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Palestinian Parliamentarian Warns of Humanitarian Disaster in Gaza

June 30th, 2006 - by admin

Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi / The Electronic Intifada & Eugene Bird / CNI – 2006-06-30 22:23:28


Palestinian Parliamentarian Warns of Severe Public Health and Humanitarian Disaster Facing Gaza
Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi / The Electronic Intifada

(June 30, 2006) — Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, medical doctor, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and head of the Palestinian National Initiative, today warned of the public health and humanitarian disaster facing the Gaza Strip following an Israeli military bombardment that began on Wednesday night.

He was speaking from Gaza City, where he has been stranded for 12 days since Israel sealed off Gaza’s borders.

Dr. Barghouthi reported that Israel’s destruction of Gaza’s only electrical power station has left 80 percent of Strip without electricity. A water plant was also bombed by Israel today in the southern city of Rafah.

As a result, water supplies and the sewage system have been critically affected in that they depend entirely on electricity to power water and sewage pumps.

The electricity, water and sewage systems in the Gaza Strip are now currently depending on insufficient local generators to remain partially functional, yet Israel’s closure of Gaza’s borders has meant that there is only enough fuel to last a further 4 days.

Once this fuel runs out, the population of Gaza faces a severe humanitarian disaster, exacerbated by high summer temperatures and overcrowded living conditions. Gaza will find itself without potable water and literally sinking in sewage, which would lead to a severe public health disaster.

In addition, 300,000 of Gaza’s 1.4 million inhabitants live in high-rise apartment buildings which do not have the necessary generators to pump water up, and are therefore completely without water supplies.

The dependence on generators also has negative environmental implications as they produce high levels of pollution.

Dr. Barghouthi appealed to the international community to urgently call on Israel to end its bombardment, to stop the targeting of civilian infrastructure, and to allow for immediate repairs to begin on Gaza’s electricity plant.

He also urged the international community to intervene in order to ensure the immediate supply of fuel, food, and other essential items to the Gaza Strip in order to avert an imminent humanitarian and public health catastrophe.

Collective Punishment Will Not Work
Eugene Bird / CNI

(June 30, 2006) — As usual, most of the American press docily followed the official line from Israel and Washington that the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier a week ago was unprovoked. The fact is that the assassination of a Hamas government official was the proximate cause of the kidnapping.

The assassinated official, Jamal Abu Samhadana, was the head of the Popular Resistance Committees, an organization on the terrorist list of the United States and Israel. He was apparently brought into the Hamas-led Interior Ministry to head the police forces in Gaza.

That happened only two weeks before the kidnapping but neither the press nor the television news made the connection.

The old cycle of assassination, response by the Palestinians, and an official hands-off policy by the United States will lead exactly nowhere. The US refuses to see the Israeli response for what it is, collective punishment, which of course is forbidden under UN conventions and completely lacks common sense in this situation. Worse, we have been down this road so many times with the Israelis, in south Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza.

It seems clear that the first priority for Israel and the U.S. is to topple the Hamas government as soon as possible without undermining Mahmoud Abbas. But everything that Israel has done so far, with tacit approval from the U.S., is arousing and angering the Palestinian people. Even the officials of the PLO were outraged by the mass arrests of 64 duly-elected Hamas officials on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.

Early Wednesday, massive air strikes and sonic booms forced hundreds of Gaza families to abandon their homes seeking safe shelter, as thousands of Israeli troops backed by tanks penetrated the Gaza strip. Israeli warplanes launched missiles at the impoverished coastal strip, destroying the only power station, which left 700,000 people living in Gaza without electricity. The restoration of the power station will take between three to six months at the cost of six to eight million dollars. Humanitarian organizations warn of yet another crisis in Gaza, since all water supply and sewage disposal pipes are powered by electricity or diesel oil, which has also been cut off by Israel. People are deprived from drinking water, cooking, and light.

The Israeli attacks, dubbed “Operation Summer Rains,” are of course an attempt to recover an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was captured last Sunday in an attack that killed two other soldiers.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, condemned the attack as “collective punishment of civilians including women, children, and old people.” Abbas said these attacks minimize his chances in succeeding to negotiate a way out of the crisis, even with the help of Egypt. Olmert refused to negotiate and said, “We won’t hesitate to carry out extreme action to bring Gilad back to his family,” but it is had to see how the collective punishment and the arrest of the Hamas legislators will lead to anything but a continuing crisis regardless of whether or not the soldier is returned safely. Such a continuing crisis at this moment in the Middle East will only lead to another intifada in the Holy Land and a greater burden for the United States to carry in its relations with the Arab and Muslim world. And Israel will not benefit from its overreaction.

The Council for the National Interest is a non-profit, non-partisan grassroots organization founded seventeen years ago by former Congressmen Paul Findley (R-IL) and Pete McCloskey (R-CA) to advocate a new direction for US Middle East policy. CNI seeks to encourage and promote a US foreign policy in the Middle East that is consistent with American values, protects our national interests, and contributes to a just solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as to restore a political environment in America in which voters and their elected officials are free from the undue influence and pressure of a foreign country, namely Israel.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Displaced Children Suffer Depression and Poor Health

June 30th, 2006 - by admin

IRIN Report – 2006-06-30 22:20:36


BAGHDAD (June 28. 2006) — Twelve-year-old Barek Ahmed has been diagnosed as clinically depressed after his family was displaced by violence two months ago. Now living with his relatives in Baghdad, the boy laments the fact that he has left his school and friends behind, and will not be able to join a new school in the capital because of a lack of places so late in the year.

“Every year, I have the best results in my class and each day I felt I was getting closer to my dream to be a doctor,” said Ahmed. “But I have missed out on the current year and couldn’t do my exams because we had to leave our neighbourhood after insurgents threatened my father. I don’t feel excitement about anything now. The only thing I want is to return to studying because it was my dream and they took it from me.”

Ahmed is being treated by Dr. Ibraheem Fatah Youssef, a professor of psychiatry at Baghdad University, who said that every month dozens of children come to him with the same problem: depression caused my lack of school attendance compounded by violence countrywide.

“These children have lost most of their freedom,” said Dr Youssef. “For them, school is the only opportunity they have to run away from all this violence. If they lose that chance, they feel like prisoners in their own homes.”

According to the Ministry of Displacement and Migration, about 40,000 children have been displaced in Iraq due to ongoing sectarian violence since the attack on 22 February of a revered Shi’a shrine in Samarra. Most of them, said the ministry, do not have access to schools, and some of them do not have access to medical care.


“Even if they could go to school, many parents are afraid to let their children go while others have had to run away from their homes, causing children to drop out of schools,” said Sarmad Abdel-Kareem, a senior official in the Ministry of Education. Abdel-Kareem added that 60 percent of displaced children will have to repeat their current year in school, when they return, because of time or examinations missed.

Teachers in Baghdad schools say that those displaced children who return to classes struggle to keep up with their peers and fare poorly in exams. “The students I have who are from displaced families have forgotten a lot of the knowledge they previously had,” said Nawal Izidin, a teacher at a primary school in Mansour district. “They are like babies learning how to write again.”

Dr Youssef said that this was a common phenomenon in Iraq’s schools and warned that with continued displacement occurring, the country’s entire education system will be jeopardised as standards will inevitably fall. “If some students are suffering from depression, not only will it be detrimental to them, but to the rest of their class as the teaching environment becomes more difficult and stressful,” he said.


Another problem that displaced children face is lack of access to medical facilities. Dr Muhammad Jarnon, a clinician at the Children’s Paediatrician Hospital in Baghdad, said that with many families having to move from one place to another, as a result of violence, child health concerns are not a priority.

“Because they cannot afford a doctor or public health services are far away, they wait until a particular problem becomes critical before they act,” Dr Jarnon said, adding that the main illnesses diagnosed in displaced children are malnutrition, water-borne diseases and diarrhoea.

Dr Jarnon said that most of these diseases could be prevented if they were brought to the attention of doctors earlier, but that the real cure to the problem would be to end displacement altogether and ensure that families live in clean and safe places.

“Sometimes medicines are not enough to cure a disease,” said Adel Maruan, a senior official in the Ministry of Health. “We are trying to offer them the best living environments in order to keep diseases at bay, but we have to accept that children have a more delicate immune system and are more prone to catch diseases than adults under these displacement conditions.”

This item comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. All IRIN material may be reposted or reprinted free-of-charge; refer to the copyright page for conditions of use. IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The Next Oil Grab: East Timor

June 29th, 2006 - by admin

BlueGreen Earth Forum – 2006-06-29 23:54:02

=(June 24, 2006) — Any pretence of unbiased reporting about the East Timor coup seems to have gone completely out of the window in the mainstream media. It’s obvious the Australian govenment and media have got their threatened payback against the Alkatiri led government over the negotiation on Timor Sea oil. The East Timorese are not even going to be allowed the small gains they have achieved in the oil rights issue.

Classic divide and conquer techniques have been used to magnify the slight ethnic differences between the Loro Sia (easterners) and Loro Mono (westerners) by the Australian trained leader of 600 army deserters Major Alfredo Reinado who has whipped up a dispute about promotion into the ethnic cleansing of Dili.

The Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri is hounded with one unproven allegation after another while the Foreign/Defence Minister Ramos Horta, the Australians favourite, hob nobs with the army deserters who started the troubles in April. Meanwhile President Xanana Gusmao, who is supposed to uphold the constitution, is having cosy chats on the phone with the deserters leader Major Alfredo Reinardo behind the back of the Prime Minister.

Xanana and Ramos Horta have already claimed the scalps (in one case almost literally) of two of their main political opponents Interior Minister, Rogerio Tiago Lobato, and Defence Minister Roque Rodrigues now they are trying again for Alkatiri.

In what seems a completely one sided version of the last two months events, missing is the attempt on Alkatiri at a press conference by a mob of thirty machete wielding thugs. The murder of six relatives of Rogerio Lobato which appeared to be the start of the second wave of violence at the end of May also is being written out of history. All the emphasis is on the killing of nine police officers who were supporting the deserters and had disarmed under UN protection after a gun battle.

While not pretending this incident was anything but deplorable it seems it was in revenge for the killing of some F-FDTL (loyal to government) soldiers, who were returning from collecting their pay, by the deserters and an ambush by the deserters in Becora that had killed another F-FDTL soldier. One of the people involved at Becora, according to journalist David O’Shea, was Major Reinardo.

The reporting of who the victims are is also very skewed, whilst there has been violence by both sides of the community by far the majority of refugees seem to be people from Los Palos, Baucau and Viqueque according to the UN.

Along with a confusing series of rumours over the last 24 hours about Xanana asking for Alkairi’s resignation the opposition have also sunk to the most basic racism. At a demonstration yesterday they were handing out fliers linking Alkatiri, a Muslim in the mostly Roman Catholic country and a descendent of Yemeni immigrants, with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

“We hate Mari Alkatiri. He is (a) descendent of bin Laden and he is (b) terrorist and communist,” the flier said, also describing him as a “murderer” and “not pure Timorese.” Although no one explained how you can be in al-Qaeda (an organisation originally set up to fight communists) and be a communist at the same time!

It looks as though the final push to get rid of Alkatiri is going on today.

• See Tyneside East Timor Solidarity at http://tets.sdf-eu.org/

www.bluegreenearth.com / www.europeansocialecologyinstitute.org global community, ecological, environmental and social reportage, opinion and analysis + news, views and facts

Fax Reveals US Flew Detainees to Secret European Jails

June 29th, 2006 - by admin

Neil Mackay, Investigations Editor / The Sunday Herald – 2006-06-29 23:50:19


(June 11, 2006) — The intercepted top-secret fax contained information that America never wanted the world to know — that the US was holding war-on-terror captives at clandestine “black site” prisons in eastern Europe.

The fax, datelined November 10, 2005, 8.24pm, was sent by the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, in Cairo, to his ambassador in London. It revealed that the US had detained at least 23 Iraqi and Afghani captives at a military base called Mihail Kogalniceanu in Romania, and added that similar secret prisons were also to be found in Poland, Ukraine, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bulgaria.

The discovery of the fax seriously undermines the US’s denial that it has ever used secret detention facilities, breaching international law. It also adds to the pressure for the release of information on “extraordinary renditions”.

These rendition flights see kidnapped terror suspects taken by the CIA to countries where torture is common, such as Uzbekistan. British intelligence has supported this practice and UK airports, particulary Prestwick, have given CIA jets logistical support.

The Council of Europe last week published the results of its long-running investigation into rendition and found that 14 European countries, including Britain, had colluded with the CIA. It also suggested that secret prisons were operating in eastern Europe, but did not have conclusive proof.

The fax, intercepted by Swiss intelligence, indicates that Egypt has such proof. It is headed: “The Egyptians have access to sources which confirm the existence of American secret prisons”.

Its shocking contents would never have been uncovered if it hadn’t been for a conscientious surveillance officer with the Swiss secret service, stationed at an eavesdropping centre in Zimmerwald, south of Berne.

On November 16, six days after the fax was first sent via satellite from Cairo to London, the officer intercepted it using the Onyx eavesdropping system. The officer marked their personal coded identifier, “wbm”, on the page and put the information down in a COMINT SAT report.

The intercepted fax was given the reference number S160018TER00000115.

The report noted: “The [Egyptian] embassy got the information from its own sources that 23 Iraqi and American citizens have actually been interrogated at the military base Mihail Kogalniceanu close to the [Romanian] city of Constanza at the Black Sea. Similar interrogation centres exist in Ukraine, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bulgaria.”

The fax also referred to “prisoners being transported with American military planes from the base Salt Pit in Kabul to the Polish base Szymany and to the Romanian base on September 21 and 22, 2005.” It then went on to say: “In contradiction to all quoted facts, the Romanians deny the existence of the prisons that are used to interrogate members of al-Qaeda.”

The activities of one secret CIA rendition jet do indicate that captives have been dropped off in Romania. The plane, N313P, a Boeing 737, landed in Timisoara on January 25, 2004 just before midnight after flying from Kabul. It stayed on the runway for just over an hour and then flew on to Palma, Mallorca, where a CIA rendition team stayed in a hotel under fake identities.

Dick Marty, the Swiss senator who led the Council of Europe investigations into renditions, said in his report: “Having eliminated other explanations — including that of a simple logistics flight, as the trip is a part of a well-established renditions circuit — the most likely hypothesis is that the purpose of this flight was to transport one or several detainees from Kabul to Romania.”

Rendition jet N313P also travelled from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to Kabul on September 21, 2003. On September 22, it flew from Kabul to Szymany, a Polish defence ministry airfield. Close by is the Stare Kiejkuty base used by Polish intelligence. CIA jet N313P stayed only 64 minutes before flying to Romania.

“It is possible,” says Marty, “that several detainees may have been transported together on the flight out of Kabul, with some being left in Poland and some being left in Romania.” After leaving Romania, the plane landed in Morocco, where “rendered” captives have been tortured with the knowledge of both British and American intelligence.

Both Poland and Romania deny allowing CIA “black site” prisons to operate on their territory. EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini has warned that any member states caught operating secret jails on behalf of the Americans could have their voting rights suspended.

Russian TV has also accused Ukraine of running a secret CIA prison near Kiev, claiming that an old Soviet site used to store nuclear weapons has been turned into a holding facility where trucks have been seen delivering shipments of people to Ukrainian soldiers.

Copyright 2006 Newsquest (Sunday Herald) Limited. All rights reserved.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Iraq War Backfiring on US: US, Iraqi Forces Clash with Shi’ite Militia

June 29th, 2006 - by admin

The Age & Reuters International – 2006-06-29 23:44:14


Iraq War Backfiring on US, Experts Warn
Bob Deans / The Age

WASHINGTON (June 30, 2006) — The United States is losing its fight against terrorism and the Iraq war is the main reason, more than 80 percent of American terrorism and national security experts have said in a survey.

One expert, former CIA official Michael Scheuer, said the war in Iraq had provided global terrorist groups with a recruiting bonanza and a valuable training ground.

“The war in Iraq broke our back in the war on terror,” said Mr Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris, a book highly critical of the Bush Administration’s anti-terrorism efforts. “It has made everything more difficult and the threat more existential.”

Mr Scheuer, a former CIA counter-terrorism expert, is one of more than 100 national security and terrorism analysts surveyed in the poll by Foreign Policy magazine and the Centre for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank headed by John Podesta, a White House chief of staff in the Clinton administration.

Of the experts surveyed, 45 identified themselves as liberals, 40 said they were moderates and 31 called themselves conservatives. The pollsters weighted the responses so that the percentage results reflected one-third participation by each group.

Asked whether the US was winning the war on terror, 84 per cent said no and 13 per cent answered yes. Asked whether the war in Iraq was helping or hurting the global anti-terrorism campaign, 87 per cent said it was undermining those efforts.

A similar number, 86 per cent, said the world was becoming more dangerous for the US.

The views of the analysts were starkly at odds with those espoused by President George Bush. He has repeatedly expressed confidence in US progress in the anti-terrorism campaign and often asserts that the war to depose Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq is not only a vital part of this mission but that Iraq has become the central front in that campaign.

The public gives Mr Bush higher marks in this effort than the policy experts.

In an ABC News-Washington Post poll last week, 57 per cent of respondents said America’s efforts to fight terrorism were going well; 41 per cent said they were not going well. In the same poll, 59 per cent said the country was safer from terrorism today than it was before the attacks of September 11, 2001, while 33 per cent said the country was less safe.

One participant in the Foreign Policy-Centre for American Progress poll of experts, retired army colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, said the US military deserved credit for actions in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world meant to disrupt terrorist operations.

But he criticised the Bush Administration for what he called an over-reliance on the military in the anti-terrorism campaign. Like many other analysts polled, Colonel Wilkerson stressed the need to increase US diplomacy and other sources of so-called “soft power” to help win Muslim hearts and minds.

“Bombs, bullets and bayonets are not the answer to this problem,” said Colonel Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to Colin Powell while he was the secretary of state during Mr Bush’s first term.

He and Mr Scheuer made their remarks during a panel discussion the poll’s sponsors held to announce their findings.

Copyright © 2006. The Age Company Ltd.

US, Iraqi Forces Clash with Shi’ite Militia

(June 29, 2006) — Iraqi and US troops battled Shi’ite militiamen in a village northeast of Baghdad on Thursday, and witnesses and police said US helicopters bombed orchards to flush out gunmen hiding there.

Iraqi security officials said Iranian fighters had been captured in the fighting, in which a sniper shot dead the commander of an Iraqi quick reaction force and two of his men. They did not say how the Iranians had been identified.

A civilian was also killed and five people were wounded in the clashes. The U.S. military had no immediate comment.

In violence elsewhere, a suicide car bomber rammed into a funeral service for a Shi’ite soldier and killed seven people in the Iraqi northern city of Kirkuk on Thursday, police said.

Deputy police commander Turhan Abdul Rahman said the bomber, who died in the attack, targeted a tent set up for mourners outside the house of an Iraqi soldier killed two days ago.

The blast wounded 25. Oil-rich Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, is an ethnically mixed city claimed by Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen which has seen violence in the past.

The fighting between Iraqi and U.S. troops and Shi’ite militias was taking place in the predominantly Shi’ite village of Khairnabat, outside Baquba, capital of Diyala province.

Local residents reported hearing shooting and explosions.

A bomb in the town’s main market killed 18 people on Monday. On Wednesday, Shi’ite militiamen fired mortars at a Sunni mosque in nearby Miqdadiya, destroying the building and 20 shops.

Police said the mosque attack and other attacks on Sunnis in Khairnabat itself persuaded Sunnis that it would be safer to leave the village. But as a convoy of vehicles was leaving on Thursday, “gunmen surrounded them and started shooting,” a captain in Diyala’s police intelligence unit told Reuters.

Baquba’s quick reaction force, an Interior Ministry unit, responded and clashed with the fighters, the captain said. Iraqi and U.S. reinforcements then arrived and sealed off the village.

Police and witnesses said U.S. helicopters had bombed orchards where militiamen were believed to be hiding under date palms. Police said the bombing continued as night fell.

Iranian Prisoners
The captain and other Interior Ministry sources said the commander of the quick reaction force, Colonel Sami Hussein, and two of his men were killed by a sniper.

No other casualties were reported from the clashes and police said it was not clear how many civilians had been killed or wounded in the initial shooting.

“We captured a number of militants and were surprised to see that some of them were Iranian fighters,” the police intelligence captain said.

An Interior Ministry official, who did not want to be named, also said Iranian gunmen had been captured. Baquba lies 90 km (60 miles) from the Iranian border.

The United States and Britain have accused Shi’ite Iran of meddling in Iraq’s affairs and providing military assistance to Iraq’s pro-government Shi’ite militias. However, there have been few instances of Iranians actually being captured inside Iraq.

Some Iraqis, particularly Sunnis, are quick to label Shi’ite fighters as Iranian agents. And among the militants are Iraqis who grew up in refugee camps in Iran, speak Iranian-accented Arabic and, in some cases, carry Iranian identity papers.

Police have said Shi’ite fighters in the area belong to the Mehdi Army of radical, Iranian-backed cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr’s movement, which staged two uprisings against occupying troops in 2004, denies being behind sectarian violence.

Diyala, where al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed earlier this month, has seen much sectarian violence.

Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has made controlling Shi’ite militia groups, as well as Sunni insurgents, a goal of a national reconciliation plan unveiled on Sunday.

Sunni political leaders dismissed on Thursday reports of significant peace moves from insurgents since Maliki’s speech in parliament.

Several politicians and figures who claim to speak for militant groups said the plan was short on guarantees about curbing Shi’ite guerrillas and on the withdrawal of US troops.

(Additional reporting by Ross Colvin, Mohammed al-Ramahi, Alastair Macdonald, Mussab Al-Khairalla, Ibon Villelabeitia and Hiba Moussa in Baghdad)

© 2006 Reuters Limited

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Pentagon Spying on Antiwar Groups Is Widespread

June 29th, 2006 - by admin

– 2006-06-29 23:38:02


Pentagon Spying on Gay,
Antiwar Groups More Widespread
Than Previously Acknowledged

(June 29, 2006) —Earlier this week, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network released documents showing that the Pentagon conducted surveillance on a more extensive level than first reported late last year. De-classified documents show that the agency spied on “Don’t Ask, Do’t Tell” protests and anti-war protests at several universities around the country. They also show that the government monitored student e-mails and planted undercover agents at least one protest.

But the Pentagon has not released all information on its surveillance activities. The American Civil Liberties Union recently filed a federal lawsuit to force the agency to turn over additional records. The lawsuit charges that the Pentagon is refusing to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests seeking records on the ACLU, the American Friends Service Committee, Greenpeace, Veterans for Peace and United for Peace and Justice, as well as 26 local groups and activists.

Dixon Osburne, co-founder and Executive Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

AMY GOODMAN: Dixon Osburne now joins from us Washington, D.C. He is the Executive Director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Can you talk about what you learned about the Pentagon spying on your organization?

DIXON OSBURNE: Well, the Pentagon has not released any documents suggesting that it has spied on Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. The documents that they’ve released have shown that they have spied on student groups, including student groups at U.C. Santa Clara, the state universities in New York, NYU Law School, and what those documents show is that they were investigating these groups for potential terrorist activity. They even called a gay kiss-in at U.C. Santa Cruz that was trying to protest “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” it was, quote, ?a credible threat of terrorism.?

AMY GOODMAN: And how did you learn exactly what was happening?

DIXON OSBURNE: The story was first reported on NBC News late last year, and it gave us a window into what was going on at the Department of Defense. So at SLDN, we filed FOIAs, Freedom of Information Act requests, with various agencies within the Department of Defense, C.I.A., F.B.I., N.S.A. and other agencies, asking them to release any documents that indicated that they were spying on student groups or lesbian/gay/bisexual student groups around the country.

It was in response to those Freedom of Information Act requests that the Pentagon started very slowly dribbling out a few responses, some last year and now another stack just this past week, confirming that they indeed were investigating various student groups, that they were collecting emails, that they, at least in one case, sent an undercover agent to spy on their protest and determine what was going on at those protests, all under this rubric of trying to thwart terrorism here in the United States.

Instead it’s just an indication of how sweeping this administration’s domestic spying program is. They aren’t focused on terrorism. They’re focused on peaceful demonstrations and people exercising their rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. And so, we are still pressing the Pentagon to release even more documents.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, this is a stunning revelation, because clearly now we’re talking about a much more expanded surveillance of, basically, dissent in the United States under the cover — or peaceful dissent under the cover of continuing to fight the war on terrorism.

DIXON OSBURNE: You’re absolutely right. This administration has said that they are conducting domestic surveillance only to try to identify potential links between people living here and terrorists abroad. And the reality is that that’s not the case, that, in fact, the domestic surveillance program is extremely grand and extremely sweeping. And it is very chilling here in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Dixon Osburne, co-founder and Executive Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. We’re also joined by Ben Wizner, ACLU staff attorney. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network got information under Freedom of Information Act. You’re not having as much luck.

BEN WIZNER: Not yet. I also want to pay my respects to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund. They’ve been out on front on this issue. They put in their FOIA requests early, and they have been able to uncover through that FOIA request some very important information that we’re talking about today. Following up on their requests, ACLU affiliates around country filed a series of FOIA requests on behalf of a whole litany of antiwar and anti-military recruitment groups, some of whom had appeared in the Pentagon database that was released to NBC News.

And we also want to know what kinds of policies and procedures the Pentagon is relying on. How can they possibly think that it’s appropriate for the United States military to be maintaining a database of peaceful protest activities? We’ve not yet been able to get any documents. We filed a lawsuit to enforce that Freedom of Information Act request. We expect that within the next month or two we will begin to receive documents in response to our lawsuit.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the responses to your request, have they been saying that they have no material that meets your request or that they’re precluded, in one way or another, from releasing it?

BEN WIZNER: No, we have not yet gotten the substantive request from the military saying that they don’t have responsive material. Essentially they ignore us until a federal judge requires them to respond to us. But if we were in a functioning democracy, we wouldn’t need FOIA requests to get to the bottom of what’s going on here. The minute that report was leaked to NBC News, the minute NBC News reported that grannies and Quakers and people protesting ?Don?t Ask, Don?t Tell? at law schools were in a Pentagon secret database, there would have been hearings the next week, and Don Rumsfeld and Stephen Cambone would have been dragged up to Capitol Hill, and there would have been a full airing of what was going on. And that really is what’s needed here. I mean, we will find out more information through this FOIA, but Congress’s silence here is really remarkable.

AMY GOODMAN: When you say if we were really functioning in a democracy, what exactly do you mean?

BEN WIZNER: What I mean is that we have not had any meaningful congressional oversight of any of these surveillance activities over the last five or six years. You know, I do know, Amy, I?ve been here on the program talking about what we’ve uncovered through our FOIAs against the F.B.I., F.B.I. surveillance of peaceful protesters. What’s going on with the N.S.A. really is a constitutional crisis, and Congress has yet to play a meaningful role. The reason why the FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act, has taken on such great importance over the last four or five years is that there is no meaningful oversight whatsoever going on on Capitol Hill. And so, our only choice is to get this information, bring it before the public and hope that there’s some pressure on the administration to change its policies.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican, really went after the Bush administration around warrantless spying on Americans, said he was going to subpoena the telecom executives and then totally backed off. He’s a Republican. What about the Democrats?

BEN WIZNER: Well, you know, it takes the Republicans, in order for administration officials to be subpoenaed, in order for documents to be subpoenaed. So whatever the Democratic Party might do if it were in power — and I?m not confident to answer that question — it doesn’t have the power to do anything right now.

AMY GOODMAN: It certainly could make noise.

BEN WIZNER: It could make noise, and I think that it has made some noise. But I?m not here to defend the Democrats. I mean, the point is this is not a partisan question. A president saying that neither the courts nor the Congress has any role in the defense of the country is a constitutional crisis, not a Republican or Democrat issue.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Russ Feingold, among the Democrats, has repeatedly spoken out and obviously opposed the PATRIOT Act, in terms of insisting that this kind of continued government surveillance was unacceptable through our Constitution. But very few other voices, even among the Democrats, have spoken out.

BEN WIZNER: No, there aren’t, and, you know, I?m glad you mentioned the PATRIOT Act, and we rightly celebrate Russ Feingold for being the lone courageous vote against that act that was written in the dead of night and not read by anybody. But what’s so striking about the PATRIOT Act is that the administration, which really demonized Congress for not passing it more quickly, which threatened Congress that the American people wouldn’t be safe unless it got passed right away, they then went ahead and ignored it.

I mean, what is the PATRIOT Act? The PATRIOT Act is an amendment of the FISA law. It makes it easier for the government to get FISA warrants. And while the administration is arguing out of one side of its mouth that it needs the FISA law amended, at the same time it’s completely and secretly ignoring it for years and saying that FISA is unconstitutional now, once its crimes are reported in the public. And so it’s very important that we’re having these discussions on this program. It’s very important that people understand the full scope of the power that the administration is claiming.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think people can do? If the parties aren’t doing it, the elected leaders.

BEN WIZNER: You know, this is a moment of serious accountability for the democracy. And people need to demand it, and not just demand it by replacing people in Congress, but making clear to the people who are in Congress right now that if they don’t rein in the abuses of power in this administration, they’ll be gone.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, we asked the Pentagon to join us on this program, and we weren’t able to get anyone on. The Pentagon did say they shouldn’t have added peace groups to the Talon database.

BEN WIZNER: Well, I?m not sure they said it that clearly. I think, you know, the Pentagon has asked for audits of these databases. But I?ve looked at the documents that have been released under the FOIA so far, and I haven’t seen a document where the Pentagon says straight out that it’s improper to have antiwar protest activity in a database. I do agree that in contrast to, say, the F.B.I., there has been a willingness on the part of the Pentagon take a look at this. And I can assure you that there are people in the military who are very, very uncomfortable with the military being seen as another arm of this administration’s political agenda.

AMY GOODMAN: Last question to Dixon Osburne of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. When you learn you’re being spied on, you how does it affect your work and your group, the servicemembers who work with you?

DIXON OSBURNE: It affects us in at least two ways. First, the majority of Americans oppose “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And they see that the federal government is now spying on them and keeping personal records on them if they are trying to protest “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and that that change in government policy has a very chilling effect on their freedom of speech. Secondly, at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, we are also a legal services organization, and to the extent that the government is spying on us, it really threatens attorney-client confidentiality. So we’re very concerned for our clients if the government is engaged in as broad a domestic spying program as is suggested by these documents.

AMY GOODMAN: And the kind of cases you represent?

DIXON OSBURNE: We assist servicemembers who were hurt by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” These are individuals that, if it is known that they are gay, lesbian or bisexual, they will lose their career in the armed forces. So if the government is keeping a database on the individuals who might be our clients – and we don’t have evidence of that right now — it would be enormously chilling and would be a violation of additional fundamental constitutional rights to an attorney.

AMY GOODMAN: Dixon Osburne, I want to thank you for being with us, co-founder and Executive Director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, joining from us a very wet Washington, D.C. And Ben Wizner, thanks for joining us here in New York with the American Civil Liberties Union.

This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Veteran White House Reporter Turns on ‘Gullible’ Press Pack

June 28th, 2006 - by admin

Andrew Buncombe / The Independent – 2006-06-28 23:36:51


WASHINGTON (June 21, 2006) — For almost five decades, White House reporter Helen Thomas has been covering America’s leaders with a healthy dose of scepticism and an endless string of pointed questions.

Along the way she has ruffled presidential feathers and, since becoming a columnist in 2003, she has made clear her views on some of those incumbents — including George W Bush, who she has described as the “worst president in all of American history”.

Now, 85-year-old Thomas has focused attention on her fellow reporters, accusing them of failing in their duties in the run-up to the Iraq war. “I ask myself every day why the media have become so complacent, complicit and gullible,” she writes in Watchdogs of Democracy, a book published this week. “It all comes down to the 9/11 terrorist attacks that led to fear among reporters of being considered ‘unpatriotic’ or ‘unAmerican’.”

Thomas, who has covered every president since John F Kennedy, said she believed the press corps had recently recovered some of its spine and, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, had been asking more searching questions. But she said when it really mattered – when, in her opinion, the media could have perhaps prevented the invasion of Iraq – the press failed to do its public service.

She said: “When this war was obviously coming on, for two years we heard ‘Saddam Hussein and 9/11’. Every reporter, rather than challenging it and saying [the 9/11 hijackers] were not Iraqis they were Saudis … The press rolled over and printed it when they knew we were going to war and it could have been challenged.”

She added: “Reporters have a duty to follow the truth wherever it leads them, regardless of politics. But people do worry about their jobs.” Until 2003, Thomas sat at the front of presidential press conferences, though for three years Mr Bush failed to call on her.

In March, he asked her for a question and she said: “Your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is, why did you really want to go to war?”

The President would only say he did not accept the premise of her question.

Critics have long highlighted the failure of much of the media to thoroughly challenge the claims of the US and British governments in the run-up to the invasion. The New York Times has been one of the few to examine its own performance.

In a “mea culpa” it wrote: “We have found a number of instances of coverage that were not as rigorous as they should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged.

Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims.” Other reporters have highlighted how, in the aftermath of 9/11, the media was less probing, at a time when the White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was warning all Americans “need to watch what they say”.

In 2002, Dan Rather, an anchor with CBS news, said: “Now it is that fear that keeps journalists from asking the toughest of the tough questions.”

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Why Israeli Unilateralism is Failing

June 28th, 2006 - by admin

Rami Khouri / Globe and Mail – 2006-06-28 23:36:02

(June 28, 2006) — As Israeli troops massed on the border with Gaza, preparing to invade the Palestinian territory in retaliation for continuing rocket attacks against southern Israel and the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, why do I feel we’ve been through this before without any real success?

Perhaps it is time for Israelis and the world to acknowledge something they have always preferred to avoid: Why did Israel’s pullout from the Gaza Strip last year not result in the intended effect of rejuvenating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process? Because the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank are not the main issue at conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. It’s worth noting how large is the variance between Arab analysts and the political establishments in the US, Europe and Israel when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Take the three examples of Israel’s unilateral actions: building the barrier that physically separates the two peoples; pulling out of Gaza last year, and, according to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s promises, pulling out of much of the West Bank in the coming years.

Most people in Israel and the West see these as major, bold initiatives that reflect historic change in the mindset of the Israeli public and political elite, who have decided that they must separate from the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, lands occupied in 1967.

The reason that Israeli unilateralism has not triggered a renewed peace-making effort is very simple: This is not a unilateral conflict. Easy moves that only reflect the concerns of one side, while leaving the underlying causes of the conflict untouched, will only keep the conflict alive. The only way out of this is the hard way: coming to terms with the core dispute over the land of historic Palestine and the rights of all its people.

For the Palestinians, the dispute is not only about Gaza and the West Bank.

It is a wider national conflict that can be resolved by addressing the full dimensions of Palestinian national rights. This means statehood in the West Bank/Gaza, a capital in Arab east Jerusalem, and resolving the 1948 Palestinian refugee issue fairly. In return, the Palestinians have to make the decision to live in peace and mutual assured security with the predominantly Jewish state of Israel in its 1967 borders.

The Hamas victory in the Palestinian election was badly misinterpreted by Israel, the United States and much of Europe. The victory reflected a series of widespread Palestinian concerns, including: the failure of nearly 40 years of PLO policies; the failure of foreign diplomatic intervention; the absence of solid Arab support; Israel’s preference for unilateral moves that deny Palestinian national rights; and, the subordination of Arab-Israeli issues to the U.S.-led “war on terror.”

The Hamas victory represents a reaction to all these perceptions, and reflects the dominant Palestinian attitude that wants to achieve three things: resist Israel militarily and politically, while always exploring opportunities to negotiate with it on equal terms (not the unequal, humiliating and failed terms of the past); continue to develop the republican institutions of a pluralistic democracy; and rebuild Palestinian society on the basis of good governance, local security, and a revived economy.

Palestinians look at themselves and their national issues as an integrated whole, not as a narrow West Bank/Gaza matter or the “demographic threat” that Israel’s Jewish population sees. Palestinian priorities include resolving the refugee issue from 1948, reclaiming all lands occupied in 1967, and stopping Israeli attacks, assassinations and colonial expansion, in return for co-existence with a law-abiding Israel.

In other words: If Israel will not allow Palestinians to live in peace, dignity, and national integrity, Israelis themselves will not be permitted to enjoy those same rights. If Israel is prepared to negotiate seriously and fairly, and resolve the core 1948 issues of the conflict, rather than the secondary ones from 1967, a fair and permanent peace is possible. Sending yet another Israeli assault brigade to kill and torment more Palestinians in Gaza will only heighten that reality, not override it.

Israelis must wise up one day and accept the fact that unilateralism — whether invading or retreating with their army — does not solve the problems of a bilateral conflict.

Rami G. Khouri is editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

“Vets for Freedom” Tied to Bush’s PR Team

June 28th, 2006 - by admin

John Stauber’s Blog / Center for Media & Democracy – 2006-06-28 23:34:29


Pro-War “Vets for Freedom” Tied to Bush’s PR Team
John Stauber’s Blog / Center for Media & Democracy

(June 25, 2006) — Citizen journalists on SourceWatch have been investigating and exposing the many Republican connections and the partisan pro-war political agenda behind Vets for Freedom, a new organization with mysterious funding and a flashy website designed by Campaign Solutions, part of the Donatelli Group.

Vets for Freedom’s hollow claim of “non-partisanship” took another blow Sunday, June 25, when the Buffalo News published a front page story by Jerry Zremski, their Washington correspondent, linking Vets for Freedom to the Bush White House.

Describing Vets for Freedom as a “pro-war group with deep Republican ties,” the Buffalo News revealed that Taylor Gross, who until last year worked as a spokesman for President Bush under White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, is conducting PR work for Veterans for Freedom.

Gross attempted to convince the Buffalo News and other papers that two decorated military veterans with the group, Wade Zirkle and David Bellavia, could report cheaply for the newspapers from Iraq while embedded with the US military.

While pitching Zirkle and Bellavia to the Buffalo News and other papers as “balanced and credible” reporters, Taylor Gross neglected to identify himself as a Republican operative who had done PR work in the White House press office until just last year. Gross left his White House job to form the Republican public relations firm the Herald Group with his political cohorts Matt Well and Doug McGinn.

The revelations in the Buffalo News of Vets for Freedom’s ties to the Bush public relations team come just days after the The New York Times reported that Republicans are strongly embracing the Bush Administration’s war in Iraq as a keystone of their political strategy for the November elections.

The New York Times described the pro-war political strategy as “an effort to turn what some party leaders had feared could become the party’s greatest liability into an advantage in the midterm elections.” In a meeting “White House officials including the national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, outlined ways in which Republican lawmakers could speak more forcefully about the war. Participants also included Mr. Bush’s top political and communications advisers: his deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove; his political director, Sara Taylor; and the White House counselor, Dan Bartlett.”

The New York Times article made no mention of Vets for Freedom, but the group has been conveniently attacking John Murtha and other Iraq war critics while heavily promoting Bush’s pro-war mission.

Vets for Freedom could become a very helpful front group in the Republican political PR arsenal designed to keep control of Congress and the Senate in the November elections.

John Stauber is the Executive Director of the Center for Media & Democracy. He is the co-author of THE BEST WAR EVER: Lies, Damned Lies and
the Mess in Iraq
, which will be published on September 14, 2006.

William Wade Zirkle’s Snooty Prep School
Submitted by Mrs Panstreppon

(June 27, 2006) — William Wade Zirkle graduated from Avon Old School in Avon CT in 1996, according to the Hartford-Courant. Average tuition now for a boarder at Avon Old School is $35k annually. Mr. Zirkle certainly was not your average GI.

The address of Vets for Freedom is 132 N. Main St., Woodstock VA 22664. The building was purchased by Lloyd H. Hartman in 11/01. Woodstock is in Shenandoah County.

There are a number of Zirkles in and around Woodstock and a number of businesses registered to Zirkles.

W. Denham Zirkle is director and former president of the Zirkle Mill Foundation, Inc., 12097 S. Middle Road, Edinburg, VA 22824, registered 9/04. Lisa R. Zirkle is secretary, Sharon Z. Wetherholtz is treasurer and Ann M. Zirkle is another director. 990s are not available online. The foundation receives state and federal funding, according to its website.
The address of Zirkle Family Farms, LLC, formerly Zirkle & Associates, LLC, is 12097 S. Middle Road, Edinburg, VA. No officers listed.
Katherine E. Ramsey of Hunton & Williams, Riverfront Plaza East Tower, 951 E. Byrd St., Richmond VA 23219, is the registered agent for the Zirkle Foundaton and Zirkle Farms.

W. Denham Zirkle, a former executive vice-president with Templeton Investments, is or was CEO of Carret and Company, another investment firm. Carret and Company is owned by Castle Harlan Partners III L.P., a private-equity investment fund organized and managed by Castle Harlan, Inc., the New York merchant bank. Assets under management by Carret and Company are now more than $2 billion.

William D. Zirkle of Edinburg, VA donated a total of $4.5k to the campaigns of Todd Gilbert and Jerry Kilgore in 2005. William Wade Zirkle, also of Edinburg, donated $2k to the Virginia League of Conservation Voters in 2005.

Any idea if William D. or W. Denham Zirkle is related to William Wade Denham Zirkle?

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Hadji Girl: The Song that Divides a Nation

June 28th, 2006 - by admin

Sheldon Rampton‘s Blog / Center for Media & Democracy – 2006-06-28 23:30:17


(June 22, 2006) — If you want to understand why the war is going so badly in Iraq, it may help to examine the recent reaction to “Hadji Girl,” the videotaped song about killing Iraqis by U.S. Marine Corporal Joshua Belile. The song became controversial when the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) discovered it on the internet and objected to its lyrics.

“Hadji Girl” tells the story of a soldier “out in the sands of Iraq / And we were under attack”:

Then suddenly to my surprise
I looked up and I saw her eyes
And I knew it was love at first sight.
And she said…
Dirka Dirka Mohammed Jihad
Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah

Hadji girl I can’t understand what you’re saying.
The girl says that she “wanted me to meet her family / But I, well, I couldn’t figure out how to say no. / Cause I don’t speak Arabic.”

They visit her home, a “side shanty” down “an old dirt trail,” and as soon as they arrive,

Her brother and her father shouted…
Dirka Dirka Mohammed Jihad
Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah

They pulled out their AKs so I could see
… So I grabbed her little sister and pulled her in front of me.
As the bullets began to fly
The blood sprayed from between her eyes
And then I laughed maniacally
Then I hid behind the TV
And I locked and loaded my M-16
And I blew those little fuckers to eternity.
And I said…
Dirka Dirka Mohammed Jihad
Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah

They should have known they were fucking with a Marine.

The song is gruesome, to be sure, and CAIR complained that it celebrated the killing of Iraqi civilians. The video shows Belile performing the song before a laughing, applauding audience of fellow soldiers at their base in Iraq. Recognizing that the song could only bring bad publicity, US military officials promptly issued a statement saying that it was “clearly inappropriate and contrary to the high standards expected of all Marines.” Belile also apologized, saying the song was intended as “a joke” and that he didn’t intend to offend anyone.

Pro-war pundits, however, actually rallied to the song’s defense. The conservative Little Green Footballs weblog thought news reports about the video controversy were the “mainstream media disgrace of the month.” There’s nothing wrong with the song, the Footballs said, because it doesn’t actually describe a soldier killing civilians: “The people who kill the ‘little sister’ in this darkly humorous song are — not the Marines — but her father and brother, as they attempt to perpetrate an ambush.” Some of the comments on LGF even called it “a wonderful song,” and attacked the “nutless Pentagon star-chasing bastards” for their “capitulation.”

Here are some of the other comments about the song, from Little Green Footballs and elsewhere:

• “Damn it, we are in a fucking war! Nobody whined about ‘insensitivity’ to the fucking Japs and Jerries.”

• “I expect more from the Pentagon. The State Dept & the CIA are just a bunch of cucumber sandwich eating fools. The Pentagon USED to be about waging war on our enemies. Now they just want to kiss up to them.”

• “I’m Proud of my fellow Marines in that video. That is EXACTLY the espirit de corps needed, the HIGH MORALE needed in the middle of a combat zone where those self-same jihadists are trying to kill those Marines every single day.

• “Insensitive? Marines insensitive? God I hope so. We need them to kick ass and follow orders but we don’t need them to be particularly sensitive. A sensitive Marine Corps will be the death of this country.”

• “One of the things CAIR didn’t like was the phrase ‘Durka Durka Mohammed Jihad, Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah’ which makes fun of the Arab language. To hell with CAIR and to hell with the Arab language. … And the Islamist pigs can keep going to hell.”

As these comments illustrate, defense for the song quickly turns into traditional conservative anger at what they see as censorious “political correctness.” They have a right, they insist, to be insensitive and hostile to Arabs and Muslims. I would argue, in fact, that this cultural xenophobia is the main theme of the song and that the violence in it is a secondary byproduct.

Let’s start with the title, “Hadji Girl.” The term “hadji” (also sometimes spelled “haji” or “hajji”) is the Arabic word for someone who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca. In Iraq and Afghanistan, it has become a common slang term used to describe the locals.

According to a dictionary of war slang compiled by GlobalSecurity.org, the term is “used by the American military for an Iraqi, anyone of Arab decent, or even of a brownish skin tone, be they Afghanis, or even Bangladeshis” and is also “the word many soldiers use derogatorily for the enemy.” Related terms include “haji mart” (a small store operated by Iraqis) or “haji patrol” (Iraqi soldiers).

The term seems to have come into usage even before the war began in Iraq. Its use was noted following a US military investigation into the 2002 murder of two prisoners at the Bagram Collection Point in Afghanistan, by some of the the same soldiers who later oversaw abuses at Abu Ghraib. ”We were pretty much told that they were nobodies, that they were just enemy combatants,” said one of the soldiers at Bagram. ”I think that giving them the distinction of soldier would have changed our attitudes toward them. A lot of it was based on racism, really. We called them hajis, and that psychology was really important.”

One of the prisoners beaten to death at Bagram was an innocent taxi driver named Dilawar whose only offense was that he happened to drive his taxi past the American base at the wrong time. According to Corey E. Jones, one of the MPs who guarded him, the beatings intensified when “He screamed out, ‘Allah! Allah! Allah!’ and my first reaction was that he was crying out to his god. Everybody heard him cry out and thought it was funny. … It became a kind of running joke, and people kept showing up to give this detainee a common peroneal strike just to hear him scream out ‘Allah.’ It went on over a 24-hour period, and I would think that it was over 100 strikes.”

The term “haji” is not simply an ethnic slur, like “gook,” “jap,” “jerry” or “nigger.” All ethnic slurs entail hostile stereotypes, but “haji” is a specifically religious stereotype based on hostility toward Muslims.

In our 2003 book, Weapons of Mass Deception, John Stauber and I described the efforts that the Bush administration has undertaken to rebrand America in the eyes of Arabs and Muslims, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on projects including Radio Sawa, Al Hurra, a “Shared Values” campaign, and the Council of American Muslims for Understanding. Through glossy brochures, TV advertisements and websites, the United States has sought to depict America as a nation of religious tolerance that respects and appreciates Islam.

These words, however, are constantly being undermined by the actual deeds and attitudes of the Bush administration’s most ardent supporters, including soldiers in the field in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the White House has tried to frame the war in Iraq as a “war on terror,” its own supporters keep reframing it as a war against Islam. This is a serious, if not fatal error. Rather than fighting a few thousand actual terrorists, the United States is positioning itself in opposition to one of the world’s major religions, with more than a billion adherents worldwide.

Culture Shock and Awe
“Hadji Girl” also refers to another aspect of soldiers’ experiences in Iraq: the language barrier that prevents them from communicating effectively. The refrain, “Dirka dirka Mohammed Jihad / Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah,” is borrowed from the movie “Team America: World Police.”

According to filmmaker Matt Stone, the the phrase is not real Arabic but a parody of “Arabic gibberish which they just go, you know, ‘Dirka-dirka, Muhammad, Muhammad Ali.’ … And that, to me, is what terrorists sound like when I look at their little tapes that they release.” This inability to comprehend the local language contributes to the soldiers’ inability to distinguish between friend or foe, forcing them to suspect that anyone — including the beautiful girl you just met, or her family — might be a terrorist.

These facts began to shape the relationship between US soldiers and Iraqis early in the war, as Associated Press reporter Andrew England noted in September 2003:

Young American soldiers — many carrying out operations they have little training for — find themselves in a hostile environment, unable to speak the local language or distinguish “the good guys from the bad guys.” Most just want to survive and return home. Some have grown to despise Iraqis, whom they call “Hajis,” scowling rather than waving as they pass locals along highways and dirt roads. …

“I hate the Hajis. All of them are liars. They injured one of my soldiers,” said one. “You don’t want to know what I think about them, they shot at me one too many times,” said another.

AConscientious Objector in Iraq
It is worth noting that one of the few conscientious objectors who have actually served with the military in Iraq, Aidan Delgado, had a very different perspective of Iraqis because he did know how to speak the language:

It was tough for me to see brutality coming out of my own unit. I had lived in the Middle East. I had Egyptian friends. I spent nearly a decade in Cairo. I spoke Arabic, and I was versed in Arab culture and Islamic dress. Most of the guys in my unit were in complete culture shock most of the time. They saw the Iraqis as enemies. They lived in a state of fear.

I found the Iraqis enormously friendly as a whole. One time, I was walking through Nasiriyah with an armful of money, nadirs that were exchanged for dollars. I was able to walk 300 meters to my convoy — a US soldier walking alone with money. And I thought: I am safer here in Iraq than in the states. I never felt threatened from people in the South.

It would be a mistake to imagine that the casual brutality of “Hadji Girl” is coming from people who are simply evil or racist or cruel. The soldiers occupying Iraq are normal men and women who, in other circumstances, would never commit the abuses that have been documented in Bagram and Abu Ghraib and that are now alleged in Haditha. The situations in which this war has placed them — far from home, surrounded by a foreign language and foreign culture, carrying guns and fearful for their lives — have brought out behaviors that we would not see otherwise.

If American soldiers and Iraqis could meet under different circumstances, things would be different. Here, for example, is how Iraqi blogger Salam Pax described his experience upon visiting the United States and having dinner with an American soldier:

You have no idea how strange it feels that we share so much in common. When I told him I would never actually approach an American soldier on the street in Baghdad, he told me that if we were in Baghdad, he would probably be talking to me with his gun pointing at me because he would be scared shitless. Yet there we sat, drinking beers together.

America’s cultural isolationism and prejudices are exposed by “Hadji Girl,” but that’s only part of the story. The war itself is encouraging these dark aspects of human nature, by bringing Americans and Iraqis together in an environment full of tension, fear, hatred and violence.

And if the war itself is creating these evils, how can it hope to end them?

Sheldon Rampton’s blog | l

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