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Kill Wasteful Missile Defense Efforts

July 31st, 2013 - by admin

Ivan Eland / AntiWar.com – 2013-07-31 02:35:01

Kill Wasteful Missile Defense Efforts

(July 30, 2013) — In the 30 years, since President Ronald Reagan created his expensive pie-in-the-sky Strategic Defense Initiative — quickly and appropriately named “Star Wars” by critics and journalists alike — the United States has spent a whopping $250 billion on trying to shoot down fast intercontinental ballistic missiles, such as those that might someday be fielded by Iran and North Korea.

This government effort has been a boondoggle, but then huge costs and poor performance rarely cause any government program to be terminated — evidence of this effect is exhibited by the continued flow of money to the project despite three decades of failure.

Any government program, no matter how ridiculous, once established, develops constituency groups that then come to feel entitled to the benefits of the effort. In this case, huge defense contractors and smaller subcontracting companies pressure their members of Congress to keep the money flowing, no matter what the effectiveness of the missile defense program has been. And in the case of missile defense, it’s even worse.

Hawkish Republicans guard the legacy of their nearly canonized “Gipper” by slathering the program with plenty of money. Of course, many at the Pentagon outside the missile defense office would like to cut or eliminate the program and use the money for what they consider more legitimate defense needs.

Violating good procurement practices, poorly designed missile interceptors were deployed before being thoroughly tested. And what tests have been done have been rigged to give the missile interceptor a better chance of hitting the incoming missile.

Even so, according to press reports, missile interceptors of the ground-based mid-course intercept system have failed in eight of 16 tests against slower intermediate-range missiles (long-range intercontinental missiles are even faster and harder to hit), with the last three tests ending in failure. Studies by experts, both inside and outside the Pentagon, have questioned whether the system can ever be reliable or is worth its huge cost.

Even if the system’s reliability is eventually increased, however, it still may not be worth the cost. The problem with missile defense is that it has always been more expensive than building the offensive missiles the system is designed to counter.

Although Reagan lovers have weaved the tale that Star Wars cowed the Soviets and won the Cold War, Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader during the later years of the Reagan administration, said that Star Wars really didn’t worry him because he could build more offensive missiles faster and more cheaply than the United States could build defenses.

Thus, the Star Wars system’s original grandiose goal of defending against Soviet missiles had to be scaled back — there were just too many of them. So the program morphed into a much more modest missile defense system against poorer rogue states, such as Iran and North Korea. Perhaps the system could knock down a few Wile E. Coyote-style missiles that these countries could muster up.

But as the previously cited test results have shown, reliable technology to achieve even this modest goal is likely to be elusive. And it is not needed anyway. Ever since World War II, the United States has very effectively relied on its huge offensive nuclear arsenal to deter other nations from attacking the United States with nuclear or conventional weapons.

Smaller countries than Russia or China, such as Iran or North Korea, which could have their home address entirely wiped off the map with a fraction of the US nuclear arsenal, have an even bigger incentive to avoid launching any future intercontinental missiles at the United States.

So the bottom line is that 30 years of effort and cost on missile defense wasn’t needed anyway, given the fact that the US offensive nuclear deterrent — the most powerful in the world — seems to work just fine.

Undeterred by such logic, and contradicting their rhetorical bombast against wasteful government spending, hawkish Republicans remain without shame about missile defense’s enormous costs and frequent failures. In fact, they want to spend additional billions on missile defense, adding tests, more unreliable interceptors on the west coast, and an entirely new missile defense installation on the east coast!

Instead, this white elephant should be killed before even more money is needlessly squandered at a time of huge federal budget deficits and a $17 trillion national debt.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Hearings Begin on the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013

July 31st, 2013 - by admin

US Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources – 2013-07-31 02:10:31

http://www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2013/7/full-committee-hearing-to-consider-the-nuclear-waste-administration-act-of-2013

To Consider the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013
US Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources

NOTE: A Video of the Full Senate Hearing is Available Online at the posted link.

SENATE DIRKSEN BUILDING, Washington, DC (July 30 2013) — The purpose of this hearing is to receive testimony on S. 1240, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013. The hearing will be webcast live on the committee’s website, and an archived video will be available shortly after the hearing is complete. Witness testimony will be available on the website at the start of the hearing.

Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Ernest Moniz
Secretary
US Department of Energy
Moniz, DOE, Testimony, 07.30.13.pdf (69.4 KBs)

Witness Panel 2
The Honorable Sally Young Jameson
Maryland Delegate
National Conference of State Legislatures

The Honorable Joe Garcia
Vice President, Southwest Area
National Congress of American Indians
Garcia, NCAI, Testimony 07.30.13.pdf (24.4 KBs)

The Honorable David C. Boyd
Chairman, Committee on Electricity
National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners
Boyd, NARUC, Revised Testimony, 07.30.13.pdf (80.2 KBs)

The Honorable Chuck Smith
Vice Chair
Energy Communities Alliance
Smith, ECA, Revised Testimony, 07.30.13.pdf (210.8 KBs)

Mr. Marvin S. Fertel
President and Chief Executive Officer
Nuclear Energy Institute
Fertel, NEI, Testimony, 07.30.13.pdf (1.0 MBs)

Mr. Geoffrey H. Fettus
Senior Attorney
Natural Resources Defense Council
Fettus, NRDC, Testimony, 07.30.13.pdf (231.6 KBs)

Mr. David Lochbaum
Director, Nuclear Safety Project
Union of Concerned Scientists
Lochbaum, UCS, Testimony, 07.30.13.pdf (709.3 KBs)

Related Files
Chairman Wyden Opening Statement – Hearing on Nuclear Waste Administration Act (S. 1240) 7.30.13.pdf (73.9 KBs)

Ranking Member Murkowski Opening Statement – Hearing on Nuclear Waste Administration Act (S. 1240) 7.30.13.pdf (31.0 KBs)


Statement of David Lochbaum,
Director, Nuclear Safety Project

Before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

WASHINGTON, DC (July 30, 2013) — On behalf of the Union of Concerned Scientists, I thank Chairman Wyden, Ranking Member Murkowski, Senator Feinstein, Senator Alexander, and all members of the Energy and Natural Resources committee for this opportunity to provide our views on S.1240, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013.

S.1240 seeks to remedy problems resulting from the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 not attaining its specified outcome; namely, a geological repository for spent fuel from civilian nuclear plants operated by the federal government and accepting waste by January 31, 1998.

Had the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) been implemented as enacted, the federal government would have begun accepting spent fuel in 1998. The nominal 3,000 metric tons per year transfer rate from plant sites to the federal repository exceeded the rate at which spent fuel was being generated.

Thus, the amount of spent fuel stored at plant sites around the country would have peaked in 1998 at around 38,000 metric tons and steadily declined thereafter as shown in Figure 1.

The delay in opening the federal repository meant that spent fuel continued to accumulate at the plant sites. By year end 2011, over 67,000 metric tons remained at plant sites while 0 ounces resided in a federal repository under the NWPA.

The departure from the NWPA plan forced nuclear plant owners to pay for expanded onsite spent fuel storage capacity (e.g., replacing original low-density storage racks in spent fuel pools with high-density racks and building onsite dry storage facilities to supplement storage in wet pools).

Plant owners have sued the federal government for recovery of costs they incurred for storing spent fuel at their sites that should have been in a federal repository under the NWPA.

The US Government Accountability Office reported that these lawsuits cost American taxpayers $1.6 billion with an estimated $19.1 billion of additional liability through 2020. (1)

There was another consequence from expanded onsite spent fuel storage. Spent fuel pools initially designed to hold slightly over one reactor core’s inventory of irradiated fuel now hold up to nearly 9 reactor cores of irradiated fuel.

Unlike the reactor cores, the spent fuel pools are not protected by redundant emergency makeup and cooling systems and or housed within robust containment structures having reinforced concrete walls several feet thick.

Thus, large amounts of radioactive material — which under the NWPA should be stored within a federal repository designed to safely and securely isolate it from the environment for at least 10,000 years — instead remains at the reactor sites.

There is no easy solution to this situation. UCS applauds this committee for trying to end the status quo. Unfortunately, it is not a task of picking the best among an array of suitable options.

It is the more unpleasant chore of picking the lesser of many evils. UCS wants to make it clear that sustaining the status quo is one of the evil options. Under the status quo, costs and risks of onsite spent fuel storage will continue to increase unnecessarily. UCS wants to see the status quo ended by reducing the inventories of irradiated fuel in spent fuel pools.

We strongly advocate accelerating the transfer of irradiated fuel from spent fuel pools to dry storage. In our view, currently available and used dry storage technologies can be used to substantially reduce the inventory of irradiated fuel in spent fuel pools, with a goal of limiting it to the equivalent of one or two reactor cores per pool.

Figure 1 contrasts the actual amount of spent fuel stored at nuclear plants sites with the amount that would have been there had the NWPA been implemented as intended.

The green triangles represent onsite spent fuel storage amounts steadily declining from a peak of about 38,000 metric tons in 1998 as fuel gets transported to the federal repository at a rate of 3,000 metric tons per year (the red squares). The blue diamonds show the amounts instead climbing to over 67,000 metric tons.

The lawsuits brought by nuclear plant owners and the financial portions of S.1420 address the cost implications of the failure of the federal government to accept spent fuel under the NWPA.

This is fair and reasonable because the plant owners have incurred costs they would not have encountered had the federal government fulfilled its obligations under the NWPA.

But fairness also dictates that the other primary consequence from the federal government’s failure also be rectified. Had the federal government met its obligations under the NWPA, spent fuel pools would not contain up to 9 reactor core’s worth of irradiated fuel. More fuel in the pools means a greater risk to the surrounding public if there is a problem with the pools that releases radioactivity.

If lawsuits and legislation address the financial repercussions caused by the performance gap identified in Figure 1, then it is only fair and reasonable that this legislation also address the associated safety and security implications. They are inseparable in reality and must also be inseparable in law.

If the Congress approves and sends to the president a nuclear waste bill that fails to address this serious riskand inequity, it will have failed the American public in a major way.

Accelerating the transfer of irradiated fuel from spent fuel pools to onsite dry storage reduces the overall safety and security threat profile of the plant as shown in Figure 2. The columns labeled High Density (1×4) reflect the current situation.

The columns labeled Low Density reflect the situation if irradiated fuel transfer into dry storage is expedited. The risk reduction is undeniable: the contaminated land area is reduced from 9,400 square miles to 170 square miles and the number of people displaced from their communities for a long time drops from 4,100,000 to 81,000.

Dry storage is not absolutely or inherently safe and secure; if so, the federal government’s repository problems would be solved. But dry storage provides significantly better management of the onsite spent fuel storage risks.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) actions illustrate this point. After the tragic events of 9/11, the NRC issued orders to upgrade security measures for nuclear facilities. On February 25, 2002, the NRC issued orders to upgrade security for operating nuclear reactors.

On May 23, 2002, the NRC issued orders to upgrade security for spent fuel pools. And on October 16, 2002, the NRC issued orders to upgrade dry storage security. The NRC properly triaged the hazards, tackling the highest first and the lowest last.

After the tragic events at Fukushima, the NRC instructed its nuclear plant inspectors to look at capabilities for cooling the reactor core and spent fuel pool in event of a beyond design basis challenge like that faced in Japan. The NRC quite properly did not instruct its inspectors to waste resources examining the low hazard posed by onsite dry storage.

In March 2012, the NRC ordered plant owners to implement an array of measures intended to better protect irradiated fuel in reactor cores and spent fuel pools from damage. The NRC did not require owners to take any additional measures to better protect irradiated fuel in dry storage from damage. This low hazard was already adequately protected.

Because the federal government failed to meet its obligations under the NWPA, spent fuel pools contain much more irradiated fuel and are essentially loaded guns aimed at neighboring communities. The scope of S.1420 must include removing some of these bullets.

We urge the Congress to accelerate the transfer of irradiated fuel from spent fuel pools to dry storage. This does not introduce an additional step in the road to a repository since spent fuel must be moved from pools to dry casks in order to be transported; it merely entails taking necessary steps on that path sooner rather than later.

Footnotes
(1) US Government Accountability Office, “Spent Nuclear Fuel: Accumulating Quantities at Commercial Reactors Present Storage and Other Challenges,” GAO, August 2012.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Unique Care Offered for Struggling Vets

July 31st, 2013 - by admin

Aaron Glantz / Center for Investigative Reporting & Mihir Zaveri / Associated Press – 2013-07-31 01:57:17

http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Rare-City-College-VA-clinic-supports-student-vets-4692451.php

Rare City College VA Clinic Supports Student Vets
Aaron Glantz / Center for Investigative Reporting

SAN FRANCISCO (July 29, 2013) — As a community college classmate brushed off the significance of civilian war casualties, Daniel Acree, a machine gunner in the Iraq War, felt a searing pain, his body filling with rage.

In Iraq, Acree had watched powerlessly as a 5-year-old boy died in a rocket-propelled grenade attack. That was all he could think of as the professor turned to him for perspective. With “all the different memories coming back, I just couldn’t go on,” said Acree, 29. “I just couldn’t be there anymore.”

With a glance at his professor, Acree walked out of class. But because he was at City College of San Francisco, he didn’t have to go far to find help.

Within minutes, Acree was talking with a therapist at the on-campus clinic run by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. “He just listened, had me talk it out, calmed me down,” Acree said. “I don’t know what I would have done. I was in panic mode.”

When it opened in 2010, the Veterans Resource Center at City College was touted as a model for the future — the first health care offered by the VA on a college campus. The staff includes a social worker and a psychiatrist who can help veterans find jobs and make appointments for other types of care at the main VA.

But three years later, there is no plan for a widespread national rollout. Although nearly 1 million veterans used the GI Bill to go to college last year, the VA says its health care system so far has served 6,000 on fewer than three dozen campuses.

The initiative remains in the pilot stage, with a $2.8 million annual budget. Funds go only to schools where both the local VA and a college administrator express interest — not necessarily to those with the greatest needs. At nearly all schools with the largest veteran populations, the VA is providing no health services.

Among 150 college campuses educating the largest numbers of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the clinic at City College remains one of four nationwide, according to a survey by the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Struggle to Adjust
The VA’s own studies have found that many veterans struggle to adjust to academic life. The transition can be particularly hard for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers have begun to wonder whether the agency is doing enough to back up its $10 billion annual commitment to veterans’ education with programs to help them graduate. In May, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office issued a report saying the VA “lacks a plan” for ensuring that veterans succeed on campus.

Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, who requested the audit with Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., said the VA has “already had a long time” to craft a national support system for veterans who attend school with taxpayer support.

“We have had a decade of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, and before that, we had returning veterans from the Gulf War and before that, Vietnam,” Braley said.

The VA says it is still trying to figure out a way to track the 974 students who have visited the City College clinic to see if they are more likely to graduate than those without access to on-campus services.

Center’s Origins
The idea for creating the veterans center at City College started with the campus, not the VA. In an era of state and local budget cuts, campus officials, including the chancellor and football coach, raised private donations — most in the form of labor and materials from local trade unions — to build the clinic and a social lounge for veterans next door.

They went to the VA in San Francisco and asked whether the agency would consider opening a clinic.

“We wanted to make the transition from military to college a friendly one,” said football coach George Rush, standing in front of the lounge, with its three couches, 10 computers, refrigerator and big-screen TV.

Veterans needed “a place that was their home, their place and their spot,” Rush said, a place “where veterans could talk to veterans, could communicate at the same level, share the common experience that wasn’t available at other clubs and services.”

Magnet for Veterans
The Veterans Resource Center has made City College a destination for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans across the region.

“This is a special place to me, and that’s hard to get,” said Aundray Rogers, an Iraq War veteran and president of the City College of San Francisco Veterans Alliance. The campus now has 1,300 veterans — twice as many as when Rogers started school in 2009 — according to the school.

Every weekday, Rogers drives past six other community colleges on his way to San Francisco from Vallejo. City College may be fighting to keep its accreditation, but Rogers says it is the only place where he can get counseling for the flashbacks that still plague him occasionally during class.

On most afternoons, Rogers can be found in the lounge next door, laughing and backslapping with other veterans. It’s a big change from when he first arrived at City College in 2009, depressed and isolated, scanning other students’ backpacks in search of a military rucksack or insignia – someone, anyone, who had shared his wartime experience.

Getting over War
Acree says the services available at City College have helped him make a transformation. When he returned from Iraq in 2004, he slept in a crouching position and reacted defensively when people approached. Once, he punched his father in the face. A job working trade shows with the Teamsters union provided money but, he said, did nothing for his soul.

He thought regularly about re-enlisting so he could go back to Iraq, where life was more “normal.” Seeking camaraderie, he re-upped in the reserves. Now, after two years in a supportive community at City College, he is planning to transfer to UC Berkeley.

Every college should have a place for veterans to go, he said, “because who knows what one of these veterans might do. They might not get the help they need in time.”

KQED-FM producer Monica Lam contributed to this report.
The independent, nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting is the country’s largest investigative reporting team. For more, visit www.cironline.org. E-mail: aglantz@cironline.org


Pathway Home Gives Hope to Troubled Veterans
Mihir Zaveri / Associated Press

(July 30, 2013) — Tucked away in the Napa Valley, a small mental health organization has found success working with struggling U.S. service members, reducing suicides with unconventional treatment methods that include backrubs and cookouts.

Soldiers in the specialized counseling program receive traditional therapy to treat depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems linked to combat stress. But at the Pathway Home, services expand to social gatherings, photography classes and even swimming with dolphins.

About 380 veterans have gone through the program in five years, and only one has committed suicide. The results have drawn the attention of an Army detachment that has stationed itself at the center for training through September.

Military officials say service members respond to the treatment because it acknowledges their unique experiences and helps them adapt to often overlooked aspects of civilian life.

“Here they’re not patients, they’re residents,” said Col. David Rabb who commands the Army’s 113th Medical Detachment, Combat Stress Control. The program “is respecting them for who they are, they’re warriors,” he said.

4-month Program
At Pathway’s four-month program, veterans learn to manage their finances and receive career, legal and educational advice, said Fred Gusman, the organization’s executive director.

“When you go to a hospital, they’re not going to help you with your legal problems,” said Gusman, who helped start the program in 2008. “They might have marital counseling. They might not have marital counseling. They’re not about getting you in school, because they’re a medical center. Pathway is about the whole person.”

On a recent afternoon, smoke wafted from the courtyard as Pathway residents mingled with fatigue-clad soldiers from the medical detachment at a barbecue.

Rabb said the assignment provides his unit an opportunity to “learn from the best” and “also engage combat veterans.”

“Where else can you do that in the civilian sector?” he asked.

The cookouts are an integral part of the Pathway program, allowing veterans to build social skills, Gusman said. Attendees often include Vietnam or World War II veterans and schoolchildren.

“It’s that kind of process that makes these men who come here feel they are part of society again, and that they’re not a secret, that they’re not strange and civilians aren’t strange,” Gusman said.

Before the gathering, Darint Thong, one of 20 residents at Pathway, rested face down while a masseuse pressed her hands into his broad back.

Thong said the rubdowns available as part of the program help relieve stress. He served two tours of duty in Iraq as a sharpshooter in the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. He would only describe what he saw there as “the ugliness of the world.”

Thong has been back in the U.S. for seven years but has struggled to adapt to civilian life. He developed a drinking problem, struggled with anger and was arrested for driving under the influence. He sought treatment through the Veterans Affairs hospital, but he relapsed and eventually contemplated suicide.

The Modesto resident has been among the gnarled oaks and shady lawns at Pathway since June.

“I feel better,” he said. “Everybody here is going through somewhat of the same thing that I went through.”

When fully funded at about $1.5 million a year, Pathway can take 40 residents, who are selected on a first come, first served basis, to live on an estate of cream-colored buildings with ceramic tile roofs.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that an average of 22 veterans kill themselves every day in a report based on data through 2010 that was released in February. About 350 active members of the U.S. armed forces killed themselves in 2012, according to military officials.

Rabb said his unit has come to Pathway to learn about its methods and also work with residents. His unit deploys to war zones to provide support to soldiers dealing with combat stress, which results in anger, high blood pressure, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts.

Not Forgotten
“When we go back to war, you’re as good as your training,” Rabb said. “This is training.” He said the visit was also a way to show the Army hasn’t forgotten about its soldiers.

The organization leases its buildings and grounds from the Veterans Home of California-Yountville, a state facility, for $1 a year.

J.P. Tremblay, a deputy secretary at the California Department of Veterans Affairs, said the state provides Pathway with the space in part because it allows residents to live with each other and with the counselors and staff as opposed to more common outpatient treatment.

“We saw it was a unique program that provided an opportunity for services that needed to be provided for vets,” he said. He added, “It is almost like a college campus.”

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Army to Investigate Afghan’s Evidence US Troops Murdered Afghan Civilians

July 31st, 2013 - by admin

Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Rod Nordland / The New York Times – 2013-07-31 01:38:06

US Army to Investigate Afghan’s Evidence Troops Murdered Civilians

US Army to Investigate Afghan’s Evidence Troops Murdered Civilians
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com

(July 30, 2013) — Months after loudly dismissing the allegations of Wardak civilians that US Special Forces have been kidnapping, torturing and killing them, the US Army has announced that it has begun a new investigation into the claim under orders from Gen. Dunford, the commander for troops in occupied Afghanistan.

Afghan officials loudly demanded the US withdraw from Wardak Province over the allegations in February, but quickly dropped the demand when NATO insisted the allegations were false.

The issue didn’t die down, however, as civilian bodies kept being found outside the US base and a tape eventually emerged showing the torture of a local civilian, whose body was later found in a ditch near the base.

Even that was shrugged off by US officials, however, until the Afghan government managed to capture the US translator, Zakeria Kandahari, and he confessed that he was acting “on orders” from US commanders. The US has confirmed the authenticity of the Kandahari tape, but insisted that they didn’t know anything about the civilian shown in the video.


US to Investigate Accusations Troops Murdered Afghan Civilians
Dylan Welch and Hamid Shalizi / Reuters

KABUL (Reuters) — The US Army has launched an investigation into claims that its Special Forces abducted and killed Afghan civilians, allegations Washington has denied, a NATO spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

The spokeswoman, US Colonel Jane Crichton, said the commander of ISAF, the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, US General Joseph Dunford, had ordered the investigation after an Afghan translator accused the US soldiers had worked with.

Accusations of US troops committing crimes against civilians have damaged relations between the Afghan government and ISAF, particularly since a US soldier was accused of murdering 16 civilians in Kandahar province in March last year.

The tensions have complicated negotiations on keeping a US military presence in Afghanistan beyond NATO’s planned exit next year.

The United States has repeatedly denied accusations that its Special Forces working in Wardak, a strategically important province close to Kabul, were involved in the disappearance and deaths of at least 17 civilians.

However, a translator who was recently arrested by Afghan authorities has blamed the US Special Forces he was working with for the deaths, according to a record of his interview seen by Reuters.

The translator, Zakeria Kandahari, told Afghan investigators he helped capture the civilians and handed them over to his military handlers while they were still alive. In at least one case, he saw the dead body of a man he had previously handed over to the Special Forces, the interview document stated.

Afghan investigators have requested access to three US Special Forces whom Kandhari had identified only as Dave, Hagel and Chris, the interview document said.

NATO’s Crichton said previous investigations had shown “there was no credible evidence to substantiate misconduct by ISAF or US forces”. The US Army Criminal Investigation Command would conduct the fresh investigation, she said.

A spokeswoman for President Hamid Karzai declined to comment on the new investigation.

The allegations prompted Karzai in March to bar US troops from Wardak, a potentially risky move as it could give Taliban insurgents more room to operate in an area near the capital.

Karzai later agreed to a compromise that allowed a more limited and gradual pullout than he had initially demanded.


American Accused of Torturing, Disappearing Afghan Civilians
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com

(May 12, 2013) — Two months after the initial Afghan government demands for the US to withdraw its forces from Wardak Province, the troops are still there, and the government is still unhappy about it. But new details may mean an additional push after their first effort failed to convince the US to go.

Afghan officials now say that they have a specific suspect, an Afghan-born American citizen named Zakaria Kandahari, who they have implicated in at least 15 different killings or disappearances, and who they have on video torturing a detainee.

Kandahari appears to have been affiliated with the Special Forces in Nerkh District, which were the source of a lot of complaints. Among the 15 he is accused of killing is Mohammad Qassim, whose body was found in a trash pit just outside the base after being detained.

US officials confirmed the existence of the video tape showing Kandahari, but denied that he was an American citizen, insisting “everyone in that video is Afghan.” Afghan officials say Kandahari was speaking English in the video, and an unseen supervisor is also heard speaking English in an American accent.

Kandahari’s putative Special Forces Team A group was said to move in and out of the base with impunity, and Afghan officials say the group regularly wore US military uniforms, with long beards, and rode around on motorized four-wheel bikes hunting for “insurgents.” The group regularly detained people, accusing them of working with either the Taliban or the Hezb-i Islami.

Afghan officials claim Gen. Allen, the top US commander, promised to hand over Kandahari to Afghan officials. The US insisted they tried but he got away, then later claimed Allen never had any conversations about Kandahari at all.


Afghans Say an American Tortured Civilians
Rod Nordland / The New York Times

MAIDAN SHAHR, Afghanistan (May 12, 2013) — The authorities in Afghanistan are seeking the arrest on murder and torture charges of a man they say is an American and part of a Special Forces unit operating in Wardak Province, three Afghan officials have confirmed.

The accusations against the man, Zakaria Kandahari, and the assertion that he and much of his unit are American are a new turn in a dispute over counterinsurgency tactics in Wardak that has strained relations between Kabul and Washington. American officials say their forces are being wrongly blamed for atrocities carried out by a rogue Afghan unit. But the Afghan officials say they have substantial evidence of American involvement.

They say they have testimony and documents implicating Mr. Kandahari and his unit in the killings or disappearances of 15 Afghans in Wardak. Mr. Kandahari is of Afghan descent but was born and raised in the United States, they say. Included in the evidence, the Afghan officials say, is a videotape of Mr. Kandahari torturing one of the 15 Afghans, a man they identified as Sayid Mohammad.

Mr. Mohammad was picked up by the unit in Wardak six months ago and has not been seen since, the officials said. The partial remains of Mohammad Qassim, another of the 15 Afghans, were found in a trash pit just outside the fence around the unit’s base in the Nerkh district, according to Mr. Qassim’s family and Afghan officials.

Afghan officials who have seen the videotape say a person speaking English with an American accent can be heard supervising the torture session, which Mr. Kandahari is seen conducting.

An American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in line with official policy, confirmed the existence of the video showing Mr. Kandahari but denied that he was an American citizen. “Everybody in that video is Afghan; there are no American voices,” the official said.

At the center of the Afghans’ accusations is an American Special Forces A Team that had been based in the Nerkh district until recently. An A Team is an elite unit of 12 American soldiers who work with extra resources that the military calls “enablers,” making it possible for the team to have the effect of a much larger unit.

Those resources can include specialized equipment, air support and Afghan partner troops or interpreters. The American official said Mr. Kandahari had been an interpreter working for the team in the Nerkh district without pay in exchange for being allowed to live on the base.

Afghan officials give a different account of his role. They say he and others working with the team wore American-style military uniforms, but had long beards and often, bizarrely, rode motorized four-wheeled bikes on hunts for insurgents. The Afghan officials said Mr. Kandahari appeared to be in a leadership position in the unit.

Afghan investigators say the team detained the 15 Afghan civilians in sweeps, apparently on suspicion of having ties to insurgents, although their family members deny any association with either the Taliban or Hezb-i-Islami, another group fighting the government in Wardak. The investigators say that 7 of the 15 are known to have been killed and that the other 8 are still missing and almost certainly dead.

The American official said the team was not to blame. “We have done three investigations down there, and all absolve ISAF forces and Special Forces of all wrongdoing,” the official said, referring to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. “It is simply not true.”

Relatives of the victims and their supporters have staged noisy protests in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. They say the International Committee of the Red Cross has been investigating the disappearances. In keeping with standard practice, the Red Cross has made no public comment on the matter.

In February, President Hamid Karzai ordered all American Special Operations forces to leave Wardak Province, an area near the capital where insurgents have been active. Afghan and American officials then reached a compromise under which the A Team was removed from the Nerkh district but that allowed other Special Operations units to remain in at least four locations in the province. It is not known where the team that left the Nerkh district went.

Afghan officials investigated the events in the Nerkh district, and when they concluded that the accusations of misconduct by the team were true, the head of the Afghan military, Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, personally asked the American commander at the time, Gen. John R. Allen, to hand Mr. Kandahari over to the Afghan authorities.

According to a senior Afghan official, General Allen personally promised General Karimi that the American military would do so within 24 hours, but the promise was not kept, nor was a second promise a day later to hand him over the following morning. “The next morning they said he had escaped from them and they did not know where he was,” the official said.

The American official said the military was not trying to shield Mr. Kandahari. “The S.F. guys tried to pick him up, but he got wind of it and went on the lam, and we lost contact with him,” the official said. “We would have no reason to try to harbor this individual.”

And a spokesman for the American military, David E. Nevers, said General Allen “never had a conversation with General Karimi about this issue.”

The Special Forces A Team originally moved into its Nerkh district base in Wardak in the autumn of 2012, around the time that a bomb wiped out much of the provincial government center here in Maidan Shahr, the provincial capital. The senior Afghan official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of political sensitivities about the case, said that top Afghan officials understood that the unit had been transferred from Camp Gecko in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan.

Afghan officials and human rights investigators say Camp Gecko, formerly the home of the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, now includes a CIAparamilitary base and some Special Operations facilities.

Gen. Sharafuddin Sharaf, a senior official of the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence service, said that his agency has issued a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Kandahari on charges of murder, torture and mistreatment of prisoners, but that he could not be found. The Afghan attorney general filed a formal criminal case against him last week, General Sharaf said. Another Afghan official confirmed that those charges had been filed.

Mr. Kandahari is described by Afghans who have seen him as in his late 20s or early 30s and fluent in Pashto, which he speaks with a Kandahar accent, and English. General Sharaf said that it was not known whether Zakaria Kandahari is his real name or an alias, and that the authorities had no information about his family or original home.

A 16-year-old student named Hikmatullah, who said he was tortured by Mr. Kandahari, said his tormentor had a tattoo of a large green sword on his upper right arm.

Hikmatullah said he had been picked up with two of his brothers, Sadiqullah and Ismatullah, from the village of Amer Kheil. Whenever he denied being an insurgent, he said, Mr. Kandahari beat and kicked him until his shoulder was dislocated. He was released after three days, he said, but his brothers are missing.
Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.


American Accused of Torturing, Disappearing Afghan Civilians
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com

(May 12, 2013) — Two months after the initial Afghan government demands for the US to withdraw its forces from Wardak Province, the troops are still there, and the government is still unhappy about it. But new details may mean an additional push after their first effort failed to convince the US to go.

Afghan officials now say that they have a specific suspect, an Afghan-born American citizen named Zakaria Kandahari, who they have implicated in at least 15 different killings or disappearances, and who they have on video torturing a detainee.

Kandahari appears to have been affiliated with the Special Forces in Nerkh District, which were the source of a lot of complaints. Among the 15 he is accused of killing is Mohammad Qassim, whose body was found in a trash pit just outside the base after being detained.

US officials confirmed the existence of the video tape showing Kandahari, but denied that he was an American citizen, insisting “everyone in that video is Afghan.” Afghan officials say Kandahari was speaking English in the video, and an unseen supervisor is also heard speaking English in an American accent.

Kandahari’s putative Special Forces Team A group was said to move in and out of the base with impunity, and Afghan officials say the group regularly wore US military uniforms, with long beards, and rode around on motorized four-wheel bikes hunting for “insurgents.” The group regularly detained people, accusing them of working with either the Taliban or the Hezb-i Islami.

Afghan officials claim Gen. Allen, the top US commander, promised to hand over Kandahari to Afghan officials. The US insisted they tried but he got away, then later claimed Allen never had any conversations about Kandahari at all.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

BREAKING NEWS: Bradley Manning Found Not Guilty of Aiding the Enemy

July 30th, 2013 - by admin

Julie Tate / The Washington Post & Josh Gerstein / Politico – 2013-07-30 12:57:44

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/judge-to-announce-verdict-in-bradley-manning-case-today/2013/07/29/e894a75c-f897-11e2-afc1-c850c6ee5af8_story.html

Bradley Manning Found Not
Guilty of Aiding the Enemy

Julie Tate / The Washington Post

(July 30, 2013) — An Army judge on Tuesday acquitted Pfc. Bradley Manning of aiding the enemy by disclosing a trove of secret US government documents, a striking rebuke to military prosecutors who argued that the largest leak in US history had assisted al-Qaeda.

The judge, Col. Denise Lind, found Manning guilty of most of the more than 20 crimes he was charged with. She also acquitted him of one count of the espionage act that stemmed from his leak of a video that depicted a fatal US military airstrike in Farah, Afghanistan.

The eight-week trial offered a gripping account of Manning’s transformation from a shy soldier who deployed to Baghdad as an intelligence analyst in 2009 to a mole for the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which disclosed more than 700,000 documents Manning gathered.

Had Manning been convicted of aiding the enemy, Manning would have faced a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole. Civil libertarians saw the prospect of a conviction on that charge, which has not been used since the Civil War, as a dangerous precedent that could have would have sent an unmistakable message to would-be government whistle-blowers.

“The heart of this matter is the level of culpability,” said retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis, a former chief prosecutor at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He noted that Manning has already pled guilty to some charges and admitted leaking secret documents that he felt exposed wartime misdeeds. “Beyond that is government overreach.”

If found guilty of all charges, including aiding the enemy, Manning would face a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The planned announcement of the verdict follows an eight-week trial at Fort Meade in Maryland, where military prosecutors argued that Manning, 25, betrayed his oath and his country, and assisted al-Qaeda because the terrorist group was able to access secret material once WikiLeaks posted it.

Hours before the verdict, about two dozen Manning supporters demonstrated outside Fort Meade wearing “truth” T-shirts and waving signs proclaiming their admiration for the former intelligence analyst, the Associated Press reported.

“He wasn’t trying to aid the enemy,” said Barbara Bridges, 43, of Baltimore. “He was trying to give people the information they need so they can hold their government accountable.”

As dozens of journalists were admitted to the installation amid tight security, dogs trained to sniff out explosives searched their vehicles before they were escorted to a media room where the court proceedings were to be broadcast live on a screen.

The government’s pursuit of the charge of aiding the enemy under a theory that had not been used since the Civil War troubled civil libertarians and press-freedom advocates. They said the publication of secret defense information online could expose any leaker to life in prison and will chill press scrutiny of the military.

The government relied on a case from the Civil War to bring the charge: In that trial, a Union Army private, Henry Vanderwater, was found guilty of aiding the enemy when he leaked a Union roster to an Alexandria newspaper. Vanderwater received a sentence of three months hard labor and was dishonorably discharged.


Bradley Manning Trial Verdict:
Acquitted of Aiding the Enemy,
Convicted on Lesser Charges

Josh Gerstein / Politico

FORT MEADE, Md. (July 30, 2012) — A military judge Tuesday acquitted Pfc. Bradley Manning of aiding the enemy — the most serious charge the Army intelligence analyst faced for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified military reports and diplomatic cables.

Manning was convicted on nearly all of the lesser charges considered by the judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, in connection with the largest breach of classified material in US history.

The suspense at the court martial session was limited because Manning previously pled guilty to 10 of the 22 counts he faced. Those charges carry a potential sentence of 20 years. The aiding-the-enemy charge can lead result in a sentence of up to life in prison or event to the death penalty, but the military did not seek capital punishment in Manning’s case.

If convicted on all charges apart from aiding the enemy, Manning faced a potential sentence of up to 154 years.

Manning did not dispute the fact that he sent WikiLeaks most of the material that led to the charges against him. However, his defense argued that some of the counts were legally flawed.

The Army intelligence analyst was arrested in May 2010 in Iraq at a forward operating base where he studied threats in a section of Baghdad. He’s been in custody since.

As soon as Wednesday, the court martial is expected to move into a sentencing phase. Prosecutors are expected to call witnesses demonstrating the harm caused by Manning’s disclosures, while the defense will seek to undercut that evidence and argue for leniency.

Lind ruled in January that Manning is entitled to a sentencing credit of nearly four months as a result of what she determined was unnecessarily harsh treatment the intelligence analysts received during his almost nine-month stay at a Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va.

Manning’s case is one of an unprecedented flurry of leak-related criminal prosecutions brought under the Obama administration. A total of seven such cases have been brought in the past four and a half years, more than double the number of such cases in all prior administrations combined.

The administration expressed no regret about its handling of the recent wave of cases until earlier this year, when extensive attention to the Justice Department’s seizure of Associated Press phone records and a search warrant for a Fox reporter’s emails in a leak investigation led to a review of longstanding guidelines for such probes.

After an internal review, Attorney General Eric Holder changed DOJ policies to make it more difficult to access journalists’ work materials in instances where they are not the target of an investigation.

However, the case against Manning was prosecuted in the military justice system, which is separate from the civilian courts.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

The Tragedy of Veteran Suicides; One Soldier’s Last Words

July 30th, 2013 - by admin

Ralph Nader /Nader.org & Daniel Somers / Gawker.com – 2013-07-30 12:42:39

Suicides and Homicides Linked

Suicides and Homicides Linked
Ralph Nader /Nader.org & The Progressive Populist

(August 1, 2013) — “I am sorry that it has come to this.” Thus began the searing suicide note by 30-year-old Iraq War veteran, Daniel Somers on June 10, 2013 to his wife and family.

On the other side of the violent divide are video messages from the suicide bombers — the oft-described “weapon of the weak” against US soldiers and their presumed local collaborators.

In 2012 suicide by active duty American soldiers exceeded the number of US combat deaths in Afghanistan. Why?

In the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, young natives are lining up to become suicide bombers. Why?

For the soldiers’ conditions, there is an acronym — PTSD or post-traumatic stress syndrome. During World War I, it used to be called “shell-shock.” But in the Afghan and Iraq regions, the adversaries are not modern armies armed with “shells — they have no thunderous artillery, missiles, gunships, tanks fighter planes or drones. They have rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and suicide belts sporadically used. Something else is at work that is causing PTSD.

War correspondent and author, Kevin Sites offers this explanation: “Our understanding of PTSD from a clinical perspective has been that it’s triggered by witnessing a traumatic event that resonates so deeply that it prevents a person from leading a normal life in the aftermath. And so it is the witnessing of the event that causes the problems….

The Veterans Administration (VA) started looking at the connection between killing and post-traumatic stress and found that those soldiers who were involved in killings or who witnessed killings were experiencing a higher degree of post-traumatic stress disorder….

it was about the feelings of guilt they had about what they did or witnessed. And the guilt stemmed from two things: the guilt from killing, whether justified in the line of duty or killing a civilian by accident or killing one of your own guys by accident or killing in a war crime — so any kind of killing; the second point was surviving, survivor’s guilt. Their friends died, but they didn’t.”

The VA distilled thousands of interviews in their 2009 report, Moral Injury in the Context of War, to come to their assessment.

Mr. Sites came to the same judgment after his many profiles of returning veterans. In an interview with the Northwestern Alumni Magazine, he said “when we do something that goes against our moral compass — and killing goes against a lot of moral compasses out there — unless you’re a sociopath — we do feel some empathy…. So that idea of participation in something that goes against your moral compass really screws you up. It makes you feel bad, makes you feel guilt and shame.”

But soldiers aren’t supposed to talk about these feelings and don’t, which is why Sites titled his new book The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldiers Won’t Tell You About What They’ve Seen, Done or Failed to Do in War (Harper Perennial).

The fact that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were so one-sided in weaponry and so full of casualties of innocent civilians, including children, who never threatened our country, exacerbates these feelings of guilt.

This trauma coursed through the lengthy suicide letter of Daniel Somers who ran more than 400 combat missions as a machine gunner in Iraq during 2004-2005 and later worked with JSOC — Joint Special Operations Command — in Mosul, Iraq.

He writes “to sleep forever seems to be the most merciful thing… During my first deployment, I was made to participate in things, the enormity of which is hard to describe. War crimes, crimes against humanity.

“Though I did not participate willingly, and made what I thought was my best effort to stop these events, there are some things that a person simply can not come back from…. To force me to do these things and then participate in the ensuing cover-up is more than any government has the right to demand.”

In Daniel Somers’ final message he asks: “And for what? Bush’s religious lunacy? Cheney’s ever growing fortune and that of his corporate friends? Is this what we destroy lives for?”

As for what he called his “actual final mission,” he wrote: “Not suicide, but a mercy killing…. It was quick, and I did not suffer. And above all, now I am free…. I have no more nightmares or flashbacks or hallucinations.”

What of the young suicide bombers who are depicted in their videos as wanting to become martyrs? Western reporters like to say their motivation is to go the Islamic paradise.

That is not what University of Chicago professor, Robert Pape found in his extensive research, concluding that their principal motivation was to expel the occupying invader.

Their immense poverty, war-torn devastation of their villages and tribal areas, and the absence of any future, whether of economic survival or personal achievements, was probably also in the mix. Perhaps some money was given to their destitute families in exchange for their attacks.

Whatever the reasons, to dismiss these fighters as sociopaths is to help preclude our own examination of why we are there blowing apart their societies, provoking sectarian revenge cycles, bribing our way everywhere with crates of $100 bills. As a Yemeni villager plaintively asked, after a devastating drone attack that killed many civilians, “why do you hate us so much?”

Here in the US we better start understanding the rising tide of suicides generally. The Centers for Disease Control totals suicides in 2010 at 38,364 Americans as compared with homicides totaling 16,259. Among the baby boomers, suicides are sharply higher than previous generations, especially since the onset of the recession, unemployment and home foreclosures.

We better starting digging more deeply into the conditioning “whys?” and discounting the traditional explanations of self-hatred and hating us “for our freedoms.”


“I Am Sorry That It Has Come to This”:
A Soldier’s Last Words

Daniel Somers / Gawker.com

Daniel Somers was a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was part of Task Force Lightning, an intelligence unit. In 2004-2005, he was mainly assigned to a Tactical Human-Intelligence Team (THT) in Baghdad, Iraq, where he ran more than 400 combat missions as a machine gunner in the turret of a Humvee, interviewed countless Iraqis ranging from concerned citizens to community leaders and government officials, and interrogated dozens of insurgents and terrorist suspects.

In 2006-2007, Daniel worked with Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) through his former unit in Mosul where he ran the Northern Iraq Intelligence Center. His official role was as a senior analyst for the Levant (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and part of Turkey). Daniel suffered greatly from PTSD and had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and several other war-related conditions.

On June 10, 2013, Daniel wrote the following letter to his family before taking his life. Daniel was 30 years old. His wife and family have given permission to publish it.

I am sorry that it has come to this.

The fact is, for as long as I can remember my motivation for getting up every day has been so that you would not have to bury me. As things have continued to get worse, it has become clear that this alone is not a sufficient reason to carry on.

The fact is, I am not getting better, I am not going to get better, and I will most certainly deteriorate further as time goes on. From a logical standpoint, it is better to simply end things quickly and let any repercussions from that play out in the short term than to drag things out into the long term.

You will perhaps be sad for a time, but over time you will forget and begin to carry on. Far better that than to inflict my growing misery upon you for years and decades to come, dragging you down with me. It is because I love you that I cannot do this to you.

You will come to see that it is a far better thing as one day after another passes during which you do not have to worry about me or even give me a second thought. You will find that your world is better without me in it.

I really have been trying to hang on, for more than a decade now. Each day has been a testament to the extent to which I cared, suffering unspeakable horror as quietly as possible so that you could feel as though I was still here for you. In truth, I was nothing more than a prop, filling space so that my absence would not be noted. In truth, I have already been absent for a long, long time.

My body has become nothing but a cage, a source of pain and constant problems. The illness I have has caused me pain that not even the strongest medicines could dull, and there is no cure. All day, every day a screaming agony in every nerve ending in my body. It is nothing short of torture.

My mind is a wasteland, filled with visions of incredible horror, unceasing depression, and crippling anxiety, even with all of the medications the doctors dare give. Simple things that everyone else takes for granted are nearly impossible for me. I can not laugh or cry. I can barely leave the house. I derive no pleasure from any activity. Everything simply comes down to passing time until I can sleep again. Now, to sleep forever seems to be the most merciful thing.

You must not blame yourself. The simple truth is this: During my first deployment, I was made to participate in things, the enormity of which is hard to describe. War crimes, crimes against humanity. Though I did not participate willingly, and made what I thought was my best effort to stop these events, there are some things that a person simply can not come back from.

I take some pride in that, actually, as to move on in life after being part of such a thing would be the mark of a sociopath in my mind. These things go far beyond what most are even aware of.

To force me to do these things and then participate in the ensuing coverup is more than any government has the right to demand. Then, the same government has turned around and abandoned me. They offer no help, and actively block the pursuit of gaining outside help via their corrupt agents at the DEA. Any blame rests with them.

Beyond that, there are the host of physical illnesses that have struck me down again and again, for which they also offer no help. There might be some progress by now if they had not spent nearly twenty years denying the illness that I and so many others were exposed to.

Further complicating matters is the repeated and severe brain injuries to which I was subjected, which they also seem to be expending no effort into understanding. What is known is that each of these should have been cause enough for immediate medical attention, which was not rendered.

Lastly, the DEA enters the picture again as they have now managed to create such a culture of fear in the medical community that doctors are too scared to even take the necessary steps to control the symptoms.

All under the guise of a completely manufactured “overprescribing epidemic,” which stands in stark relief to all of the legitimate research, which shows the opposite to be true. Perhaps, with the right medication at the right doses, I could have bought a couple of decent years, but even that is too much to ask from a regime built upon the idea that suffering is noble and relief is just for the weak.

However, when the challenges facing a person are already so great that all but the weakest would give up, these extra factors are enough to push a person over the edge.

Is it any wonder then that the latest figures show 22 veterans killing themselves each day? That is more veterans than children killed at Sandy Hook, every single day. Where are the huge policy initiatives? Why isn’t the president standing with those families at the state of the union? Perhaps because we were not killed by a single lunatic, but rather by his own system of dehumanization, neglect, and indifference.

It leaves us to where all we have to look forward to is constant pain, misery, poverty, and dishonor. I assure you that, when the numbers do finally drop, it will merely be because those who were pushed the farthest are all already dead.

And for what? Bush’s religious lunacy? Cheney’s ever growing fortune and that of his corporate friends? Is this what we destroy lives for

Since then, I have tried everything to fill the void. I tried to move into a position of greater power and influence to try and right some of the wrongs. I deployed again, where I put a huge emphasis on saving lives. The fact of the matter, though, is that any new lives saved do not replace those who were murdered. It is an exercise in futility.

Then, I pursued replacing destruction with creation. For a time this provided a distraction, but it could not last. The fact is that any kind of ordinary life is an insult to those who died at my hand.

How can I possibly go around like everyone else while the widows and orphans I created continue to struggle? If they could see me sitting here in suburbia, in my comfortable home working on some music project they would be outraged, and rightfully so.

I thought perhaps I could make some headway with this film project, maybe even directly appealing to those I had wronged and exposing a greater truth, but that is also now being taken away from me.

I fear that, just as with everything else that requires the involvement of people who cannot understand by virtue of never having been there, it is going to fall apart as careers get in the way.

The last thought that has occurred to me is one of some kind of final mission. It is true that I have found that I am capable of finding some kind of reprieve by doing things that are worthwhile on the scale of life and death. While it is a nice thought to consider doing some good with my skills, experience, and killer instinct, the truth is that it isn’t realistic.

First, there are the logistics of financing and equipping my own operation, then there is the near certainty of a grisly death, international incidents, and being branded a terrorist in the media that would follow. What is really stopping me, though, is that I simply am too sick to be effective in the field anymore. That, too, has been taken from me.

Thus, I am left with basically nothing. Too trapped in a war to be at peace, too damaged to be at war. Abandoned by those who would take the easy route, and a liability to those who stick it out — and thus deserve better. So you see, not only am I better off dead, but the world is better without me in it

This is what brought me to my actual final mission. Not suicide, but a mercy killing. I know how to kill, and I know how to do it so that there is no pain whatsoever. It was quick, and I did not suffer. And above all, now I am free. I feel no more pain. I have no more nightmares or flashbacks or hallucinations. I am no longer constantly depressed or afraid or worried

I am free.

I ask that you be happy for me for that. It is perhaps the best break I could have hoped for. Please accept this and be glad for me.

Daniel Somers

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

ACTION ALERT: Tell the Senate to Halt ‘Mobile Chernobyl’ Plan

July 30th, 2013 - by admin

Michael Mariotte / Nuclear Information and Resource Service & Credo – 2013-07-30 12:26:23

http://org.credoaction.com/petitions/stop-a-mobile-chernobyl

STOP A MOBILE CHERNOBYL
NO FUKUSHIMA FREEWAYS

(July 30, 213) — Congress is considering legislation that would establish “consolidated interim storage” sites for high-level radioactive waste. This would initiate the unnecessary transport of tens of thousands of casks of lethal radioactive waste on our roads and railways for the sole benefit of the nuclear power industry, while endangering the health and safety of millions of Americans.

As long as nuclear reactors generate this waste, “interim” waste sites would not decrease the number of places that store radioactive waste; rather, there would simply be more contaminated sites. Radioactive waste should be stored in dry hardened, secure on-site facilities until a permanent, scientifically-defensible and publicly-acceptable waste solution is implemented.

This waste should be moved only once: to a permanent site. Ending the generation of radioactive waste would be the most effective single step toward addressing our radioactive waste dilemma. Please vote against any legislation that would establish consolidated “interim” storage sites for radioactive waste.

Why is this important? Here’s the nuclear power industry’s plan to deal with the ever-growing problem of deadly radioactive waste piling up at nuclear reactors: get it off their sites and send tens of thousands of hot casks on America’s highways and railways to one or more “temporary” unprotected sites located anywhere but on their property.

Sound like a serious plan? Of course not. But some in Congress like the idea. Four members of the Senate Energy Committee have introduced S. 1240, which would include that plan as part of an overhaul of the nation’s radioactive waste laws.

The first hearing on this bill is Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Please tell Congress that “centralized interim storage” of radioactive waste — and the accompanying and completely unnecessary risk of a Mobile Chernobyl — is unacceptable. We need a permanent solution, not Fukushima Freeways.

Nothing New
The nuclear industry’s plan is nothing new. In fact, it’s the same plan they came up with 20 years ago, when NIRS first coined the term “Mobile Chernobyl.”

The public rose in opposition, and President Clinton vetoed an “interim” storage bill passed by Congress. The Senate upheld his veto. Now we have to do it again, and people power will make the difference.

ACTION:Please act now, and ask your friends and colleagues to act as well.

If you’d like more background information, visit our Mobile Chernobyl website at www.nirs.org.


Senators Introduce Bipartisan,
Comprehensive Nuclear Waste Legislation

Bill Takes Immediate Steps To Safely Store Waste and Break Gridlock over Permanent Repository

US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

WASHINGTON, DC (June 27 2013) — Today four senior US senators introduced a bipartisan, comprehensive plan for safeguarding and permanently disposing of tens of thousands of tons of dangerous radioactive nuclear waste currently accumulating at sites dispersed across the country.

Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. — the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development — and Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, collaborated on the proposal, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013 (S. 1240).

“Stalemate can’t solve our nation’s nuclear waste issues. This bill takes immediate steps to more safely store the most dangerous radioactive waste, and lays out a clear plan for a permanent solution,” Wyden said. “Senators Murkowski, Feinstein and Alexander deserve enormous credit for the work and creativity that made this bipartisan bill possible.”

“I’m pleased to have worked with Sens. Wyden, Feinstein, and Alexander to include language that gets us back on a path to addressing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle,” Murkowski said. “By moving forward on interim storage and a permanent repository through parallel tracks, the federal government can send a strong signal to utilities, ratepayers, and the American public that we will meet our obligations on used nuclear fuel.”

“This bipartisan bill — years in the making — will finally begin to address the dangerous, expensive absence of a comprehensive nuclear waste policy,” Feinstein said. “In addition to creating an independent Nuclear Waste Administration to manage nuclear waste, the bill authorizes the construction of interim storage facilities and permanent waste repositories, sited through a consent-based process and funded by fees currently collected from nuclear power ratepayers.

“The inability of the federal government to collect waste stored across the country at functioning power plants, decommissioned reactors and federal facilities is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year. It’s time to finally put a policy in place to address this problem.”

“After 25 years of stalemate, this legislation puts us back on the road to finding safe places to dispose of used nuclear fuel,” Alexander said. “It does this in the obvious way: by making local, state and federal governments equal partners in the process of finding temporary and permanent storage for nuclear waste. This is important because nuclear power provides 60 percent of our reliable, air-pollution-free electricity.”

Currently there is no central repository for spent nuclear fuel, leaving fuel rods to be stored on-site at dozens of commercial nuclear facilities around the country, including areas that are at risk of earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters.

Millions of gallons of high-level radioactive waste from the nation’s nuclear weapons programs are also being stored at Department of Energy sites around the country.

The 2011 Fukushima disaster, combined with recent announcements of new radioactive waste leaks at the Hanford Site in Washington State add to the urgency of securing spent fuel and finding permanent repository for the nation’s nuclear waste.

The bill updates an April draft, after the Energy committee received more than 2,500 public comments on the measure. It includes establishment of a new nuclear waste administration and creates a consent-based process for siting nuclear waste facilities.

It also enables the federal government to address its commitment to managing commercial nuclear waste, limiting the costly liability the government bears for its failure to dispose of commercial spent fuel.

The integrated storage and repository system established by this legislation will expand opportunities for nuclear power to supply low-carbon energy, and will provide long-term protection of public health and safety for both commercial and defense high-level waste. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee is planning a hearing on the bill in July.

The date and witnesses will be announced when they are confirmed.


Summary of the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013

The Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013 is intended to implement the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future to establish a Nuclear Waste Administration and create a consent — based process for siting nuclear waste facilities.

The bill reflects the basic structure of the discussion draft released in April 2013, with modifications to the structure of the Administration and to the requirements linking storage facilities to the repository program.

More than 2,500 comments were received on the draft. The bill enables the federal government to fulfill its commitment to managing nuclear waste, ending the costly liability the government bears for its failure to dispose of commercial spent fuel.

The integrated storage and repository system established by this legislation will expand opportunities for nuclear power to supply carbon — free energy, and will provide long — term protection of public health and safety from both commercial and defense high — level waste. A Nuclear Waste Administration

The bill establishes a new, independent agency, headed by a single Administrator, appointed by the p resident and subject to confirmation by the Senate, to manage the nuclear waste program in place of DOE.

It also establishes an Oversight Board — composed of 5 members with staggered terms, appointed by the p resident and confirmed by the Senate — to oversee the new agency’s administration of the program.

The creation of an independent oversight board is a response to comments which raised concerns about the earlier framework for a board composed of Federal officials.

A Consent-Based Process for Consolidated Storage Facilities and a Repository
The bill directs the new agency to build a pilot spent fuel storage facility to store spent fuel from decommissioned nuclear power plants and emergency shipments from operating plants.

The agency is also directed to build one or more consolidated storage facilities to store non-priority spent fuel for utilities or defense wastes for DOE on a temporary basis. It also establishes separate — but similar — siting processes for storage facilities and one for repositories (steps unique to the repository process below are in italics).

To site a nuclear waste facility, the new agency must:
• establish technical siting guidelines to evaluate sites;
• solicit states and communities to volunteer sites;
• obtain state and local (and tribal if on an Indian reservation) cooperation to study sites, with cooperation agreements optional for storage sites and required for repository sites ;
• hold public hearings before characterizing sites, and before final determination of suitability for a repository;
• obtain state and local (and tribal if on an Indian reservation) consent to site a rep ository or storage facility ; and
• obtain licenses from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct and operate storage facilities or repositories.

The separation of storage facility and repository siting processes into two sections is a change from the earlier framework.

Additional differences include a requirement for t he Administrator to issue a request for proposals for a pilot storage facility within 180 days after enactment of the Act, and a requirement to issue guidelines pertaining to repositories no later than 1 year after enactment.

Linkage Between Storage Facilities and a Repository
The bill authorizes the Administrator to begin siting a pilot storage facility for priority waste immediately, and does not set waste volume restrictions on storage. The bill provides that for 10 years following enactment of the Act, the Administrator may continue to site new storage facilities for non-priority waste as long as funds have been obligated to carry out a parallel repository program.

After 10 years, the Administrator may site new storage facilities only if at least one site has been selected for evaluation as a potential location for a repository.

The American Surveillance State Is Here

July 30th, 2013 - by admin

John W. Whitehead / AntiWar.com – 2013-07-30 12:07:02

The American Surveillance State Is Here. Can It Be Evaded?

The American Surveillance State Is Here.
Can It Be Evaded?

John W. Whitehead / AntiWar.com

(July 29, 2013) — On any given day, the average American going about his daily business will be monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways, by both government and corporate eyes and ears.

A byproduct of this new age in which we live, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior.

As I point out in my new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, this doesn’t even begin to touch on the corporate trackers that monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere.

The revelations by Edward Snowden only scrape the surface in revealing the lengths to which government agencies and their corporate allies will go to conduct mass surveillance on all communications and transactions within the United States.

Erected in secret, without any public input, these surveillance programs amount to an electronic concentration camp which houses every single person in the United States today.

Indeed, government whistleblower Russ Tice, who exposed the NSA’s warrantless surveillance of American phone calls as far back as 2005, insists that despite Obama administration claims that the NSA is simply collecting metadata, the NSA is in fact retrieving “the contents of emails, text messages, Skype communications, and phone calls, as well as financial information, health records, legal documents, and travel documents.”

These communications are being stored in the NSA’s Utah Data Center, a massive $2 billion facility that will be handling yottabytes of data (equivalent to one septillion bytes – imagine a one followed by 24 zeroes) on American communications. This Utah facility is opening amidst a backlash against NSA surveillance.

Most recently, the Obama administration and the NSA went into overdrive to quash an amendment sponsored by Justin Amash (R-Mich.) that would have cut off funds to the NSA if it collects surveillance data on American citizens who are not under criminal investigation.

Unfortunately, lobbyists and the Washington elite succeeded in defeating the amendment 217-205. Not surprisingly, many of those who voted down the bill were also recipients of campaign funds from the lucrative security/surveillance sector.

In the face of such powerful lobbyists working in tandem with our so-called representatives, any hope of holding onto even a shred of privacy is rapidly dwindling. Indeed, the life of the average American is an open book for government agents.

As Senator Ron Wyden, a longtime critic of the American surveillance state, points out, government agencies operate based upon a secret interpretation of the Patriot Act which allows them to extract massive amounts of data from third party agencies, enabling them to collect information on “bulk medical, financial, credit card and gun-ownership records or lists of ‘readers of books and magazines deemed subversive.'”

Cell phones are equally vulnerable, serving as a “combination phone bug, listening device, location tracker and hidden camera.” For example, the FBI uses the “roving bug” technique, which allows agents to remotely activate the microphone on a cellphone and use it as a listening device.

With private corporations also taking advantage of this technology, the outlook is decidedly grim. In an attempt to mimic the tracking capabilities of online retailers, brick-and-mortar stores now utilize WIFI-enabled devices to track the movements of their customers by tracking their phones as they move throughout the store.

The data gathered by these devices include “‘capture rate’ (how successful window displays are at pulling people into the store); number of customers inside the store; customer visit duration and frequency; customer location within the store; people who walk by the store without coming in; and the amount of foot traffic around the store.”

Americans cannot even drive their cars without being enmeshed in this web of surveillance. As confirmed by an ACLU report entitled, “You Are Being Tracked: How License Plate Readers Are Being Used to Record Americans’ Movements,” the latest developments in license plate readers enable law enforcement and private agencies to track the whereabouts of vehicles, and their occupants, all across the country.

License plate readers work by recognizing a passing license plate, photographing it, and running the information against a pre-determined database that lets police know if they’ve got a “hit,” a person of interest, though not necessarily a suspected criminal.

There are reportedly tens of thousands of these license plate readers now affixed to police cars and underpasses in operation throughout the country. The data collected from these devices is also being shared between police agencies, as well as with fusion centers and private companies.

Indeed, while all drivers’ data is being collected, only a fraction of the data collected constitutes a “hit.” An even smaller fraction of those “hits” actually result in an arrest. Overall, the hit rate for criminal activity gleaned from the license pictures is usually between .01% and .3%, meaning that over 99% of the people being unnecessarily surveilled are entirely innocent.

This is the United States of America today, where liberty and privacy are the currency for any and all essential services. Short of living in a cave, cut off from all communications and commerce, anyone living in the concentration camp that is America today must cede his privacy and liberty to a government agency, a corporation, or both, in order to access information via the internet, communicate with friends and family, shop for food and clothing, or travel to work.

We have just about reached the point of no return. “If we do not seize this unique moment in our constitutional history to reform our surveillance laws and practices, we are all going to live to regret it,” warned Senator Wyden. “The combination of increasingly advanced technology with a breakdown in the checks and balances that limit government action could lead us to a surveillance state that cannot be reversed.”

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Power Line Plan Threatens Windpower and Pentagon Missile Tests

July 30th, 2013 - by admin

Bob Brewin / National Journal & Nextgov.com – 2013-07-30 11:39:43

http://news.yahoo.com/power-line-plan-threatens-antimissile-tests-pentagon-says-090204362.html

Power Line Plan Threatens Antimissile Tests, Pentagon Says

WASHINGTON (July 29, 2013) — The Defense Department and environmental groups find themselves facing a common enemy in their strong opposition to a proposed 515 mile high-voltage electric transmission line touted as a way to transmit “green” wind energy from rural New Mexico to urban markets in Arizona and potentially California.

The proposed SunZia system includes two single-circuit, bi-directional 500 kV transmission lines strung from 135-foot towers spaced 1,400 feet apart along the proposed route, which runs from a substation near the small town of Corona, N.M., 82 miles southeast of Albuquerque, to another substation near Eloy, Ariz., roughly halfway between Tuscon and Phoenix.

The Bureau of Land Management, which has overseen the right-of-way process for SunZia since 2009, selected a preferred route for the transmission line on June 14. But Pentagon officials say that route, which crosses the north end of White Sands Missile Range, N.M., jeopardizes operations at the range, thereby threatening national security.

Environmental groups say the preferred route in Arizona, which includes roughly 40 miles through the undeveloped San Pedro River Valley east of Tucson, could cause “degradation to globally significant riparian areas” — home to 100 species of breeding birds and another 250 species of migratory birds.

Frank Kendall, undersecretary of Defense, said in a March 19 letter to David Hayes, deputy secretary of Interior, that the route proposed by BLM poses “unacceptable risk to national security.” Kendall urged the agency, which is part of the Interior Department, to select a different route when it releases its final environmental impact statement on the SunZia system.

Kendall said BLM’s draft plan, issued in May 2012, would “preclude the capability to fully test the Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Architecture and other weapons systems under realistic threat environments at [White Sands].”

“This is due to the vertical obstruction such power lines would pose to low-level missile flight tests. It is possible that a missile could inadvertently strike the power line or catastrophically fail and shower debris on the power line,” Kendall told Hayes.

Army leaders are also unhappy with the proposal. In comments on the proposed route, the service said the towers could interfere with low level flights conducted by the German Air Force Flying Training Center at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, N.M. The German air force trains Tornado fighter-bomber pilots in New Mexico rather than Europe due to the unrestricted air space at the missile range.

The planned SunZia power line “represents a significant increase in safety hazards to pilots conducting both testing and training missions,” the Army maintains.

If BLM selects a SunZia route through the missile range, then the company should be required to bury the line, Kendall said.

BLM’s preferred alternative for the SunZia line ignored Kendall and the Army. That route crosses the “northern extension area” of White Sands Missile Range — land leased from ranchers on a “call up” basis to support test and flights.

Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment, said the service strongly opposes the SunZia route identified in the final impact statement where it enters the restricted airspace and call-up area north of White Sands.

Any vertical structure at the height of transmission lines “negatively impacts the military mission,” Hammack said in a written statement.

“The impact to military mission would be significant and irreversible because we will no longer be able to conduct certain tests. White Sands Missile Range provides unique testing characteristics and capabilities that cannot be duplicated within the United States. The testing the military conducts at WSMR must be performed to ensure functionality of our military defense systems and preserve and protect our national security,” she said.

Power lines would interfere with cruise missile targets and aircraft that fly as close to the ground as possible using terrain-following techniques and tests, she said.

In addition, electromagnetic noise generated by the power line could impact the low radio frequency noise level of the missile range. “The Northern Extension Area is pristine with little infrastructure and the background noise environment is very low (i.e., very RF quiet). This allows specific sensors to conduct baseline testing. Transmission lines will impact this background noise both from an RF and a heat signature perspective.”

Environmental Worries
Norm “Mick” Meader, co-chair of the Cascabel Working Group, an environmental group in the San Pedro River valley, told Nextgov that Fort Huachuca in southeastern Arizona is also strongly opposed to having SunZia pass through its Buffalo Soldier Electronic Proving Ground, although it has been publicly silent. Meader said Cochise County, where the Proving Ground is located, has taken up the Fort’s concerns and is championing them independently with BLM.

Besides the impact on the San Pedro River Valley, environmental groups are concerned about the SunZia line’s impact on wilderness areas in the Galiuro and Santa Teresa mountains and Aravaipa Canyon east of Tucson.

The area, which includes hundreds of miles of wilderness east of Tucson, is “the largest unfragmented landscape remaining in the southwestern US” outside the Grand Canyon area, according to the Nature Conservancy. The power line would split the landscape in half and introduce roads into a roadless area.

Environmentalists also contend that the SunZia line is a project designed to transmit power from polluting fossil fuel plants dressed up with a “green” moniker. The primary backer of the SunZia transmission system is Phoenix-based SouthWestern Power Group II, LLC, which says its “mission is to develop, construct, own and operate gas-fired power plants in the United States.” Another key SunZia partner is Tucson Electric Power.

Peter Else, a conservationist in Mammoth Ariz., 12 miles from the north end of the transmission line route through the San Pedro River valley, said SunZia has “grossly mischaracterized its mission as green.”

A key purpose of the line is to transmit power east and west from a 1,000 megawatt natural gas-fired power plant SouthWestern Power plans to build in Bowie, Ariz., 26 miles west of the New Mexico border.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Arizona chapter of the Sierra Club, characterized SunZia’s position as “greenmail.” The company “at best has been misleading in selling the environmental aspects” of the transmission line.

In a letter to BLM on July 12, the Sierra Club and five other environmental groups — Defenders of Wildlife, Cascabel Working Group, Sky Island Alliance, Tucson Audubon Society, and the Friends of the Aravaipa Region — said that when SouthWestern Power originally proposed SunZia, they made clear its primary purpose was to transmit power from the Bowie plant both eastward to El Paso and westward to Phoenix and California.

That original plan did mention transmission of renewable energy, the environmental groups acknowledged, but they said the final environmental impact statement for SunZia is “misleading because it continues to imply that nearly the sole purpose of the project is to provide transmission capacity for renewable energy development.”

Else serves as coordinator for the Friends of the Aravaipa Region environmental group, which said in its July 12 protest letter that BLM bought into and disseminated SunZia’s renewable energy pitch despite numerous filings by environmental groups disputing that assertion.

Else said he believes SunZia will take its time to build the leg of the network designed to transmit wind energy from New Mexico and instead concentrate on building lines that will service fossil fuel plants in Arizona.

Green Dispute
Ian Calkins, a SunZia spokesman, blasted the Sierra Club and other environmental group as “hypocrites” for their embrace of green energy but opposition to a transmission line to move that energy. He said the fact that SunZia plans to anchor the line in one of the windiest areas of New Mexico indicates the company’s commitment to renewable energy.

In a lengthy interview, Calkins at first dismissed concerns by Kendall and the Army over the transmission line route through the leased land in the northern extension of the White Sands Missile Range as not germane, because those lands are not part of the base.

He later said SunZia would work to “mitigate” any impacts the transmission line would have on range operations, but did not provided specifics.

Jesse Juen, BLM’s state director for New Mexico, said “The existing grid system in the region has not been upgraded in over 30 years, and this proposed project has the potential to improve the reliability and efficiency of the western electrical grid and deliver energy, including wind and solar, throughout the West.”

If the SunZia line is built it would enable the development of currently stranded energy resources, including wind and solar, by creating access to the interstate power grid and adding 3,000 to 4,500 megawatts of electric capacity to the desert Southwest region, BLM said.

Donna Hummel, a BLM spokeswoman in Albuquerque, said the agency understood concerns raised by the Pentagon and environmental groups but at the same time needs to advance the four-year petition by SunZia.

She that the preferred route BLM identified through the range came after years of discussions in which the Army and the Pentagon “kept pushing it north.” Hummel said BLM will work with the Army to mitigate the impact of the line on range operations, but like Calkins did not specify mitigation measures.

BLM understands the environmental concerns with the route of the SunZia line through the San Pedro River valley, Hummel said, but pointed out that was considered less threating to the environment than other routes the agency considered.

BLM still must consider public protests and input from the governors of Arizona and New Mexico before it green lights the SunZia project. After that, the company would have to obtain permits from both states. SunZia would then need to raise funds for the line and complete construction prior to operation, which is slated to start after 2016.

Reprinted from Nextgov.com. The original story can be found here.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Turning a Page: Latin America and the US

July 30th, 2013 - by admin

Empire / Al Jazeera – 2013-07-30 11:35:51

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/empire/2013/07/2013724172920988689.html

As geopolitical shifts grip Latin America,
Empire examines what challenges may yet lie ahead

(July 28, 2013) — In the last decade, Latin America has undergone a series of historic transformations. Major political shifts, unprecedented economic growth, and political leaders challenging US influence and championing regional autonomy, have combined to reshape an emerging new continent.

With ideologies and policies as varying as Venezuela’s Bolivarian socialism, Colombia’s economic liberalism and the centrism of Brazil and Argentina being exercised throughout the region, Empire examines the geopolitical shifts across Latin America and asks what challenges may yet lie ahead.

Increasingly plural and self-confident, Latin America is creating and exploiting a growing international profile — politically and economically. The region’s trade with China, which recently surpassed that between China and the US, is currently worth over $200 billion a year and has undergone a staggering 20-fold increase since 2000.

But as intra-regional and South-South ties have strengthened, the challenges have inevitably grown more complex in this new continental order. With competing visions for the future, can Latin American leaders reach consensus?

On the domestic front, Chile and Brazil have recently witnessed mass demonstrations against controversial public spending policies.

The long-running US-led ‘war on drugs’ while dismantling some of Colombia’s most powerful cartels, has failed to contain the spread of violence and organised crime across borders. Empire scratches beneath the surface of this ‘war’ against the drug trade to expose the machinations of an enduring continental scourge.

While US influence in the region may have experienced a relative decline, Washington still wields considerable power, casting a critical, and at times suspicious, eye over the changes blowing through its former ‘backyard’.

With a burgeoning continent in flux, Empire asks: How has its relationship with the US changed? Who loses and who wins in this new regional order? And what form will a region, characterised by conflicting ideas, take in the future?

Joining us to analyse and uncover some of these issues are: Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the former president of Brazil; Otto Perez Molina, the president of Guatemala; Cesar Gaviria, the former president of Colombia; and Jeremy McDermott, the co-founder of the South American organised crime research institute, InSight Crime.

We also discuss the future of Latin America and its relationship with the US with our guests:
Professor Arlene Beth Tickner from Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, who is the editor of a number of books including Thinking International Relations Differently (Worlding Beyond the West);
Professor Michael Hardt from Duke University, who is the author of several books including co-authored works Empire and Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire; and
Greg Grandin, a professor of history at New York University and author of Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the US and the Rise of the New Imperialism.

This episode of Empire can be seen from Sunday, July 28, at the following times GMT: Sunday: 2000; Monday: 1200; Tuesday: 0100; Wednesday: 0600.

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