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The strange silencing of liberal America

How does political censorship work in liberal societies? When my film Year Zero: the Silent Death of Cambodia was banned in the United States in 1980, the broadcaster PBS cut all contact. Negotiations were ended abruptly; phone calls were not returned. Something had happened. But what? Year Zero had already alerted much of the world to Pol Pot's horrors, but it also investigated the critical role of the Nixon administration in the tyrant's rise to power and the devastation of Cambodia.

Six months later, a PBS official told me: "This wasn't censorship. We're into difficult political days in Washington. Your film would have given us problems with the Reagan administration. Sorry."

In Britain, the long war in Northern Ireland spawned a similar, deniable censorship. The journalist Liz Curtis compiled a list of more than 50 television films that were never shown or indefinitely delayed. The word "ban" was rarely used, and those responsible would invariably insist they believed in free speech.

The Lannan Foundation in Santa Fe, New Mexico, believes in free speech. The foundation's website says it is "dedicated to cultural freedom, diversity and creativity". Authors, film-makers and poets make their way to a sanctum of liberalism bankrolled by the billionaire Patrick Lannan in the tradition of Rockefeller and Ford.

The foundation also awards "grants" to America's liberal media, such as Free Speech TV, the Foundation for National Progress (publisher of the magazine Mother Jones), the Nation Institute and the TV and radio programme Democracy Now!. In Britain, it has been a supporter of the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, of which I am one of the judges. In 2008, Patrick Lannan backed Barack Obama's presidential campaign. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, he is "devoted" to Obama.

On 15 June, I was due in Santa Fe, having been invited to share a platform with the distinguished American journalist David Barsamian. The foundation was also to host the US premiere of my new film, The War You Don't See, which investigates the false image-making of warmakers, especially Obama.

I was about to leave for Santa Fe when I received an email from the Lannan Foundation official organising my visit. The tone was incredulous. "Something has come up," she wrote. Patrick Lannan had called her and ordered all my events to be cancelled. "I have no idea what this is all about," she wrote.

Baffled, I asked that the premiere of my film be allowed to go ahead, as the US distribution largely depended on it. She repeated that "all" my events were cancelled, "and this includes the screening of your film". On the Lannan Foundation website, "cancelled" appeared across a picture of me. There was no explanation. None of my phone calls was returned, nor subsequent emails answered. A Kafka world of not-knowing descended.

The silence lasted a week until, under pressure from local media, the foundation put out a terse statement that too few tickets had been sold to make my visit "viable", and that "the Foundation regrets that the reason for the cancellation was not explained to Mr Pilger or to the public at the time the decision was made". Doubts were cast by a robust editorial in the Santa Fe New Mexican. The paper, which has long played a prominent role in promoting Lannan Foundation events, disclosed that my visit had been cancelled before the main advertising and previews were published. A full-page interview with me had to be pulled hurriedly. "Pilger and Barsamian could have expected closer to a packed 820-seat Lensic [arts centre]."

The manager of The Screen, the Santa Fe cinema that had been rented for the premiere, was called late at night and told to kill all his online promotion for my film. He was given no explanation, but took it on himself to reschedule the film for 23 June. It was a sell-out, with many people turned away. The idea that there was no public interest was demonstrably not true.

more from John Pilger in New Statesman

Obama's duplicity (War Powers Act Edition)

Those attempting to defend President Obama's claimed legal power to involve the military in the Libya War without Congressional approval have numerous problems; none is more significant than candidate Obama's own clear statement to the Boston Globe's Charlie Savage in late 2007 on this matter. In response to being asked whether "the president ha[s] constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress" -- "specifically . . . the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites" -- Obama replied: "the President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." Note that Obama wasn't being asked whether the President has unilateral authority to order a ground invasion or a full-scale war, but merely the limited, "strategic bombing" of Iran's nuclear sites, and he replied decisively in the negative by invoking a very clear restriction on presidential authority to order military action without Congress.

Yesterday, State Department adviser Harold Koh testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee regarding the war in Libya. The Committee had also requested the appearance of top lawyers from the Justice and Defense Departments -- who, contrary to Koh, told the President that he was violating the War Powers Resolution by waging war without Congressional approval -- but the Most Transparent Administration Ever refused to produce them, instead sending only the State Department lawyer who told the President what he wanted to hear: that he did indeed have this unilateral power. Koh was confronted with candidate Obama's 2007 statement that directly contradicts the White House's current position, and Koh did the only thing he could do: insist that the Constitutional Scholar's view back then were "not legally correct" and was "too limited a statement," and that he'd be "very surprised if that's [Obama's] position" today.

In other words, said the President's designated legal spokesman, what Obama the Candidate said on this crucial issue when trying to persuade Democrats to nominate him was wrong and is now officially repudiated. Let's be clear about how significant --- and typical -- this is.

Obama's late 20o7 statements about executive power were not some off-the-cuff remarks about an ancillary issue. Rather, they were part of a statement he prepared in which he cited numerous key legal advisers (Cass Sunstein, Greg Craig, Laurence Tribe, and Jeh Johnson [now the DoD General Counsel who told him he must comply with the WPR]). More importantly, the questionnaire he was answering was exclusively about executive power: one of the central concerns for Democratic voters in the Bush era. In the questionnaire, Obama himself explained why these issues -- and his answers -- were so vital:

These are essential questions that all the candidates should answer. Any President takes an oath to, “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." The American people need to know where we stand on these issues before they entrust us with this responsibility -- particularly at a time when our laws, our traditions, and our Constitution have been repeatedly challenged by this Administration.

Obama himself urged voters to pay attention to the candidates' answers on executive power and to rely on them before deciding whom to "entrust" with the responsibility of the awesome powers of the Oval Office. I certainly agreed with Obama back then.

much more from Glenn Greenwald at

Nuclear Chemistry: A Primer

Preamble: The more we humans learn about how to manipulate the matter and energy of the world, the more important it is that some critical number of us have, at least, a rudimentary understanding of what we are doing and the magnitudes involved. My own experience with nuclear chemistry and its consequences is that of an interested layman. I have taught chemistry, but claim to be neither a chemist or physicist. I am claiming, however, that the application of thoughtful interest, time and effort can educate a person sufficiently to understand the issues of living in the present world. A certain amount of what appears, at first, to be tedious and arcane learning may be required, but it pays off in the end by serving as the basis of understanding, the essential basis of self-protection and sound social action.

Pete Rose’s birthday. Lindsey Lohan’s arrest record. The half-life of an isotope. It is all just numbers and stuff! But the last one can give you a tool to know when you are being lied to about matters of life and death; that is, if you want to know when you are being lied to.

The world, as our senses perceive it, is made of the naturally occurring elements – roughly 92 elements with a couple of them in a sort of grey area because of that half-life thing. 1 An element has two distinctly different sets of properties depending on what parts of the atom of that element are being considered: chemical properties and nuclear properties. Chemical properties have to do with how the element interacts with other elements. Two or more elements may combine to make a compound; and so the many elements can combine to form the millions of different substances that make up the stuff of our world. 2

But at the center of each atom of each element is the nucleus or a core where the greatest mass of the element is contained. The number of protons, positively charged particles, in the nucleus determines what kind of element it is: oxygen has 8 protons, iron has 26 protons, uranium has 92 protons. Also in the nucleus are neutrons, particles much like protons with no electrical charge; it is the architecture of the proton/neutron structure that determines whether the nucleus will be strong like a well-made and mortared brick wall or easily disturbed like a pile of poorly stacked bricks. This structure of the nucleus has basically nothing to do with the chemical properties of the element.

Imagine a large parking lot with a thousand piles of bricks, poorly stacked. The first day you look at the lot, all the piles are intact. After several days (weeks) you notice that some bricks have fallen from some of the piles. After several years many of the piles have lost their original structure. It is easy to imagine that in a few hundred years, the piles would be bumps in a field of bricks. If, rather than piles, the bricks had been made into solid walls they would be unchanged in that length of time. This is the difference between an unstable atomic nucleus and a stable one.

more from Biologist James Keye at Dissident Voice

A kindred spirit

Like my first intellectual hero Orwell, I've been a relatively independent thinker all my life--going back, actually, to my childhood--and I have some scars to prove it. Yet while it can be very comfortable to be in the minority, it is extremely difficult, I think, to stick to one's opinions with no support whatever. Orwell obviously thought so too. That's the point of the climax of 1984, when O'Brien terrorizes Winston not only into giving up his political apostasy, but even to betraying Julia. In the end Winston winds up loving Big Brother because he has no one else to love. No one has ever explored the Freudian implications of all this effectively, to my knowledge, but that's a story for another time.

Now for some years now, and with increasing frequency, I've been talking about the decline of rationality in our civilization. I still haven't been able to bring myself to read the book I bought years ago detailing a similar process in the early Christian era, perhaps because I'm too afraid of what I might find, but I think about this almost every day. To paraphrase Orwell once again, the freedom to say that two plus two equals four is once again under threat. So it was very comforting to pick up the current New York Review of Books a few days ago and read a most interesting article by George Soros, "My Philanthropy," beating the same drum.

I have never met Soros, although I believe my father, a former Ambassador to Hungary, knew this most prominent Hungarian-American fairly well. He does not seem to be aware of generational theory but his life bears a most interesting relation to it. Born apparently in 1930, he belongs to a small minority who actually can live through at least parts of not one, but two great world crises. As he explains, he was 13 when the Nazis brought their form of irrational terror to Hungary, and only his father's ingenuity saved him and most of his family. He made it to the United States during the High, in the 1950s and 1960s, when the prestige of science and rationality was at its height. (These of course were the years of my own childhood.) But now, for the last forty years of his life, although his own insights into the world economy have made him one of the wealthiest men in the world, he has watched the steady erosion of rationality in public life, especially in his adopted nation the United States. And, not surprisingly, he is profoundly disturbed by it.

read Davis Kaiser's full post on his blog History Unfolding

"No Shred of Evidence" Iran Building Nukes

The former Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA) said in a new published report that he had not seen "a shred of evidence" that Iran was "building nuclear-weapons facilities and using enriched materials."

Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient who spent 12 years at the IAEA, told investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, "I don't believe Iran is a clear and present danger. All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran."

El Baradei, who is now a candidate for the presidency of Egypt, added, "The core issue is mutual lack of trust. I believe there will be no solution until the day that the United States and Iran sit down together to discuss the issues and put pressure on each other to find a solution."

El Baradei's remarks are contained in an article by Hersh titled "Iran And The Bomb," published in the June 6th issue of The New Yorker magazine.

Hersh points out that the last two U.S. National Intelligence Estimates (N.I.E.s) on Iranian nuclear progress "have stated that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran has made any effort to build the bomb since 2003."

An N.I.E. Report supposedly represents the best judgment of the senior offices from all the major American intelligence agencies.

The latest report, which came out this year and remains highly classified, is said by Hersh to reinforce the conclusion of the last N.I.E. Report of 2007, that "Iran halted weaponization in 2003."

A retired senior intelligence officer, speaking of the latest N.I.E. Report, told Hersh, "The important thing is that nothing substantially new has been learned in the last four years, and none of our efforts---informants, penetrations, planting of sensors---leads to a bomb."

more at Counterpunch

Concentration, Manipulation and Margin Calls

Over the past 25 years the financial markets of the world have become highly concentrated in the intermediation of a handful of firms, and regulation has been harmonised in the interests of these few firms. As Adam Smith - that great proponent of free markets - cogently observed:

“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

Sadly, these few global firms have been for some time in "a conspiracy against the public", and have subverted the organs of public governance and the infrastructure of the financial markets to their purposes. Regulators and legislatures have done what they were asked to do in rubber stamping the policies that promoted further concentration, assured the whole time that it would result in "efficient markets", when the reality has been entirely otherwise. Exchanges were demutualised, and their new owners installed electronic trading systems to a common design, with provision for co-located HFT servers right next to the exchange's boxes to better front run their client orders. Clearinghouses were demutualised, and their new owners installed common margin algorithms and collateral rules that created a liquidity bias in their favour, reinforcing their control of global liquidity. Regulators liberalised over-the-counter markets, off-exchange trading and shadow banking so that the real trade flows that drive global markets occur well out of sight or supervision.

Four global banks are intermediaries in 85 percent of OTC derivatives transactions. The same banks dominate prime brokerage. The same banks own large equity interests in the now demutualised exchanges, clearinghouses and even warehouses of the global markets. Naturally, the same banks dominated underwriting of securitised assets. The implications have scarcely been grasped of what this portends in terms of the information asymmetries and the opportunity to manipulate markets without risk.

more from London Banker

What lies Behind Netanyahu’s Bluster on ’1967 Borders’

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s high dudgeon over the world community’s demand that Israel return more or less to ’1967 borders’ plays to two audiences, his domestic constituency among far rightwing ‘Greater Israel’ parties intent on usurping Palestinian land, and his American constituency among the third or so of US Jews who oppose trading land for peace.

For the rest of us in the US, being yoked to Netanyahu’s angry expansionism is like being forced to date Charlie Sheen. It won’t do our own reputation any good, and it won’t rescue him from his self-destructiveness.

The ’1967′ borders are actually those that obtained before Israel launched its 1967 ‘Six-Day War’ on Syria, Jordan and Egypt. (There is no doubt that Israel launched this war, and that its aggressiveness with Syria in the previous six months contributed mightily to the tensions that led to it.)

The reason Israel has to go back to 1967 borders is that the annexation of territory from a neighbor through warfare is illegal according to the United Nations Charter, which is a treaty to which Israel and the United States are both signatories. ‘Greater Israel’ apologists attempt to get out of this difficulty by saying that countries used to conquer land away from their neighbors all the time. This is a bogus argument, since countries used to do a lot of things, including sponsor the slave trade; Britain even insisted on China allowing the sale of opium in the early 19th century. The world changed when World War II ended and the countries of the world established the United Nations to forestall any recrudescence of Axis techniques of conquest and rule. If Israel does not believe in the UN Charter, it should renounce its UN membership.

It is not just the UN Charter. The Hague Agreement of 1907 and the Geneva Convention of 1949 forbid a power occupying enemy territory in war time from annexing it or in any way changing the life ways of its people.

more from Juan Cole

Methane Levels 17 Times Higher in Water Wells Near Hydrofracking Sites, Study Finds

A study by Duke University researchers has found high levels of leaked methane in well water collected near shale-gas drilling and hydrofracking sites. The scientists collected and analyzed water samples from 68 private groundwater wells across five counties in northeastern Pennsylvania and New York.

“At least some of the homeowners who claim that their wells were contaminated by shale-gas extraction appear to be right,” says Robert B. Jackson, Nicholas Professor of Global Environmental Change and director of Duke’s Center on Global Change.

Hydraulic fracturing, also called hydrofracking or fracking, involves pumping water, sand and chemicals deep underground into horizontal gas wells at high pressure to crack open hydrocarbon-rich shale and extract natural gas.

The study found no evidence of contamination from chemical-laden fracking fluids, which are injected into gas wells to help break up shale deposits, or from “produced water,” wastewater that is extracted back out of the wells after the shale has been fractured.

The peer-reviewed study of well-water contamination from shale-gas drilling and hydrofracking appears this week in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We found measurable amounts of methane in 85 percent of the samples, but levels were 17 times higher on average in wells located within a kilometer of active hydrofracking sites,” says Stephen Osborn, postdoctoral research associate at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. The contamination was observed primarily in Bradford and Susquehanna counties in Pennsylvania.

Water wells farther from the gas wells contained lower levels of methane and had a different isotopic fingerprint.

more from Science Daily

Ding Dong Osama's Dead Redux

Great. Osama's dead. Good job to my former compatriots in tier one. Unfortunately, Osama may have already won strategically (see Boyd on al Qaeda's Grand Strategy for more) by the time they got to him. How? He was able to cause an over reaction whereby the US did serious harm to itself. Here's the run down. You decide.

$3 Trillion in expense and thousands of lives fighting two optional wars that helped plunge the US gov't in fiscal crisis. Osama's attack made it possible for defense and homeland security spending to skyrocket to levels not seen since the darkest depths of the cold war (where we were in a struggle with a global superpower). The US now spends as much on defense as the rest of the world combined with little expectation that this spending will be reduced.

Osama was able to force the US into creating a masssive internal security apparatus (the Homeland Security Department) that is still growing rapidly. It now represents the largest internal security market in the world and is a hefty tax on all productive economic activity.

A perpetual state of emergency has been declared in the US. Liberties have been suspended indefinitely. Technological scanning of communications and data is not under any meaningful oversight. Anybody can be held indefinitely w/o trial or commication. Anbody can be tortured through rendition. The President can even designate any American an enemy combatant (a list of people we can expect to see grow rapidly over the next decade), which means that they can be killed on sight w/o trial or due process.

So, my question to you is: who won?

John Robb

In bin Laden killing, media – as usual – regurgitates false Government claims

Virtually every major newspaper account of the killing of Osama bin Laden consists of faithful copying of White House claims. That's not surprising: it's the White House which is in exclusive possession of the facts, but what's also not surprising is that many of the claims that were disseminated yesterday turned out to be utterly false. And no matter how many times this happens -- from Jessica Lynch's heroic firefight against Iraqi captors to Pat Tillman's death at the hands of Evil Al Qaeda fighters -- it never changes: the narrative is set forever by first-day government falsehoods uncritically amplified by establishment media outlets, which endure no matter how definitively they are disproven in subsequent days.

Yesterday, it was widely reported that bin Laden "resisted" his capture and "engaged in a firefight" with U.S. forces (leaving most people, including me, to say that his killing was legally justified because he was using force). It was also repeatedly claimed that bin Laden used a women -- his wife -- has a human shield to protect himself, and that she was killed as a result. That image -- of a cowardly through violent-to-the-end bin Laden -- framed virtually every media narrative of the event all over the globe. And it came from many government officials, principally Obama's top counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan.

Those claims have turned out to be utterly false.

more from Glenn Greenwald

Unsafe at Any Dose

SIX weeks ago, when I first heard about the reactor damage at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, I knew the prognosis: If any of the containment vessels or fuel pools exploded, it would mean millions of new cases of cancer in the Northern Hemisphere.

Many advocates of nuclear power would deny this. During the 25th anniversary last week of the Chernobyl disaster, some commentators asserted that few people died in the aftermath, and that there have been relatively few genetic abnormalities in survivors’ offspring. It’s an easy leap from there to arguments about the safety of nuclear energy compared to alternatives like coal, and optimistic predictions about the health of the people living near Fukushima.

But this is dangerously ill informed and short-sighted; if anyone knows better, it’s doctors like me. There’s great debate about the number of fatalities following Chernobyl; the International Atomic Energy Agency has predicted that there will be only about 4,000 deaths from cancer, but a 2009 report published by the New York Academy of Sciences says that almost one million people have already perished from cancer and other diseases. The high doses of radiation caused so many miscarriages that we will never know the number of genetically damaged fetuses that did not come to term. (And both Belarus and Ukraine have group homes full of deformed children.)

Nuclear accidents never cease. We’re decades if not generations away from seeing the full effects of the radioactive emissions from Chernobyl.

As we know from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it takes years to get cancer. Leukemia takes only 5 to 10 years to emerge, but solid cancers take 15 to 60. Furthermore, most radiation-induced mutations are recessive; it can take many generations for two recessive genes to combine to form a child with a particular disease, like my specialty, cystic fibrosis. We can’t possibly imagine how many cancers and other diseases will be caused in the far future by the radioactive isotopes emitted by Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Doctors understand these dangers. We work hard to try to save the life of a child dying of leukemia. We work hard to try to save the life of a woman dying of metastatic breast cancer. And yet the medical dictum says that for incurable diseases, the only recourse is prevention. There’s no group better prepared than doctors to stand up to the physicists of the nuclear industry.

Still, physicists talk convincingly about “permissible doses” of radiation. They consistently ignore internal emitters — radioactive elements from nuclear power plants or weapons tests that are ingested or inhaled into the body, giving very high doses to small volumes of cells. They focus instead on generally less harmful external radiation from sources outside the body, whether from isotopes emitted from nuclear power plants, medical X-rays, cosmic radiation or background radiation that is naturally present in our environment.

more from Helen Caldicott in the NY Times

Great Seed Robbery

Seed sovereignty is the foundation of food sovereignty. Seed freedom is the foundation of food freedom.

The seed, the source of life, the embodiment of our biological and cultural diversity, the link between the past and the future of evolution, the common property of past, present and future generations of farming communities who have been seed breeders, is today being stolen from the farmers and being sold back to us as “propriety seed” owned by corporations like the US-headquartered Monsanto.

Under pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office, various state governments are signing MoUs (memorandums of understanding) with seed corporations to privatise our rich and diverse genetic heritage. For example, the government of Rajasthan has signed seven MoUs with Monsanto, Advanta, DCM-Shriram, Kanchan Jyoti Agro Industries, PHI Seeds Pvt. Ltd, Krishidhan Seeds and J.K. Agri Genetics.

The Rajasthan government’s MoU with Monsanto, for example, focuses on maize, cotton, and vegetables (hot pepper, tomato, cabbage, cucumber, cauliflower and water melon). Monsanto controls the cottonseed market in India and globally. Monsanto also controls 97 per cent of the worldwide maize market and 63.5 per cent of the genetically-modified (GM) cotton market. DuPont, in fact, had to initiate anti-trust investigations in the US because of Monsanto’s growing seed monopoly. Sixty Indian seed companies have licensing arrangements with Monsanto, which has the intellectual property on Bt. cotton.

In addition, Monsanto has cross-licensing arrangements with BASF, Bayer, DuPont, Sygenta and Dow to share patented, genetically-engineered seed traits with each other. The giant seed corporations are not competing with each other. They are competing with peasants and farmers over the control of the seed supply. And, in effect, monopolies over seed are being established through mergers and cross-licensing arrangements.

Monsanto, which controls 95 per cent of the cottonseed market, has pushed the price of seed from `7 per kg to `3,600 per kg, with nearly half being royalty payments. It was extracting `1,000 crores per annum as royalty from Indian farmers before Andhra Pradesh sued it in the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission.

The commodified seed is ecologically incomplete and ruptured at two levels: First, it does not reproduce itself, while, by definition, seed is a regenerative resource. Genetic resources are thus, through technology, transformed from a renewable into a non-renewable resource. Second, it does not produce by itself; it needs the help of purchased inputs. And, as the seed and chemical companies merge, the dependence on inputs will increase.

more from Vandana Shiva at Food Freedom

TomTom, Apple and the Security-GPS Complex

TomTom, the maker of a popular Global Positioning Device that helps drivers navigate their way in unknown territory, sold its data to the Dutch government. Dutch police requisitioned the data, and used it to set up speed traps for motorists! In other words, TomTom may as well have been spying on people for the government and police and advising the latter how best to stick it to them with nuisance traffic tickets. TomTom’s data did not reveal individual identities, but it still was a form of surveillance for the state on large numbers of individuals.

This gathering of information about your whereabouts via GPS by private corporations who then share it with the government or allow the government easy access to it, is a major threat to individual privacy.

Apple on Wednesday (way too late!) denied collecting data at its own servers on the movements of its iPhone and iPad custormers using ios 4. But it admitted that it had installed a database file on all such devices that has been tracking the whereabouts of its customers and storing that information unencrypted since last summer. It turns out that Google/ Android smartphones do much the same thing.

It is just wrong that Apple did not tell its customers it was creating such a long-term database, unencrypted, on both the device and on the computer on which it is backed up. (Consumers can encrypt the back-up file, but had never been prompted to do so). Apparently Apple intends to ensure in the next operating system upgrade that customers can opt out of being involuntarily tracked on their own devices.

Police, unlike the consumers, have known about these databases for some time and have access to devices that will easily extract and display it. Given that courts have held that border agents can search computers at will, it is difficult to see why they couldn’t also search smartphones, which means anyone who travels abroad and back could be forced to surrender to the government a database of their movements for the past year. Without a warrant and with no reason given.

more from Juan Cole

Newly leaked documents show the ongoing travesty of Guantanamo

Numerous media outlets -- The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Telegraph, and NPR, among others – last night published classified files on more than 700 past and present Guantanamo detainees. The leak was originally provided to WikiLeaks, which then gave them to the Post, NPR and others; the NYT and The Guardian claim to have received them from “another source” (WikiLeaks suggested the “other source” was Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a former WikiLeaks associate who WikiLeaks claims took, without authorization, many WikiLeaks files when he left).

The documents reveal vast new information about these detainees and, in particular, the shoddy and unreliable nature of the “evidence” used (both before and now) to justify their due-process-free detentions. There are several points worth noting about all this:

(1) Given that multiple media outlets have just published huge amounts of classified information, it is more difficult than ever to distinguish between WikiLeaks and, say, the NYT or the Post under the law. How could anyone possibly justify prosecuting WikiLeaks for disseminating classified information while not prosecuting these newspapers who have done exactly the same thing? If Dianne Feinstein, the DOJ and Newt Gingrich are eager to prosecute WikiLeaks for “espionage” – and they are – how can that not also sweep up these media outlets?

(2) Once again we find how much we now rely on whistleblowers in general – and WikiLeaks and (if he did what’s accused) Bradley Manning in particular – to learn the truth and see the evidence about what the world’s most powerful factions are actually doing. WikiLeaks is responsible for more newsworthy scoops over the last year than all media outlets combined: it’s not even a close call. And if Bradley Manning is the leaker, he has done more than any other human being in our lifetime to bring about transparency and shine a light on what military and government power is doing.

(3) The difference among the various newspapers in how these leaks are being presented is stark, predictable and revealing. The Guardian emphasizes exactly what is most important about these documents: how oppressive is this American detention system, how unreliable the evidence is on which the accusations are based, and how so many people were put in cages for years without any justification

more from Glenn Greenwald at

Cluster bomb hypocrisy

I've been hearing and reading a drumbeat of stories about Libyan forces using cluster bombs against Libyan rebels, and it may well be true, although the Libyan government denies it. But let's consider. TV reports and many press reports have only talked of "cluster bombs" being used. But in a handful of print sources, we find that the total number claimed to be used so far is...four (with 21 submunitions each, for a total of 84 submunitions). Not exactly a major development. Furthermore, while many of the news items I've heard and read talk about how cluster bombs are banned in many countries, only one (I can't remember where I read it) actually named the countries that have not renounced their use, countries which include not only Libya, but the United States and Israel. I guess using cluster bombs wouldn't sound so bad if the reports mentioned that they aren't even prohibited from use by the good old U.S. of A.

And the coverage itself is interesting. Needless to say, there hasn't been one word reminding viewers and readers that the U.S. and U.K. used 1400 cluster bombs in Yugoslavia in 1999, with at least 100 civilians dying post-"war" after coming in contact with the unexploded bombs. Nor has there been one word about the massive use of cluster bombs by Israel in Lebanon in 2006, with an estimated 4.6 million "bomblets" which have killed over 200 people since the assault ended. 90% of those munitions were fired in the last three days of the war, in an act which can only be regarded as one of the most massive war crimes ever committed.

Here's something else to note. While Israel was regularly firing cluster bombs during their assault on Lebanon, and while the phenomenon of the unexploded bombs and their consequences was covered by the U.S. corporate media after the war ended, while the war was going on a paper like the Washington Post ran not a single story mentioning cluster bombs. Contrast that to what's happening in Libya today where, on the sketchiest of evidence, and on the basis of alleged use of cluster bombs which is quite literally dwarfed by the number used by Israel against Lebanon and the U.S./U.K. against Yugoslavia, the media is already filled with such stories.

left i on the news

and directly related, this from Philip Weiss

Three Myths of Israel’s Insecurity And Why They Must Be Debunked

Here are the Three Sacred Commandments for Americans who shape the public conversation on Israel:

1. For politicians, especially at the federal level: As soon as you say the word “Israel,” you must also say the word “security” and promise that the United States will always, always, always be committed to Israel’s security. If you occasionally label an action by the Israeli government “unhelpful,” you must immediately reaffirm the eternal U.S. commitment to Israel’s security.

2. For TV talking heads and op-ed pundits: If you criticize any policies or actions of the Israeli government, you must immediately add that Israel does, of course, have very real and serious security needs that have to be addressed.

3. For journalists covering the Israel-Palestine conflict for major American news outlets: You must live in Jewish Jerusalem or in Tel Aviv and take only occasional day trips into the Occupied Territories. So your reporting must inevitably be slanted toward the perspective of the Jews you live among. And you must indicate in every report that Jewish Israeli life is dominated by anxiety about security.

U.S. opinion-shapers have obeyed the Three Commandments scrupulously for decades. As a result, they’ve created an indelible image of Israel as a deeply insecure nation. That image is a major, if often overlooked, factor that has shaped and continues to shape Washington’s policies in the Middle East and especially the longstanding American tilt toward Israel.

much more from Ira Chernus via Lobelog

Tragedy of Errors

Nearly three miles above the rugged hills of central Afghanistan, American eyes silently tracked two SUVs and a pickup truck as they snaked down a dirt road in the pre-dawn darkness.

The vehicles, packed with people, were 3 1/2 miles from a dozen U.S. special operations soldiers, who had been dropped into the area hours earlier to root out insurgents. The convoy was closing in on them.

At 6:15 a.m., just before the sun crested the mountains, the convoy halted.

"We have 18 pax [passengers] dismounted and spreading out at this time," an Air Force pilot said from a cramped control room at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, 7,000 miles away. He was flying a Predator drone remotely using a joystick, watching its live video transmissions from the Afghan sky and radioing his crew and the unit on the ground.

The Afghans unfolded what looked like blankets and kneeled. "They're praying. They are praying," said the Predator's camera operator, seated near the pilot.

By now, the Predator crew was sure that the men were Taliban. "This is definitely it, this is their force," the cameraman said. "Praying? I mean, seriously, that's what they do."

"They're gonna do something nefarious," the crew's intelligence coordinator chimed in.

At 6:22 a.m., the drone pilot radioed an update: "All … are finishing up praying and rallying up near all three vehicles at this time."

The camera operator watched the men climb back into the vehicles.

"Oh, sweet target," he said.


None of those Afghans was an insurgent. They were men, women and children going about their business, unaware that a unit of U.S. soldiers was just a few miles away, and that teams of U.S. military pilots, camera operators and video screeners had taken them for a group of Taliban fighters.

The Americans were using some of the most sophisticated tools in the history of war, technological marvels of surveillance and intelligence gathering that allowed them to see into once-inaccessible corners of the battlefield. But the high-tech wizardry would fail in its most elemental purpose: to tell the difference between friend and foe.

This is the story of that episode. It is based on hundreds of pages of previously unreleased military documents, including transcripts of cockpit and radio conversations obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the results of two Pentagon investigations and interviews with the officers involved as well as Afghans who were on the ground that day.

do read the full, excellent piece by David S. Cloud in the Los Angeles Times

Cowardly, Stupid, and Tragically Wrong

The Obama administration's appalling decision to give Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a military trial.

Today, by ordering a military trial at Guantanamo for 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-defendants, Attorney General Eric Holder finally put the Obama administration's stamp on the proposition that some criminals are "too dangerous to have fair trials."

In reversing one of its last principled positions—that American courts are sufficiently nimble, fair, and transparent to try Mohammed and his confederates—the administration surrendered to the bullying, fear-mongering, and demagoguery of those seeking to create two separate kinds of American law. This isn't just about the administration allowing itself to be bullied out of its commitment to the rule of law. It's about the president and his Justice Department conceding that the system of justice in the United States will have multiple tiers—first-class law for some and junk law for others.

Every argument advanced to scuttle the Manhattan trial for KSM was false or feeble: Open trials are too dangerous; major trials are too expensive; too many secrets will be spilled; public trials will radicalize the enemy; the public doesn't want it.

much more from the excellent Dahlia Lithwick in Slate

Two or Three Things You Need to Know About Afghanistan

Throughout its complex history Afghanistan has been a thorn in the side of most conquerors. Apart from Ahmed Shah Durrani, who was himself an Afghan, no other conqueror has been able to hold this land with its inhospitable terrain and disparate peoples. Why?

The two characteristics of this country cited above are the basic reasons. First, the terrain: the north is divided by a low extension of the Hindu Kush, ideal for guerrilla warfare. The south is desert, and those familiar with the exploits of T. E. Lawrence will be aware that the desert is equally friendly to guerrillas. Division on ethnic lines is also impossible since, however far the ethnic groups might go in their internecine wars, and there is nothing inhuman that they have not been guilty of, they cling very fiercely to their ‘Afghan’ identity and heritage: a fact, apparently incomprehensible to the western mind.

It is essential to dwell briefly on some background, to understand the present. I keep reading learned western authors explaining the concept of Pakhtoonwali, the traditional Pashtun code of honor, their traditional sense of egalitarianism and justice, their respect for elders and tribal and personal honor; all of which observations were indeed true. However, the most learned of historians do not take into account the events of the last three decades to understand the extent of the metamorphosis.

A few aspects of the traditional Pashtun tribal system merit understanding: a) Justice in the tribal system is egalitarian and is meted out irrespective of class, color, creed, religion, wealth, or political influence. Paradoxically, however, only scions of selected families can qualify to become ‘Tribal Elders’ and, therefore, members of the Jirga, The Tribal Council of Elders. Not all members of these can become elders, nor is the membership of the Council hereditary, but those selected are scions of these few families; the ‘Blue Blooded’ families of each tribe.

The Tribal Council elects its leader by tribal customs. Traditionally, the Jirga has acted as the policing authority, prosecution, judge, and jury. Traditionally, the system seldom erred.

Finally, the Cleric, though as equal as any other member of the tribe, under law, was traditionally held in low social esteem. He had no real means of livelihood and, therefore, was dependent on hand-outs from locals, not far above a menial. Since the absence of traditional leaders left a vacuum, it has often been filled by a Cleric, in defiance of traditional tribal custom.

more from Shaukat Qadir at Counterpunch

Major U.S. Banks: Above the Law

If this news story does not prove that banks are effectively above the law, I don’t know what does. The Guardian, in an account yet to be picked up anywhere in the US media (per Google News as of this posting, hat tip readers May S and Swedish Lex) reports that Wachovia was at the heart of one of the world’s biggest money laundering operations, moving $378.4 billion into dollar-based accounts from Mexican casas de cambio, which are currency exchange firms. While these transfers took place over a period of years, the article notes that it equals 1/3 of Mexican GDP. And the resolution?

Criminal proceedings were brought against Wachovia, though not against any individual, but the case never came to court. In March 2010, Wachovia settled the biggest action brought under the US bank secrecy act, through the US district court in Miami. Now that the year’s “deferred prosecution” has expired, the bank is in effect in the clear. It paid federal authorities $110m in forfeiture, for allowing transactions later proved to be connected to drug smuggling, and incurred a $50m fine for failing to monitor cash used to ship 22 tons of cocaine.

much more from the indispensible Yves Smith

Cruel but Not Unusual

In 1985, John Thompson was convicted of murder in Louisiana. Having already been convicted in a separate armed robbery case, he opted not to testify on his own behalf in his murder trial. He was sentenced to death and spent 18 years in prison—14 of them isolated on death row—and watched as seven executions were planned for him. Several weeks before an execution scheduled for May 1999, Thompson's private investigators learned that prosecutors had failed to turn over evidence that would have cleared him at his robbery trial. This evidence included the fact that the main informant against him had received a reward from the victim's family, that the eyewitness identification done at the time described someone who looked nothing like him, and that a blood sample taken from the crime scene did not match Thompson's blood type.

In 1963, in Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court held that prosecutors must turn over to the defense any evidence that would tend to prove a defendant's innocence. Failure to do so is a violation of the defendant's constitutional rights. Yet the four prosecutors in Thompson's case managed to keep secret the fact that they had hidden exculpatory evidence for 20 years. Were it not for Thompson's investigators, he would have been executed for a murder he did not commit.

Both of Thompson's convictions were overturned. When he was retried on the murder charges, a jury acquitted him after 35 minutes. He sued the former Louisiana district attorney for Orleans Parish, Harry Connick Sr. (yes, his dad) for failing to train his prosecutors about their legal obligation to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense. A jury awarded Thompson $14 million for this civil rights violation, one for every year he spent wrongfully incarcerated. The district court judge added another $1 million in attorneys' fees. A panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the verdict. An equally divided 5th Circuit, sitting en banc, affirmed again.

But this week, writing on behalf of the five conservatives on the Supreme Court and in his first majority opinion of the term, Justice Clarence Thomas tossed out the verdict, finding that the district attorney can't be responsible for the single act of a lone prosecutor.

read Dahlia Lithwick's full piece at Slate

and another take from Scott Lemieux in The American Prospect

Radiation: Nothing to see here?

Administration spokespeople continuously claim "no threat" from the radiation reaching the US from Japan, just as they did with oil hemorrhaging into the Gulf. Perhaps we should all whistle "Don't worry, be happy" in unison. A thorough review of the science, however, begs a second opinion.

That the radiation is being released 5,000 miles away isn't as comforting as it seems. The Japanese reactors hold about 1,000 times more radiation than the bombs dropped over Hiroshima.(1) Every day, the jet stream carries pollution from Asian smoke stacks and dust from the Gobi Desert to our West Coast, contributing 10 to 60 percent of the total pollution breathed by Californians, depending on the time of year. Mercury is probably the second most toxic substance known after plutonium. Half the mercury in the atmosphere over the entire US originates in China. It, too, is 5,000 miles away. A week after a nuclear weapons test in China, iodine 131 could be detected in the thyroid glands of deer in Colorado, although it could not be detected in the air or in nearby vegetation.(2)

The idea that a threshold exists or there is a safe level of radiation for human exposure began unraveling in the 1950s when research showed one pelvic x-ray in a pregnant woman could double the rate of childhood leukemia in an exposed baby.(3) Furthermore, the risk was ten times higher if it occurred in the first three months of pregnancy than near the end. This became the stepping-stone to the understanding that the timing of exposure was even more critical than the dose. The earlier in embryonic development it occurred, the greater the risk.

more from Brian Moench, MD at Truthout

What They're Covering Up at Fukushima

Hirose Takashi has written a whole shelf full of books, mostly on the nuclear power industry and the military-industrial complex. Probably his best known book is Nuclear Power Plants for Tokyo in which he took the logic of the nuke promoters to its logical conclusion: if you are so sure that they're safe, why not build them in the center of the city, instead of hundreds of miles away where you lose half the electricity in the wires?

He did the TV interview that is partly translated below somewhat against his present impulses. I talked to him on the telephone today (March 22 , 2011) and he told me that while it made sense to oppose nuclear power back then, now that the disaster has begun he would just as soon remain silent, but the lies they are telling on the radio and TV are so gross that he cannot remain silent.

I have translated only about the first third of the interview (you can see the whole thing in Japanese on you-tube), the part that pertains particularly to what is happening at the Fukushima plants. In the latter part he talked about how dangerous radiation is in general, and also about the continuing danger of earthquakes.

After reading his account, you will wonder, why do they keep on sprinkling water on the reactors, rather than accept the sarcophagus solution [ie., entombing the reactors in concrete. Editors.] I think there are a couple of answers. One, those reactors were expensive, and they just can't bear the idea of that huge a financial loss. But more importantly, accepting the sarcophagus solution means admitting that they were wrong, and that they couldn't fix the things. On the one hand that's too much guilt for a human being to bear. On the other, it means the defeat of the nuclear energy idea, an idea they hold to with almost religious devotion. And it means not just the loss of those six (or ten) reactors, it means shutting down all the others as well, a financial catastrophe. If they can only get them cooled down and running again they can say, See, nuclear power isn't so dangerous after all. Fukushima is a drama with the whole world watching, that can end in the defeat or (in their frail, I think groundless, hope) victory for the nuclear industry. Hirose's account can help us to understand what the drama is about.

Yo and Maeda Mari's interview of Takashi can be read at Counterpunch

Nuclear Apocalypse in Japan

As the sun set over quake-stricken Japan on Thursday 17 March 2011, we learned that four of six Fukushima nuclear reactor sites are irradiating the earth, that the fire is burning out of control at Reactor No. 4′s pool of spent nuclear fuel, that there are six spent fuel pools at risk all told, and that the sites are too hot to deal with. On March 16 Plumes of White Vapor began pouring
from crippled Reactor No. 3 where the spent fuel pool may already be lost. Over the previous days we were told: nothing to worry about. Earthquakes and after shocks, tidal wave, explosions, chemical pollution, the pox of plutonium, contradicting information too obvious to ignore, racism, greed — add these to the original Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Conquest, War, Famine and Death. The situation is apocalyptic and getting worse. This is one of the most serious challenges humanity has ever faced.

The U.S. nuke industry is blaming Japanese experts, distancing itself from the monster it created. Instead of sending nuclear or health experts to assistance the Japanese people in their time of desperate need, US President Barack Obama first sent teams of intelligence agents and FEMA trained military grunts with special security clearances. The Pentagon floated a naval strike force led by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan off the coast of Japan: advertised as a ‘humanitarian’ operation, the strike force was repositioned after it was partially irradiated. Can we trust officials and the corporate news media to tell us what is happening in an honest, timely, transparent manner? Are there precedents to the nuclear crisis in Japan? What is the U.S. defense establishment really concerned with here?

Intentional efforts to downplay or dismiss this catastrophe reveal the immaturity of western civilization and some of our most acute human pathologies, including our worship of technology and our psychopathology of denial. The widespread distortion and cover-ups to protect private profits, national and corporate interests, and to fool the people, are unacceptable. Here are some of the deeper whats and whys and hows — some technical issues and the kinds of questions people need to ask — about the nuclear apocalypse unfolding on planet earth. Prayers are not enough. It’s time to call for the resignation of President Barack Obama, to put politics aside, to take personal action to halt nuclear expansion and defend ourselves from our industrial juggernaut.

I know something about technology, and science: I have Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering — with honors — from one of America’s top Engineering schools. Before 1990 I worked in classified programs for General Electric — the maker of the nuclear reactors now irradiating Japan. I worked at GE Aerospace Electronics Laboratories: low-level classified government programs in communications, radars and missile guidance systems for Ronald Reagan’s infamous Star Wars (Strategic Defence Initiative) programs.

I hope that this observer, Keith Harmon Snow, is mistaken about the gravity of the situation. However, given the predictable appearance of many pro-nuclear experts in the mainstream media, I believe that some balancing is in order. Read Snow's full piece at Dissident Voice

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