Focal Points Blog

85 Percent? How Do You Figure, Mr. Ryan?

Back in December, the co-chairs of the bipartisan President’s Deficit Reduction Commission liked their plan’s chances. One of their members was the current chair of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, and he promised that his committee’s budget blueprint would include 85% of the Commission’s recommendations.

Today we have that blueprint, and squint at it as hard as you might; you won’t find anything like that kind of math. The Commission laid down its “guiding principles,” such as:

  • “Don’t disrupt the fragile economic recovery” by cutting too soon. Cong. Ryan’s plan? Let the cutting begin. The deeper the better.
  • Cut and invest “in education, infrastructure, and high-value research and development … to make it easier for businesses to create jobs.” Cong. Ryan’s investment agenda? Nowhere in sight.
  • “Protect the truly disadvantaged.” By slashing Medicaid, Ryan? Really?!
  • “Cut spending we cannot afford—no exceptions. We must end redundant, wasteful, and ineffective federal spending wherever we find it… including defense.” The commission laid out about $100 billion in military cuts. Cong. Ryan’s plan follows Defense Secretary Gates’ so-called ‘cuts.’ As I wrote when the President’s budget came out, they are not cuts. They slow the projected growth in Gates’ budget, to the tune of $15 billion a year, on average. Attacking the discretionary budget and giving about half of its total—defense–a nearly-free pass is like is like making a cake and leaving out the flour.

This despite the Government Accountability Office’s accounting of $70 billion in new Pentagon waste in the last two years alone. Despite the fact that the U.S. and its NATO allies outspend the rest of the world’s militaries by a factor of two; that the U.S. military alone outspends its nearest competitor, China, by at least six times. That the combined militaries of Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, Somalia, and Syria spend less than one percent of what our military spends.

Despite the fact that support in his own party for putting military spending on the cutting table includes, for starters, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and the tea party base, Rep. Ryan saw fit to exclude it almost entirely.

If this is 85% agreement, what would disagreement have looked like?

Why Did Richard Goldstone Throw the Goldstone Report Under the Bus?

GoldstoneI spoke to Richard Goldstone several times after his eponymous Report came out, and it was obvious that the personal slander and vilification from so many in his own community was wearing him down. He was certainly naive and did not expect the excreta storm that would head his way.

He had always been a person of integrity and his editorial in the Washington Post, allegedly “retracting” the Report named after him is saddening. If it had appeared the day before, one would almost suspect it of being an April Fool’s parody.

Indeed, the wording of the editorial, while confused and evasive, was eloquently indicative of heavy pressure — not least since only two days before at a debate at Stanford University, he is reported as maintaining that “all the investigations showed that, thus far, the facts were as they were reported.”

One cannot help wondering what happened in the next two days to change his mind. Did his daughter, ex IDF and self-confessed Israeli patriot, pull the family chains? It certainly betokens a personal tragedy, since it will detract from his reputation and integrity in the human rights and international law field, with no chance at all of earning the forgiveness of the rabid and vindictive Zionists who have been hounding him mercilessly for two years.

Indeed, reading the editorial reminded me of Comrade Rubashov in Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness At Noon” — a true believer doing one last duty for the group he had lived with for so many years. It reads like a “confession” rung out from someone trying to free hostages near and dear to him by giving the kidnappers what they want while trying to hold on to one’s own integrity and dignity. Sadly, of course, those who attacked his morals and probity before, will never, ever forgive him for telling the truth originally — and like Rubashov, he will be shown no mercy once his confession has served its purpose for the cause.

It suited the Lobby to highlight Goldstone, a Zionist and judge whose international reputation made it even more difficult than usual to bury the message especially among Jews. However, those other members are distinguished jurists in their own right who were commissioned by the United Nations Human Rights Council and whose report became the property of the UN General Assembly, neither of whom are likely to drop the report just because complicit Israeli ministers misinterpret Goldstone’s editorial with the same liberty that they misinterpreted the original report — which after all simply asked the parties to conduct credible investigations.

The core “retraction” in the editorial is the sentence, “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document,” which is about as retractable as a rubber band. It certainly does not substantiate Netanyahu’s reaction “Everything we said was proved true,” although it does raise suspicions that Avigdor Lieberman’s attribution of the editorial to “diplomatic efforts on behalf of Israel,” might conceal some heavy advocacy conveying difficult-to-refuse offers.

Goldstone is a lawyer, and this imprecisely flexibly wording of “different document,” could mean almost anything. If he knew about the ferocity of the tribal scapegoating that was to follow? If he knew that the report was going to spur Israel into mounting a series of pseudo-independent investigations into events that they refused to look into earlier? It certainly is far from an unequivocal retraction of the original, which is not “his” to retract since it was, after all, the product of a team including three others, commissioned by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

His claim that Israeli investigations “also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy,” does not contradict his early report, which never suggested that. The My Lai massacre, for example, was no less a war crime because the Pentagon did not directly order it.

His most wrenching default is when he says “the most serious attack the Goldstone Report focused on was the killing of some 29 members of the al-Simouni family in their home. The shelling of the home was apparently (my italics) the consequence of an Israeli commander’s erroneous interpretation of a drone image, and an Israeli officer is under investigation for having ordered the attack. While the length of this investigation is frustrating, it appears that an appropriate process is underway, and I am confident that if the officer is found to have been negligent, Israel will respond accordingly.”

Looking at the abysmal track record of Israeli investigations — and bearing in mind that it was the original Goldstone Report that brought about the apology for an investigation he refers to here, Judge Goldstone really has to explain to his own conscience on what grounds he is “confident” of an appropriate response, let alone how the finding of “negligence” came about.

Throughout, he is upsettingly equivocal. “While I welcome Israel’s investigations into allegations, I share the concerns reflected in the McGowan Davis report that few of Israel’s inquiries have been concluded and believe that the proceedings should have been held in a public forum. Although the Israeli evidence that has emerged since publication of our report doesn’t negate the tragic loss of civilian life, I regret that our fact-finding mission did not have such evidence explaining the circumstances in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted, because it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes.”

But then later he says “McGowan Davis has found that Israel has done this to a significant degree.” How significant is “significant” if after two years, “few of Israel’s inquiries have been concluded” and if the proceedings, conducted by the same military body that defends the military, are carried out in private?

In the face of that, his second thoughts about calling upon Hamas calling for its own inquiry are totally gratuitous. Surely he never expected them to. But they did let him and his colleagues in to investigate themselves, which Israel did not, and which, as he reiterates, refused to present evidence to his committee.

Even though it is unlikely that the UN bodies will drop the report, Goldstone’s pseudo-retraction has provided the opportunity for Israeli “Hasbara” to trumpet its misinterpretations. It does a disservice to international justice and humanitarian law and tries to accord to Israeli leaders the impunity which he had spent his career fighting, in South Africa, Rwanda, the Balkans and Central America.

It is a tragedy that such a career should end this way, generating as much sorrow as anger. Sorrow for the damage it has done to the universality of justice, and anger at the unscrupulous manipulation of familial and tribal loyalties that likely brought it about.

For more by Ian Williams visit Deadline Pundit.

U.S.-Algeria Counterterrorism Partnership a Marriage of Convenience

Algeria 1690Daniel Benjamin in Algiers

At about the time that the United States, the European Union and NATO were putting the final touches on their not-so ‘humanitarian’ interventionalism in Libya, U.S. Middle East policy was developing along quite different lines in Algeria.

On March 4-7, in Algiers, the United States and Algeria formed what both countries are referring to as ‘a new contact group’ for counter-terrorism collaboration, cementing even further a decade of close intelligence and military cooperation between the two countries.

Underlining the importance of the security arrangement, the United States sent Daniel Benjamin, the U.S. State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism, to attend. The Algerian side was represented by Algerian presidential advisor, Kamel Rezzag Bara.

At a press conference Benjamin welcomed ‘the inaugural meeting of the bilateral contact group’. He asserted the U.S. intended to work with Algeria to ‘counter groups that seek to launch attacks against innocents’. The crusader bombast and confrontational style of the Bush years has been replaced by a much softer touch stylistically at least. Poised, cutting a handsome ‘Kennedy-like’ image, Benjamin chose his words carefully.

‘Algeria’s future should be in its own hands’, Benjamin told an audience of Algerian journalists. He continued, ‘The U.S. supports the democratization process in Algeria and elsewhere in the Middle East, North Africa and the Sahel.’ In response to a question, Benjamin categorically stated that ‘the United States does not seek any more military bases in Africa’. Benjamin went on to state ‘the future of Algeria is for Algerians to determine’.

Dick Cheney’s Sahara Terrorist Scam

Indeed, the rhetoric was impeccable. If only it matched the reality!

Take, for instance, the comment that the United States does not seek military bases in Africa. The United States has been ‘frantically’ looking for an African home for AFRICOM, the African command center created during the Bush years to deal with Africa’s growing strategic importance in terms of oil and rare minerals, and to counter China’s growing influence throughout the continent.

Seems African countries – even allies – don’t believe that AFRICOM is a Peace Corps-like outfit concerned with development and fighting AIDS. Despite repeated U.S. denials to the contrary, African leaders fear it is something more sinister. Imagine!

Furthermore the United States has at least one military base of some size and significance in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. There is evidence that another one existed for a number of years in Tamanrassett, deep in the Algerian Sahara out of which U.S. Special Forces operated.

U.S. and Algerian security cooperation is more than a decade old, beginning some time just after the ending of Algeria’s ‘dirty war’ in 1999. One could argue it began even earlier with a number of visits by then Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney to Algeria to cut oil and gas deals with the North African country despite the fact that Algeria was bogged down in what is referred to as ‘The Dirty War’, a civil war that nearly split the country apart.

Willing to open its oil and gas deposits to U.S. companies, the Algerian government was also able to convince the Bush Administration in the days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack that it stood with the United States as a partner in global war on terrorism; unbeknownst to many, the relations between the two countries improved considerably. Then in 2002-2003, the U.S., in collusion with its new regional ally Algeria, launched a second front in its global war on terrorism across the Sahara and Sahelian regions of Africa.

What seems to be the chemistry to bring these unlikely allies together? If British anthropologist Jeremy Keenan is to be believed – and he makes an excellent case – U.S.-Algerian cooperation ‘countering terrorism’ has been little more than a pretext for a strategic military alliance in which both countries gained in different ways. The actual relationship bears little of the moral rectitude suggested in Benjamin’s remarks.

  • For Algeria, the partnership has meant increased access to U.S. military and surveillance technology which it was denied during the 1990s due to the ‘dirty war’. In the name of fighting terrorism, the alliance also extends Algerian influence over its southern neighbors in the Sahara and Sahel: Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania.
  • For the United States, the arrangement permits Washington to ‘piggy back’ on Algerian security concerns, real and imagined, to create a security network that today extends in the north, from Algeria in the north – one of Africa’s most prolific oil and natural gas producing countries, to Nigeria on Africa’s western coast, another of the continent’s great oil producing countries.
  • The Algerian-U.S. relationship, a marriage of convenience, was cemented not long after 9-11 by a rather bizarre, if not surrealistic and apparently heavily contrived set of circumstances that fit the needs of both. The Bush Administration, with Dick Cheney taking the lead, wanted to open a second front on the ‘global war on terrorism’ (GWOT) in Africa focusing on the Sahara.

Only one minor problem: there was virtually no terrorism, no terrorist groups in the area. Indeed, despite its natural hazards, in 2001-2, the Sahara was arguably one of the safest places to travel anywhere in the world. If Keenan is correct, the Algerian Departement de Reseignement et Securite (DRS), the Algerian Security Service, in cooperation with the U.S. military – under the auspices then of EUCOM based in Germany – fabricated an incident and then blew it all out of proportion in the medias of both countries.

In The Dark Sahara, Keenan makes the case that the kidnapping of German speaking tourists from Germany, Austria and Switzerland in 2002 was managed by the Algerian DRS with the knowledge if not complicity of the U.S. Special Forces with whom the Algerians worked rather closely. He substantiates claims that:

  • The so-called Islamic groups which participated in the kidnappings were either penetrated or run by the DRS.
  • There was no ‘terrorist pipeline’ from Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda in Afghanstan through to Africa.
  • The whole kidnapping incident was essentially staged, and then blown out of proportion by both the Algerian press (with close ties to its security establishment) to create the myth of the Saharan terrorist threat.
  • My favorite part of this pervasive scam is the likelihood that the `leader’ of the Islamic fundamentalist group, a fellow named El Para, was an Algerian DRS operative who trained in counter insurgency for two years at Ft. Bragg North Carolina. Keenan claims El Para was in constant contact with his Algerian security handlers during the entire time of the 2002 kidnapping.

As a result, the Algerian military and security forces got their high tech death and communication toys, and the Bush Administration its pretext to deepen its military involvement in Africa.

Keenan’s hypothesis fits the Bush GWOT pattern to a tee: Military intervention requires embellishing or fabricating an impending threat. An elaborate disinformation campaign is launched. The remoteness of the Sahara makes verifying fabrication difficult, permitting Algerians and the U.S. military to liberally embellish the truth. Who could disprove what was or was not going on in the southeastern corner of Algeria or northwestern Niger?

But then they didn’t reckon with Jeremy Keenan, with his encyclopedic knowledge of the Sahara, his decade’s long human connection with the Tuareg peoples who live there, and his unflagging sense of decency and unwillingness to go along with a dangerous political charade.

There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; across the Sahara and the Sahel, a terrorist threat with links to Al Qaeda was more a scheme hatched by the DRS in Algiers than a viable Islamic resistance movement. We’ve been conned once again.

Rob Prince is the publisher of the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

The Freedom to Offend: Pastor Terry Jones and Islam

UN Afghanistan“Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of offending culture, religion or traditions.”
Staffan de Mistura, the top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan, who is wrong about that

It feels weird having to defend a bizarre, craven Christian-supremacist.

Imagine this. A young Saudi woman in the United States, wishing to join the “Saudi Women Revolution Statement” demanding the abolition of the Saudi law of Male Guardianship, especially the wilayat al-nikah, burns a Koran, finding license for that doctrine in its proclamation that “men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient” (4:34). In retribution for the desecration, Afghan men slaughter eleven U.N. workers, beheading two. Who among the readers would condemn her for the massacre?

Another hypothetical. What if Sinead O’Connor’s famous appearance on Saturday Night Live, in which she tore a photo of the then-Pope to publicize Catholic nefariousness, had happened two years later in 1994, during the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, the most Catholic nation in Africa? If some Rwandans had, hearing of the television event, brutally slaughtered some of the peacekeepers in vengeance, what conscionable person would have lain blame at O’Connor’s feet?

Now, tearing a photograph of the man whom the world’s billion Catholics are under strict instructions to affirm is the infallible vicar of Christ on Earth may be slightly different from burning a book that the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims are under strict instructions to affirm is the final and unalterable revelation of God (and that those who do not accept this revelation are to be slain), but it’s not different enough to undermine the obvious conclusion. People who enact the most extreme sorts of violence in response to non-violent free expression of any sort are to be condemned in the strongest terms, and the free expression, however offensive to however many, deserves our most fervent defense every time.

It seems a pity to have to point it out. Anyone should be able to burn any book without fear that they or anyone else will get killed in retribution. This even applies to unsavory, Elmer Gantry-like pastors in Florida who know little about sophisticated theology and less about attractive facial hair. Also, cartooning and depicting characters in novels should be acts that don’t strike terror into hearts or result in international murder conspiracies whose suborning is financed by totalitarian theocratic despots. I affirm now, as I’m sure we all ought to, that no man need fear for his or anyone else’s life if he offends me (and I’m offended daily), and that’s as it should be.

Terry Jones’s sundry pronouncements of his intentions have been very clear: he thinks Islam is evil and violent. He is entitled to that assessment, and a great many thinking persons would agree with it. He asserts now that this point was proven in Mazar-i-Sharif, and no one has shown this assertion to be unjust. Of course it is true that Jones is not a free speech hero (I daresay his response to an Imam burning a Bible would be cringe-making), but that does not mitigate the main point: it betrays a really serious and powerful lack of moral perspective to condemn Terry Jones for burning a book rather than Afghanis for beheading foreign workers over the burning (or even to condemn them equally).

In 1999, Rudy Giuliani, then the Mayor of New York City, threatened to cut city financing to the Brooklyn Museum of Art over an exhibit called Sensation, which featured a painting by Chris Ofili (who is Catholic) entitled The Holy Virgin Mary, in which the immaculately conceived Nazarene lady is depicted as a black woman. Among the media used to produce the piece was a resin-covered lump of elephant dung. The good mayor, before the 9/11 attacks brought him national recognition, accused the exhibit of being “anti-Catholic” and warned the museum that he would move to de-fund it. Hillary Clinton, then the First Lady, attacked Giulliani, saying, “Our feelings of being offended should not lead to the penalizing and shutting down of an entire museum.” And yet, when people’s feelings of being offended results in gut-wrenching violence, huge swaths of the political and punditry classes rush to repudiate the offender rather than the murderers.

Joe Klein, finger out and wagging, breathlessly declares that “Jones’s act was murderous as any suicide bomber’s.” General David Petraeus grovels and snivels, offering contrition on Jones’ behalf: “In view of the events of recent days, we feel it is important… to reiterate our condemnation of any disrespect to the Holy Qu’ran and the Muslim faith. We condemn, in particular, the action of an individual in the United States who recently burned the Holy Qu’ran.” Even Hamid Karzai puts on his best indignant face, demanding that the US and UN “bring to justice the perpetrators of this crime,” there referring to the burning, not the beheading. This is the most outrageous of all because any criteria that foists culpability on Jones also implicates Karzai, who stoked that fire as enthusiastically as he could, in a cynical attempt to secure political benefits from the controversy.

This sort of violence is not Jones’ fault; it is attributable instead to the ease with which people can be tricked into thinking that a book is perfect or magical. Can anyone point to a case in which victims of imperialism, exploitation, impoverishment, disrespect, parasitism, exclusion and manipulation went out and beheaded folks in an anger inspired by something like the burning of a book, when religion was not central? If someone cartoons Muhammed, there is bound to be bloodshed. But not if someone were to burn the Constitution or The Origin of Species or The Feminine Mystique (a profane act of hideous desecration). And if there were, what commentator would assign fault to the book-burner?

The irony is that anyone wishing to condemn hateful speech that incites violence has first and foremost to denounce the Torah, the Bible and Koran, which have incited people to worse violence for longer than any piddling Floridian dunce could ever manage.

Are you prepared to do that?

J.A. Myerson, Executive Editor of the Busy Signal, is the Artistic Director of Full of Noises and a teaching artist with Urban Arts Partnership. He writes primarily on American Politics and Human Rights. Follow him on Twitter.

Pastor Terry Jones Islamophobia’s Surprising Origins in Europe

At the Daily Beast Leon Dische Baker writes of the Islamophobes’ Islamophobe, Pastor Terry Jones: “His symbolic struggle against radical Islam is actually a tangible struggle against his own obscurity.”

Meanwhile, aside from the depths of his psyche, the origins of Reverend Jones’s Islamophobia surprise. In another Daily Beast article, Baker wrote:

“Islam is not going to back down!” [Pastor Jones] warned. “As the people in Germany know.” Several voices in the front row shouted enthusiastic “yeahs” in response, and their accents were German. There are nine German emigrees at Dove Outreach, two of whom are pastors. Terry Jones himself spent 30 years in Cologne, as a missionary and church leader. When he returned to the U.S. amid accusations of financial and labor abuses, a small German contingent followed him. They brought baggage: a deep aversion to everything Islamic.

“Our campaign against Islam started in Germany,” the pastor’s son Luke, 29, assured me in a thick West German accent. He wouldn’t specify what forms the campaign took there. Like other members of Dove Outreach, Luke comes from Cologne. More specifically, he stems from the Kalk district of the city—an area with a large Turkish population.

There are two ways to take this: relief that Pastor Jones’s Islamophobia is not home-grown; dismay that he’s proved such a hospitable host for an infection that’s seen its worst outbreak in the United States.

Killing Libya in Order to Save It: Gulf War Syndrome

Gulf War SyndromeThere were two images from the Libyan war that are likely to spell real trouble in the coming years. One was of several U.S. A-10 attack planes, ungainly looking machines ugly enough to be nick named “Warthogs,” taxiing down a runway. The other was of several rebel fighters dancing on top of a burning tank.

That tank, an old Russian-era T-72, was likely knocked out by one of those A-10s, which means those rebels fighters are almost certainly going to be in a world of hurt. Because, while they were celebrating, they were also breathing in the residue from the shell that killed that tank, a 30 mm depleted uranium munition (DUA).

DUA is the weapon of choice when it comes to killing armored vehicles, and A-10s are specialists at using it. The U.S. used 320 tons of it in the first Gulf War, 10 tons in Kosovo, and over 1,000 tons in the invasion of Iraq. It is lethal to tanks, but it also damages anything that comes into contact with it. Common photos back in 1991 were of U.S. soldiers climbing on top of knocked-out Iraqi tanks to have their pictures taken or to look for souvenirs. When they did, they inhaled uranium oxide or impregnated their uniforms with it.

The soldiers didn’t know better because the U.S. Defense Department (DOA) told them DUA was harmless, even though the DOA knew better. In 1991 the U.S. Army’s Armament Munitions and Chemical Command concluded that “any system struck by DUA penetrator can be assumed to be contaminated with DU,” and instructed soldiers to wear protective masks, clothes and respirators “as a minimum,” and dispose of the clothing afterwards.

The only problem was that the Army never told the troops, even those whose job it was to deal with vehicles hit by DUA. No one said a word to the 144th National Guard Supply Company of the 24th Infantry Division which picked up 29 U.S. armored vehicles hit by DUA “friendly fire” to ship them home. When the tanks and armored personnel carriers arrived in South Carolina, they were interned in a radioactive waste dump. If the soldiers didn’t know the objects were “hot,” the brass did.

Many of those members of that National Guard company subsequently came down with the “Gulf War Syndrome” (GWS) that afflicted at least 118,000 out of the 700,000 soldiers who served in the 1990-91 conflict. Veterans suffer from chronic fatigue, headaches, muscle spasms, joint pains, memory loss, anxiety and balance problems; were twice as likely to develop amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig Disease); and between two and three times more likely to have children with birth defects.

DUA is one of the most deadly anti-tank weapons around. The enormous weight of the DUA “arrow” in each shell can penetrate four inches of armor as if it were margarine. It then explodes in a 10,000-degree fireball that reduces up 70 percent of the munition to powder. The powder can travel up to 25 miles from the initial blast site.

Depleted uranium is not highly radioactive, but it has a half-life of 4.4 billion years, and, if it gets into your system, it can be very dangerous. According to the U.S. Environmental Policy Institute, DUA “has the potential to generate significant medical consequences.”

“People have always assumed low doses are not much of a problem,” Alexander Miller of the U.S. Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute told the Guardian (British), “but they can cause more damage than people think.” A study by the Institute found that DUA could damage bone marrow chromosomes.

Not all of the Gulf War butcher bill can be laid at the feet of DUA. After 11 years of denying there was anything to GWS, the Pentagon finally admitted that at least 130,000 soldiers had been exposed to chemical weapon residue when the Iraqi arms depot at Kamisiyah was blown up. Modern battlefields tend to be toxic nightmares, and that was doubly so in Iraq.

But there is no question that DUA was a major contributor to the syndrome, particularly for those who developed immune related diseases. A standard effect of radiation is suppression of the immune system.

The effects of low-level radiation are hard to track, because many “hard” cancers take 16 to 24 years to develop. Iraqi medical authorities claim that the cancer rate in Basra—an area that was saturated with DUA in the Gulf war and the Iraq War—has jumped ten fold, and birth defects are much higher than in the rest of the country.

DUA is also used in 25 mm cannon shells, and 105 MM and 120 MM tank shells. The Army is using it to manufacture 50-caliber machine gun ammunition and is experimenting with using it for standard issue infantry weapons. It is also used to coat armored vehicles, making them almost impervious to non-DUA shells.

The U.S. is selling DUA to Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, some of our NATO allies—Germany and Italy won’t use it—Sweden, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Thailand, and other countries that the Pentagon will not reveal in the name of “national security.”

Depleted uranium is also a highly toxic metal and can damage the liver and kidneys, particularly if it gets into the water supply. If a DUA round misses a target, its “penetrators” are so heavy that they tend to go deep into the soil. “A major concern of the potential environmental effects of intact [DUA] penetrators or large penetrator fragments,” notes the World Health Organization, “is the potential contamination of ground water after weathering.”

Because of the dangers associated with DUA, in August 2002 a subcommittee of the United Nations found that the weapons violated seven international agreements, including the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions. Efforts to ban it, however, have been vetoed by the U.S., France and Britain. In 2009 Belgium became the first country to ban the use of DUA, and in the same year the Latin American Parliament voted for a moratorium on its use.

The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons that includes 120 non-governmental organizations is currently lobbying to get the weapons eliminated.

There are other rough beasts being visited on the Libyans these days as well, including cluster weapons, highly explosive canisters that can shred everything from people to tanks. U.S. warplanes have been dropping CBU-103, 104, 105, and AGM-154 A and B, all of which have a failure rate of anywhere from 5 to 23 percent. These unexploded “bomblets” can kill for decades.

During the bombing of Laos from 1964 to 1973, 90 million cluster munitions were dropped, killing more than 12,000 civilians. The bomblets continue exact a yearly toll of 100 to 200 people. More than 50 million clusters were dropped during the 1991 Gulf War, and in the two years that followed the war’s end, they killed 1,400 Kuwaiti citizens. A U.S. company hired to clear cluster weapons from a small area in Kuwait found 95,700 unexploded MK-118 submunitions from the notoriously unreliable CBU-99 “Rockeye” cluster bomb.

Unexploded clusters are still causing problems in Kosovo, and they take a steady toll of civilians in Afghanistan.

Libya has no-go areas dating back to the Second World War, when Italians, Germans and British seeded their fronts with land mines. Whatever government emerges in Libya today will have to deal with the aftermath of yet another war, this time created by DUA and cluster weapons. “The problem in defense is how far you can go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without,” Dwight Eisenhower once remarked.

A problem indeed. One hopes Libya manages to avoid what a village in Vietnam experienced, the one that was destroyed in order to save it.

More of Conn Hallinan’s work can be found at Dispatches From the Edge.

To Rev. Terry Jones, UN Attack Just Proves He’s Right

After receiving news of demonstators protesting a Koran burning by his Gainesville church over-running a U.N. office in northern Afghanistan and killing at least seven foreign staff members and five Afghans, Rev. Terry Jones

. . . released a statement expressing no regret for the Koran burning. He called the attack on the compound “a very tragic and criminal action” and called on the United States and the United Nations to take action.

But he didn’t stop there, adding

“The time has come to hold Islam accountable.”

I’m sure he sleeps well at night.

For $700 Million Mugabe Lets China Write Its Own Rules

Mugabe Jintao(Pictured: Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and China’s President Hu Jintao.)

In what has to be one of the largest protection money payouts ever recorded, the Chinese government announced last week that it had agreed to loan Zimbabwe $700 million in desperately needed funds. Of course, the Chinese did not frame their offer as anything other than humanitarian, announcing that the loan would be used for investment in the agricultural, health and water sewage sectors. But amidst President Robert Mugabe’s demand that all foreign-owned mining ventures sell majority holdings to black Zimbabweans, the meaning of the money was clear. Vice Premier Wang Qishan, visiting Harare last week to announce the agreement, was unambiguous about the expected return on the loan, stating flatly that he “hope[d] Zimbabwe will protect the legitimate right of Chinese businesses in the country.”

Mugabe is likely to respect Beijing’s wishes. China’s largesse was timed perfectly with a particularly acute moment of crisis in Zimbabwe where political turbulence is quickly being overshadowed by the increasing threat of food shortages in the country. The country’s agricultural minister, Joseph Made, announced this week that six of the country’s ten provinces are currently facing severe food shortages. The country claims to have enough food to stem the threat of widespread hunger but not the resources to cover transport and distribution costs. The UN has requested nearly half a billion dollars in emergency aid to help aid efforts, but Made managed to soil the offer by announcing he would refuse to allow the UN-affiliated agencies into the country to assess Zimbabwe’s needs in the name of national security. The reason? “We don’t want to have politics in food,” Made argued. The country’s food czar quickly performed a rhetorical about-face, however, claiming that he had been misrepresented in response to critics’ contentions that the only person salting the country’s food with politics was the agricultural minister himself. But given the current circumstances, this may be the least of his problems.

The looming threat of mass starvation couldn’t come at a worse moment. As nationwide elections approach, steadily mounting political tensions between Mugabe and opposition prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai threaten to collapse the unity government that has been precariously in place since 2008. In recent weeks, Mugabe has ordered an end to MDC protests, jailed one of the prime minister’s closest allies, and has threatened to arrest Tsvangirai himself. But the prime minister has more than just Mugabe to contend with. The MDC leader must also keep his own party from splitting apart at the seams. A breakaway faction lead by Welshman Ncube has been flexing its muscles of late, refusing to come under the discipline of the party’s high command.

Ncube claims he was blocked from a top parliamentary position by a Mugabe-Tsvangirai tag-team effort, and that his faction will no longer follow the party line at a critical moment when the MDC needs all the help it can get. Complicating matters further, Ncube’s son is married to the daughter of chief peace negotiator and president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, who dispatched his team to Harare to help find ways to keep the peace.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s food security forecast is bleak. After a brutal drought last month, crop yields are expected to be virtually nonexistent throughout much of the country over the coming months which will almost certainly prompt an accompanying spike in food prices nationwide.

The shortages are nothing new in Zimbabwe, which has suffered through a decade of Mugabe’s failed land reform policies on the one hand, and Western sanctions targeting the regime’s dismal human rights record on the other. But this year looks to be especially bad, which makes China’s timing all the more remarkable.

Last month, the Chinese boldly offered Mugabe $3 billion for complete control over the country’s platinum reserves and a share of its lucrative diamond mining sector. By most accounts, Mugabe was ready to seize on the deal, but was rebuffed by opposition members of his coalition government who pointed out China’s opportunistic attempt at a wholesale land grab. Public outrage followed, and for good reason. Conservative estimates of Zimbabwe’s platinum reserves value them at between $30 and $40 billion, nearly ten times greater than what the Chinese offered.

Since then, China has ordered a public relations full-court press to contain resentment of their presence in Zimbabwe. Immediately before Vice Premier Wang landed in Harare, the Chinese government dispatched a small army of eye surgeons to the country to perform free cataract removal for hundreds of poor Zimbabweans. These complimentary procedures were the first in what the Chinese government promises will be a series of missions to cure the entire population of reversible blindness. Not only that, China has underscored its commitment to help Mugabe’s coalition government battle western sanctions, and most recently extended the landmark $700 million loans for agricultural revitalization.

Their efforts have already paid off. On Sunday, Mugabe announced that he was aggressively moving ahead with his plan to force all foreign-owned mining firms to sell majority stakes to local investors. Mugabe made clear that foreign-held mining corporations have until May 9 to outline plans for turning over majority control to Zimbabwean financiers, and six months to finalize indigenization of the country’s mining sector, or face unspecified penalties. All corporations, that is, except for those owned by China. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Chinese companies, including those mining diamonds in Marange, will be exempt from indigenization regulations because they are carrying out ‘national projects,’ said Indigenization and Empowerment Minister Savior Kasukuwere.”

If this defense for exempting Chinese multinationals from national policy sounds fishy, that’s because in all likelihood it is. The irony, of course, is that while the indigenization scheme is designed to decisively erase the last vestiges of western colonialism’s legacy in Zimbabwe, Mugabe is potentially opening the door to the next generation of foreign domination. Only this time, instead of Europe maintaining the upper hand, Zimbabwe’s economic dependency will be hitched to the growing power of Beijing and a new era of imperialism—with Chinese characteristics.

Neocon Call for Regime Change in Syria Doesn’t Do U.S. National Security Any Favors

In the Washington Post Sunday noted neocon Eliot Abrams of Iran-Contra fame called for the United States to back regime change in Syria:

While the monarchies of the Middle East have a fighting chance to reform and survive, the region’s fake republics have been falling like dominoes — and Syria is next. . . . Since the wave of Mideast revolts has spread to Syria, Assad is responding the only way he knows: by killing. What should be our response?

Abrams provides a regimen for the United States to support Syrian protesters such as recalling the U.S. ambassador. However disingenuous this always sounds coming from a conservative, he writes, “Our principles alone should lead us to this position.” What’s the real reason, though, El-i-ot-t-t.

The demise of this murderous clan is in America’s interest. The Assad regime made Syria the pathway for jihadists from around the world to enter Iraq to fight and kill Americans. Long a haven for terrorists, Syria still allows the Hamas leadership, among other Palestinian terrorist groups, to live and work in Damascus.

It’s one thing for Syria to be a “haven” for terrorists. but what if it were its headquarters? Ata IPS News Jim Lobe writes that, in fact, regime change in Syria may run at cross purposes to U.S. national security.

. . . Paul Pillar, a retired Central Intelligence Agency analyst who served as National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East between 2000 and 2005, warned that regime change could turn out very poorly for both the US and Israel and that Abrams’ and the Journal’s confidence that any successor regime would be preferable to Assad’s was ill-founded.

“Syria under Assad is probably the most secular place in the Middle East,” he noted in his blog at the website. “The influence of Islamism, in whatever form, in Syria has nowhere to go but up if there is regime change. That would not be welcome to those in Israel and the United States who worry about any political role for Islamists.”

Neocons — forever born yesterday, they forget the past and are incapable of looking ahead long term.

Interview With WikiLeaks Go-to Guy, the Nation’s Greg Mitchell

Greg MitchellCross-posted from the GC Advocate and FireDogLake.

We’re honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the forty-sixth in the series.

For nearly four months, the Nation’s Greg Mitchell has steadfastly blogged “Cablegate,” the publication of some 250,000 US diplomatic cables released by the whistle-blowing organization WikiLeaks. What began as basic coverage of a media phenomenon quickly blossomed into the world’s most important clearinghouse for news and analysis concerning the WikiLeaks saga. Other media outlets have attempted similar up-to-the minute coverage, but none have been able to keep up with Mitchell’s one-man tour de force.

Mitchell has not only managed to keep on top of the seemingly never-ending revelations and scandals surrounding the WikiLeaks phenomenon but along the way has also found the time to punch out two books on the subject. The first, The Age of WikiLeaks: From Collateral Murder to Cablegate (and Beyond), hit the shelves just before an avalanche of other books—largely focused on Assange—came out, and remains the most useful general account of WikiLeaks’ rise from relative obscurity to international prominence. The second book—Bradley Manning: Truth and Consequences—just published, looks at the man accused of feeding WikiLeaks the massive trove of embassy cables.

Foreign Policy in Focus contributor Michael Busch spoke with Mitchell—whom Glenn Greenwald calls “one of the nation’s most insightful journalists”—shortly after he celebrated the one hundredth day of his marathon WikiLeaks coverage to discuss the blog, the book, and the future of journalism in the age of WikiLeaks.

MB: First of all, congratulations on one hundred days of blogging Cablegate!

Mitchell: [Laughs.] Thank you.

MB: I hoped to start by asking about the blog. You joke that blogging WikiLeaks has left you feeling like Michael Corleone: just when you think you’re about to wrap it up, it pulls you back in. Where did the blog come from, and did you expect that that one hundred plus days after the initial Cablegate revelations dropped that you’d still be at it?

Mitchell: Well, I started blogging for The Nation last May, a daily blog that covered a wide variety of media subjects. It was kind of a live blog; every morning I’d put up a bunch of links and maybe three times a week I would write a standalone piece. Two or three times a year I would concentrate on live blogging some major media event that was breaking…the election last November, for example. It might be one or two days of concentrated coverage and that would be it.

With WikiLeaks, it was sort of the same thing. I wasn’t up and running when the “Collateral Murder” video was released, but I was when the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs dropped and live-blogged on them for a couple of days when they came out. With Cablegate, I received an alert right before it was about to happen and so when it began I was ready to go. I figured I would blog that first day of cable releases and the next, certainly.

And then it just kept going. With the Afghan and Iraq war log dumps there were things to cover for several days because the newspapers were bringing different angles to the story, there was a lot of analysis and reaction. But the material was all out there in its entirety at the start. It was just a matter of how people were analyzing it. With Cablegate you had all that, of course, because a lot came out immediately, but new information also kept coming. And on top of that there were suddenly more threats against WikiLeaks, and Julian Assange in particular, and there was more reaction from around the world because of all the various countries involved. So at the start, I thought the blogging might be two or three days and if it went a little longer than that, then fine.

I wouldn’t have kept doing it if there hadn’t been a strong reaction to it, if people hadn’t been egging me on. It proved to be very popular at The Nation. The editors originally were telling me that blogging Cablegate would be fine for ten days or even maybe even twenty, but they were also saying that I really should stop at some point because I had better things to do with my time. From day one, though—actually, for a hundred and two days now—it has been the most popular and most frequently viewed site at the Nation. And that popularity has made it acceptable with the editors that I keep going. Now they say, “Yeah, sure, concentrate on this!” So the extended blogging has really been the result of a combination of things: my interest, the fact that new documents keep emerging, and the fact that it is proving so popular around the world. It’s really taken on a life of its own.

MB: After all of this time dedicated to reporting on the cables, what strikes you as the most important lesson learned from the Cablegate scandal, either with specific reference to the documents themselves, or to the broader developments around the “leak” phenomenon that you refer to as the “Age of WikiLeaks”?

Mitchell: Well, that’s the big question in all this. In terms of the world of geopolitics the most dramatic thing that has occurred in the midst of all this is the wave of Middle Eastern and North African revolts. Of course, there are great debates about how big a role WikiLeaks has played. But I think most people would agree that it had a big role in the Tunisian uprising and Tunisia in turn had a big role elsewhere. You can trace [the wave of revolutions] back to Tunisia, and when you ask if WikiLeaks was much of a factor in events there you have to say it was a pretty big factor, in fact.

More generally, I presume that history will show that the biggest effect of WikiLeaks—even though people don’t all agree on the details of it—will be seen in the way it affected the politics of different countries. That’s what’s most striking to me in all this: we suddenly have a huge mass of information which keeps having ripple effects in different countries all over the world, like most recently in Mexico where the effects of the WikiLeaks cables has been quite dramatic. There are a lot of people in America, pundits, who say that none of this is really a big deal, that we knew most of this stuff already, and ask what’s really changed. And they might be right, in terms of US policy. But they totally ignore what’s been happening in other countries. That’s the most impressive thing, as opposed to the big ticket items.

And then of course, the other thing is how it set in motion the whole discussion and encouragement of a new era of leaking, and how the media has reacted. This has been very revealing, though I must say that the jury is still out on the question of what will happen with all these other “leaking” organizations. Many have been formed, much has been promised, numerous organizations have set up their own portals…and very little has come of it. Even WikiLeaks hasn’t come up with anything new. I just reported on this new group, Quebec Leaks. They sent me word weeks ago when they were originally going to launch, and then they postponed it. Now they’ve just gone through with the launch today and they haven’t received any documents at all! They didn’t even say they were processing anything. Another one, OpenLeaks [started by former WikiLeaks collaborators], doesn’t have anything either. So it goes to show that people may be saying it’s a new era of leaking, but that’s still far from clear. Outside of al Jazeera’s “Palestine Papers,” I’m not sure that anything new has leaked in recent months.

MB: There’s been a lot said about the ways in which WikiLeaks has transformed traditional approaches to journalism. Less remarked upon are the ways in which WikiLeaks itself has changed since its creation, if any. Is there any sense in which you think WikiLeaks has evolved in the period between Collateral Murder and the current flood of cable documents? Have its own methods and standards changed at the same time that it’s been driving changes in the old media establishments?

Mitchell: What’s interesting is that WikiLeaks, at least until “Collateral Murder,” and even afterwards, was not a household name. In some ways, their history is much more varied and interesting in the three years before “Collateral Murder.” They had a lot of different leaks, from the contents of Sarah Palin’s Yahoo! email account to Scientology documents, and a bunch of other interesting things. Then suddenly, there was allegedly one gigantic leak—which included the “Collateral Murder” video, the Iraq and Afghan war logs, and of course the Cablegate documents. As a result, this past year has been totally unlike the past three or four years for WikiLeaks. One gigantic leak got them massive attention and partnerships with the New York Times, the Guardian and other leading news outlets. This is most apparent in the way we talk about WikiLeaks itself, in terms of Assange. I presume that before it probably was an organization comprised of a bunch of different people and Assange wasn’t so much of a point man. Whether it’s because of the nature of these recent leaks, or because the backlash, Assange has become WikiLeaks. He seems to be person who’s doing everything. I mean, just go to the WikiLeaks main site, and there you’ll see a big picture of him at the top! Assange can say, “Oh, it’s not just me,” all he likes, but there’s his face on the main page. So I think that’s quite different. Which raises the question of how many people actually are working for the organization, how much money they have, whether they can actually get stuff out. The Bank of America documents, for example, still aren’t out. Rudolph Elmer gave them the CDs and that doesn’t seem close to being released. This creates room for other organizations, but they haven’t been coming out with stuff either.

In terms of working with the media, it’s fascinating to chart the partnerships with these big media groups and particularly how these media establishments eventually turned on them. A lot of people will blame Assange for that and will argue that it didn’t necessarily have to play out in this way. The Guardian, particularly, always seems to emphasize the importance of WikiLeaks even while they have had their problems with Assange, but the New York Times…not so much. The Times keeps slamming Assange, relentlessly, while continuing to quote from the cables in their news coverage. And that’s the thing! On any given day, the Times or the Washington Post will be ripping Assange and the organization on the opinion page but quoting from WikiLeaks on the front page! You’ll have three different stories referring to “diplomatic cables,” routinely. And often crucially. So it makes it interesting to cover. They may want to step away from them, but they can’t resist quoting from this stuff.

MB: That’s what seems to me most important about the book, that it cuts through the sensationalism surrounding WikiLeaks and offers a clear timeline of events.

Mitchell: That’s one of its values. Without any of the fanfare, it just lays out what happened without analyzing it to death: here’s how it started, here’s how it was covered at the time.

MB: There’s been a parade of WikiLeaks books over the past few months but yours was the first. It’s also clear that your book has a much narrower focus than the others, namely the phenomenon of WikiLeaks itself rather than controversies surrounding Assange. How did that idea come about? What did you intend to accomplish? What do you want readers to take away from it?

Mitchell: By the time Cablegate was way under way, WikiLeaks was getting a lot of attention, Assange was getting a lot of attention, God help us, but people still didn’t really know what had happened over the previous year. In some ways, Cablegate is actually a little less interesting to me, because I’ve always had an interest in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wars and the media have always been my primary subject of interest, so it was natural that I was really interested in everything WikiLeaks did before Cablegate. I felt that people had forgotten what happened before Cablegate, and that it was criminal that all this incredible stuff came out about the wars, and the media just turned the page. So I wanted to tell a story of the whole year, not just Cablegate but the other three quarters of the year as well, which meant that I myself had to go back and look at the coverage, what had been written. It was good for me because I had an opportunity to brush up on it all.

I sensed that there would be a bunch of books coming out, but that they would largely focus on Assange, his legal case, and his dealings with the newspapers. But I didn’t think there was going to be clear history. So it seemed to me that a clear laying-out of everything that had happened would be valuable, and especially if it came out quickly so people could have it ready as more and more coverage of the situation piled up.

MB: You close the book on a hopeful note by discussing the convergence between new and old media, and the expectation that this will create a stronger journalistic project in the future. If you had to guess, how would you sketch out the contours of this new journalistic project? In other words, do you think that recent efforts by the NYT and others to create in-house drop boxes for leaked documents will ultimately be successful, or will independent leakers always attract the juiciest stuff, or both?

Mitchell: It’s hard to say. It’s unclear whether this supposed deluge of leaks is actually going to happen. The assumption has been, like we discussed before, that we would be seeing leaks from all these different quarters. It’s also unclear whether the mainstream media is going to try to control the flow of information. We’ve seen some of this with the New York Times which announced that it is studying possibilities for their own portal, which would put them back in the role of gatekeepers. Cablegate has been educational for a lot of people, that’s for sure. Even for WikiLeaks: they were willing to give up their old way of doing business which was to dump out there whatever it was they had and then let the media cover those things it wanted to cover. This time, they held back and let the paper do the dissemination. So in this way, the papers are still the gatekeepers. They choose what they will focus on, what comes out and when, how much time they are willing to devote to it, how many people they will put on it. They also divvied up between themselves what each paper was doing. In a telling moment, it was either Bill Keller or one of his top people who was asking [the Times staff] “Why didn’t we have any cables on Egypt?” And they were told, “Well, we were working on other things and didn’t have time to search the Egypt cables.” So all this stuff is coming out about [Omar] Suleiman and torture and other damning cables and they just hadn’t gotten to it. They had a list of important areas: Egypt probably shouldn’t have been at the top of it, but couldn’t they have gone and done a search through the Egypt cables? Nobody did, apparently.

In any event, they media have still been the gatekeepers. It’s the role they have traditionally played, and it’s the role I think they would still like to play in the future. The idea of working with leaks is still very appealing to them. Having their own portals might be also appealing, but I’m sure they also see the work involved in that. They would probably rather take someone else’s leak and pick and choose, and vet what would be released, what wouldn’t and so on. If there hadn’t been such a falling out between Assange and the Guardian and the Times, I think a lot more people would be saying that this is the model, that as far out as WikiLeaks might seem, they’ve managed to work with these mainstream giants for most of the year in a mutually beneficial relationship. Similarly, we saw the Guardian do it again with al Jazeera in releasing the Palestine Papers. Speaking of which, the Palestine Papers was this gigantic thing for about a week, but then…whatever happened to that? What came out of that? How did that shake things up? See what I mean?

It seems like the new era is still very unclear. I don’t know if places like Huffington Post plan to do much with leaks, if this is in fact the model for the future, or whether the model will be blogging, link aggregators, or whatever. Will we have organizations with enough resources to really plunge into these things? So the real question is how are leaks going to come out in the future, if they come out at all? Dealing with leaks is massively complicated, and the payoff is unclear. We’ve had things that were rolled out—like the war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq—by the New York Times and the impact proved to be not that significant. So are other organizations going to feel it’s worth it to present important information that might not ultimately be reader-friendly? On the other hand, if they could get a list of every woman Charlie Sheen has ever slept with, or proof of all the drugs he’s ever taken, or better, both, that might be one thing. But if the information is going to be about chasing loose nukes and materials around the world—which involves a lot of technical explanation and countries most Americans have never heard of—then it is probably going to be another.

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