.S. Camp


Theodore, AL



S.O.S. Camp

Theodore, AL

The bus in the background is the VFP bus.

Holy with children


S.O.S. Camp

Theodore, AL



S.O.S Camp

Theodore, AL



S.O.S Camp

Theodore, AL

Two girls


S.O.S Camp

Theodore, AL

To conclude this I would just like to say that all the hiccups notwithstanding I believe I managed to be of help to those who needed it though not to the extent I would have liked. As I stated earlier I would estimate that I have contributed several hundred dollars' worth of supplies to the effort in New Orleans. (Yes, the cargoe got there, I confirmed that.) Plus I contributed some supplies and work hours to the effort run out of Mobile.

If you wish to aid the grass roots effort of which I was part you can go to this web page to see how to. If you wish to help me reimburse my expenses - which altogether top a thousand dollars - you can do so by donating through my website by clicking on the button. Forwarding this message around and raising the awareness would also be very helpful as the relief operation in the Gulf is far from over still and regardless of how far along the process is the world needs to know about the events in the region.

Once again, let me use this space to sincerely thank all those who helped me and thus made this trip possible as well as those who intend to help. This is a noble cause - or at least so I believe.

Related materials:


Relief for victims of Katrina

Lyn and Margie's Excellent Adventure

by Margie Metzler and Lyn Stueve

Jean Laskey's photo collection and blog

Daymon J. Hartley's Camp Casey-Covington Photos

What is the Red Cross?

The Forever Elsewhere Management Agency

Property grabs and the Gulf

The federal response to Katrina is a disaster in its own right

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The follies of Guantanamo

23 November 2005

Clive Stafford Smith is Legal Director of Reprieve, a British charity group specializing in aiding those facing the death penalty around the world. In the recent years he has taken on the task of representing "some 40 Guantánamo Bay detainees". In his article titled "Inside Guantanamo" (New Statesman, November 21, 2005) Smith gives his first-hand account of the visits to the prison camp. Aside from a well-versed description of the harshness and routine boredom of life there, as well as of the harsh and degrading treatment meted out to the prisoners, Smith's article contains a powerful example of how incompetently the process is sometimes run:
In addition to being devoid of law, Guantanamo sometimes seems like a truth-free zone. I am scheduled to see my client Mohammed el-Gharani. The military says he is 26 and denies that there are any juveniles on the base. Let us assume the camp authorities really believe this: what does it say about the quality of Guantanamo intelligence if they cannot even work out his age after four years of interrogation? Mohammed was not quite 15 when he was seized, and is still a teenager. I got the birth certificate from Saudi Arabia to prove it, but they still won't believe me. "He sure does look young," says one of the guards.

Hard to believe? Definitely sounds so - especially given that Guantanamo is a place where, according the Bush Administration, "the worst of the worst", the people who are our most feared adversaries, are housed. Surely one would expect that the best available resources would be brought to bear to obtain as much valuable intelligence as possible from the catch as valuable as the vicious terrorist killers our Administration officials never tire of claiming we have got under lock and key in Guantanamo Bay.

The reality of the situation, however, may be not as dramatic when it comes to how bad those "bad guys" are. Only a few of them have thus far - after sometimes as much as almost four years in detention - been charged with any crime. A number of them have been released. Some have been deemed innocent and not released because the prison authorities have not figured out what country to release them to.

And Smith's account of the interrogators' incompetence seems not to be out of line with some other news coming out of that prison camp. Seen next to a report on how three years after 9/11 the FBI still lacked the capability to translate relevant foreign-language materials, or digital storage to handle its audio materials the failure to determine a prisoner's age would not look like such a big deal anymore.

I don't like the term "war on terror". As somebody very aptly remarked, "You can't declare war on a noun". However, we certainly must do the police work necessary to intercept and disrupt various extremist groups in their violent endeavours. However, with the illegal operation like the one in Guantanamo our chances of success are slim.

Monday, October 24, 2005

What is the Red Cross?

24 October 2005

Of the many major charity organizations the American Red Cross definitely stands out in many ways. Aside from its sheer size and reach it is worthy of note how much confidence it enjoys in the corridors of power in the US. So much so that President Bush himself recently paid an "impromptu visit" to its headquarters to encourage the citizens to donate money to the Red Cross, among other things. And the loyalty between the Red Cross and the government appears to run both ways.

Naturally, one would become curious as to what predicates such a close relationship between what is chartered as an independent humanitarian relief organization and the US government. Some answers to that could be found in the Joe Allen's excellent article titled "A Bait-and-Switch Charity" (CounterPunch, October 20, 2005). Allen provides an interesting glimpse into the early history of the organization:

The Red Cross was founded in 1881 by Clara Barton, who became famous during the Civil War for organizing the distribution of food and medical supplies to Union Army soldiers.

The Red Cross is specifically mandated, according to its Congressional charter adopted in 1905, to "carry out a system of national and international relief in time of peace, and apply that system in mitigating the suffering caused by pestilence, famine, fire, floods and other great national calamities, and to devise and carry out measures preventing those calamities." The organization was also to carry out its work in accordance with the Geneva Conventions concerning the treatment of prisoners of war. Later, the Red Cross would also be entrusted with control of a large part of the nation's blood supply.

But who got relief after disasters has always been affected by the racism that has been part of the Red Cross' long history.

For example, during the Great 1927 Flood that destroyed large parts of the Mississippi Delta and Louisiana, Black farm laborers and sharecroppers without a doubt suffered the most. As John Barry documents in his epic history of the flood, Rising Tide, delta plantation owners refused to evacuate them out of the region for fear--rightly--that most wouldn't return to their miserable, slave-like conditions.

The Red Cross came in to provide temporary housing and food aid. What African Americans of the Delta got was prison-like camps where they were routinely beaten by white, racist National Guardsmen. Food distributed by the Red Cross was given to whites first, and if anything was left, it went to Black survivors.

Its legal status is also anything but ordinary:
People who think of the Red Cross as a "private charity" would be shocked to discover its actual legal status.

Congress incorporated the Red Cross to act under "government supervision." Eight of the 50 members of its board of governors are appointed by the president of the United States, who also serves as honorary chairperson. Currently, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security are members of the board of governors.

This unique, quasi-governmental status allows the Red Cross to purchase supplies from the military and use government facilities--military personnel can actually be assigned to duty with the Red Cross. Last year, the organization received $60 million in grants from federal and state governments. However, as one federal court noted, "A perception that the organization is independent and neutral is equally vital."

The leading administrators and officials of the Red Cross are almost always drawn from the corporate boardroom or the military high command. Among the past chairs and presidents of the Red Cross are seven former generals or admirals and one ex-president.

What I found interesting is how uniformly police and security personnel in the region affected by Katrina expressed trust and confidence in the Red Cross while at the same time viewing other relief efforts with skepticism if not suspicion. Thanks to Joe Allen I think I have now got somewhat of a clue as to why.

If Allen's view of the Red Cross as essentially a branch of the government is correct then it is hardly surprising that the actual disaster relief might at times not be that organization's top priority, having yielded to policy considerations and the general "go along to get along" mentality permeating most governmental organizations. It is also hardly surprising then that it is more concerned with raising funds - and the PR needed to that end - than with actually doing the hands-on work of helping those in need. The government never turns down an opportunity to gobble up some cash, and if the Red Cross is essentially a part of it - is it so surprising it is acting in a similar fashion?

Asks Allen,

How many people would donate to the Red Cross if they knew all this?

I don't know but I for one sure as hell ain't giving them another penny.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

What stood in the way of rescue: some news just in...

"Their orders were to go and deliver water and parts and to come back," Commander Holdener said.

But as the two helicopters were heading back home, the crews picked up a radio transmission from the Coast Guard saying helicopters were needed near the University of New Orleans to help with rescue efforts, the two pilots said.

Out of range for direct radio communication with Pensacola, more than 100 miles to the east, the pilots said, they decided to respond and turned their helicopters around, diverting from their mission without getting permission from their home base. Within minutes, they were over New Orleans.

"We're not technically a search-and-rescue unit, but we're trained to do search and rescue," said Lieutenant Shand, a 17-year Navy veteran.

Flying over Biloxi and Gulfport and other areas of Mississippi, they could see rescue personnel on the ground, Lieutenant Udkow said, but he noticed that there were few rescue units around the flooded city of New Orleans, on the ground or in the air. "It was shocking," he said.

Seeing people on the roofs of houses waving to him, Lieutenant Udkow headed in their direction. Hovering over power lines, his crew dropped a basket to pick up two residents at a time. He took them to Lakefront Airport, where local emergency medical teams had established a makeshift medical center.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Shand landed his helicopter on the roof of an apartment building, where more than a dozen people were marooned. Women and children were loaded first aboard the helicopter and ferried to the airport, he said.

Returning to pick up the rest, the crew learned that two blind residents had not been able to climb up through the attic to the roof and were still in the building. Two crew members entered the darkened building to find the men, and led them to the roof and into the helicopter, Lieutenant Shand said.

Recalling the rescues in an interview, he became so emotional that he had to stop and compose himself. At one point, he said, he executed a tricky landing at a highway overpass, where more than 35 people were marooned.

Lieutenant Udkow said that he saw few other rescue helicopters in New Orleans that day. The toughest part, he said, was seeing so many people imploring him to pick them up and having to leave some.

"I would be looking at a family of two on one roof and maybe a family of six on another roof, and I would have to make a decision who to rescue," he said. "It wasn't easy."

While refueling at a Coast Guard landing pad in early evening, Lieutenant Udkow said, he called Pensacola and received permission to continue rescues that evening. According to the pilots and other military officials, they rescued 110 people.

The next morning, though, the two crews were called to a meeting with Commander Holdener, who said he told them that while helping civilians was laudable, the lengthy rescue effort was an unacceptable diversion from their main mission of delivering supplies. With only two helicopters available at Pensacola to deliver supplies, the base did not have enough to allow pilots to go on prolonged search and rescue operations.

"We all want to be the guys who rescue people," Commander Holdener said. "But they were told we have other missions we have to do right now and that is not the priority."

The order to halt civilian relief efforts angered some helicopter crews. Lieutenant Udkow, who associates say was especially vocal about voicing his disagreement to superiors, was taken out of the squadron's flying rotation temporarily and assigned to oversee a temporary kennel established at Pensacola to hold pets of service members evacuated from the hurricane-damaged areas, two members of the unit said. Lieutenant Udkow denied that he had complained and said he did not view the kennel assignment as punishment.

Navy Pilots Who Rescued Victims Are Reprimanded

David S. Cloud, The New York Times, September 7, 2005

And here is what Andrea of Get Your Act On!, a New Orleans activist, has to say:

Meanwhile, the denial of aid appears to be continuing, though some supplies are getting into the city. Daniel, our friend that just got out of the city, reports that the National Guard troops that arrived in his neighborhood two days ago - the first signs of anyone other than the few residents left, were “good guys” and astounded to find out that the people left there had received no supplies of any kind. One helicopter pilot, upon finding this out, took it upon himself to go get supplies and within an hour had made 3 supply drops to the neighborhood. However, this was the action of an individual, the guard had not been given directions to bring food and water to people, merely to patrol the streets and ‘keep the peace.’

The stories Daniel has to tell are horrific, and we will be relating them over the next few days. He describes living in a complete war zone - the few people left in houses holed up together with guns, fearing for their lives. A big fire broke out in a warehouse on the levy that they thought was going to burn down the entire neighborhood. He talked about the ‘ghosts’ walking down St. Claude - the people who managed to escape from their attics in the flooded out lower 9th ward - people in a state beyond shock. Again, the stories of people calling the one radio station in town from their attics, desparate, saying there was but a foot of space left between the flood waters and the roof and to please come get them before they died - but there was no one to come get them.

So many stories of relief efforts being turned away. Wildlife and Fisheries who had a couple hundred boats going into the lower 9th ward for the first two days, rescuing the people trapped in attics and on roofs - until they were ordered to stop. A group of Virginia State troopers who came down with a truckload of supplies to help NOPD - who were stopped at the perimeter of New Orleans and ordered to go away. A US Naval hospital ship with 400 beds, doctors, helicopters, all sorts of equipment - they were in the gulf when the storm hit and were the first to arrive in the area - they are sitting empty, not allowed to help.

The list of instances in which rescuers were stopped in their tracks can easily be continued and would likely still not be complete.

This is your government at work. You are paying for this - if you are lucky with you tax dollars, and if you are not - with your blood or even your very life, or that of your family, friends or neighbors.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

And now back to Oklahoma City and all those years and events since...

Thursday, 25 August 2005

As I have already said in this space, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing is an event that from relatively early on had given rise to some skepticism on the part of many an analyst. The holes in the investigative conclusion presented to the public are many and it is not my intent to present them all here. Granted, no event of considerable complexity can be explained with absolute clarity, the ommissions and inconsistencies of the official theory of the OKC bombing exceed what I consider acceptable threshold. Those interested could go to many an excellent website dedicated to the subject, for instance to the ones listed below:

WRH: The Oklahoma City Bombing

Oklahoma Bombing Investigation Committee

American Patriot Friends Network
: Oklahoma Bombling Cover-Up

Lately, the investigation into that atrocity which took the lives of 168 and destroyed many other lives appears to have gotten a new lease on life. And if you are not apt to take little-known sources seriously, you still may want to listen now as it is now a US Congressman requesting that the issues be investigated thoroughly and properly:

This newspaper has obtained a copy of U.S. Rep. Dan Rohrabacher's tersely worded letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller, asking him to comply with a federal judge's order directing the Oklahoma City FBI office to provide records regarding their investigation at Elohim City and the Mid-west bank robbery gang.

Rohrabacher, R-Calif., recently interviewed convicted killer Terry Nichols and others with information concerning the April 19, 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City.


Dated Aug. 19, Rohrabacher implored the agency head, "I ask that you comply with Judge Kimball's order and not make attempts to block his ruling by delay tactics or other judicial challenges. Further attempts by your agency to obstruct this case will only undermine the FBI's credibility in the eyes of the public."

"Congressman hopes FBI will not delay investigation into OKC bombing", J. D. Cash, McCurtain Daily Gazette, August 23, 2005

Personally, I believe that both the Congress and the public must no longer request that the matter be properly investigated - we must demand that, and we must demand that in no uncertain terms. But be that as it may the latest developments in the OKC bombing investigation are welcome news.

Even if the investigative moves of today end up being another snow job - and of that there is quite a realistic possibility - the very fact that the necessity of such moves was aknowledged is testimony to a number of important happenings. For instance, we must realise that the fact that something has been investigated by the government does not mean it was investigated, and not covered up - regardless of how many agents were involved or how high-profile the case. It is also important to know that obscure independent researchers often get things right where the major research and media institutions fail. The reasons are many - but I would think that the independence and low operating costs of the researchers - such as today's bloggers and their precursors of yesteryear - is a key factor.

I have also written a lot about the events of 9/11 and how the official version of those events might not be all that strong. Let us assume things being reported now about the 1995 OKC atrocity are even half true. After that, wouldn't you be inclined to become a bit of a "9/11 skeptic" as well? Wouldn't you want to demand that those events too be adequately investigated?

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The thorny road to the truth of the OKC Bombing

May 26, 2005

It has been over 10 years since the April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 and injured hundreds more. The case, we are told, has been investigated over and over again. No stone has been left unturned, we are told.

Of course, those of us who have really paid attention have likely been uneasy about the case all along. Why, for instance, would the observation video tape depicting the final moments of the bomb-carrying truck sitting next to the doomed building - a tape shot in a public space, where you or I could have stood and witnessed the same events - why is that tape still classified?

Since all those in the know are mum on the issue of the tape, let us leave it alone for now and just move on to another related matter. As reported by The Salt Lake Tribune ("FBI acknowledges it has found records that may apply to death" by Pamela Manson, May 25, 2005),

After insisting for a year that it was unable to find records connected to the death of an Oklahoma prison inmate, the FBI is acknowledging it has found hundreds of pages of documents that could apply to the case.

However, the agency is asking a federal judge in Utah to pare back his order requiring it to produce records and grant an extension of a June 15 deadline. Officials say they need more time to review more than six million pages of information that potentially could fall under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed in 2004 by the inmate's brother, Salt Lake City attorney Jesse Trentadue.


Kenneth Trentadue, 44, who had served time for bank robbery, was being held on an alleged parole violation in a federal prison in Oklahoma City when guards found him dead on Aug. 21, 1995, hanging from a noose made of torn bedsheets. Authorities say he committed suicide and several investigations also ruled that the prisoner died by his own hand, but his family insists he was killed.

Trentadue contends the FBI mistakenly suspected his brother was part of a gang that robbed banks to fund attacks on the government, and that authorities killed him when things got out of hand during an interrogation.

In his FOIA requests, the lawyer has sought records on a white supremacist compound in Oklahoma where Timothy McVeigh, who was executed in 2001 for the Murrah bombing, allegedly tried to recruit accomplices. Trentadue says an informant for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights organization, had infiltrated the compound and relayed information about McVeigh's plan to the FBI about two weeks before the bombing.

A similar report titled "FBI has secret docs it's reluctant to give up" was published on on the same day, May 25, 2005. This report states point-blank:

For years, the FBI has repeatedly denied the agency had any prior knowledge of the bomb plot.

The FBI now says it has found 340 documents that could also link the SPLC to McVeigh, Elohim City and members of the Aryan Republican Army.

Well, let me just say that this truth is certainly welcome news, albeit it might be about 10 years late in coming. I would also advise you to think back to this situation every time you hear a government spokesperson speak.

And I am certainly looking forward to more exciting OKC discoveries. We have spent 10 years waiting. It's about time.

Originally published here.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

A Rabbis' Letter

9 September 2004

According to numerous on-line reports, a group of prominent Rabbis in Israel has recently written a letter to Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. Unfortunately, I did not manage to locate the full text of the letter itself, and for that reason will have to rely on the following Al-Jazeera, Haaretz and InsraelInsider reports.

According to IsraelInsider,
"Should the IDF fight the enemy, if civilians [on the other side] will be killed, or should the IDF refrain from fighting, and thus endanger our civilians?" the rabbis asked in their letter. In response to the rhetorical question, the rabbis quoted the sage Rabbi Akiva who said that "Our lives come first."
At the first glance it may appear that the letter is essentially calling for military planners not to feel restrained in incurring massive civilian casualties on the enemy side in case these casualties appear to save the lives of Israeli soldiers. This position, according to this analysis by Anthony Gregory, is contrary to the laws and customs of war and provides a justification for state terrorism. Addressing the nuclear strikes against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Gregory writes,
People still defend Harry Truman’s atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on pragmatic grounds. Truman’s defenders say that the bombings saved far more lives than they extinguished. They concede that the bombing was an act of targeting civilians, but insist that it was for the worthy goal of ending the war.

Before even examining the plausibility of this argument, we have to acknowledge the argument’s essence. In effect, to rationalize the targeting of noncombatants as the best method of bringing about a greater good is to make excuses for state terrorism. Terrorism, if it means anything, is a method by which civilians are the targets of violence for the purpose of achieving political goals. Having Imperial Japan surrender, even if a worthy goal, was nevertheless a political one, and the targeting of innocents to achieve that goal was an act of terrorism.

Indeed, it was terrorism on an incredibly large scale. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese were instantaneously wiped off the earth on August 6 and August 9, 1945. Many more died in the following years from the radioactive climate left behind by the bombings.
But this part of the rabbis' argument can be interpreted two-fold,- one can say that they simply are calling on the army not to flinch and to do its job even if, tragic as it is, civilians have to die due to the military activity. They are saying, one might argue, that this is a harsh reality of war, and they are just calling for the army to see it for what it is.

However there are details in this letter that make it difficult to read it quite that way. According to the Al Jazeera report,
In a letter to the Israeli defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, published on Tuesday, the rabbis said killing enemy civilians is "normal" during the time of war and that the Israeli occupation army should never hesitate to kill non-Jewish civilians in order to save Jewish lives.
However, the task of the IDF is not to protect Jews per se but rather to protect Israel and its citizens, 25% of whom are non-Jewish. If for example an IDF unit discovers an enemy mortar crew preparing to fire on a target in Israel the actions expected of them are the same whether the transgressors are Arab, Chinese or Jewish. Nor are all the members of the IDF Jewish as there are Druze, non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union and others serving in that force.

The rabbis' letter appears to be a highly racist document. And Jewish racism is a serious problem,- in my opinion, one of the major stumbling blocks on the road to the resolution of the crisis in Israel. The overall racist perception of the issues involved is clearly in line with some Orthodox rabbis' views of the world such as those like Rabbi Dov Lior who certainly appears to classify the humanity strictly along the Jewish vs non-Jewish lines. The Al Jazeera report states,
...a few months ago a prominent rabbi in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arbaa near Hebron issued an edict stating that non-Jewish civilians may be killed to save Jewish lives, soldiers and civilians alike.

The rabbi, Dov Lior, argued that non-Jewish lives had no sanctity, especially during the time of war.

Lior has publicly praised and eulogised Baruch Goldstein, an American Jewish settler who in 1994 mowed down 29 Arab worshippers who were praying at Hebron's Ibrahimi Mosque.

Calling Goldstein a "great saint", he said a "thousand non-Jewish lives are not worth a Jew's fingernail".
While little can probably be done to alter the views of an individual extremist, I think the best path for Israel to overcome this problem is by passing a Constitution declaring it a secular democracy of, for and by all of its citizens. That would drastically diminish the influence of such extremist rabbis and allow the society to easier disregard their hateful rhetoric.

Originally published here.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Is Airline Security Their Objective Or Their Cover?

7 March 2005

Check out James Bovard's excellent article on who and how guards us up in the air. Basically, here's the story:
After the pervasive failure of airport security on 9/11, the Air Line Pilots Association sought federal permission for pilots to carry handguns to defeat hijackers. Capt. Steve Luckey, chairman of the association’s flight-security committee, explained, “The only reason we want lethal force in the cockpit is to provide an opportunity to get the aircraft on the ground. We don’t have 911. We can’t pull over.”

The Bush administration rejected the request, preferring instead to rely on jet fighters to shoot down hijacked civilian planes. U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta declared on March 4, 2002, “I don’t feel we should have lethal weapons in the cockpit” — as if airplanes themselves were not among the most deadly lethal weapons.

Congress eventually trumped the administration, passing a law in September 2002 to create a program to train pilots to use firearms to defend their planes. (The Transportation Security Administration — TSA — effectively buried the program with red tape, ensuring that only 48 pilots would be permitted to carry guns in early 2003.)

Former TSA chief John Magaw was the administration’s point person in the fight against permitting pilots to be armed. Magaw announced, “The use of firearms aboard a U.S. aircraft must be limited to those thoroughly trained members of law enforcement.” The federal air-marshal program was touted as a silver bullet against hijacking threats. A White House statement on aviation safety in the wake of 9/11 declared, “The requirements and qualifications of Federal Air Marshals are among the most stringent of any U.S. federal law enforcement agency.”

The TSA was determined to quickly expand the number of marshals from a few hundred to more than six thousand. However, most of the applicants failed the marksmanship test. The TSA solved that problem by dropping the marksmanship test for new applicants — even though the ability to shoot accurately in a plane cabin is widely considered a crucial part of a marshal’s job.

So, a government agency seeks monopoly on a certain task (providing armed guards on commercial flights), fails at it, but instead of fixing the problem rewrites the requirements of the task so as to conceal the issue. Given that the issue is directly related to national security I think it would not be entirely unfair to refer to such behavior as sabotage. And last time I checked sabotage was a criminal offense.

As I have already mentioned, the TSA is quite aggressive in its ways and views intimidation as an important part of its mission. Given how little it seems to care about what is apparently its main objective - the safety of the traveling public - it almost appears that intimidation of the said traveling public may be a goal in itself.

The powers TSA is appropriating seem to go beyond merely harassing airline passengers and extend as far as censoring the airline pilots not in agreement with the "party line".
Brian Darling of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations condemned the TSA’s slant: “They should not be trotting out federal flight-deck officers to say good things about the program while muzzling pilots who are critical of the program.” After grumbling about TSA’s policies on armed pilots spilled into the media, a TSA official sent an e-mail warning to all pilots authorized to carry guns prohibiting them even from communicating to their congressmen about their concerns about the program.

In 2002 Bush bragged that the law creating the TSA “greatly enhanced the protections for America’s passengers and goods.” Rather than making Americans safe from terrorists, the TSA has made them prey to federal agents. There is no reason to expect the agency to turn over a new leaf. And there is no reason to expect a small army of undercover federal agents flying on planes to make Americans safe.

To summarize this, let me just state that I am beyond believing that the TSA is trying to do a job but failing. I believe they are using their task as a pretext for something else. Most likely, it is just a pretext for maintaining a large team of armed federal agents. The governments throughout history have used danger, real or perceived, as an excuse for beefing up the "palace guard" - and they can be viewed as that of sorts. The worst case scenario might be that they are intended as a clandestine internal intelligence service of sorts.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Isolated Lawsuits Are Not Enough

7 August 2004

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Guantanamo prisoner, has filed a lawsuit against the US Government alleging torture at the hands of his American captors and challenging the constitutionality of the military tribunals for those captured in the "war on terror". The fact that a US Federal Court is now hearing the case is an important step forward for the rule of law, and a significant defeat for the Administration who claimed that it had a right to operate outside the oversight of the legal system in Guantanamo.

However, while I wish Mr Hamdan every bit of luck in obtaining the justice for himself,- that justice being his right to be tried in a court of law with the full protections granted to a defendant as opposed to a military tribunal, as well as getting those who violated his human rights prosecuted,- I believe that such isolated trials are not enough, even if the plaintiffs obtain justice there. I believe we as a society, all of us who adhere to the principles of Constitution regardless of their other beliefs, must state unequivocally that the Administration's attempts to operate outside of the law will not stand. We should write to the public figures, hold demonstrations in the streets, publish our views on the web and in the print media,- in other words, make it heard loud and clear that we demand that all laws of the land as well as international laws our country has ratified be respected by all executive officials.

And if you think that doing so may be tantamount to defending the people possibly involved in terror,- think of it differently. Our laws are not lenient when it comes to terrorism,- our courts can mete out a punishment severe enough to match the crime. Timothy McVeigh was executed for blowing up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. Those responsible for the 1993 attack on the WTC are jailed for life. Thus we need not worry about the guilty not being punished. That may happen,- but anyone can be fooled, military authorities included.

And it is your own safety you are protecting by demanding that all executive authorities operate within the scope of the law. It is for your own sake that you are making sure that no government agents will take you away and lock you up in a prison brig as "enemy combatant". I grew up in a country where a whole generation of people lived through years when every family feared a knock on the door at night, where those lead away in the early morning hours often just vanished, leaving their families to tend for themselves as outcasts and pariahs. May no one have to live through that horror and learn what they had learned about what unconstrained government agents with a vengeance can do!

Originally published here.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Benny Morris, An Honest Zionist Historian

Originally published here on 30 August 2004.

The following is an interview with Benny Morris conducted by Ari Shavit (originally published in Haaretz). Benny Morris strikes me as an honest man, and one who is not afraid to confront either the authority, or the entrenched notions.

I think he is utterly wrong in his advocacy of extremism. He describes various war crimes committed by Israeli soldiers during the 1948 War. According to his description, those crimes were the main reason why hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled from their homes,- and he believes that this was a deliberate tactic used to achieve precisely that result. Of war crimes he describes in his works, Morris says,
"There is no justification for acts of rape. There is no justification for acts of massacre. Those are war crimes. But in certain conditions, expulsion is not a war crime. I don't think that the expulsions of 1948 were war crimes. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands."

This sounds like a rerun of the general justification extremists of all stripes have used throughout history.

However, unlike many other students of the matter, Morris seems honest and calls things by their proper name. That is commendable, and I think he is an author and a historian whose works are definitely worth a read.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

"Friendly Fire",- By Design

Originally published here on 21 August 2004.

"Friendly fire" is an unfortunate part of pretty much any war. The fog of battle sometimes leads to soldiers firing on fellow soldiers wearing the same uniform. All of the world's militaries work towards developing procedures to avoid such tragic and wasteful mistakes but none have thus far completely succeeded in this quest.

However, according to Body of Secrets, a book authored by the investigative journalist James Bamford, in the 1960's the US military considered attacks on Americans disguised to appear perpetrated by the Cuban forces. The objective: convincing the American public of a necessity of going to war with Cuba. As David Ruppe writes in his ABC News article,
Code named Operation Northwoods, the plans reportedly included the possible assassination of Cuban émigrés, sinking boats of Cuban refugees on the high seas, hijacking planes, blowing up a U.S. ship, and even orchestrating violent terrorism in U.S. cities.
That was not merely a thought that popped up in some general's head early in the morning after having a few too many drinks at an Officers' Club the night before. That appears to have been a detailed set of military plans.
America's top military brass even contemplated causing U.S. military casualties, writing: "We could blow up a U.S. ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba," and, "casualty lists in U.S. newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation."

The Joint Chiefs even proposed using the potential death of astronaut John Glenn during the first attempt to put an American into orbit as a false pretext for war with Cuba, the documents show.

Should the rocket explode and kill Glenn, they wrote, "the objective is to provide irrevocable proof … that the fault lies with the Communists et all Cuba [sic]."

Fortunately, none of those fiendish ideas were to become reality as they were rejected by the Kennedy administration.

Many Americans think that no one in a position of power in the US would ever even contemplate intentionally harming his fellow Americans in order to create a pretext for promoting their agenda. That assertion appears to have little foundation. Some pretty powerful people within the defense apparatus are clearly documented to have been thinking along the same lines as those at many other times and in many other places throughout history who had intentionally attacked their own populace in order to convince the public of the perceived enemy's aggressive intents.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Canadian Sovereignty And Missile Defense

Originally published here on 28 February 2005.

It's now clear how the Bush administration sees things: Canadian sovereignty exists only at its pleasure. If we do what Washington wants, we retain our sovereignty. If we don't, all bets are off.

This is what U.S. ambassador Paul Cellucci clarified last week in his angered response to Paul Martin's announcement that Canada won't join the U.S. missile defence scheme. Cellucci noted that Washington would simply deploy its anti-missile system over Canadian airspace anyway, and expressed puzzlement over Canada's decision to "in effect, give up its sovereignty."

No doubt the Soviets felt similar puzzlement as they rolled into Czechoslovakia in 1968. What's with these crazy Czechs? Don't they get it? All they have to do is co-operate with Moscow and they can retain their "sovereignty."

Writes Linda McQuaig in her article about the diplomatic row between Washington and Ottawa over the issue of the "missile shield". A very apt article, in my opinion. She is probably also right when she says,
...Canada's gutsy refusal to go along was the right move — and one that, incidentally, will win us higher standing in the world.

It is also interesting,- and, may I say, telling,- how many writers, seemingly independently of each other, allude to the Soviet times as they assess the Bush Administration and US foreign policy of today.

Could This Be Part of What Sibel Edmonds Can Not Talk About?

Originally published here on 19 August 2004.

Sibel Edmonds is a former FBI translator who has a lot to say. She would say more if she weren't gagged by the US Department of Justice. Even what she managed to say should arouse your curiosity if truth about 9/11 and our counter-terrorism efforts is of interest to you.

Daniel Hopsicker is a journalist whom I tend to view with some skepticism. Maybe, it is just me, but he seems to have too much of a knack for finding lots and lots of sensational connections,- some of which I tend to think don't amount to much. You can find various publications of his here. However, in this article of his, he may be on to something. In the article Sibel Edmonds is quoted extensively and the content seems to match things Edmonds either does not know, or is not allowed to properly describe.

I have read a number of publications both describing Edmonds and authored by her. I have written about her before (follow these links:1, 2). I believe her to be credible. She may be given to exaggerating facts, she may be bitter, but I do not believe that she is given to either lying or hallucinating. While a lot of facts are still missing, I believe that the story of Sibel Edmonds is an important one, the one to stay on and follow. And, like I said before, what Daniel Hopsicker is describing may indeed be factually correct,- and directly related to Edmonds' disclosures.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

That Was One Considerate Unnamed FAA Employee!

Originally published here on 22 September 2004.

On September 11, 2001 a group of FAA employees who were directly involved in handling the hijacked aircraft, or at the very least witnessed the actions of those directly involved with those aircraft, gathered to discuss what they had just been through. That meeting was recorded on an audiotape.

One does not have to be a top-notch detective to realize that such a recording could easily be an invaluable piece of evidence in any subsequent investigation. And anyone whose IQ exceeds that of an absolute imbecile would likely realize that the murder of many hundreds of people would not go uninvestigated.

Yet an FAA employee,- whose identity has to this day not been made public,- destroyed this tape,- allegedly, in a very meticulous and thorough manner, making absolutely sure it would never be heard. I have heard about this occurrence before,- and now I have come across this report in Aviation Magazine. This is a professional publication, so it is more likely to be exact on aviation-specific details than a general-purpose news source. Here is how this report relays the story:

...Each of at least six air traffic controllers and some ten other employees who were on the job at the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., during the World Trade Center attacks gathered several hours after to recall their version of events. But that tape, which could have helped determine how the agency responded to clues that four planes had been hijacked, was destroyed before it was ever heard. In fact, officials at the ARTCC were never even told of the tape's existence. According to the report given to the 9/11 Commission by Department of Transportation Inspector General Kenneth Mead, the audiotape was crushed in the hand of the unnamed FAA employee, then cut into small pieces and tossed into different trash cans around the ARTCC building. Despite the fact that the quality assurance officer had been told to retain all records pertaining to 9/11, he told inspector general investigators he destroyed the tape because he felt making it was contrary to FAA policy, which calls for written statements. He is also quoted to have said the controllers "were not in the correct frame of mind to have properly consented to the taping" because of the stress of the day, and told investigators that faced with a similar situation, he would repeat his actions.
Well, for one thing, let us hope that the above-mentioned anonymous man and the rest of us are never again faced with a situation akin to 9/11. Let us also note the fact that the above-mentioned individual was explicitly told,- by his superiors, I would assume,- to keep all records,- which would include that tape,- but chose to disobey their instructions. His concern for his colleagues' current state of mind is certainly touching, however, that would in no way diminish the reality of the situation,- namely, that he had in all likelihood compromised the 9/11 investigation. I ain't no legal expert,- but don't them smart folks call this sort of thing "obstruction of justice"?

The federal officials appear to have taken a rather light view of what had transpired in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. on that fateful day.
Inspector General Mead told the 9/11 commission the employee showed "poor judgment," and in calling for administrative action, said the employee's attitude about the destruction was "especially troubling." The FAA confirms disciplinary action has been taken against the employee, but will not say what that action was, or identify the employee. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) says the matter could be investigated further.
This appears to be one of those matters on which I am fully with Senator McCain. I would word it stronger,- I'd say this matter MUST be investigated. The public has every right to know this man's name. And if his actions constitute a criminal offense,- which I am more than sure they do,- he must be properly charged and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Also to be noted is the 9/11 Commission's timidity in approaching the matter. It appears the Commission has never subpoenaed the "unnamed employee", nor do they even know his identity. Does that sound like an aggressive investigation? I guess I am forgetting that the Commission's objective was not to assign blame...

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Greg Palast on the Media Freedoms in the US

NOTE: This article was originally published here on 24 September 2004. Republished for the purpose of newsfeed distribution.

Greg Palast has given an interview to Hustler magazine. Most of the interview is dedicated to the issues of press freedoms in the US,- or, rather, how the mainstream media outlets choose to exercise those freedoms.

It is rather curious that this sort of interview was published in Hustler and not, for instance, The New York Times. While I have little interest in pornography, I certainly need to acknowledge Hustler's achievements in presenting controversial opinions which still need to be voiced,- especially in the times when the journalistic mainstream shies away from such opinions.

Greg Palast speaks about potentially scandalous issues which most Americans likely never heard about. The interview is centered around Mr Palast's explosive book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.
HUSTLER: What kind of material do you have in the book?
PALAST: How about this for an example: After Daddy Bush left the White House, he went to work for a company called Barrick Gold Corporation in Canada, something you haven't read in the United States. The first thing he does is pick up a big, fat check and stock options from Barrick Gold Corporation for, essentially, selling them the presidential seal and the presidential Rolodex. And he writes letters to dictators like [former president of Indonesia] Suharto, saying, "Give these nice guys gold-mining concessions."
HUSTLER: What is Barrick Gold?
PALAST: It was founded with money from Adnan Khashoggi, the arms dealer. You may remember that Adnan was the bagman in the guns-for-hostages, Iran-Contra scandal. The sheikh got out, then Bush got in. You have to ask yourself a question: What would a Canadian gold-mining company do with a used president? Well, it turns out that before he left office, Daddy Bush put in motion an expedited process for laying claims to gold in the United States. It allowed Barrick Gold Corporation and a couple of other operators to lay claim to the largest gold mines in America. To stake a claim on $10 billion worth of gold ore, Barrick paid the U.S. Treasury less than $10,000.
HUSTLER: I would have gone for that myself. I could have scraped together $10,000.
PALAST: All I can say is that Barrick was very, very grateful for the gold mine. But the public got the shaft, and Daddy Bush got the job. And George W. got the donations. That's the other thing that has been unreported here: People don't realize how much easy squeezy [campaign money] is flowing in. That includes things like parallel spending and soft money and hard money, which, by the way, hasn't ended. You know that our Congress has passed campaign-finance reform, so-called. What they did was eliminate soft money, but they doubled the amount of hard money. It's just Viagra for campaign donations. Our big problem is that we held something closer to an auction than an election in America. A lot of the reason [George W.] Bush raised all that cash-that easy squeezy-is because of his father's business connections. You're never quite sure where the Bush family's bank account ends, and the campaigns and our American policy begin.
While there is a natural connection between political and business activities, one would think that it is a media's natural responsibility to explore and report on such connections. And it Mr Palast's account is correct, then it would appear that the US media is not doing a terribly good job of such reporting. And, given that there are no official attempts to deny his account, it is likely correct.

Mr Palast also asserts that corporate interest stood in the way of preventing 9/11 before it happened, and investigating it afterwards.
HUSTLER: Your book also mentions Bush and intelligence failures prior to September 11, right?
PALAST: CIA and FBI agents told BBC Television, for which I was reporting, that they were ordered not to investigate Saudi Arabian financing of terror networks such as al Qaeda. The FBI agents "accidentally" left a file about the Bin Laden family on the desk of one of my researchers. They called up and said, "Oops, we left our file on your desk by accident. You haven't read it, have you? Well, we'll be back to pick it up in 30 minutes-unless you need 45." The FBI agents handed us material dated September 13, 2001, two days after the attack. It was on that date that the FBI was finally released to go after two members of the Bin Laden family, who they had already identified as being involved with a suspected terrorist organization. But by September 11, they were flown birds.
HUSTLER: What happened to other members of the Bin Laden family living in the U.S. after 9/11?
PALAST: Just after the no-fly restriction was lifted, a private Saudi Arabian jet airlifted the Bin Laden family members out of the country before the FBI could talk to them. Everyone thinks there's just one black sheep in that family, but the FBI agents were telling us at BBC that they think there's a couple of gray sheep, and they had some questions for the family members. There were a lot of people
dead under the rubble at that moment when those people left.
HUSTLER: What had American policy been regarding the Bin Laden family prior to the Bush Administration?
PALAST: Bill Clinton had already put a go-slow on investigations of Saudi Arabian financing of terror networks. Clinton had always taken the position that we can't annoy our dear friends, the Saudis, even if our dear friends happen to be funding terrorists like the al Qaeda network; however, he never actually stood in the way of investigating them, whereas George W., according to FBI and intelligence agents, said, "You can't go there. You may not look. You may not investigate the American Bin Ladens."
HUSTLER: So the FBI and CIA agents were pissed at George W.?
PALAST: They are furious. He blindsided our intelligence agencies. How could a trillion-dollar intelligence operation like the CIA not foresee the most deadly attack on America since Pearl Harbor? The answer is not because Bush knew about September 11 in advance. Rather, they were told not to look because of connections that are political, personal and financial between the Bushes and the Saudis. When these agencies were told not to look, there was a lot not to look at. There was a 1996 meeting between the al Qaeda financial arm, Saudi billionaires and key international arms dealers. There was a discussion about which Saudis would pay how much to al Qaeda. Now if I can find out about it, and the French intelligence had a mole in the meeting, you can bet that our trillion-dollar CIA could find out about it; so why wasn't there follow-up? Why wasn't there action? How about a note to the Saudis saying, "Do us a favor: Stop giving money to people who are killing us."
HUSTLER: What about the Bin Laden and Bush connections to the Carlyle Group?
PALAST: The Bin Ladens were investors in a very private and a very exclusive operation called Carlyle, which is an investment group. Carlyle is one of the biggest private corporations on the planet; so they report to no one, and they're responsible to no one, except their little coterie of owners, which is made up of an ex-president and dictators. Daddy Bush worked for, and still continues to be on a retainer for, the Carlyle Group, representing the company in Saudi Arabia and in Asia. His son, our President, was also put on the board of one of the companies owned by Carlyle, Caterair, and he was paid on the order of $50,000 for them to access his great business acumen. Caterair went under, but they never asked for their money back.
HUSTLER: What about George W.'s oil ventures?
PALAST: He had several oil ventures and could never find oil in Texas, which is almost impossible, as you know. On the other hand, he had a company, Spectrum Seven, which was bought out by another company, Harken Oil. Before that, he had Arbusto, which means shrub. He could never find oil, this guy. But he did find Saudi Arabians who put money into Harken and got him on the board where he was paid consulting fees. Then, despite the fact that the company seems to be going south, a miracle occurred. That is, the Bahraini government insisted on giving Harken Oil a contract to drill in the Persian Gulf. This is a dry-land Texas company suddenly being given an offshore oil lease by a country that had previously been doing business with Amoco. They picked this little, teeny company out of nowhere, which of course has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the guy was the son of the President of the United States.
While there is nothing wrong with being in the oil business, it appears that George W Bush has a strong conflict of interest when it comes to conducting policy in oil-rich regions. And Middle East happens to be just such a region. And it also happens to be where the most crucial world events happen today. The logical summation of these observations must be that due to a conflict of interest, George W Bush ought to be disqualified from formulating the US foreign policy, especially in the capacity of President.

Palast gives a powerful account of the state of journalism in the US today. We must note that the blame lies on all of us, not just the corporate powers, for in a situation where there is no direct state oppression it is still our choice whom to support and finance in the media.
HUSTLER: What has happened to the news media in this country?
PALAST: I vomit every time I see Tom Brokaw.
HUSTLER: And Dan Rather-
PALAST: I feel sick at heart when I see Rather, because he's actually a journalist. He came on my program, Newsnight [in England] and said, "I can't report the news. I'm not allowed to ask questions. We're gonna send our children and our husbands into the desert now, and I can't ask a question, because I will be lynched." This is what Rather said in London. He looked defeated and awful, and I was thinking, Why am I feeling sorry for this guy who is worth millions? He should turn to the camera and say, "Well, now for the truth. Over to you, Greg, in London." The problem is that he can't report the story of the intelligence agents who are told not to look at the Bin Laden family, not to look at Saudi funding of terror.
The journalists themselves are also to blame, says Palast. And I think he's got an excellent point there.
HUSTLER: What makes Rather afraid to do his job?
PALAST: It's not just that there are brutal shepherds like Rupert Murdoch out there to beat the dickens out of any reporter that asks the wrong questions; it's all about making news on the cheap. You know, for some of these editors, cheap and easy is a philosophy of life. To do a heavy-duty story on Bush, his oil and Bush and his gold-mining company is beyond them. A little bit of the Harken stock scandal came out, but that story was already seven years old. To some extent they know that there are certain things you cannot say. Rather says he would be necklaced for telling the truth.
HUSTLER: He said that? What did he mean?
PALAST: In South Africa, under apartheid, if someone didn't like you, they put a burning tire around your neck. That was called "necklacing." On my show, Rather said, "If I ask any questions, I'll be necklaced." And I'm thinking, Oh, that's a good image. It's sad, but if Dan Rather doesn't have the cojones to ask a question, then you name a reporter who's gonna step out and ask about what's going on. It's not that the corporate guys say, "Don't run that story," although that has happened to me many times in North American media, but also the shepherds pick the lambs who won't ask the questions. For example, there was a reporter, some poor producer, who wanted to run a story about how Jack Welch had lied about polluting the Hudson River. The story didn't run. Shockeroo. That was for Dateline NBC, owned by General Electric, of which Jack Welch was the chairman of the board. Or as in the case of Venezuela, I was stunned to come back from Caracas to find a picture on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle of 100,000 people marching against the president of Venezuela. Sounds like he's a terrible guy and people hate him. What they didn't say was that half a million people were marching for him. At least the Soviet Russians knew that the stuff in Pravda was coming out the wrong end of a toilet, whereas, we live under the pretense that the New York Times prints all the news that's fit to print.
HUSTLER: I won't read the New York Times. That publication has no credibility with me.
PALAST: The New York Times ran a story, front page, the first week of September 2001, talking about gold-mining companies in Nevada and how they seem to be getting let off the hook by the Bush Administration on environmental rules. They didn't mention two things in that front-page article: They didn't mention the owner of the big gold mine-Barrick-and they didn't mention who had been on their board-the President's daddy. I brought that up to an editor of the Times. They said, "How dare you? No one has ever accused the New York Times of cowardice," and [former Times writer] Seymour Hersch leaned over to me and said, "That's the guy who had me pushed out of the Times."
HUSTLER: They haven't really told the truth about Bush and the 2000 election, either.
PALAST: I've got brand-new, deeply evil stuff about that in the new book. What happened was that, five months before the election, Katherine Harris, acting under orders from Jeb Bush, knocked 57,000 voters off the rolls. They were suspected of being evildoers and felons and, therefore, not allowed to vote in Florida. Here's the news: Of the 57,000 people, 97% were innocent of crimes, but they were guilty of being black. Half of them were African-American or Hispanic-in other words, Democratic voters. Was the state guessing who the people of color were? In Florida, it's like South Africa; they list your race right on your registration. There was no guessing. These people not only lost their vote, but lost their president. BBC figures Gore lost 22,000 votes this way, but you didn't read that in the U.S. press. You didn't read in the U.S. press that they say they're going to allow the voters back on in 2003. That means that they were screwed for the election of 2002 as well. I ran the story of the theft of the election on the BBC. Then a hotshot with CBS News calls me and says, "Oh, that's a great story, can we have a piece of it? We want something new." I said, "Yeah, I got something for you: Jeb Bush's office, the governor of Florida, is involved in knocking off the voters too, not just Katherine Harris, and there's a letter dated September 18, 2000, which directs county-elections officials to deliberately violate the law and not register a bunch of people who are Democrats. These are people who committed crimes in other states. Jeb can't legally stop them from voting, but he did anyway. And he knows that these people are Democrats, because there's something about going to jail that turns people [into] Democrats, about 93% [of ex-cons vote Democrat]."
HUSTLER: So, people who were either black or who had previously gone to jail were just automatically eliminated?
PALAST: Right. Jeb sent out the letter anyway, September 18, 2000, despite two court orders saying he couldn't do that. I had an insider in his office, some poor woman, shaking, saying, "I gotta read you this letter." She knew about the court orders. Okay, so I said to CBS, "That's a story." CBS News didn't run the story-one night, two nights. I said, "What happened?" They said, "It didn't stand up." I said, "How do you know the story didn't stand up?" "Well, we called Jeb Bush's office, and they said, 'We didn't do it.'" Oh. Hotshot Dan Rather investigative news team. They said, "The letter doesn't exist. It's not in the computer files; it's in no one's files, not in the governor's files. It's nowhere to be found." Then Katherine Harris writes a hysterical, screeching letter to Harper's magazine, calling me twisted and maniacal, but she didn't say I was wrong. She said, "Yeah, we knocked off these people, but it's not my fault; I got a letter from the governor." I called up her office-I didn't say, "This is Mr. Twisted and Maniacal"-I said, "Um, excuse me, I got a letter from your Secretary of State saying that she had a letter from the governor, before the election, regarding removing people from the voter rolls. Could you fax that to me?" Suddenly, the letter that CBS says doesn't exist is faxed to me. I've got it in my hot little hands, the letter that was in Katherine Harris's desk; so CBS just took an official denial, because they're not gonna say, "The President's brother, the governor of the state of Florida, fixed the election"-that we had a coup d'état by computer.
So, in essence it took Mr Palast one phone call to find a confirmation for a story that CBS News was unable to obtain. That may, of course, have been a case of laziness on the part of the CBS News, however, I find it quite reasonable to ask whether that was laziness or lack of willingness to learn the truth.

Greg Palast is certainly a very energetic and dedicated journalist. I think he is setting an example that the media in the US critically needs to follow. For now, however, alternative media appears to be where those interested in the truth as it is ought to go to.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Not a Bad Heist Indeed

NOTE: This article was originally published here on 26 August 2004. Republished for the purpose of newsfeed distribution.

I like heist movies. In films like "Heat" you see some really tough, intelligent guys take well-defended scores, effectively prosecuting a difficult war against both the police and their rivals in the mean streets. They may be immoral,- but they are definitely good.

The real life, I guess, is a bit more prosaic. The heists one sees happening are less risky, done mostly through shuffling the right papers the right way, bribing the right officials, writing vague enough rules and regulations. The work may be mundane, but the results are nonetheless impressive.

In his report Col David Hackworth details the $8.8 billion dollars alleged to have "gone South" in Iraq. This reads like a detective novel, though is a little bit dull for a novel, I'd agree.

For example, the CPA paid 74,000 guards even though the actual number of guards couldn't be validated. On one site alone, 8,206 guards were on the payroll, but only 603 warm bodies could be counted. Elsewhere, more than $17 million was allocated to guards and the Iraqi army without one piece of backup paper. Pals in Iraq say this has been standard drill since the birth of "very dysfunctional" CPA.

The report cites, "An improper $120 million disbursement was made in May 2004 because of miscommunication between CPA/OMB and Comptroller's office." In other words, $120 million went south but was blithely rationalized as some clerks getting their wires crossed!
However, it appears that the GIs whose arms made this little party possible in the first place are not quite invited to it.
Meanwhile, the armed forces' PX system (AAFES) is into charging our GIs in $9 for a 12-inch pizza. A similar pizza is $8.99 at a pizzeria near Greenwich, Conn., where prices compete with Beverly Hills. The manager told me that about half of this price was gross profit. Lt. Col. Debra Pressley of the AAFES insists the $9 price is "fair and competitive with commercial outlets, including locations in Greenwich".

And so it seems to be. But why? Don't our soldiers deserve a better deal? Or is our government reduced to trying to make up the AWOL bucks on our soldiers' backs?

The powers that be sure planned to make a profit by charging $3 per head for watching movies in Iraq at least until we blew the whistle. But once we broke the story, I got e-mails and phone calls from generals and colonels denying that the $3 charge had been scheduled, even though on July 3, 2004, the deputy commander in Balad, Iraq, put out this communication: "CG (Commanding General) has directed that we begin charging movie fees beginning on 7 July 2004 in the amount of $3.00 per show."

The local general now says it wasn't ever going to happen. Ditto the AAFES general and her spinner minions. Like the 9/11 report and the missing money in Iraq, no one will ever be held responsible.
War is good business, I suppose.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Free Speech Zones

NOTE: This article was originally published here on 12 August 2004. Republished for the purpose of newsfeed distribution.

In modern Russian the prison jargon has become a significant part of many people's vocabulary. Those who use it are not necessarily criminals or ex-inmates,- this linguistic infusion penetrates all layers of the society, from the streets of industrial towns to the corridors of power. And that is an inevitable consequence of mass imprisonment which reached its peak during the years of Stalin's purges and has remained part of Russia's reality to this day. In his world renowned book GULAG Archipelago Alexander Solzhenitsyn provides a masterful description of how the world of prisons affects the world on the other side of the fence,- linguistically, culturally, mentally and in many other ways.

In Russian prison jargon "zona" (Russian for "zone") means "prison camp". Thus to a Russian speaker this modern term, "free speech zone", sounds somewhat ironic. I have recently seen the one in Boston next to the Fleet Center, the site of the Democratic National Convention. To a large extent I believe the description of it Dahlia Lithwick provides in her New York Times column to be correct.

The largely ignored "free-speech zone" at the Democratic convention in Boston last month was an affront to the spirit of the Constitution.
You may want to take a look at these pictures and see for yourself. Personally, I think these pictures show it in a bit too grim a light,- but not by much. I think Lithwick is also correct in her comments on some sections of the Patriot Act.
One section invented a broad new crime called "domestic terrorism" - punishing activities that "involve acts dangerous to human life" if a person's intent is to "influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion." If that sounds as if it's directed more toward effigy-burning, or Greenpeace activity, than international terror, it's because it is. International terror was already illegal.
My only comment to her above statement would be that all terrorism, whether originating overseas or within the US, had been illegal long before Ashcroft came up with an idea to write the Patriot Act. Furthermore, so has been murder, assault and destruction of property, as well as conspiracy to commit the above-mentioned crimes,- the crimes that pretty much inevitably follow every terror attack.

Specifically regarding the "free speech zones", I must admit to a complete mental failure to comprehend what security objective they accomplish. I tend to think wearing a button or a t-shirt with a certain verbiage on it has not yet stopped anybody from engaging in any sort of violence (unless you believe in amulets, that is). So it is beyond me why, given their prior knowledge of the practice of "free speech zones", an individual or a group planning an act of sabotage would not pose as supporters to get as close as they can to the group or person they seek to harm. And unless those who have instituted the practice come forth with a sensible explanation as to what security benefits it yields, I will continue to view that practice exclusively as that of intimidation, oppression and censorship.

"We don't have a strategy. We can't even decide what the problem is."

NOTE: This article was originally published here on 22 September 2004. Republished for the purpose of newsfeed distribution.

This is what Daniel Goure, an adviser to the Department of Homeland Security, is quoted as saying. This may sound like an out-of-context remark of a man who feels frustrated as he is coming out of an unproductive meeting,- but to anyone who has read this article by Mick Youther it will likely sound like anything but.

As Mr Youther correctly observes,

Whenever pollsters ask, “Who is better on terrorism”, George W. Bush always gets high marks. Why? I don’t know, because the facts say something quite different.
This reflects precisely the impression I have had for a long time,- namely, that in all of this Administration's activities related to combating terrorism there is little to suggest that an outstanding job has been done. For some reason, however, the Bush detractors often fail to point this fact out, opting to give Bush credit for combating terrorism and criticize him for his performance in other areas. But there is reason to believe that even credit given him for his counter-terrorism efforts may be largely undeserved.

Mr Youther provides an excellent list of facts to believe that. Here are some.
• “Bush had been saying that he was proposing $3.5 billion in ‘new’ money for first responders. However, his budget tried to cut more than $1 billion out of existing grants to local police/fire departments to fund this. Then, in August of 2002, Bush rejected $150 million for grants to state and local first responders.” (There are fewer police and first responders on the streets today than on 9/11.-- The Progress Report, 9/9/04)

• “‘We're working hard to make sure your job is easier, that the port is safer.’--Bush, 6/24/02…The President’s 2003 and 2004 budget provides zero for port security grants. …Additionally, in August, the President vetoed all $39 million for the Container Security Initiative which he specifically touted.”

• “While Bush did hold a photo-op to sign legislation promising more INS/Border Patrol staff and facilities, his budget provided no additional money for this. Additionally, in August, Bush vetoed $6.25M for promised pay upgrades for Border Patrol agents…. His 2004 Budget slashes total total “Border and Transportation Security” by $284 million.”
It is about time for me to call it a night. As Mick Youther puts it,
So, sleep soundly tonight. George W. Bush will protect you (unless he’s on vacation).

Monday, February 14, 2005

On Classification Powers

As reported here,
WASHINGTON -- February 10 -- Today Rep. Waxman and Rep. Maloney ask for hearings on whether political considerations caused the Administration to delay release of findings by the 9/11 Commission about pre-attack warnings.

The gist of the letter authored by Rep. Waxman and Rep. Maloney is best relayed by the following paragraphs:
The Honorable Tom Davis Chairman
Committee on Government Reform
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr. Chairman:

We are writing to request that our Committee hold hearings to investigate two extremely serious questions raised by an article that appeared in this morning's New York Times. The first question is whether the Administration misused the classification process to withhold, for political reasons, official 9/11 Commission staff findings detailing how federal aviation officials received multiple intelligence reports warning of airline hijackings and suicide attacks before September 11. The second question relates to the veracity of statements, briefings, and testimony by then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice regarding this issue.


This morning's New York Times reported that in "the months before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal aviation officials reviewed dozens of intelligence reports that warned about Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, some of which specifically discussed airline hijackings and suicide operations."[1] The article explained that the Federal Aviation Administration "received 52 intelligence reports" that mentioned Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda prior to September 11, 2001, and that the FAA warned airports that if "the intent of the hijacker is not to exchange hostages for prisoners, but to commit suicide in a spectacular explosion, a domestic hijacking would probably be preferable."

This information was included in a staff report by the 9/11 Commission dated August 26, 2004. The 9/11 Commission report found that there was "intelligence that indicated a real and growing threat leading up to 9/11," but that this intelligence "did not stimulate significant increases in security procedures." Although the report did not find that the government had advance information about the specific September 11, 2001, attacks, it reported that the FAA took various measures to warn airport security officials about "the possibility of a suicide hijacking."

Declassification Process

The first question Committee hearings should address is whether the Bush Administration abused the classification process to improperly withhold the 9/11 Commission findings from Congress and the public until after the November elections and the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State. Although the 9/11 Commission staff completed its report on August 26, 2004, the Bush Administration refused to declassify the findings until January 28, 2005, less than 48 hours after Ms. Rice was confirmed as Secretary of State.[2] At that time, the Department of Justice delivered both a classified version and an unclassified version to the National Archives, the agency charged with collecting and retaining all 9/11 Commission documents.

To summarize the above in a rather primitive way, the allegations amount to the following: there were warnings prior to Septermber 11, 2001 that something was likely to happen much akin to what actually did take place. The Administration, however, classified the data contained in the above-mentioned warnings, and the 9/11 Commission report mentioned those warnings but in a way that downplayed their significance. Reps. Waxman and Maloney also suspect that the only reason for that classification was the Administration's view - probably quite correct - of those reports as politically damaging.

I tend to believe that the Representatives' suspicions here are not without merit. The Sibel Edmonds illustrates this point quite well. Edmonds, a former FBI translator, alleged improprieties within the FBI - and was consequently slapped with a gag order by none other than Attorney General John Ashcroft who happened to lead the Justice Department of which thee FBI was a unit. And, although we are not allowed to know the truth, it certainly does appear that the FBI - and, by extension, the Bush Administration, had something to hide here. As James Ridgeway reports in this Village Voice article of his,
Edmonds is the translator hired by the FBI after 9-11 to help its woefully inadequate staff translate documents and wiretaps pertaining to the attacks in languages such as Farsi and Turkish. As she has told the Voice in past and recent interviews, she was given a top secret security clearance. She soon discovered that there were what she describes as two enemy moles with possible connections to 9-11 working both in the FBI and with the Air Force in weapons procurement for Central Asia, at one point. These were the Dickersons: Douglas with the Air Force and his Turkish-born wife, Melek Can Dickerson, with the FBI as a translator monitor. After they were subpoenaed for a court hearing, they left for Belgium in September 2002 and have not been heard from since.

Among other things Edmonds told her FBI superiors, she had discovered that Melek Can Dickerson affixed Edmonds's name to a printout of inaccurate translations. Properly translated, she says, these wiretaps revealed a Turkish intelligence operative in communication with his spies in both the Pentagon and the State Department.

When Edmonds tried to tell her FBI superiors what was going on, the bureau seized her home computer, gave her a lie detector test (which she later found she passed), and then fired her, warning her not to talk�backing that up by following her around in an open and intimidating surveillance. That didn't stop her. She went to the Senate Judiciary Committee and told her story. The committee's then chair, Vermont's Patrick Leahy, and ranking minority member Charles Grassley of Iowa wrote a letter to Justice demanding to know what was going on. Subsequently the FBI confirmed some of Edmonds's claims.

It is worth mentioning that although many Americans probably never heard of Sibel Edmonds, her allegations, if proven correct, could become a major overlooked issue in the analysis of the events of 9/11. As I have said before concerning the issues raised by Sibel Edmonds,
The letter above summarizes the experiences of just one woman, working in a fairly low-level position for the FBI for a short period of a mere several months. Let us take it with a grain of salt, as she may be bitter or highly subjective for other reasons, and, for the sake of argument, discount half of what she is saying. We still get a very grim picture of glaring omissions in the relevant portions of the 9/11 report.

Let us also for the sake of argument assume that everything stated in the report is 100% true,- which may be the case,- but let us merely assume that the "omission ratio", so to speak, in parts of the reports other than the ones Sibel Edmonds' experience is relevant to, is comparable to that in the sections she is discussing in her letter. That leaves us with a report so incomplete as to be almost irrelevant. It is akin to a building which is made of quality materials,- but in which entire floors are missing.

Let us now leave the particulars of both the recently declassified pre-9/11 FAA warnings and Sibel Edmonds' allegations alone and address the overall issues of who and how decides what is to be classified and what gets to stay in the public domain. Whenever the government has power over what the citizens learn, it has the power to manipulate them. Totalitarian regimes take this power a long way continually strengthening their control over the society by manipulating the citizens' perception. In a democratic society, however, all information is available to the public - save for what could harm the security of the society lest it be released into the public domain.

However, it is to be expected that government officials are liable to abuse power whenever they are allowed to and use their authority not only to declare what is truly sensitive classified, but also to avoid the disclosure of information that could be of a potentially damaging nature to them. One must also remember that the security of the society and political security of those in power seldom run together - in fact, quite possibly the disclosure of some information deemed secret by the government officials can damage or even bring down a government, yet improve the national security of the country.

It is my opinion that the classification mechanism currently in use in the US is deeply flawed and needs to be revised. One idea would be to have an independent body - maybe a committee of some sort outside of the government - that would decide what gets classified and for how long. The system we have now is broken and a threat to our security and liberties.

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