Obama and the Drug of Hope

On January 20, 2009, during a frigid and fiercely cold day, hundreds of thousands of allegedly sane American patriots had traversed land, air, and sea to attend a majestic spectacle: the inauguration of President Barack Obama, 44th behaloed president of the United States of America.

CNN, the mainstream news network for lemmings that spearheaded the event, bore witness to a jubilant and expectant audience of men, women, and children, sweeping across Washington like a sea, nay, a tsunami that prophets would be reluctant to part. Within the cold thunderous mishmash, old war veterans and baby boomers, the young and hip hopefuls, and trendites, socialites, and new-agey feel-goods attended this spiritually vivifying event. Flag-wavers, nationalists, newly-born patriots and born-again patriots reveled in song, dance, and poetry, patting one another, eyes shut and smiling wryly in disbelief, congratulating each other as comrades with the look of a mission finally accomplished. Roland Martin reminded us that, in the name of change, pop-culture iconoclasts Oprah, Puff Daddy, and Smokey Robinson were present. Hilarity ensues – as if Americans just had to know. As if the Washingtons, Paines, Lincolns, and squirrels gave a flying acorn whether they attended or not. The monolithic gears of the corporate media machine were well-oiled, running, and ready to embellish a princely procession estimated to cost a baffling $150 million.

Talking female heads glossed over excitedly the philosophy behind the new charismatic leader, pontificating the resemblance to the struggles of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. As Obama began to utter his prescribed words, televised montages were intricately slabbed across American screens: pictures of starry-eyed commoners from Memphis, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Pasadena, a perfect portrayal of people so enraptured by Obama’s rhetoric that they were cerebrally neutralized and rendered speechless. In one scene, a woman with clasped, prayerful hands and chin atremble is choked in tears. Opposite that, men nod their heads agreeably to the tune of the same war agenda. The rest continued to listen and watch with mouths agape. Hilary Rosen admitted to crying after witnessing the chain reaction of scenes of other teary-eyed people. The audience, unable to contain their joy, horned in their hollers of approval when the speech got really good. Proceeding to the paperwork, Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper commented on the panache of Obama’s penmarkship and the sexiness of his signature’s flourish, in case viewers were slow to appreciate the way a man signs his papers. Everything segues into the fluttering backdrop of a silent American flag.

Quoting Thomas Paine in his speech, Obama says: “Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it.” How often had politicians touted the eloquence and wisdom of the revolutionaries as if they admired it, respected it – understood it? The ugly punishing reality contends many have abused it and forgotten it: where is the virtue in funneling billions to foreign conflicts and shenanigans, wasting more billions brewing client states and proxy wars, welcoming the bankers with their fiat money and fiat laws, and rewriting our own laws to transform a grand republic into a corporate, draconian democracy?

The few strong who could wield what was left of their intellectual reserves were aware of the carefully planned coup de grace, and dodged the merciful blow intended to daze the populace and cloak runaway tyranny as it reformed itself. The geriatric elite in their crisp American flag-pinned suits and their Zionist counterparts from afar must’ve realized that the blitzkrieg doctrines under Bush and Cheney could only last for so long no matter who passed the torch. A defiant public had even sacrificed self-reliance and are now rank with a sickly dependence on big government, and coupled with their ignorance of the darker realms of history, they are now binging on the ecstatic drug of hope to replenish their depleted, wayworn souls. Now the timid and inexperienced are apt to choose pretenders who easily masquerade as messiahs. The timing was perfect. Henry Kissinger in a recent interview with CNBC had praised Obama. With a majority of the anti-war movement now quelled and pacified, a “new world order” can finally emerge.

“The president-elect is coming into office at a moment when there is upheaval in many parts of the world simultaneously. You have India, Pakistan; you have the jihadist movement. So he can’t really say there is one problem, that it’s the most important one. But he can give new impetus to American foreign policy partly because the reception of him is so extraordinary around the world. His task will be to develop an overall strategy for America in this period when, really, a new world order can be created. It’s a great opportunity, it isn’t just a crisis.”

Many remain green, evasive, and unacquainted towards geopolitics and the ancient art of empire. And now Obama, who has bedded the Israeli Zionist leadership and their AIPAC cohorts, is now free and fated to willingly carry out that elusive agenda.

Obama surrounds himself by an unmistakably pro-war and pro-business entourage that includes Iraqi war architect Robert Gates, classic war hawk Hillary Clinton, and the new national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has entertained racy thoughts of imperialism through subterfuge and proxy since the days of the Cold War. The appointment of Secretary of Agriculture, former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and big-agribusiness stooge, is ominous to the domination of big-agribusiness at home and operations abroad. Hope-Change addicts cannot help but further stroke themselves to the cockered Obama who kowtows without qualms or conscience to the racist Zionist euphemism of “security” in Israel, salivating over any meaty piece of legislature that suppresses the original Semities – the Palestinians – and sends munitions unconditionally to Israel as they continue to quarter and eradicate Gazan civilians en masse. Zionism 1, Change 0.

Meanwhile, Russia, the mighty bear who emerged victorious against the proxy South Ossetia war, expressed cautious optimism about Obama who still believes Russia was the aggressor in the conflict. Eugene Kolesnikov, a private consultant in the Netherlands, had it nicely summed up during in Expert’s Panel for Russia Profile, that it’s unclear what the pro-war Obama administration will now do, whether they will continue sponsoring the loathed missile-shield in Poland, push forward the annexation of Georgia into NATO, or amplify other “Russia-containment policies.”

“Obama’s Clintonite foreign affairs team and such advisors as Zbigniew Brzezinski will want [Obama] to carry on with the Russia containment policies. The containment approach is based on the assessment prevalent in the U.S. establishment that America will be capable of dominating the world if China is allied, Europe is taken back into the fold by involvement in decision-making, and all sorts of “smart power” improvements are implemented elsewhere.”

Hamid Karzai, stooge and successor to the bygone Taliban leadership, is now condemning Obama’s audacity-authorized missile strike that killed 16 civilians. And likewise, another missile strike – with love from Obama – hits Pakistan, where many enraged Pakistanis clamored that it would only aggravate the growth of terrorist and militant activity, should Americans continue to violate the country’s sovereignty. Juan Cole from Salon.com writes:

“This resort to violence from the skies even before Obama had initiated discussions with Islamabad is a bad sign. It is not clear if Obama really believes that the fractious tribes of the Pakistani northwest can be subdued with some airstrikes and if he really believes that U.S. security depends on what happens in Waziristan.”

Obama’s audacious attacks only days within office run counter to the hope and change policies that he had mightily professed. Even the executive orders for the closure of Gitmo and other prisons still cannot abolish torture and illegal detention, in stark contrast to what CNN lackeys had prematurely parroted during the inauguration. The orders are still tinged and knowingly laden with loopholes, as investigated by Prof. James Hill of Global Research.

“The loopholes in President Obama’s executive order on torture may permit cruel abuses of prisoners to continue, using a legal parlor trick. Labeling detainees the product of counterterrorism operations rather than of armed conflict, or holding detainees in detention facilities operated by entities other than the CIA, may allow government agents and private contractors conforming to the letter of the president’s order to continue practices most would consider torture.”

It’s impossible to class Obama amongst the ranks of men who did uphold virtue in the stately quarters of Washington, where the storms of corruption always struck. Before they fancied thoughts of presidency, where was the hero Obama as Dennis Kucinich spoke against and voted against Iraq war funding and the rising tide of unconstitutional laws such as the Patriot Act, which Obama had both supported? Where was the absent Obama as Ron Paul lambasted the bailouts and the illegal Federal Reserve, both again which Obama either stood quiet or supported? Ex post facto remorse doesn’t count. In the depth of winter, when the city and country were finally met with that one common danger: Where was the man during the decisive battle, not after!

Obama’s cheerleaders and corps of provocateurs can only admit that they have foolishly divined a man who has masterfully altered his image and aura to where people have mistaken him as someone spiritual, magical – seductive. Stout and reactionary, many have become forever loyal and refuse any Obama criticism. In turn they brand their opposites as querulous, fault-finding haters who trumpet paranoia over hope and change. However, the real freedom-fighters had always embraced the blood-stained ideals of common sense, the same tired sons and daughters of liberty who would fight in chains rather than swallow sweet acid and die by the sword of a politician’s scripture. They are indeed the same brothers and sisters who, on another frigid and fiercely cold day, stood together with Obama’s supporters against Bush, Cheney, and the Zionists, long before Obama was deified. Now our armies have been split: by altering the realities of the ignorant. Divide and conquer.

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Bush Officials Authorized Torture of US Citizen, Lawyers Say

Jose Padilla

Jose Padilla

Attorneys for US citizen Jose Padilla — who was convicted of material support for terrorist activities in 2007 — say that high-level Bush Administration officials knew their client was being tortured during the time he was held an enemy combatant in a South Carolina brig, because of the command structure and that then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld employed in approving harsh interrogation tactics.

Rumsfeld approved the harsh interrogation techniques early in Bush’s presidency. In Iraq, a cheat sheet titled “Interrogation Rules of Engagement,” revealed that some of them required the Iraq commanding general’s approval.

Among those requiring approval are tactics Padilla’s mother and lawyer say he was the victim of: “Sleep adjustment,” “Sleep management, “Sensory deprivation,” “isolation lasting longer than thirty days” and “stress” positions.” It wouldn’t be a shock if military guards went beyond the traditional treatment of a US prisoner, given Rumsfeld’s approved techniques and that Padilla was is legal limbo as an enemy combatant and eligible to be held for years without charge.

Padilla and his mother filed suit against the US government last year alleging a litany of harsh interrogation practices they said were tantamount to torture. His lawyer also says he was held in isolation for years while held at the South Carolina brig.

“They knew what was going on at the brig and they permitted it to continue,” Tahlia Townsend, an attorney representing Padilla, told the Associated Press Thursday. “Defendants Rumsfeld and [Deputy Paul] Wolfowitz were routinely consulted on these kinds of questions.”

The Justice Department is attempting to get the case dismissed. Padilla’s suit alleges mistreatment and that Padilla’s being held as an enemy combat was unconstitutional.

Dismissal might quietly shut the door on a troubled case that drew broad attention because the Bush Administration had deemed a US citizen an enemy combatant, the quasi-legal terminology used to hold suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.

Padilla, a US citizen, was arrested in 2002 and accused of plotting with al-Qaida to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a major U.S. city, but those charges were dropped. He was declared an enemy combatant after his arrest, and held at the brig from June 2002 until January 2006, again without charge.

In 2008, Padilla and his mother, Estela Lebron, filed a lawsuit accusing the government of mistreating and illegally detaining Padilla while he was held near Charleston, South Carolina. Padilla suffered “extreme isolation, sensory deprivation, severe physical pain, sleep deprivation, and profound disruption of his sense and personality, all well beyond the physical and mental discomfort that normally accompanies incarceration,” according to the lawyers’ claim. Such treatment bears the hallmarks of harsh interrogation techniques approved by then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and used by interrogators of other enemy combatants held at the US’ Guantanamo Bay and Iraqi prisons.

In particular, they singled out then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and then Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

Padilla has alleged he was shackled in painful “stress positions,” a technique used at Guantanamo Bay that a bipartisan U.S. Senate panel ruled last year was the direct result of Bush administration detention policies, not individual guards or interrogators.

The original charge leveled at Padilla when he was arrested in 2002 was that he was part of a “dirty bomb” al Qaeda plot. By the time he was charged five years later, government lawyers had dropped the charge.

The following are excerpts from Padilla’s 2006 motion (PDF link) which describe the claims of torture in more detail:

A substantial quantum of torture endured by Mr. Padilla came at the hands of his interrogators. In an effort to disorient Mr. Padilla, his captors would deceive him about his location and who his interrogators actually were. Mr. Padilla was threatened with being forcibly removed from the United States to another country, including U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was threatened his fate would be even worse than in the Naval Brig. He was threatened with being cut with a knife and having alcohol poured on the wounds. He was also threatened with imminent execution. He was hooded and forced to stand in stress positions for long durations of time. He was forced to endure exceedingly long interrogation sessions, without adequate sleep, wherein he would be confronted with false information, scenarios, and documents to further disorient him. Often
he had to endure multiple interrogators who would scream, shake, and otherwise assault Mr. Padilla. Additionally, Mr. Padilla was given drugs against his will, believed to be some form of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or phencyclidine (PCP), to act as a sort of truth serum during his interrogations.
….

It is worth noting that throughout his captivity, none of the restrictive and inhumane conditions visited upon Mr. Padilla were brought on by his behavior or by any actions on his part. There were no incidents of Mr. Padilla violating any regulation of the Naval Brig or taking any aggressive action towards any of his captors. Mr. Padilla has always been peaceful and compliant with his captors. He was, and remains to the time of this filing, docile and resigned B a model detainee.

In sum, many of the conditions Mr. Padilla experienced were inhumane and caused him great physical and psychological pain and anguish. Other deprivations experienced by Mr. Padilla, taken in isolation, are merely cruel and some, merely petty. However, it is important to recognize that all of the deprivations and assaults recounted above were employed in concert in a calculated manner to cause him maximum anguish. It is also extremely important to note that the torturous acts visited upon Mr. Padilla were done over the course almost the entire three years and seven months of his captivity in the Naval Brig. For most of one thousand three hundred and seven days, Mr. Padilla was tortured by the United States government without cause or justification. Mr. Padilla=s treatment at the hands of the United States government is shocking to even the most hardened conscience, and such outrageous conduct on the part of the government divests it of jurisdiction, under the Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment, to prosecute Mr. Padilla in the instant matter.

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Gaza Invasion: Powered By The U.S.

Gaza

Gaza

Israel’s current air and ground assault on the Gaza Strip has left about 1,000 Palestinians dead, including 400 women and children. Several thousand people have been wounded and dozens of buildings have been destroyed. An estimated 90,000 Gazans have abandoned their homes. Israel’s campaign in Gaza, which began more than two weeks ago, has been denounced by the Red Cross, multiple Arab and European countries, and agencies from the United Nations. Demonstrations in Pakistan and elsewhere have been held to denounce America’s support for Israel.

It’s well known that the U.S. supplies the Israelis with much of their military hardware. Over the past few decades, the U.S. has provided about $53 billion in military aid to Israel. What’s not well known is that since 2004, U.S. taxpayers have paid to supply over 500 million gallons of refined oil products — worth about $1.1 billion –- to the Israeli military. While a handful of countries get motor fuel from the U.S., they receive only a fraction of the fuel that Israel does — fuel now being used by Israeli fighter jets, helicopters and tanks to battle Hamas.

According to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, between 2004 and 2007 the U.S. Defense Department gave $818 million worth of fuel to the Israeli military. The total amount was 479 million gallons, the equivalent of about 66 gallons per Israeli citizen. In 2008, an additional $280 million in fuel was given to the Israeli military, again at U.S. taxpayers’ expense. The U.S. has even paid the cost of shipping the fuel from U.S. refineries to ports in Israel.

In 2008, the fuel shipped to Israel from U.S. refineries accounted for 2 percent of Israel’s $13.3 billion defense budget. Publicly available data shows that about 2 percent of the U.S. Defense Department’s budget is also spent on oil. A senior analyst at the Pentagon, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press, says the Israel Defense Force’s fuel use is most likely similar to that of the U.S. Defense Department. In other words, the Israeli military is spending about the same percentage of its defense budget on oil as the U.S. is. Therefore it’s possible that the U.S. is providing most, or perhaps even all, of the Israeli military’s fuel needs.

What’s more, Israel does not need the U.S. handout. Its own recently privatized refineries, located at Haifa and Ashdod, could supply all of the fuel needed by the Israeli military. Those same refineries are now producing and selling jet fuel and other refined products on the open market. But rather than purchase lower-cost jet fuel from its own refineries, the Israeli military is using U.S. taxpayer money to buy and ship large quantities of fuel from U.S. refineries.

The Israeli government obtains the fuel through the Defense Department’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, and pays for the fuel and the shipping with funds granted to it through Foreign Military Financing (FMF), another Defense Department program. (In 2008, Congress earmarked $2.4 billion in FMF money for Israel, and $2.5 billion for 2009.) The dimensions of the FMS fuel program are virtually unknown among America’s top experts on Middle East policy. For his part, the Pentagon analyst was surprised to learn that FMS money was even being used to supply fuel to Israel. “That’s not the purpose of the program,” he says. “FMS was designed to allow U.S. weapons makers to sell their goods to foreign countries. The idea that fuel is being bought under FMS is very, very odd.”

The fuel program, in fact, raises a number of pressing questions. The shipments have occurred during times of record-high oil prices, when American consumers have been angered by motor fuel prices that in 2008 exceeded $4 per gallon. Given those high prices, it appears to make little sense for the U.S. government to be promoting policies that reduce the volume of — and potentially raise the price of — motor fuel available for sale to U.S. motorists.

The U.S. fuel shipments are part of a sustained policy that has widened the energy gap between Israel and its neighbors. Over the past few years, the Israel Defense Force has cut off fuel supplies and destroyed electricity infrastructure in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. Those embargoes and attacks on power plants have exacerbated a huge gap in per-capita energy consumption between Israelis and Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza. And that sharp disparity helps explain why the Palestinians have never been able to build a viable economy.

Edward S. Walker, former president of the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based think tank, says the fuel supply program is emblematic of U.S. military support for Israel. Walker, who has served as U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel, explains that the FMF money allows the Israelis to “do with it what they want. They can buy equipment or fuel. It’s their choice, not the government’s choice. It’s the only program where we give someone a blank check and they can use it any way that they choose.”

Given the recent spike in oil prices, which helped send the U.S. and the world economy into a tailspin, and Americans still smarting from paying $4 at the pump, says Walker, “Why are we supplying fuel to Israel when we are paying such high prices?”

Since 1948, oil has been a critically important commodity for both the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli economy. And Israeli leaders have long worried about their energy security. In 1957, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion wrote in his diary, “The only sanctions which could defeat or break us are oil sanctions.”

In 1967, Egypt’s blockade of the Straits of Tiran precipitated the Six Day War. The Straits, writes Israeli historian Michael Oren in his book on the conflict, “Six Days of War,” were “a lifeline for the Jewish state, the conduit to its quiet import of Iranian oil.” In 1973, the Yom Kippur War (Arabs call it the Ramadan War) led to the Arab Oil Embargo, an event that still reverberates in the U.S., particularly in the fanciful political rhetoric about the desire for “energy independence.”

The U.S.-Israel oil relationship goes back to 1975. In September of that year, Henry Kissinger, who was then secretary of state, struck a deal with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that led the Israelis to partially withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula. The agreement required Israel to pull out of the Giddi and Mitla passes and relinquish the Sinai oilfields the Israelis had captured during the 1967 war.

In return, Kissinger agreed that America would provide multibillion-dollar economic and military subsidies to Israel. He also agreed that the U.S. would supply Israel with oil in case of any emergency. That agreement was formalized in 1979 about the time of the Camp David peace talks. It says that the U.S. will “make every effort to help Israel secure the necessary means of transport” for the oil that it purchases. The agreement concludes by saying that the U.S. and Israel will “meet annually, or more frequently at the request of either party, to review Israel’s continuing oil requirement.”

Since 1979, the agreement has been quietly renewed every five years. (The most recent approval of the document was done by the U.S. State Department in November of 2005.) The U.S. does not provide any other country the same insurance.

Nor does any other country get anything close to the volume of fuel that Israel does under FMS. In 2004, more than 140 countries received FMS aid from the U.S. Of that group, only about 13 countries received fuel of any kind through the FMS program and the biggest recipient, after Israel, was Singapore, which got $7.3 million in fuel. That year, Israel received 17 times more FMS fuel than all of the other countries combined.

Why did the U.S. Defense Department begin providing oil to Israel in 1986? And why does the program persist, particularly given that Israel no longer sees its refineries as strategic assets? The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which manages the FMS and FMF programs, referred questions about the program to the Israeli government. The press office of the Israeli Embassy in Washington did not respond to numerous requests about the program.

While the rationale for the oil transfers remains elusive, the facts behind Israel’s refinery privatization are freely available. In 2006, the government sold the Ashdod refinery to Israeli tycoon Zadik Bino for about $500 million. And in early 2007, it sold the larger refinery in Haifa to a group led by Israel Corp., the shipping and chemicals conglomerate, for $1.5 billion.

The sale of the refineries marked a major turning point in Israel’s attitude toward oil. In its earliest years as an independent nation, Israel’s survival was made possible by using crude from the Soviet Union and Venezuela. From the 1950s to the late 1970s, Iranian crude was the lifeblood of the Zionist state. Later still, the Israelis relied on the Kuwaitis. Today, the Russians are providing much of Israel’s crude needs. And the sale of the refineries is indicative of the Israeli government’s confidence in its ongoing ability to purchase the oil it needs on the international market.

Nevertheless, the FMS fuel shipments to Israel have continued. The most recent shipments for which records are readily available occurred in July and October 2008.

On July 7, 2008, the spot price for U.S. crude oil hit a near-record of $141. That same day, the San Antonio Business Journal reported that San Antonio-based refiner Valero Energy Corp. had been awarded a contract by the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC) worth $46 million to provide fuel to Israel. Valero has won a number of lucrative contracts from the DESC, the Defense Department agency that handles all of the Pentagon’s bulk fuel purchases. On Oct. 9, the Journal reported that Valero had been awarded a $235 million contract under FMS. Bill Day, a spokesman for Valero, says that the company “doesn’t talk publicly about its contracts.”

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that U.S. taxpayers are paying the shipping costs to move the fuel from refineries — many of them on the Texas Gulf Coast — to Israeli ports at Haifa or Ashkelon. Shipping costs vary but one specific bid called for shipping costs of $.30 per gallon. Officials with the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the arm of the Pentagon that manages programs that “strengthen America’s alliances and partnerships,” has confirmed that the costs to ship the fuel from U.S. refineries to Israel have been paid for with FMF money designated for Israel by Congress.

The huge FMS fuel shipments are puzzling to the Israelis. Amit Mor, CEO of Eco Energy, an Israeli consulting and investment firm, has worked on energy issues in his home country for about two decades. In a recent e-mail, Mor says that “there is a paradox” in the fuel shipments that Israel gets from the U.S. He said that the privately owned Israeli refineries export jet fuel in “FOB prices,” while the defense ministry imports jet fuel in “high CIF prices,” with the funds of U.S. military assistance.

FOB, short for “free on board,” means that customers must take possession of the fuel at the refinery and then pay for all shipping and related costs to get the fuel to its final destination. On the other hand, as Mor explains, the Israeli military is importing fuel from U.S. refineries located 7,000 miles away, while incurring the CIF, short for “cost, insurance and freight,” of moving the fuel that distance.

Mor says Israeli refiners have “complained about this issue” but have had no luck with the Israeli government. He goes on to say that “it is the U.S. government that insisted for some reason to continue with this historical, costly and inefficient arrangement.”

Energy analysts squabble about a myriad of issues. But if there is one truism that draws near-universal agreement, it’s this: As energy consumption increases, so does wealth. And while that truism holds for oil use, it is particularly apt for electricity. As Peter Huber and Mark Mills point out in their 2005 book, “The Bottomless Well,” “Economic growth marches hand in hand with increased consumption of electricity — always, everywhere, without significant exception in the annals of modern industrial history.”

That statement underscores the significance of the FMS fuel shipments to Israel, many of which have occurred at or near the time that the Israeli military has attacked the electric power plants of its neighbors.

In late June 2006, Israeli aircraft fired nine missiles at the transformers at the Gaza City Power Plant, the only electric power plant in the Occupied Territories. (One of the original partners in the project was Enron, but that’s another story.) The missiles caused damage estimated at $15 million to $20 million and, for a time, made Gaza wholly reliant on electricity flows from Israel. The 140-megawatt power plant, owned by the Palestine Electric Co., was insured by the Overseas Private Investment Corp., an arm of the U.S. government. Thus the U.S. was providing fuel and materiel to the Israeli military, which destroyed the plant, but it was also paying to fix the damage. Call it cradle-to-grave service.

The Israeli attack on the Gaza City Power Plant offers a stark example of how the FMS fuel helps assure that Israel stays energy rich while many of the citizens in neighboring regions live in energy poverty.

Two weeks after the attack on the Gaza City plant in 2006, during Israel’s monthlong war against Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, Israeli aircraft attacked the 346-megawatt Jiyyeh power plant, the oldest electric power plant in Lebanon. Those attacks resulted in the largest-ever oil spill in the eastern Mediterranean. About 100,000 barrels of fuel oil that was stored in tanks at the Jiyyeh site flowed into the sea, creating an oil slick that stretched for more than 150 kilometers.

The attacks on the Jiyyeh plant occurred on July 13 and July 15. Those dates are important because they underscore the timing of the U.S. fuel transfers to Israel.

On July 14, 2006, the U.S. military issued two press releases. In one of them, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced that it would be providing up to $210 million in JP-8 jet fuel to the Israeli government. The other release, put out at 5 p.m. Eastern time, came from the Defense Logistics Agency, which said that it had awarded a $36.7 million contract to Valero as part of another JP-8 supply deal for Israel.

The July 14 release contains this rather bland description of the fuel deal: “The proposed sale of the JP-8 aviation fuel will enable Israel to maintain the operational capability of its aircraft inventory. The jet fuel will be consumed while the aircraft is in use to keep peace and security in the region. Israel will have no difficulty absorbing this additional fuel into its armed forces.” The release goes on to claim that the “proposed sale of this JP-8 aviation fuel will not affect the basic military balance in the region.”

While the attacks on the Jiyyeh plant were important, Lebanese citizens could get electricity from other power plants in the country. That was not true in Gaza, a province in which electricity has always been in short supply. According to the CIA Fact Book, the Gaza Strip ranks dead last — 214th out of 214 countries and territories listed — in the amount of electricity consumed. According to the Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Agency, in 2004, the average Gazan used about 654 kilowatt-hours of electricity. By contrast, the 7.1 million residents of Israel consume about 6,295 kilowatt-hours of electric power per person per year, nearly 10 times as much as the average Gazan.

Although more recent energy consumption data for Gaza is not available, there’s no question that the endemic poverty in the West Bank and particularly in Gaza, is due, largely, to a continuing lack of energy resources. And the Israelis have frequently cut off the flow of fuel and electricity, which has exacerbated the Palestinians’ energy poverty.

Over the past few years, the Israelis have cut off the flow of energy to Gaza as retribution for various transgressions. And those cutoffs have forced the Gaza City Power Plant to shut down for lack of the fuel oil it needs to operate. When the power plant is idled, most of the residents of Gaza City are left without power and overall power supplies in the Gaza Strip decline by about 25 percent.

In May 2006, Israel cut off the flow of oil into the Occupied Territories after the Islamic group Hamas won local elections. In January 2008, the Israelis closed the border crossings into Gaza, which resulted in a fuel shortage that closed the Gaza power plant. In April 2008, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency stopped distributing aid in Gaza after it ran out of fuel. The Israelis stopped the fuel flow as retribution for attacks that killed two Israeli civilians and three Israeli soldiers. In November 2008, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency was again forced to suspend work due to lack of fuel. The fuel shortage occurred after Israel closed the border into Gaza in response to rockets and mortar shells that had been fired into Israel from Gaza.

The disparity in energy consumption between the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza and their counterparts in Israel is just one element in the centuries-old story of tragedy and conflict in the region. But with the U.S. squarely on the side of the Israelis in the Gaza campaign, the potential for an angry backlash against the U.S. appears to be growing.

And that anger will likely only increase when Arabs begin to understand that much of the fuel that the U.S. is giving to Israel is being refined from Arab oil. The Valero refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, which has won several of the FMS contracts for Israel, is a big buyer of Mideast crude. During the second quarter of 2006, according to data collected by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the refinery got about 40 percent of its crude oil from Kuwait or Saudi Arabia.

In short, U.S. taxpayers are paying for U.S. energy companies to buy Arab crude, ship it across the Atlantic to refineries in the U.S., refine it, and then ship it back across the Atlantic so that the Israel Defense Force can use it in its wars.

While the origination point of the crude may only matter to part of the Arab world, it is becoming apparent that bloodshed in Gaza is further complicating America’s efforts to gain credibility as an honest broker in the region. Anti-U.S. sentiment is not in America’s long-term interest, says former diplomat Chas Freeman, a man whose résumé in international affairs extends back nearly four decades.

Freeman is a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, as well as a former assistance secretary of defense. He served as Richard Nixon’s chief interpreter during Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. Now the president of the Middle East Policy Council, a Washington think tank, Freeman says the FMS fuel program for Israel runs counter to long-term goals of resolving the Palestinian conflict and America’s stated goal of protecting the flow of oil out of the Persian Gulf. The Defense Department has assumed “unilateral responsibility for the protection of the oil trade in the Persian Gulf, and yet it’s assuming responsibility for the delivery of aviation fuel for the Israeli military,” he says. “That’s confused and contradictory.” The program, he adds, is “one of many elements of our relationship with Israel that is very hard to explain.”

Freeman may be correct, but the House of Representatives has scant doubt about continued U.S. support for Israel. Nor has Congress shown much interest in the fuel shortages among Palestinians. On Jan. 9, the 14th day of the fighting in Gaza, the House passed a resolution sponsored by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, “recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza.” The vote was 390 to 5.

Two days before the vote, UNICEF estimated that 800,000 Gazans did not have running water and 1 million were living without electricity.

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Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Jail

George Bush

George Bush

Karl Rove recently described George W. Bush as a book lover, writing, “There is a myth perpetuated by Bush critics that he would rather burn a book than read one.” There will be many histories written about the Bush administration. What will they use for source material? The Bush White House was sued for losing e-mails, and for skirting laws intended to protect public records. A federal judge ordered White House computers scoured for e-mails just days before Bush left office. Three hundred million e-mails reportedly went to the National Archives, but 23 million e-mails remain “lost.” Vice President Dick Cheney left office in a wheelchair due to a back injury suffered when moving boxes out of his office. He has not only hobbled a nation in his attempt to sequester information – he hobbled himself. Cheney also won court approval to decide which of his records remain private.

President Obama was questioned by George Stephanopoulos about the possibility of prosecuting Bush administration officials. Obama said: “We’re still evaluating how we’re going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions and so forth. … I don’t believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backward … what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past.”

Legal writer Karen Greenberg notes in Mother Jones magazine, “The list of potential legal breaches is, of course, enormous; by one count, the administration has broken 269 laws, both domestic and international.”

Torture, wiretapping and “extraordinary rendition” – these are serious crimes that have been alleged. Obama now has, more than anyone else, the power to investigate.

John Conyers, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has just subpoenaed Rove while investigating the politicization of the Justice Department and the political prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Rove previously invoked executive privilege to avoid congressional subpoenas. Conyers said in a press release: “I will carry this investigation forward to its conclusion, whether in Congress or in court. … Change has come to Washington, and I hope Karl Rove is ready for it.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who blocked impeachment hearings, is at least now calling for an investigation. She told Fox News: “I think that we have to learn from the past, and we cannot let the politicizing of the – for example, the Justice Department – to go unreviewed. … I want to see the truth come forth.”

Why not take it a step further?

Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who led the charge in Congress for impeachment of Bush and Cheney, has called for “the establishment of a National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation, which will have the power to compel testimony and gather official documents to reveal to the American people not only the underlying deception which has divided us, but in that process of truth-seeking set our nation on a path of reconciliation.”

Millions have served time in federal prisons for crimes that fall far short of those attributed to the Bush administration. Some criminals, it seems, are like banks judged too big to fail: too big to jail, too powerful to prosecute. What if we apply Obama’s legal theory to the small guys? Why look back? Crimes, large or small, can be forgiven, in the spirit of unity. But few would endorse letting muggers, rapists or armed robbers of convenience stores off scot-free. So why the different treatment for those potentially guilty of leading a nation into wars that have killed untold numbers, torture and widespread illegal spying?

Which brings us back to Bush and books. Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451” is one of the titles in the National Endowment for the Arts’ “The Big Read.” This ambitious program is “designed to restore reading to the center of American culture.” Cities, towns, even entire states choose a book and encourage everyone to read it. In “Fahrenheit 451” (the temperature at which paper spontaneously combusts), books are outlawed. Firemen don’t put out fires, they start them, burning down houses that contain books. Bradbury said: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” The secretive Bush administration is out of power; the transparency-proclaiming Obama administration is in. But transparency is only useful when accompanied by accountability.

Without thorough, aggressive, public investigations of the full spectrum of crimes alleged of the Bush administration, there will be no accountability, and the complete record of this chapter of U.S. history will never be written.

insight-info

History, Hypocrisy, and Empire

The so-called democracy of the powerful U.S. elite continues to live up to its legacy of hypocrisy and deceit.

Now that the spectacle of the Barack Obama coronation as the “American” Empire’s first African-American emperor has run its course, and many, many millions of dollars have been spent on self-adulation by the power elite of this nation, the huddled masses will necessarily be compelled to return to a system of no universal, single-payer health care, increasing joblessness, insatiable corporate / military greed, homelessness, de facto racial disparity & discord, police brutality, a burgeoning U.S. prison population, and endless U.S. wars abroad. For yet again, this nation will have done what it all too often does: perverted its promise, including the dream of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., into a hypocritical nightmare of gigantic and historic proportions.

For the majority of Black, Brown, White, Red, and Yellow peoples, the “dream” to which the late Langston Hughes referred [in the poem A Dream Deferred] has not only been “deferred,” it has been obscenely and grotesquely disfigured and distorted into something almost beyond recognition. Barack Obama’s presidency is not a step forward nor is it a step towards the fulfillment of the struggles by Nat Turner, John Brown, Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and so very many others. Rather, he is the slick pro-apartheid Zionist antithesis and perversion of the fulfillment of these struggles.

Barack Obama has already begun to repeatedly and shamelessly call upon the people of this nation to make “sacrifice[s],” as if the everyday people of this country have not already made enormous, heart rendering sacrifices. How about having Obama’s elite corporate backers in Lockheed, Goldman Saks, and the insurance and banking industries make some meaningful, ongoing, and painful sacrifices?! How about reversing the government’s criminal financial bail out of the big corporations [which government bail-out Obama enthusiastically supported], and passing those billions upon billions of dollars back directly to the everyday people of this nation – no strings attached?! How about immediately stopping all U.S. wars of aggression, and bringing our men and women in uniform home right NOW – no strings attached?! So many of these men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of so-called U.S. “national security,” which false “security” has meant their being the perpetual working-class cannon fodder for Halliburton and other avaricious corporate components of the U.S. “military / industrial complex.”

Barack Obama, though the first African-American “presidential” figurehead of the U.S. Empire, is actually the last best hope of continuing U.S. international hegemony under the fake cloak of democracy and justice at home and abroad. Therein is Obama’s appeal to the political and economic ruling elites. He is a conscious, willing, and potent tool of the power elite, and should be understood and dealt with as such. He is neither a progressive, nor a leftist or socialist. He is a cynical opportunist and a shrewd politician, who cloaks his double-speak in glitzy so-called “progressive” sounding rhetoric. He is arguably the most dangerous U.S. politician, to the actual economic and political well being of everyday people of all colors, thus far in this 21st Century.

A reader of The Black Commentator recently reminded me of what is undoubtedly the most important, defining, and yet perhaps the least known speech of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is the speech that Dr. King delivered on April 4, 1967 at the Riverside church in New York City, precisely one year before he was shot down in Memphis, Tennessee, under the auspices of the U.S. Government. The speech is titled, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. Every discerning person who peruses this speech will quickly realize what a perversion, of the struggle for justice at home and abroad, the pro-apartheid Zionist Barack Obama really is. We can and must do so much better.

The installment of Barack Obama as U.S. president has not ushered in a “post racial” era in this nation. To the contrary, it has ushered in a heightened economic, political, and yes racial hypocrisy, which the masses of Black, White, Brown, Red, and Yellow peoples will ultimately not ignore.

The paraphrased adage, often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, that: “You can fool some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time” is absolutely correct. And even though the U.S. corporate media (including CNN and PBS) is unabashedly complicit in their de facto mission to “fool the people,” the legitimate needs and aspirations of the people can be contained for only so long; Obama or no Obama.

To the people of this nation of all colors and ethnicities who are losing your jobs, your homes, and your families…to those with no health insurance… to those who cannot afford to send your children to college…and to those languishing in prisons… this writer says: Place not your faith in the rhetoric of politicians or the false promises of such cynical opportunists. Place your faith in yourselves and each other, in your / our ability to discern the difference between rhetoric vs. reality, and in our determination to find and create ways of organizing and coming together to bring about real systemic change dedicated to everyday people and not the corporate blood suckers of the peoples of this nation and world.

To the long-time freedom fighters, including Assata Shakur, Reverend Edward Pinkney (no relation), Leonard Peltier, the SF 8, and so many others who have held on and struggled for collective justice for so long, and to all political prisoners everywhere, this writer says: Please keep holding on, for the time is approaching when your struggles will

be rewarded and that proverbial “day of reckoning” is hastening hither, sooner than some may realize.

To Cynthia McKinney, Rosa Clemente, and Cindy Sheehan: Thank you for your ongoing and brave examples of what it means to be truly for-real and in service to the people and not the blood sucking corporate / military / prison apparatus.

To the young people of this nation and world be you Black, Brown, Red, White, or Yellow: This writer understands your legitimate rage and your desire for a better world. You have every right to want a just and humane world. YOU are humanity’s present and future. YOU are why so many of us have struggled and died so that we might live through you. YOU must carry this struggle on.

To the peoples of Palestine, Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti, and elsewhere: Know that the peoples of the U.S. do not hate you and that those of us who are socially and politically conscious stand with you in your just quests to live free and strong, unfettered and unhindered by U.S. hegemony.

History does not repeat itself. People repeat history.

Let us commit and re-commit ourselves to the struggle for systemic change in this nation, and not be duped by this latest dose of U.S. hypocrisy in the person of Barack Obama.

Onward…

Insight-info

Cash Rules Everything Around Me

Liquor Store

Liquor Store

In the midst of the Black and Brown neighborhoods across America, you find liquor stores posted on residential corners every few blocks or so. We call them convenience marts. In the land of milk and honey, these businesses are perfectly lawful because no legal infringement forbids the exchange of cash for alcoholic substances. Not since the days of bootlegging liquor during our country’s prohibition days, at least. From 1920 to 1933 the making, selling and transporting of alcohol was punishable by law until Franklin Roosevelt changed the game by signing an amendment.

Juxtaposed with businesses like this are churches that safely house the many denominations of Christianity. By equal comparison there are reachable markets selling intoxicants and vices of all sorts like pornography and cigarettes. Provided, these small business merchants sell many other items like household staples, beverages, junk food, lottery tickets and a myriad of miscellaneous product. The residents hurriedly dash to these stores when visiting a supermarket isn’t convenient or if they need a quick supply of this or that. Outside the entrance, other activities like dice games and dope dealings take place.

Store owners make a decent living, which speaks to the perpetuated allure of the American dream. However enticing this may seem, making a decent living is often earned at the expense of vulnerable, downtrodden and sometimes chemically dependent locals. Whether the addiction is nicotine or alcohol, consumption of these injurious products only contribute to a greater pathology and sadly, one whose cause has long been legalized.

Where consumer accountability is considered, accessibility must be too.

If there were a rehabilitation center within the same proximity of these liquor stores, perhaps my tension would cease to exist. And the framework for which I’ve built this argument would easily collapse. But that’s not the case in disadvantaged areas where people survive in the most compactly populated places.

The demographics in these neighborhoods are chiefly African American, working class Whites and Latinos that were born here or immigrated. Seldom are adults college graduates or hold a job that can reap a family wage which necessitates the taking of two jobs, government assistance or other means of income. Urban planning and economic development are only regarded when old homes are demolished to make way for new townhouses and condos.

Similarly, schools have the lowest standardized test scores while classrooms have the highest student to teacher ratios. Government funding is munificently given to school districts whose students score the peak ranking in their assessments at year’s end. It doesn’t take a genius (or a college grad) to calculate what that means for inner city kids who would be provided the opportunity to thrive academically if our government helped schools without rigid stipulations.

And if it’s not Oakland or Richmond, it’s Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago or a neighborhood like Watts in Southern California. It’s an issue that deserves national attention, however, it is also an issue disregarded by government because answerability is tossed back and forth between merchants and lawmakers.

Three years ago while most Bay Area residents were carving turkeys and eating sweet potato pie, a wave of vandalism, arson and then kidnapping struck the community liquor stores by mysterious men, cloaked like Nation of Islam followers. The public was later notified that stores were set ablaze by the late Yusef Bey’s disciples who cleared shelves of alcoholic beverages, and left the floors covered in liquid poison and shattered glass. The owners were left with a clear message- it is moral hypocrisy to sell alcohol in these neighborhoods, to another browbeaten group of people. The news was immediately sensationalized and nightly broadcasts kept playing footage taken from surveillance cameras.

The Bey family debacle has been forever colored with scandal- sexual abuse, alleged kidnappings, murder and torture in their twisted understanding of justice. It was whispered that Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey was murdered by adherents to this cult-like following.

This moment in time presented a dilemma for Muslims on both sides; nobody appreciates the presence of Arab owned liquor stores especially when other members of Islamic centers work hard to erect a better example. Muslims largely felt as though the collective group of merchants, the Yemeni Grocers Association amounting to 300 members, were unapproachable. In fact, they were labeled “mafia” when the subject was brought up at a masjid in East Oakland years before the wave of crime washed upon our shores. Secondly, Muslims objected to and seldom affiliated with the Bey family for the same reasons. Although they didn’t attend our masajid, there was a brawny presence of this family and their businesses throughout Oakland.

Yet, somehow and in some way, we were still wedged in the pandemonium. Media outlets would ask leaders for comments and only a handful of Muslims were prepared to really deal with backlash and public relations. With every passing day, the relations among African American Muslims (and non Muslims) became strained with the Arab community.

Most would agree that it’s duplicitous to have Arabic calligraphy illustrating the words of the Qur’an hanging on the walls of a liquor store. It was further demoralizing to see the hijabi wives of these merchants standing behind the counter, ringing up the largest bottles of cognac, pricing condoms, men’s magazines, bacon and so on. This is no exaggeration. This is happening across America right under your nose.

And this, dear readers, blurs the line between our way of life and their way of business.

Although named Yemeni Grocers Association, a percentage of these Arabs are Palestinian. They are refugees from a land in which displacement, dispossession, unemployment and poverty are the primary reasons for flight. Is it fair then, that in this great escape, they resettle in neighborhoods afflicted with the same state of affairs? Is it fair that our neighborhoods are being gentrified as quickly as their homeland is, making way for European immigrants in the Jewish religion?

No, it is not fair but evenhandedness isn’t always considered in my America, a land for capital gain. Truthfully we know that where one gains success, another may be exploited.

Immediately following the vandalism and arson, Muslims made sincere attempts at being proactive by handing out leaflets, organizing meetings and holding press conferences. In addition to diplomatic measures, one group located in East Oakland led a three mile march up Macarthur, down 98th avenue, up East 14th and finally stomped the remaining blocks of 82nd back to their starting point. During the course of this march, an annual activity every Friday following Thanksgiving, they passed several liquor stores whose owners looked mortified. Some of them even called Oakland Police Department in fear they would suffer another blow. Those in procession kept walking, some with strollers and little ones, or handed the merchants inspirational writings about Islam, the religion of their homeland.

But my applause ended when the efforts of these groups did too. Once again, we found ourselves suspended in the hype of sensationalism with no unyielding plan for the next day, month or year to come.

The sales of Islamically-illicit substances grows and finances not just families and those back home, but this cash may also finance the masjid depending on where you attend. In my current city, the masjid was taken from the hands of African American leadership and “given” to local merchants.

This should be a point of contention if you live in a neighborhood like mine.
It’s ironic that Muslims are more likely to boycott Starbucks than approach leadership of these masajid and argue a plea. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to state my case against this hypocrisy. Starbucks is said to donate to the state of Israel and Muslims have joined Palestinian activist groups in a divestment campaign reminiscent of ones carried out during the South African Apartheid against companies like Coca-Cola.

And if it’s not Starbucks, it’s Wal-Mart as a trendy target of consumer consciousness.

But this situation is deeper than the pockets of both corporations. While we are willing to join the ranks in these campaigns, no less honorable than those of a political struggle, we overlook that race relations and fair play aren’t even guaranteed with those we stand next to in this movement.

If we’re willing to give up a caramel macchiato at a café said to be associated with Palestinian repression, are the Palestinian store owners willing to stop selling their beverages too? To what extent is the real sacrifice in these matters?

Let’s be real- the international cause is indeed noble but don’t let that engross you from what’s happening in your own backyards. Racism is an institutional condition mirrored by the ugliness of social conditioning, both here and abroad. My neighborhoods are occupied by several forces- cops, criminals and those who peddle dope both legal and illegal. We are in a state of occupation too.

We must continue to initiate constructive dialogue about the destructive forces in our communities, even if these forces are coming from our brothers and sisters in faith.

Solidarity must be reciprocated in practice, not merely in theory.

insight-info

Chomsky: No Change Coming With Obama

 

 

Professor Chomsky, we better start with Pakistan. The White House not commenting on the killings of people [in cross-border drone attacks from Afghanistan into Pakistan]. Richard Holbrooke, someone whom you’ve written about in the context of Yugoslavia, is the man [President Barack] Obama has chosen to solve the situation.

Chomsky: Well, it was pretty clear that Obama would accept the Bush doctrine that the United States can bomb Pakistan freely, and there have been many case which are quite serious.

There has been for example a great deal of chaos and fighting in Bajaur province, which is a adjacent to Afghanistan and tribal leaders- others there- have traced it to the bombing of a madrassa school which killed 80 to 95 people, which I don’t think was even reported in the United states, it was reported in the Pakistani press of course.

The author of the article reporting it, a well-known nuclear physicist, Pervez Hoodbhoy pointed out at the time that this kind of massacre will of course engender terror and reactions, which will even threaten the state of Pakistan. And that has been what is happening. We are now seeing more of it.

The first message of the Pakistani government to General [David] Petraeus, the American General when he took command of the region was that they did not want any more bombings in Pakistan.

Actually, the first message to the new Obama administration by President [Hamid] Karzai of Afghanistan was the same, that he wanted no more bombings. He also said that he wants a timetable for the withdrawal of the foreign troops, US and other troops, from Afghanistan. That was of course just ignored.

Press TV: And these three foreign envoys, well the third one has not been announced yet perhaps, but some people are expressing optimism about George Mitchell’s position as Middle East envoy.

Richard Holbrooke, which have looked at. We have talked to the former Bosnian foreign minister here, who seemed to imply that he may even have had a role in the say so for the Srebrenica massacre, and of course, Dennis Ross is being talked about as an envoy for Iran.

Chomsky: well Holbrooke has a pretty awful record, not so much Yugoslavia, but earlier. For example, In the Indonesian atrocities in eastern Timor, where he was the official in charge, and evaded to stop the US support for them, and all together it’s a very spotty record.

George Mitchell is, of the various appointments that have been made, he is the most decent let’s say. He has a pretty decent record. He achieved something in Northern Ireland, but of course, in that case there was an objective.

The objective was that the British would put an end to the resort to violence in response to IRA terror and would attend to the legitimate grievances that were the source of the terror. He did manage that, Britain did pay attention to the grievances, and the terror stopped- so that was successful.

But there is no such outcome sketched in the Middle East, specially the Israel-Palestine problem. I mean, there is a solution, a straightforward solution very similar to the British one. Israel could stop its US-backed crimes in the occupied territories and then presumably the reaction to them would stop. But that’s not on the agenda.

In fact, President Obama just had a press conference, which was quite interesting in that respect. He praised the parabolic peace initiative, the Saudi initiative endorsed by the Arab League, and said it had constructive elements. It called for the normalization of relation with Israel, and he called on the Arab states to proceed with those “constructive elements,” namely the normalization of relations.

But that is a gross falsification of the Arab League initiative. The Arab League initiative called for accepting a two-state settlement on the international border, which has been a long-standing international consensus and said if that can be achieved then Arab states can normalize relations with Israel.

Well, Obama skipped the first part, the crucial part, the core of the resolution, because that imposes an obligation on the United States. The United States has stood alone for over thirty years in blocking this international consensus, by now it has totally isolated the US and Israel.

Europe and now a lot of other countries have accepted it. Hamas has accepted it for years, the Palestinian Authority of course, the Arab League now for many years [have accepted it]. The US and Israel block it, not just in words, but they are blocking it in actions constantly, (this is) happening every day in the occupied territories and also in the siege of Gaza and other atrocities.

So when he skips that it is purposeful. That entails that the US is not going to join the world in seeking to implement a diplomatic settlement, and if that is the case, Mitchell’s mission is vacuous.

Press TV: Is there a contradiction in that George Mitchell of course did speak to members of the Sinn Féin, their military wing of course of the IRA.

At the same time, well on this channel [Press TV] we have been covering the Gaza conflict, its headquarters were bombed, and now we are being told that Israeli soldiers will not give their names, and the names of people are not being released for fear of prosecution.

And yet, some were saying that Obama did say that the border should be opened. Should we see any change in policy there?

Chomsky: He did say that, but he did not mention the fact that it was in the context of a lot other demands. And Israel will also say, sure the borders should be opened but he still refuses to speak to the elected government (i.e. Hamas), quite different from Mitchell in Northern Ireland.

It means Palestinians will have to be punished for voting in a free election, the way the US did not want them to, and he endorsed the Condoleezza Rice-Tzipi Livni agreement to close the Egyptian-Gaza order, which is quite an act of imperial arrogance.

It is not their border, and in fact, Egypt strongly objected to that. But Obama continued. He says we have to make sure that no arms are smuggled through the tunnels into the Gaza Strip. But he said nothing about the vast dispatch of far more lethal arms to Israel.

In fact, right in the middle of the Gaza attack, December 31, the Pentagon announced that it was commissioning a German ship to send 3,000 tons of war material to Israel. That did not work out, because the government of Greece prevented it but it was supposed to go through Greece but it could all go through somewhere else. This is right in the middle of the attack on Gaza.

Actually there were very little reporting, very few inquiries. The Pentagon responded in an interesting way. They said, well this material won’t be used for the attack on Gaza, in fact they knew that Israel had plans to stop the attack right before the inauguration, so that Obama would not have to say anything about it.

But the Pentagon said that this material is being used for pre-positioning for US forces. In other words, this has been going for a long time, but this is extending and reinforcing the role of Israel as a US military base on the edge of the major oil producing regions of the world. If they are ever asked why they are doing it, they will say for defense or stability, but it is just a base for further aggressive action.

Press TV: Robert Gates and Admiral [Mike] Mullen have been talking about the 16-month timeline for withdrawal from Iraq is just one of the options, a slight difference from what Obama has been saying in the campaign. And, Hillary Clinton famously said she was prepared to obliterate all of Iran and kill 70 million citizens. On Iraq and Iran what do you see as changes?

Chomsky: What happened in Iraq is extremely interesting and important. The few correspondents with real experience any whom know something have understood it. Patrick Cockburn, Jonathan Steele and one or two others.

What has happened is that there was a remarkable campaign of non-violent resistance in Iraq, which compelled the United States, step-by-step, to back away from its programs and its goals. They compelled the US occupying forces to allow an election, which the US did not want and tried to evade in all sorts of ways.

Then they went on from there to force the United States to accept at least formally a status of forces agreement, which if the Obama administration lives up to it, will abandon most of the US war aims. It will eliminate the huge permanent military bases that the US has built in Iraq. It will mean the US will not control decisions over how the oil resources will be accessed and used. And in fact just every war aim is gone.

Of course there is a question of whether the US will live up to it and what you are reporting is among the serious indications that they are trying to evade living up to it. But what happened there is really significant, and a real credit to the people of Iraq, who have suffered miserably. I mean, the country has been absolutely destroyed, but they did manage to get the US to back away formally from its major war aims.

In the case of Iran, Obama’s statements have not been as inflammatory as Clinton’s, but they amount to pretty much the same thing. He said all options are open. Well, what does all options mean? Presumably that includes nuclear war, you know, that is an option.

There is no indication that he is willing to take the steps, say, that the American population wants. An overwhelming majority of the American population for years has been in favor, has agreed with the Non-Aligned Movement, that Iran should have the rights granted to the signers of the non-proliferation treaty, in fact to develop nuclear energy.

It should not have the right to develop nuclear weapons, and more interestingly about the same percentages, about 75 to 80%, call for the establishment of a nuclear weapons free zone in the region, which would include Iran, Israel, and any US forces deployment there, within all kinds of verifications and so on.

That could eliminate probably one of the major sources of the conflict. There is no indication that the Obama administration has any thought of doing anything about this.

Press TV: Just finally Professor Chomsky, the US economy, of course where you are -that is dominating the news and the lives all Americans and arguably the people around the world- and this 825 billion dollar package. How do you think the Obama people are going to handle this?

Chomsky: Nobody really knows. I mean, what is happening with the economy is not well understood. It is based on extremely opaque financial manipulations, which are quite hard to decode. I mean, the general process is understood, but whether the $800 billion, or probably larger government stimulus, will overcome this crisis, is not known.

The first $350 billion have already been spent- that is the so-called part bailout but that went into the pockets of banks. They were supposed to start lending freely, but they just decided not to do it. They would rather enrich themselves, restore their own capital, and take over other banks- mergers and acquisition and so on.

Whether the next stimulus will have an effect depends very much on how it is handled, whether it is monitored, so that it is used for constructive purposes. [It relies] also on factors that are just not known, like how deep this crisis is going to be.

It is a worldwide crisis and it is very serious. It is suddenly striking that the ways that Western countries are approaching the crisis is exactly the same as the model that they enforce on the Third World when there is a crisis.

So when Indonesia has a crisis, Argentina and everyone else, they are supposed to raise interest rates very high and privatize the economy, and cut down on public spending, measures like that. In the West, it is the exact opposite: lower interest rates to zero, move towards nationalization if necessary, pour money into the economy, have huge debts.

That is exactly the opposite of how the Third World is supposed to pay off its debts, and that this seems to pass without comment is remarkable. These measures for the West are ones that might get the economy moving again, while it has been a disaster for others.

Press TV

U.S. Moving Toward Czarism, Away From Democracy

History’s great American parables teach that if anything unified our founders, it was a deep antipathy to dictatorship. As bourgeois revolutionaries from Boston to Philadelphia courageously split with the British crown in 1776, they created three equal branches of government to prevent, in the words of James Madison, “a tyrannical concentration of all the powers” in a president’s hands.

For two centuries since, civics books, Hollywood biopics and party convention speeches have constructed a mythology insisting that this democratic commitment to checks and balances makes our country a beacon of freedom – the “shining city on a hill” overlooking a despotic world below. We are told that democracy’s tumult – its messy debates, legislative sausage-making and electoral friction – is the best way to guarantee that public policy represents public will, therefore making us a strong and durable nation.

If that is true, then every patriot should be concerned about the intensifying efforts to supplant democracy with something far more authoritarian. Call it American czarism.

That term should be as impossibly oxymoronic as crash landings and deafening silence, considering our Constitution’s desire to create a “government of laws and not of men,” as John Adams said. But politics is filled with paradoxes from Reagan Democrats to Obama Republicans, and czars – i.e., policymakers granted extralegal, cross-agency powers – have become increasingly prevalent in our government over the past century.

After the Great Flood of 1927, for instance, President Calvin Coolidge named Herbert Hoover the federal government czar overseeing relief efforts, and Hoover subsequently appointed “dictators” (he actually used that term) to help coordinate the response.

During the power consolidations of the New Deal in the 1930s, a Time magazine story headlined “Dictator or Democrat” reported on the “suspicions of those throughout the nation who have an uneasy feeling that [President Franklin] Roosevelt, under cover of the emergency, is trying ‘to slip something over’ on democracy.” In the 1940s and 1950s, parks commissioner Robert Moses – famously known as “the power broker” – amassed so much personal authority that he was able to almost single-handedly redesign New York City. And lately, presidents have given us poverty, energy, drug, health and even Iraq war czars.

Until now, this slow lurch toward czarism has primarily reflected the ancient, almost innate human desire for power and paternalistic leadership. The current president reminded us that executives see all-powerful “deciders” when they look in the mirror. And Americans – sans kings to rally around – have been elevating commanders in chief to superhero status well before Barack Obama’s Marvel comic-book debut and George Bush’s flight-suited “Top Gun” impression in 2003.

In recent years, this culture of “presidentialism,” as Vanderbilt Professor Dana Nelson calls it, has justified the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretaps and a radical theory of the “unitary executive” that aims to provide a jurisprudential rationale for total White House supremacy over all government. But only in the past three months has American czarism metastasized from a troubling slow-growth tumor to a potentially deadly cancer.

In October, Congress relinquished its most basic oversight powers and gave Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson sole authority to dole out billions of bailout dollars to Wall Street. At the same time, it did nothing when Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke used fiats to commit “$5 trillion worth of new money, loan guarantees and loosened lending requirements,” according to Politico – all while he refused to tell the public who is receiving the largesse.

And the Washington Post has reported that lawmakers may appoint a “car czar” who “would essentially control the purse strings” of an auto industry bailout and “could force Detroit’s Big Three automakers into bankruptcy” if he or she didn’t like their behavior.

Put bluntly, the unprecedented usurpation of spending power by the executive branch and the Federal Reserve is systematically undermining our democracy’s most sacrosanct principle – the one that is supposed to ensure “the legislative department alone has access to the pockets of the people,” as Madison said. And this new czarism is so strident because it reflects both executive power lust and the 21st century economy.

Today, keystrokes and mouse-clicks instantly whisk trillions of dollars across the planet, and many of those keystrokes and mouse-clicks are uninhibited by the grindingly slow processes of democracy.

Saudi princes don’t have to publish announcements in a federal register before moving cash from sovereign wealth funds into foreign investments. China’s rulers aren’t obligated to obtain legislative approval when buying or dumping U.S. Treasury bills; and transnational corporations will not wait for public hearings before shuttering offices, eliminating jobs and cutting off credit.

Our nation is integrally connected to this fast-moving globalized economy, and American czarism effectively posits that in order to compete, we must anoint strongmen as saviors, prioritize speed instead of sobriety and emulate dictatorship instead of democracy.

Indeed, the Economist magazine’s prediction that the “economic crisis may increase the attractiveness of the Chinese model of authoritarian capitalism” is coming true right here at home, as we seem ever more intent on replicating – rather than resisting – that model.

This, as much as personal hubris, explains why Paulson and Bernanke sought unprecedented latitude in spending trillions – they want to be able to move as fast as their autocratic counterparts in other countries, and believe congressional oversight will slow them down.

It explains why UC Berkeley economist Laura Tyson says we need an auto czar who will “take a number of approaches to this problem that are already known, that have been discussed endlessly, and force it through” – because to economists, a czar quickly “forcing it through” is more important than any consideration for democratic deliberation.

And it explains why when Obama aides this week demanded complete control over the second half of the Wall Street bailout funds, House Financial Services Committee chairman Rep. Barney Frank, D- Mass., shirked his oversight duties and said he’s “willing to accept their word” that they will spend the money responsibly. In czarism, that’s what legislators do: “accept the word” of the czar.

In sum, it explains why the age-old struggle between capitalism and democracy is once again defining our politics – and why capitalism is now winning.

That triumph may be terrific for the czars and great for their industry suitors, but as the founders would likely agree, it is a pyrrhic victory for America.

Russian emblem
Russian emblem

What Was Said, and What Was Not

Especially because he is so often such a skilled and moving orator…

And because of the tradition of momentous inaugural addresses accompanying momentous national transitions…

And because we so badly need such words and the powerful ideas behind them at the time of this particular momentous transition…

And because this was such a grand opportunity to launch a new direction in our politics, governance and community…

…For all these reasons I confess that I was somewhat disappointed with Barack Obama’s inaugural address.

Admittedly, my expectations were very high — perhaps unfairly so. Had George W. Bush or even John Kerry delivered the very same speech, I might have been rather impressed.

Moreover, I am loathe to micro-criticize this well-intentioned president, beginning literally with his first minutes in office. He deserves much better than that, and so do we.

But, truth be told, we needed some Lincoln, some FDR, some Kennedy this week, and we didn’t get it.

Obama speaks in rather vague generalities that allow his audience to project onto him much of what they choose to. I assume that, smart as he is, he does this on purpose, since he can thus benefit from winning their support without leaving himself pinned to commitments he may wish to avoid at a later date. That’s the mark of a skilled politician, but I don’t mean that as a compliment. It’s not the mark of a leader, it’s not the mark of the bold, and it’s not the mark of the moral.

The line from the speech I found most compelling was a case in point concerning his (intentional?) ambiguity. When he spoke about putting away childish things, that could have meant many things. If it had a particular meaning at all, I don’t think he meant it the way I wish he had. His reference was probably to the petty partisanship in Washington that he seeks to rise above during his presidency. I sure don’t have a problem with most of that concept, and I have no doubt that’s a winning theme with the majority of Americans. It’s just that a significant part of the disputes we’ve witnessed are real fights over real issues, and what we don’t need right now is for the Tom Daschles and Harry Reids of this world to all hold hands with regressive predators in the name of all getting along well on Sunday morning talk shows.

I’m not sure anyone would have been well served by Obama describing in detail the nightmare of our present circumstances, and naming the names of the folks most responsible for our condition, and this he largely did not do, except rather obliquely. It’s not in his nature, and it would not have served his purposes, for if there’s anything he appears to want to be from what we’re seeing of him, it’s a conciliator. Of course, his interests and the country’s are not necessarily the same thing. Personally, I don’t think conciliation at all costs is appropriate, especially now. If, for example, conciliation meant continuing in Iraq or Guantánamo, I say forget it. Even so, and even with all the bitterness within me, I didn’t feel the need for him to trash talk the little prince sitting right behind him. Now, on the other hand, if Obama wants to deploy his Justice Department in a series of criminal investigations of the Bush administration, that’s another thing…

I also can’t imagine an American president in 2008 being able to say to the world, “Sorry, man, we really screwed up,” as much as I suspect the new president probably believes that. Indeed, not only was there no comment of that ilk, but there was instead the obligatory macho rumblings from the helm of the insecure superpower. Even this may be advisable, if words are the cheap price that must be paid to keep the discredited right discredited. For surely if anything one-hundredth the magnitude of 9/11 were to happen on his watch, these great patriots will lunge to eviscerate Obama for his dangerous naivete and pacifism, even if he hadn’t ignored warnings about the incident and chosen to stay on vacation the month prior.

So what did happen in this speech? Two related things, I’d say, principally. First, there was a re-centering of American politics. I feel a bit sorry for young people who have effectively only ever known George W. Bush as their president. They’ve never had a model of something better in their lifetimes. Even still, they knew something was seriously, sickeningly wrong with their government. What they might not have been able to see, however, was the degree to which Bush was an aberration from a consensus that has long existed in American politics. Republican or Democratic administration, there’s been a shared sensibility, a shared set of boundaries, within which American government has operated for nearly a century now, with only the partial exception of Lil’ Bush’s forebear, Ronald Reagan.

Bush was the only sustained aberration to that consensus, and bringing the 19th (if not the 13th) century back to life in the 21st was, of course, just as disastrous as any intelligent being might have predicted — and many of us did. Much of Obama’s speech was a reminder of those boundaries and the hard-gained wisdom associated with their acquisition over centuries of experience. He talked about how government is neither all bad nor all good, how the market can be beneficial but only within limits, how our ideals, liberties and rights need not be sacrificed to maintain our security, how our power abroad is based on more than the size of our military arsenal.

Whodathunkit, eh? Mixed economy, guaranteed freedoms, good relations abroad. What a concept, huh? Back in the hazy, distant past of 2000, we thought we had learned these lessons for the rest of time. But what we’ve learned instead from Bush and Cheney is just how tenuous those principles really are. It was therefore right and proper that Obama devoted a portion of his inaugural speech to reacquainting us with our better angels, so long on holiday of late.

The president’s second theme was to issue in his speech a rather tepid call to arms, a rallying cry to bring the country together to collectively address a national crisis or six. This was right and necessary, but it was probably wholly insufficient.

Whether that is true or not brings us right face to face with the trifecta of related questions whose answers will sketch the grand arc of American history these next decades: How deep are we in this thing? How bold is this president willing to be, both in policy decisions and in advocacy of those positions before a reluctant public gown lazy and selfish? And, therefore, will he be a great president or merely a good one?

Imagine if FDR had responded to Pearl Harbor by waiting a week or two, then casually mentioning the event in a VFW speech principally devoted to trade policy with Latin America. Abraham Lincoln is widely considered America’s best president in history, and his predecessor, James Buchanan, is generally thought to be the worst. (Or, at least, he used to be.) And, interestingly, both for the same reason — namely, how they reacted to the crisis of Southern secession. Buchanan dithered, Lincoln responded. And even though I am among those rare individuals who thinks that history gets this backwards (as much as I admire Lincoln in many ways), since I generally believe in the right of peaceable secession, you can nevertheless see the point here. The public demands action from its presidents in a moment of crisis, and the great ones are those who show up.

This is what people want. Except, of course, when they don’t, which tends to be when they are lazy, selfish and unwilling to sacrifice. I think there has been an implicit understanding amongst our political class that this is precisely how to understand the country today. In the moment of greatest crisis in a generation’s time, our president calls upon us to go shopping. No politician not seeking career suicide seems capable of getting the words ‘tax increase’ past their lips. Indeed, whilst fighting two expensive wars overseas, Washington massively slashed tax revenues. Whether a generation or two grown fat in opulence and enured to remote controls and microwaved meals could ever again be called upon to make a more authentic sacrifice for country than sticking a removable magnetic yellow-ribbon on the back of their SUVs is truly an open question. Not for nothing do we have an all-volunteer military.

Perhaps the answer to what we can expect from people depends on how deep is the crisis we face, which is the even more fundamental open question of our time. Maybe this is just another recession we’re into now — albeit a bad one — and we’ll emerge from it to become richer than ever, as we have in the past. Or maybe not. And, of course, that is only the economic crisis, among many others.

I tend to think that this is a lot bigger turning point in American and even human history. Actually, I suspect we long ago hit that turning point, but managed to mask it with theft, rampant borrowing, and feel-good jingoist politics, of which regressives like Reagan and both Bushes were masterful at exploiting.

Ultimately, the question of our time is about sustainability. Have we merely hit various speed-bumps along the road — somehow, in a stroke of ridiculously improbable bad luck, all simultaneously — or do these economic and fiscal and environmental and foreign policy and healthcare and national security crises represent something far more fundamental? Has America been living, in all these respects, a fundamentally unsustainable lifestyle? One in which maintaining pathetically juvenile materialist compulsions of seemingly bottomless proportions requires predatory foreign policies, catastrophic environmental degradation, looting of our own children’s piggy banks, and leaving one-sixth of the population with no health insurance whatsoever?

I think it’s pretty hard to avoid that conclusion, actually. And I suspect that Barack Obama knows this as well as I do. But either way — whether he is cynical or just Pollyannaish — what was missing from the grand opportunity of this inaugural speech was an equally grand reckoning with this difficult but unavoidable destiny. As such, Obama risks falling very much on the wrong side of history. If some Dennis Kucinich has to ride into office eight years from now and do radical surgery on a patient who could have been saved at far less cost and with far less trauma a decade earlier, then his predecessor, the man who could have been Lincoln, instead becomes another Buchanan.

American politics is nothing if not a continual exercise in irony, and what makes this particular scenario especially ironic is that it would actually do the country a world of good to jettison its old ways. In that sense, we are like the kid who expends ten times the energy finding ways to avoid doing his homework as just doing the assignment would have required. I suspect we could even make this transition — if we did it intelligently — in ways that would not even necessarily significantly diminish our current levels of opulence, though god knows this corporate machine dba The United States of America could stand a serious redefinition or two of what it means to be rich. I think we might even feel good about the process, about the temporary sacrifices, and about our gluttonous selves, in ways we haven’t for so very long now.

But getting there will require a far bolder Barack Obama than we’ve seen these last two years, and than was to be found on the inaugural platform this week. Maybe the guy knows something I don’t. Maybe he and I are heading toward the same place, but he’s just a lot craftier about how to get there than I am. But if that’s his strategy, I would question whether he can fool people big enough to go far enough. And whether a fooled people are a transformed people at the end of the day, anyhow.

Or maybe he’s smart enough to appreciate that this has to be done incrementally. And that you have to win power to exercise power. Lord knows if I had been his speechwriter these last two years we’d be stuck with Her Highness, Madame President right now. Or maybe even President POW and his sidekick, Vice President Jesus Ignoramus Moosekiller. But even if incrementalism is requisite to get this biggest of jobs done, there are rare moments where you get to crank the ratchet a couple of good solid turns, standing there on your bully pulpit. This was one of them.

What we heard on Tuesday was fine, if less than Lincolnesque in its eloquence. But I’m far more troubled by what we didn’t hear. Like about the obscene polarization of wealth bequeathed us by Reaganism-Bushism. Like about the impending doom of our little blue spaceship if we don’t get serious about global warming, starting yester-decade. We did not hear about how it is morally and fiscally unsustainable to maintain a military machine that costs more than every other country’s on the planet, combined. We did not hear that our healthcare system is a crime masquerading as national policy. We did not hear plain talk about the lethal bankruptcy of our foreign policy.

These are gigantic challenges necessitating gigantic responses. Even accounting for the possible benefits of incrementalism and perhaps even certain amounts of benign subterfuge, there is no way imaginable to me that we can get close to the required remedies for these problems without a leadership busy at framing these crises as such, articulating grand solutions, cajoling us to do better, and cheering along our progress.

That is why this speech strikes me so much as a lost opportunity. As president, you only get that platform once or twice ever. The only thing even close is an annual state of the union. Everything else is just a speech, just a weekly radio broadcast, just another commencement address. This was the time for some serious cognitive reorientation to lay the groundwork for what comes next.

Barack Obama, fifteen minutes into your presidency, you haven’t lost me yet. And, no matter what, you will always be infinitely superior to the bungling predator who proceeded you. And that counts for a lot.

But if you want to be great and not just okay, if you want to be as revered as your hero, Mr. Lincoln, you’re gonna have to do better.

My advice to you comes in the form of just two words.

Be bold.

Insight-info

Obama’s Orders Leave Framework of Torture, Indefinite Detention Intact

On Thursday, President Barack Obama issued executive orders mandating the closure of the Guantánamo Bay prison camp in a year’s time, requiring that Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and military personnel follow the Army Field Manual’s prohibitions on torture, and closing secret CIA prisons overseas.

While the media is portraying these orders as a repudiation of the detention and interrogation policies of the Bush administration, they actually change little. They essentially represent a public relations effort to refurbish the image of the United States abroad after years of torture and extralegal detentions and shield high-ranking American officials from potential criminal prosecution.

In cowardly fashion, Obama staged his signing of the orders in a manner aimed at placating the political right and defenders of Guantánamo and torture and underscoring his intention to continue the Bush administration’s “war on terror.” He was flanked by 16 retired generals and admirals who have pushed for the closure of the prison camp in Cuba on the grounds that it impedes the prosecution of the global “war” and reiterated in his own remarks his determination to continue the basic political framework of the Bush administration’s foreign policy.

The continuation of the ideological pretext for wars of aggression and attacks on democratic rights ensures that the police state infrastructure erected under the Bush administration will remain intact. This is further reinforced by Obama’s assurances that his administration will not investigate or prosecute those officials—including Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales and others—who were responsible for the policies of torture and illegal detention.

The orders signed by Obama do not undo the Bush administration’s attacks on constitutional and international law. They do not challenge the supposed right of the president to unilaterally imprison any individual, without trial and without charges, by declaring him to be an “enemy combatant.” Nor do they end the procedure known as “extraordinary rendition,” by which the United States during the Bush years kidnapped alleged terrorists and shipped them to foreign countries or secret CIA prisons outside the US, where they were subjected to torture.

They do not affect the hundreds of prisoners—600 at the Bagram prison camp in Afghanistan alone—incarcerated beyond the barbed wire of Guantánamo. If and when Guantánamo is closed, the US government will simply ship alleged terrorists caught up its international dragnet to other American-run prison camps.

On the question of so-called “harsh interrogation techniques,” i.e., torture, Obama’s orders leave room for their continuation. White House Counsel Gregory Craig told reporters the administration was prepared to take into account demands from the CIA that such methods be allowed. Obama announced the creation of a task force that will consider new interrogation methods beyond those sanctioned by the Army Field Manual, which now accepts 19 forms of interrogation, as well as the practice of extraordinary rendition.

Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, Obama’s nominee for director of national intelligence, told a Senate confirmation hearing that the Army Field Manual would itself be changed, potentially allowing new forms of harsh interrogation, but that such changes would be kept secret.

Obama also announced a second task force that is to consider the fate of the 245 detainees remaining at Guantánamo. Earlier this week he suspended the military commission procedures at the prison camp, but has not abolished the military commissions themselves.

The new administration has ruled out the only constitutional remedy for those who have been held under barbaric conditions, without due process, for years—either releasing them or giving them a speedy trial in a civilian court, with all of the accompanying legal protections and guarantees. There has been a great deal of speculation that the administration may support the establishment of a special National Security Court within the civilian court system to try Guantánamo prisoners and other alleged terrorists. This would represent yet another attack on civil liberties, setting up a drumhead court system to railroad those charged with terrorism—something that could in future be used to repress political opposition.

According to NBC Nightly News on Thursday, the administration is considering keeping some 20 Guantánamo detainees, including the five alleged 9/11 conspirators currently facing military commission trials, imprisoned indefinitely without charges in a military brig within the US.

Commentators have noted that the Obama administration wants to prevent noncitizens detained as terrorists from being able to exercise habeas corpus rights.

Two separate measures taken Tuesday and Thursday by Obama point to a further major consideration behind his moves to close Guantánamo and finesse the issue of torture. On Thursday the administration requested a stay in the habeas corpus appeal to the Supreme Court by the only alleged enemy combatant now held on US soil—Ali al-Marri, of Qatar, whom Obama has called “dangerous.” Al-Marri’s lawyers are challenging the right of the president to arrest and jail individuals by declaring them enemy combatants, and it was expected that the Supreme Court’s hearing of the appeal would force Obama to reveal his position on the issue.

This followed Tuesday’s request for a stay from the Federal District Court in Washington in similar appeals that could affect the cases of more than 200 Guantánamo prisoners.

Thus, the immediate effect of the new administration’s moves is to halt civilian trials that could prove immensely damaging to the government by revealing systematic torture of the detainees and could potentially entangle high government officials.

Insight-info