Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Interview: Iran, War, and Sanctions

Interview conducted by Znet; reprinted with permission

UK based professor Abbas Edalat is a founding member of the newly formed Campaign against Sanctions and Intervention in Iran (CASMII). He recently travelled to the US and spoke at MIT and San Francisco regarding the coming hostilities against Iran. He participated in the following Q and A with ZNet's Foaad Khosmood.

Foaad Khosmood: Iran has been at odds with the United States since the 1979 revolution. It has also had tumultuous relations with Europe over the years. What makes the present time different, in your opinion, to make UN sanctions or military intervention more likely in the near future?

Abbas Edalat: The western media gives the impression that it is the comments of the new Iranian president about Israel and Iran's nuclear program which, in the context of "war on terror", are the root cause of the present conflict. However, the truth is quite different. In fact, the anti-Israel and anti-US slogans in Iran were far more radical in the earlier days on the revolution in 1979, in the American hostage crisis 1979-80 and during the 8 year Iran-Iraq war in 1980-88 that Saddam with the backing of the west waged on Iran.

Furthermore, according to all western intelligence Iran is many years away from being able to develop a nuclear weapon capability even if it does decide to follow this path, for which there is no evidence at all. Thus none of the propaganda in the western media can possibly be the root cause of the present conflict and justify threats of sanctions and the option of military intervention.

We need to see the underlying reasons for the situation elsewhere. What is fundamentally different today compared with the past is that the Bush administration, dominated by the neoconservatives and their doctrine of the "Project for the New American Century", has been resolved ever since it came to power in 2001 to redesign the map of the Middle East and to replace all defiant regimes in the region with client pro Western states.

Of course, this has virtually the same motivation that induced the United States to back first the Shah of Iran, and then Saddam Hussain, and to maintain close relations with Saudi Arabia. But what has really changed is that the neoconservatives aim to use the military power of the US to remove any regime which poses obstacles for them and are prepared to pay a high price for it in terms of any massive loss in credibility of the US in the world public and in the western world.

The neoconservatives consider this strategy as vital for controlling the oil resources in the Middle East and Central Asia and for dominating these strategic regions in the course of the present century in face of increasing competition with the growing economic, political and military power of China. After the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran and Syria remain the only two countries which need to undergo regime change in accord with the neoconservatives' project and clearly Iran presents a much greater challenge.

The US strategy for a regime change in Iran was spelled out very clearly in President George W. Bush's State of Union speech in January 2002 when, in a very dramatic move, he labelled Iran as part of the axis of evil only a few weeks after Iran had assisted the US in overthrowing the Taleban regime in Afghanistan. Indeed, Iran's reward for assisting the US in Afghanistan in late 2001 was its designation as evil by the US president.

Bush's attack on Iran was in sharp contrast to the foreign policy of the Iranian government, headed at the time by President Mohammad Khatami, who since his first landslide election victory in 1997 had been promoting Dialogue among Civilizations to resolve conflicts and reach peaceful co-existence with the West. In this context, the axis of evil label shows that the current US administration is quite serious about its desire to enforce a regime change in Iran..

After the invasion of Iraq the US strategy against Iran continued unabated. Despite facing a disaster in its occupation of Iraq, the US has lost no time in preparing the diplomatic grounds for its broader agenda in Iran. The US diplomatic offensive has been based on a host of charges against Iran -that Iran is the principle state in the world for sponsoring terrorism, that it has ties and co-operation with Al-Qaeda, that it supports the insurgents to destabilize Iraq and above all that it has a covert nuclear weapons program that makes it a threat to Israel and the Western world.

These charges are strikingly reminiscent of the run-up to the Iraq invasion and are similarly designed to pave the road for the ultimate aim of regime change, this time in Iran.

According to two articles by Seymour Hersh, in January 2005 in the New Yorker, all high ranking officers of the Bush Administration, whom he had interviewed on the US foreign policy, had stated that Iran is the next target after Iraq, and that the administration has learned its lessons on the run-up to the Iraq invasion and this time they would first follow the diplomatic road to prepare fully the political case for an attack on Iran. Interestingly, the US administration only challenged the details of Hersh's revelations but not their essential substance.

It is in the light of this strategy that we should understand the current massive diplomatic efforts by the US to refer Iran to the UN Security Council. It aims for some sort of UN resolution against uranium enrichment by Iran followed by UN sanctions in order to completely isolate Iran as a prelude to a military attack.

FKh: How likely is an actual military offensive? What shape do you think this action would take? Would Israel be involved?

AE: The probability of a military intervention against Iran has been steadily rising since the invasion of Iraq. Whether a military attack will eventually take place or not will of course depend on the outcome of the diplomatic battles ahead at the UN Security Council and the strength of the rising opposition to a new war in the public opinion both internationally and in the Middle East and Iran.

Given the present fiasco in Iraq, it is unlikely that massive US ground troops will be employed for a full invasion of Iran, a country four times larger with a population three time bigger than Iraq. What is more likely at least in the short and medium term is a military assault on Iranian nuclear plants as well as military and strategic sites.

Israel is likely to be involved in such an operation. Let's go over these points in more detail.

The US and Israel leaders have openly and repeatedly threatened military action on Iran in the past few years and there has been a massive escalation of these threats in the past few months which amongst other things desensitize and prepare the world public opinion for any eventual military attack.

Most significantly and most recently, the Sunday Times on December 11th last year revealed that Prime Minster Sharon has instructed Israel air force to prepare itself for a major military attack against Iran before the end of March 2006, when the elections are due in Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the present leader of Likud party in Israel, warned last year that if prime minister Sharon does not destroy Iran's nuclear plants, he would make sure that this is carried out if he comes to power in the March elections.

The crucial issue here is to understand that the intention of the US is regime change in Iran and that a number of options have been planned and to some extent are being carried out. Unmanned US drones have already been flying into Iranian air space for mapping Iranian radar systems and spying over military facilities; in October last year Iran complained about these illegal acts to the UN, stating that two such drones had come down some one over a hundred miles inside Iran.

There have also been various reports about CIA's activities to foment national, ethnic and religious conflicts inside Iran, which, given the historically unresolved problem of oppression of national and religious minorities in the county, seems to occupy one of the main strategies of the US to destabilize the Islamic Republic.

Then there is the report by Philip Giraldi, an ex-CIA officer, in the August 2005 issue of the American Conservative which reveals that Vice President Dick Cheney has instructed Pentagon to prepare itself for a massive air assault against some 450 sites in Iran if a second 9/11 event takes place in the US. Alarmingly, the plans for the air assault is reported to include the use of tactical nuclear strikes against the fortified Iranian nuclear plants which are deep underground. This scenario would decisively break a 60 year taboo in the West on using nuclear bombs.

Giraldi's report, unchallenged by the Bush administration, should be taken very seriously by the anti-war and peace movement all around the world in particular in the light of the latest videotape by Ben Laden who has pledged a new attack against the US.

In recent days, President Chirac of France has also caused a bombshell by threatening to retaliate with nuclear strikes against any state found to be responsible for a terrorist attack on France.

FKh: Does Iran pose a nuclear threat to the United States, Israel or other countries?

AE: The fact is that objectively Iran is not a threat to the US or Israel since its military power is negligible compared even to Israel let alone the US. Iran today has far less tanks and about a third of the defence budget it had at the time of the Iran-Iraq war.

Its air force is based on the obsolete US made fighters purchased by the Shah's regime some 30 years ago. What is more significant is that Iran has not threatened or invaded any countries essentially for a few centuries. Even when the Taleban regime murdered nine Iranian diplomats in Mazar-e Sharif in 1998, Iran chose not to take any military action despite the fact that the Taleban regime, which was internationally isolated, remained unapologetic.

FKh: Media reports in the United States often convey an assumption that the Iranian regime plans to attack Israel and Mr. Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel remarks about "wiping out," etc. are often cited as evidence. This often bolsters the argument that a nuclear Iran is "unacceptable." What are your own thoughts on the matter?

AE: I think Ahmadinejad's controversial statements on Israel are essentially aimed at winning popular support in Iran and in the Muslim world for bolstering his base in Iran vis-à-vis his powerful rivals in the Islamic regime such as Rafsanjani.

I think it is also very clear to the west and to Israel that such rhetorical language have been used in Friday prayers ever since the Islamic revolution of 1979, that there is no threat let alone any intention behind Ahmadinejad's rhetoric.

Iran, which according to western intelligence is many years away from building a bomb assuming that it does intend to pursue such a goal, is objectively in no way a threat to Israel which is estimated to have currently some 200 nuclear warheads.

What of course is true is that Ahmadinejad's statements have been playing into the hands of Israel and the US who have fully exploited them to isolate Iran in their preparation for a military attack.

FKh: Why do you believe the nuclear issue has become so important to the clerical leadership in Iran?

AE: The nuclear issue has become a major national issue of vital importance to the great majority of Iranian people and not just the clerical leadership. At the heart of the issue is Iran's inalienable right as a signatory of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to develop a civilian nuclear technology for generating electricity for its growing population of 70 million.

The US and Israel accuse Iran of having a covert nuclear weapons program. However, numerous intrusive and snap visits by the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which Iran allowed for over two years by voluntarily adopting to the NPT Additional Protocol, have failed to provide any shred of evidence that Iran has a weaponization programme.

In fact, according to the CIA Iran is at least 10 years away from developing a nuclear bomb, which in itself falsifies the US accusations that Iran has currently a nuclear weapons program.

Iran also voluntarily suspended all uranium enrichment related activity during the course of negotiations with France, Germany and the UK (EU-3) since October 2003. However, under the US pressure as the back seat driver of the Europeans in these negotiations, EU-3 consistently refused to accept Iran's right under NPT to enrich uranium to the level required for a civilian program and insisted that Iran should permanently forfeit this national right, which can only be regarded an affront to any sovereign country.

No wonder that over 80% of Iranians in several opinion polls have defended Iran's position to enrich uranium for peaceful nuclear technology. This is a crucial national issue: no Iranian government would be able to easily bend under western pressure to abandon Iran's right under NPT.

FKh: What are the basis for the call by the US and the EU-3 for Iran's referral to the UN Security Council?

AE: In fact, US and EU-3's call for Iran to be referred to the UN Security Council has no grounds in international law. According to the Paris agreement of November 2004, the EU-3 formally reconfirmed that Iran's moratorium was "a voluntary confidence-building measure and not a legal obligation." Under the watchful eyes of the IAEA, Iran removed the seals on its nuclear plant in Natanz early in January when the negotiations with EU-e failed as a result of their insistence that Iran gives up its right for enrichment.

Since the moratorium observed by Iran was not legally binding as recognised in the Paris Agreement, the resumption of scientific nuclear research in the nuclear plant in Natanz gives no legal grounds for a referral to the UN Security Council.

FKh: If Iran does get referred to the Security Council, how likely is it that some sort of military approach would be "blessed" by that body?

AE: It is highly unlikely that Russia and China will ever agree on a UN Security Council resolution against Iran which could be interpreted to justify military action in some future date. What is more likely to happen is that the US will try very hard to get initially some UN Security Resolution to call on Iran to halt its enrichment related activities and to accept the additional protocol for inspections so that pressure on Iran is gradually built up if Iran refuses to comply.

The Iranian parliament has already passed a resolution which obliges the government to abandon its voluntary adherence to the additional protocols if Iran does get referred to the Security Council. Thus, any referral will most likely lead to a sharp escalation of the conflict.

This could eventually lead to a stand-off at the UN Security Council with Russia and China refusing to agree on any resolution with any hint of a possible military attack in the event of non-compliance by Iran.

Then the US can replay its strategy in the run-up to the war in Iraq and justify a military attack against Iran by "rising to its responsibility" with its allies to defend the "security of the US and its allies." The bottom line is that the US position which denies Iran's right for enrichment and Iran's position to defend this right are irreconcilable and can only lead to a major confrontation.

FKh: How likely are UN-approved sanctions? What form could they take?

AE: In the short term there is little likelihood of any UN sanctions as Russia and China will certainly veto them. In the medium term, the West can only hope that Russia and China may agree not veto some kind of "smart" or "targeted" sanctions: e.g. confiscation of Iran's assets outside the country or travel restrictions for Iranian leaders and diplomats.

Only if the West can get Russia and China on board on such sanctions, there may eventually be a possibility of economic sanctions. It is more likely that as a result of resistance by Russia and China for any UN Security Council resolution on Iran, the US will put pressure on the EU to put some sort of smart sanctions against Iran. That in itself would be another victory for the US war drive on Iran.

What is important here is to recognize that smart sanctions will only be an intermediary stage for either wider economic sanctions at a later stage or for facilitating a later stand-off at the UN Security Council for a military attack against Iran.

FKh: Given existing strict US sanctions on Iran, what will be the effect of additional UN sanctions on the Iranian society?

AE: The existing US sanctions have not had any noticeable effect on the every day life of ordinary people in Iran but have certainly slowed down the process of evolving into a more open society: It has severely restricted scientific and cultural exchange between Iran and the US and has significantly retarded the spread and use of Information and Communication Technology in particular the Internet in a country which has over 70% of its population under the age of 30 and which in the past few years has had the highest ratio of female to male university students in the world.

However, the first major consequence of any economic sanctions, even any confiscation of Iran's foreign assets, is likely to be massive popular anger and resentment against the West, a likelihood that the European leaders are quite aware of.

Long term economic sanctions would definitely result in misery and death for ordinary people as they did in Iraq but they would most probably fail to turn the Iranian people against the regime. On the contrary it is quite possible that, notwithstanding an increase in defiance by some sections of the population against the government and notwithstanding any further curtailment of freedom of press and other democratic rights, the regime will overall become strengthened in its political control over
the population in its efforts to withstand the "Western aggression against the Islamic nation".

FKh: Does the Iranian exile community support western action against Iran? If yes, to what extend? War? Sanctions? Regime Change?

AE: A minority of Iranian expatriates would support some sort of western action for example "smart sanction" on Iran. This stems from their resentment against the Iranian regime rather than on the basis of any understanding of the international legal issues involved or any understanding of Iran's national right.

The dangerous logic of the belief that "my enemy's enemy is my friend" leads a smaller minority of Iranian expatriates to even support sanctions on Iran against the interests of the overwhelming majority of people in the country. I do not know of any Iranian groups who would be naïve enough to openly advocate a military attack on Iran or a regime change enforced by the West even if they secretly wish such outcomes.

FKh: Many of the more well-known of the exiled opposition groups -such as monarchists and MKO (Mujahedeen Khlagh Organization)- have consistently opposed any dialog with the Islamic Republic in order to de-legitimize and isolate the Iranian government. What are the merits of this strategy? If war and sanctions are to be averted, communication with the Iranian side seems almost necessary. How do you respond?

AE: The fact is that the monarchists and MKO have long been completely out of touch with the Iranian people amongst whom they have no base of support.

As I have already pointed out opinion polls show that a great majority of the people of Iran, including a majority of those who otherwise oppose the regime, defend Iran's right for a civilian nuclear technology and side with Iran against the west on this issue.

It is thus simply irrational to oppose dialogue with the regime which on this issue has the backing of a majority of the Iranian people. The western leaders are aware of this reality, which puts them at a dilemma what course of action to follow so as not to turn Iranians into supporting the regime.

What the Iranian people need now is to express their defence of Iran's national right for a civilian nuclear technology by organizing themselves independent of the government against the threats of sanctions and military intervention and at the same time; independent of the west, demand freedom of press, freedom for political prisoners, respect for human rights, an independent judiciary and an end to oppression of women, national and religious minorities.

These demands represent key historical tasks, which are all vital to building an effective, broad based united front of all Iranian people against Israel/US aggression.

FKh: What about Iranians living US and Europe? What is the most effective way to oppose sanctions and military action against Iran?

I think the first task for all those who oppose sanctions and military intervention -Iranian or otherwise- is to organise themselves in a campaign and express their collective voice in a systematic and united manner. The Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII), which is now also established in the US, is a first step in this direction.

CASMII aims to systematically respond to biased and distorted articles in the media against Iran, to mobilize opposition in the Iraq anti-war movement against any attack on Iran and finally to lobby representatives in the US congress and the Senate against the war drive on Iran.

FKh: Do you or CASMII receive any funding from the Iranian or any other government for this work? What is the chief source of funding for your activities?

CASMII is an independent campaign organisation which receives no funding from the Iranian or any other government. Our funding in the UK has so far come completely from membership fees and individual donations. We intend however to seek funds from NGO's who promote peace and international cultural exchange.

Abbas Edalat, Ph.D. is Professor of Computer Science and Mathematics at Imperial College London, UK. He is a founding member of the Campaign against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran. (www.campaigniran.org)

source: Payvand

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The "war on terror" isn't even a war

By Lindsay Beyerstein
Where does the War on Terror rank amongst the other great wars of American history?

I think Ezra is making a serious framing error when he uses the foregoing question to introduce this excellent New York Times editorial by Joseph Ellis.

Ellis is asking how grave a threat to national security terrorism is compared to other crises during which the government has evoked special powers:

My first question: where does Sept. 11 rank in the grand sweep of American history as a threat to national security? By my calculations it does not make the top tier of the list, which requires the threat to pose a serious challenge to the survival of the American republic.

Here is my version of the top tier: the War for Independence, where defeat meant no United States of America; the War of 1812, when the national capital was burned to the ground; the Civil War, which threatened the survival of the Union; World War II, which represented a totalitarian threat to democracy and capitalism; the cold war, most specifically the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, which made nuclear annihilation a distinct possibility.

Sept. 11 does not rise to that level of threat because, while it places lives and lifestyles at risk, it does not threaten the survival of the American republic, even though the terrorists would like us to believe so.

I agree with Ellis's overall assessment: the threat of terrorist attacks isn't that big a deal compared to many of the other national security crises that the U.S. has endured during the course of its history.

However, the most important question is not the threat, per se, but whether we are at war. If we are indeed at war, the state has a qualitatively different set of options, regardless of the actual severity of the threat.

The Bush administration is trying to justify extraordinary expansion of executive power not only because terrorists might hurt us (like hurricanes, or bird flu), but because we are literally at war. War powers aren't justified simply as a function of the threat posed by the enemy. Congress doesn't need to prove a threat in order to declare war.

A war fought for convenience, greed, or strategic gain is just as much a candidate for war powers as a war fought to defend against a grave threat to the American way of life. One rationale for war powers is partly that when the country decides to fight, for whatever reason, it needs special resources in order to do so.

The fact is that we're not at war on terrorism, let alone against terror. Terrorism is a strategy. Actually, it's a normative assessment of a family of tactics. In the current climate "terrorism" refers to any political violence the speaker doesn't like.

We aren't at war with terrorism and we never have been. We were at war with Iraq, and now we're fighting the Iraqi insurgency.

We are engaged in a global struggle against terrorism by Islamic extremists. But we can't even declare war on Al Qaeda, though the use of force against them has been authorized. We can't declare war against Al Qaeda for the same reason that we can't declare war against Columbia drug cartel or the mafia. These groups, however nefarious, aren't states. If we were to destroy these organizations, new groups with the same mission would take their place.

War is a metaphor for any all-out struggle against a serious problem: poverty, cancer, drugs, terrorism... Sometimes we use military hardware and tactics to further that struggle. Sometimes we even fight real wars as part of our strategy.

The idea that the so-called war on terror justifies dramatic expansion of presidential power is extremely dangerous. Terrorism is never going to go away. If we accept that we are literally at war with terror, we are signing on to perpetual war for perpetual peace.


source: Majikthise

A Corrupted Election

Despite what you may have heard, the exit polls were right

By Steve Freeman and Josh Mitteldorf
February 15, 2005

Recall the Election Day exit polls that suggested John Kerry had won a convincing victory? The media readily dismissed those polls and little has been heard about them since.

Many Americans, however, were suspicious. Although President Bush prevailed by 3 million votes in the official, tallied vote count, exit polls had projected a margin of victory of 5 million votes for Kerry. This unexplained 8 million vote discrepancy between the election night exit polls and the official count should raise a Chinese May Day of red flags.

The U.S. voting system is more vulnerable to manipulation than most Americans realize. Technologies such as electronic voting machines provide no confirmation that votes are counted as cast, and highly partisan election officials have the power to suppress votes and otherwise distort the count.

Exit polls are highly accurate. They remove most of the sources of potential polling error by identifying actual voters and asking them immediately afterward who they had voted for.

The reliability of exit polls is so generally accepted that the Bush administration helped pay for them during recent elections in Georgia, Belarus and Ukraine. Testifying before the House Committee on International Relations Dec. 7, John Tefft, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, explained that the Bush administration funded exit polls because they were one of the "ways that would help to expose large-scale fraud." Tefft pointed to the discrepancy between exit polls and the official vote count to argue that the Nov. 22 Ukraine election was stolen.

Grasping at explanations

Last November in the United States, as in Ukraine, the discrepancy between the presidential exit polls and the tallied count was far beyond the margin for error. At the time, Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International, the two companies hired to do the polling for the National Election Pool (a consortium of the nation's five major broadcasters and the Associated Press), didn't provide an explanation for how this happened. They promised, however, that a full explanation would be forthcoming.

On Jan. 19, on the eve of the inauguration, Edison and Mitofsky released their report, "Evaluation of Edison/Mitofsky Election System 2004," which generated headlines such as MSNBC's "Exit Polls Prove That Bush Won." But, the report does nothing of the sort. It restates a thesis that the pollsters previously intimated—that the discrepancy was "most likely due to Kerry voters participating in the exit polls at a higher rate than Bush voters." But the body of the report offers no data to substantiate this position. In fact, data presented in the report serve to rebut the thesis, and bolster suspicions that the official vote count was way, way off.

The report states that the difference between exit polls and official tallies was far too great to be explained by chance ("sampling error"), and that a systematic bias is implicated.

With that statement the pollsters confirm the discrepancy we initially documented. The exit polls were based on more than 70,000 confidential questionnaires completed by randomly selected voters as they exited the polling place. The overall margin of error should have been under 1 percent. But the official result deviated from the poll projections by more than 5 percent—a statistical impossibility.

The pollsters report that the precincts were appropriately chosen for sampling, in that the aggregated official results from the sampled precincts accurately reflected the official statewide ballot counts.

In saying this, Mitofsky and Edison vindicate a key piece of their methodology—the representativeness of their samples. If the fault indeed lies with the exit polls, the range of possibilities for error is therefore narrowed.

Finally, they report that the source of error is, in fact, within-precinct error (WPE), the difference between official precinct tallies and the exit poll samples from those same precincts. On average, across the country, the President did 6.5 percent better in the official vote count, relative to Kerry, than the exit polls projected.

This admission further narrows the range of possibilities. If the polling data are accurate, the only remaining possibilities are "non-response bias" (i.e., Bush voters disproportionately did not participate in the exit polls) and/or errors in the official tally.

However, having gotten to this point in their argument, Mitofsky and Edison summarily dismiss the possibility that the official count was wrong. They reject the election fraud hypothesis because, they say, "precincts with touch screen and optical voting have essentially the same error rates as those using punch-card systems."

Indeed, they do. But this fact merely suggests that all three of these systems may have been corrupted. Indeed, there is little question about problems associated with both punch card systems (recall the Florida debacle in 2000) and mechanical voting machines, which are generally unreliable, vulnerable to tinkering and leave no paper trail. That's why both systems have been slated for termination under the Helping America Vote Act of 2002.

Notably, Mitofsky and Edison unsucessfully try to explain away the fact that, according to their data, only in precincts that used old-fashioned, hand-counted paper ballots did the official count and the exit polls fall within the normal sampling margin of error.

Further, data that are underplayed in the report provide support for the hypothesis that the election was stolen.

First, the report acknowledges that the discrepancy between the exit polls and the official count was considerably greater in the critical swing states. And while that fact is consistent with allegations of fraud (if you are going to steal an election you go after votes most vigorously where they are most needed), Mitofsky and Edison suggest, without providing any data or theory to back up their claim, that this discrepancy is somehow related to media coverage.

Second, in light of the charges that the 2000 election was not legitimate, the Bush/Cheney campaign would have wanted to prevail in the popular vote. If fraud was afoot, it would make sense that the president's men would steal votes in their strongholds, where the likelihood of detection is small. Lo and behold, the report provides data that strongly bolster this theory. In those precincts that went at least 80 percent for Bush, the average within-precinct-error (WPE) was a whopping 10.0—the numerical difference between the exit poll predictions and the official count. That means that in Bush strongholds, Kerry, on average, received only about two-thirds of the votes that exit polls predicted. In contrast, in Kerry strongholds, exit polls matched the official count almost exactly (an average WPE of 0.3).

Other report data undermine the argument that Kerry voters were more likely to complete the exit poll interview than Bush voters. If this were the case, then one would expect that in precincts where Kerry voters predominated, the cooperation rate would be higher than in pro-Bush precincts. But in fact, the data suggest that Bush voters were slightly more likely to complete the survey: 56 percent of voters completed the survey in the Bush strongholds, while 53 percent cooperated in Kerry strongholds.

Corollary evidence

The exit polls themselves are a strong indicator of a corrupted election. Moreover, the exit poll discrepancy must be interpreted in the context of more than 100,000 officially logged reports of irregularities during Election Day 2004. For many Americans, if not most, mass-scale fraud in a U.S. presidential election is an unthinkable possibility. But taken together, the allegations, the subsequently documented irregularities, systematic vulnerabilities, and implausible numbers suggest a coherent story of fraud and deceit.

What's more, the exit poll disparity doesn't tell the whole story. It doesn't count those voters who were disenfranchised before they even got to the polls. The voting machine shortages in Democratic districts, the fraudulent felony purges of voter rolls, the barriers to registration, and the unmailed, lost, or cavalierly rejected absentee ballots all represent distortions to the vote count above and beyond what is measured by the exit poll disparity. The exit polls, by design, sample only those voters who have already overcome these hurdles.

The thesis of the Mitofsky/Edison exit poll report and the headlines that it generated are curiously detached from the numbers in the report itself. Statisticians who have studied the exit polls find substantial evidence to support the thesis that the vote counts—not the exit polls—were inaccurate.

Apparently, the pollsters at Mitofsky and Edison have found it more expedient to provide an explanation unsupported by theory, data or precedent than to impugn the machinery of American democracy. Unfortunately, their patrons in the media find it correspondingly preferable to latch onto a non-confrontational thesis, however implausible, than to even suggest the possibility of foul play.

A comprehensive analysis of the Edison/Mitofsky report has been posted here.

Steve Freeman is on the faculty of the Center for Organizational Dynamics at the University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches research methodology. Freeman’s research on the 2004 election will be published in a book—co-written with In These Times Editor Joel Bleifuss—by Seven Stories Press this spring. Josh Mitteldorf teaches statistics at Temple University and is a volunteer at USCountVotes.org.


source: In These Times

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Finding a Place for 9/11 in American History

Amherst, Mass.

IN recent weeks, President Bush and his administration have mounted a spirited defense of his Iraq policy, the Patriot Act and, especially, a program to wiretap civilians, often reaching back into American history for precedents to justify these actions. It is clear that the president believes that he is acting to protect the security of the American people. It is equally clear that both his belief and the executive authority he claims to justify its use derive from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

A myriad of contested questions are obviously at issue here — foreign policy questions about the danger posed by Iraq, constitutional questions about the proper limits on executive authority, even political questions about the president's motives in attacking Iraq. But all of those debates are playing out under the shadow of Sept. 11 and the tremendous changes that it prompted in both foreign and domestic policy.

Whether or not we can regard Sept. 11 as history, I would like to raise two historical questions about the terrorist attacks of that horrific day. My goal is not to offer definitive answers but rather to invite a serious debate about whether Sept. 11 deserves the historical significance it has achieved.

My first question: where does Sept. 11 rank in the grand sweep of American history as a threat to national security? By my calculations it does not make the top tier of the list, which requires the threat to pose a serious challenge to the survival of the American republic.

Here is my version of the top tier: the War for Independence, where defeat meant no United States of America; the War of 1812, when the national capital was burned to the ground; the Civil War, which threatened the survival of the Union; World War II, which represented a totalitarian threat to democracy and capitalism; the cold war, most specifically the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, which made nuclear annihilation a distinct possibility.

Sept. 11 does not rise to that level of threat because, while it places lives and lifestyles at risk, it does not threaten the survival of the American republic, even though the terrorists would like us to believe so.

My second question is this: What does history tell us about our earlier responses to traumatic events?

My list of precedents for the Patriot Act and government wiretapping of American citizens would include the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, which allowed the federal government to close newspapers and deport foreigners during the "quasi-war" with France; the denial of habeas corpus during the Civil War, which permitted the pre-emptive arrest of suspected Southern sympathizers; the Red Scare of 1919, which emboldened the attorney general to round up leftist critics in the wake of the Russian Revolution; the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, which was justified on the grounds that their ancestry made them potential threats to national security; the McCarthy scare of the early 1950's, which used cold war anxieties to pursue a witch hunt against putative Communists in government, universities and the film industry.

In retrospect, none of these domestic responses to perceived national security threats looks justifiable. Every history textbook I know describes them as lamentable, excessive, even embarrassing. Some very distinguished American presidents, including John Adams, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, succumbed to quite genuine and widespread popular fears. No historian or biographer has argued that these were their finest hours.

What Patrick Henry once called "the lamp of experience" needs to be brought into the shadowy space in which we have all been living since Sept. 11. My tentative conclusion is that the light it sheds exposes the ghosts and goblins of our traumatized imaginations. It is completely understandable that those who lost loved ones on that date will carry emotional scars for the remainder of their lives. But it defies reason and experience to make Sept. 11 the defining influence on our foreign and domestic policy. History suggests that we have faced greater challenges and triumphed, and that overreaction is a greater danger than complacency.

Joseph J. Ellis is a professor of history at Mount Holyoke College and the author, most recently, of "His Excellency: George Washington."

source: New York Times

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The re-declared War on Terror

Amnesty International Annual Lecture hosted by TCD, delivered by Noam Chomsky at Shelbourne Hall, the Royal Dublin Society, January 18, 2006.

By Noam Chomsky

"Terror" is a term that rightly arouses strong emotions and deep concerns. The primary concern should, naturally, be to take measures to alleviate the threat, which has been severe in the past, and will be even more so in the future. To proceed in a serious way, we have to establish some guidelines. Here are a few simple ones:

(1) Facts matter, even if we do not like them.

(2) Elementary moral principles matter, even if they have consequences that we would prefer not to face.

(3) Relative clarity matters. It is pointless to seek a truly precise definition of "terror," or of any other concept outside of the hard sciences and mathematics, often even there. But we should seek enough clarity at least to distinguish terror from two notions that lie uneasily at its borders: aggression and legitimate resistance.

If we accept these guidelines, there are quite constructive ways to deal with the problems of terrorism, which are quite severe. It's commonly claimed that critics of ongoing policies do not present solutions. Check the record, and I think you will find that there is an accurate translation for that charge: "They present solutions, but I don't like them."

Suppose, then, that we accept these simple guidelines. Let's turn to the "War on Terror." Since facts matter, it matters that the War was not declared by George W. Bush on 9/11, but by the Reagan administration 20 years earlier.

They came into office declaring that their foreign policy would confront what the President called "the evil scourge of terrorism," a plague spread by "depraved opponents of civilization itself" in "a return to barbarism in the modern age" (Secretary of State George Shultz). The campaign was directed to a particularly virulent form of the plague: state-directed international terrorism. The main focus was Central America and the Middle East, but it reached to southern Africa and Southeast Asia and beyond.

A second fact is that the war was declared and implemented by pretty much the same people who are conducting the re-declared war on terrorism. The civilian component of the re-declared War on Terror is led by John Negroponte, appointed last year to supervise all counterterror operations. As Ambassador in Honduras, he was the hands-on director of the major operation of the first War on Terror, the contra war against Nicaragua launched mainly from US bases in Honduras. I'll return to some of his tasks. The military component of the re-declared War led by Donald Rumsfeld. During the first phase of the War on Terror, Rumsfeld was Reagan's special representative to the Middle East. There, his main task was to establish close relations with Saddam Hussein so that the US could provide him with large-scale aid, including means to develop WMD, continuing long after the huge atrocities against the Kurds and the end of the war with Iran. The official purpose, not concealed, was Washington's responsibility to aid American exporters and "the strikingly unanimous view" of Washington and its allies Britain and Saudi Arabia that "whatever the sins of the Iraqi leader, he offered the West and the region a better hope for his country's stability than did those who have suffered his repression" -- New York Times Middle East correspondent Alan Cowell, describing Washington's judgment as George Bush I authorized Saddam to crush the Shi'ite rebellion in 1991, which probably would have overthrown the tyrant.

Saddam is at last on trial for his crimes. The first trial, now underway, is for crimes he committed in 1982. 1982 happens to be an important year in US-Iraq relations. It was in 1982 that Reagan removed Iraq from the list of states supporting terror so that aid could flow to his friend in Baghdad. Rumsfeld then visited Baghdad to confirm the arrangements. Judging by reports and commentary, it would be impolite to mention any of these facts, let alone to suggest that some others might be standing alongside Saddam before the bar of justice. Removing Saddam from the list of states supporting terrorism left a gap. It was at once filled by Cuba, perhaps in recognition of the fact that the US terrorist wars against Cuba from 1961 had just peaked, including events that would be on the front pages right now in societies that valued their freedom, to which I'll briefly return. Again, that tells us something about the real elite attitudes towards the plague of the modern age.

Since the first War on Terror was waged by those now carrying out the redeclared war, or their immediate mentors, it follows that anyone seriously interested in the re-declared War on Terror should ask at once how it was carried out in the 1980s. The topic, however, is under a virtual ban. That becomes understandable as soon as we investigate the facts: the first War on Terror quickly became a murderous and brutal terrorist war, in every corner of the world where it reached, leaving traumatized societies

that may never recover. What happened is hardly obscure, but doctrinally unacceptable, therefore protected from inspection. Unearthing the record is an enlightening exercise, with enormous implications for the future.

These are a few of the relevant facts, and they definitely do matter. Let's turn to the second of the guidelines: elementary moral principles. The most elementary is a virtual truism: decent people apply to themselves the same standards that they apply to others, if not more stringent ones. Adherence to this principle of universality would have many useful consequences. For one thing, it would save a lot of trees. The principle would radically reduce published reporting and commentary on social and political affairs. It would virtually eliminate the newly fashionable discipline of Just War theory. And it would wipe the slate almost clean with regard to the War on Terror. The reason is the same in all cases: the principle of universality is rejected, for the most part tacitly, though sometimes explicitly. Those are very sweeping statements. I purposely put them in a stark form to invite you to challenge them, and I hope you do. You will find, I think, that although the statements are somewhat overdrawn--purposely -- they nevertheless are uncomfortably close to accurate, and in fact very fully documented. But try for yourselves and see.

This most elementary of moral truisms is sometimes upheld at least in words. One example, of critical importance today, is the Nuremberg Tribunal. In sentencing Nazi war criminals to death, Justice Robert Jackson, Chief of Counsel for the United States, spoke eloquently, and memorably, on the principle of universality. "If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes," he said, "they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us....We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well."

That is a clear and honorable statement of the principle of universality. But the judgment at Nuremberg itself crucially violated this principle. The Tribunal had to define "war crime" and "crimes against humanity." It crafted these definition very carefully so that crimes are criminal only if they were not committed by the allies. Urban bombing of civilian concentrations was excluded, because the allies carried it out more barbarically than the Nazis. And Nazi war criminals, like Admiral Doenitz, were able to plead successfully that their British and US counterparts had carried out the same practices. The reasoning was outlined by Telford Taylor, a distinguished international lawyer who was Jackson's Chief Counsel for War Crimes. He explained that "to punish the foe--especially the vanquished foe--for conduct in which the enforcing nation has engaged, would be so grossly inequitable as to discredit the laws themselves." That is correct, but the operative definition of "crime" also discredits the laws themselves. Subsequent Tribunals are discredited by the same moral flaw, but the self-exemption of the powerful from international law and elementary moral principle goes far beyond this illustration, and reaches to just about every aspect of the two phases of the War on Terror.

Let's turn to the third background issue: defining "terror" and distinguishing it from aggression and legitimate resistance. I have been writing about terror for 25 years, ever since the Reagan administration declared its War on Terror. I've been using definitions that seem to be doubly appropriate: first, they make sense; and second, they are the official definitions of those waging the war. To take one of these official definitions, terrorism is "the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature...through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear," typically targeting civilians. The British government's definition is about the same: "Terrorism is the use, or threat, of action which is violent, damaging or disrupting, and is intended to influence the government or intimidate the public and is for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, or ideological cause." These definitions seem fairly clear and close to ordinary usage. There also seems to be general agreement that they are appropriate when discussing the terrorism of enemies.

But a problem at once arises. These definitions yield an entirely unacceptable consequence: it follows that the US is a leading terrorist state, dramatically so during the Reaganite war on terror. Merely to take the most uncontroversial case, Reagan's state-directed terrorist war against Nicaragua was condemned by the World Court, backed by two Security Council resolutions (vetoed by the US, with Britain politely abstaining). Another completely clear case is Cuba, where the record by now is voluminous, and not controversial. And there is a long list beyond them.

We may ask, however, whether such crimes as the state-directed attack against Nicaragua are really terrorism, or whether they rise to the level of the much higher crime of aggression. The concept of aggression was defined clearly enough by Justice Jackson at Nuremberg in terms that were basically reiterated in an authoritative General Assembly resolution. An "aggressor," Jackson proposed to the Tribunal, is a state that is the first to commit such actions as "Invasion of its armed forces, with or without a declaration of war, of the territory of another State," or "Provision of support to armed bands formed in the territory of another State, or refusal, notwithstanding the request of the invaded State, to take in its own territory, all the measures in its power to deprive those bands of all assistance or protection." The first provision unambiguously applies to the US-UK invasion of Iraq. The second, just as clearly, applies to the US war against Nicaragua. However, we might give the current incumbents in Washington and their mentors the benefit of the doubt, considering them guilty only of the lesser crime of international terrorism, on a huge and unprecedented scale.

It may also be recalled the aggression was defined at Nuremberg as "the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole"--all the evil in the tortured land of Iraq that flowed from the US-UK invasion, for example, and in Nicaragua too, if the charge is not reduced to international terrorism. And in Lebanon, and all too many other victims who are easily dismissed on grounds of wrong agency--right to the present. A week ago (January 13), a CIA predator drone attacked a village in Pakistan, murdering dozens of civilians, entire families, who just happened to live in a suspected al-Qaeda hideout. Such routine actions elicit little notice, a legacy of the poisoning of the moral culture by centuries of imperial thuggery.

The World Court did not take up the charge of aggression in the Nicaragua case. The reasons are instructive, and of quite considerable contemporary relevance. Nicaragua's case was presented by the distinguished Harvard University law professor Abram Chayes, former legal adviser to the State Department. The Court rejected a large part of his case on the grounds that in accepting World Court jurisdiction in 1946, the US had entered a reservation excluding itself from prosecution under multilateral treaties, including the UN Charter. The Court therefore restricted its deliberations to customary international law and a bilateral US-Nicaragua treaty, so that the more serious charges were excluded. Even on these very narrow grounds, the Court charged Washington with "unlawful use of force"--in lay language, international terrorism--and ordered it to terminate the crimes and pay substantial reparations. The Reaganites reacted by escalating the war, also officially endorsing attacks by their terrorist forces against "soft targets," undefended civilian targets. The terrorist war left the country in ruins, with a death toll equivalent to 2.25 million in US per capita terms, more than the total of all wartime casualties in US history combined. After the shattered country fell back under US control, it declined to further misery. It is now the second poorest country in Latin America after Haiti--and by accident, also second after Haiti in intensity of US intervention in the past century. The standard way to lament these tragedies is to say that Haiti and Nicaragua are "battered by storms of their own making," to quote the Boston Globe, at the liberal extreme of American journalism. Guatemala ranks third both in misery and intervention, more storms of their own making.

In the Western canon, none of this exists. All is excluded not only from general history and commentary, but also quite tellingly from the huge literature on the War on Terror re-declared in 2001, though its relevance can hardly be in doubt.

These considerations have to do with the boundary between terror and aggression. What about the boundary between terror and resistance? One question that arises is the legitimacy of actions to realize "the right to self-determination, freedom, and independence, as derived from the Charter of the United Nations, of people forcibly deprived of that right..., particularly peoples under colonial and racist regimes and foreign occupation..." Do such actions fall under terror or resistance? The quoted word are from the most forceful denunciation of the crime of terrorism by the UN General Assembly; in December 1987, taken up under Reaganite pressure. Hence it is obviously an important resolution, even more so because of the near-unanimity of support for it. The resolution passed 153-2 (Honduras alone abstaining). It stated that "nothing in the present resolution could in any way prejudice the right to self-determination, freedom, and independence," as characterized in the quoted words.
The two countries that voted against the resolution explained their reasons at the UN session. They were based on the paragraph just quoted. The phrase "colonial and racist regimes" was understood to refer to their ally apartheid South Africa, then consummating its massacres in the neighboring countries and continuing its brutal repression within. Evidently, the US and Israel could not condone resistance to the apartheid regime, particularly when it was led by Nelson Mandela's ANC, one of the world's "more notorious terrorist groups," as Washington determined at the same time. Granting legitimacy to resistance against "foreign occupation" was also unacceptable. The phrase was understood to refer to Israel's US-backed military occupation, then in its 20 th year. Evidently, resistance to that occupation could not be condoned either, even though at the time of the resolution it scarcely existed: despite extensive torture, degradation, brutality, robbery of land and resources, and other familiar concomitants of military occupation, Palestinians under occupation still remained "Samidin," those who quietly endured.

Technically, there are no vetoes at the General Assembly. In the real world, a negative US vote is a veto, in fact a double veto: the resolution is not implemented, and is vetoed from reporting and history. It should be added that the voting pattern is quite common at the General Assembly, and also at the Security Council, on a wide range of issues. Ever since the mid-1960s, when the world fell pretty much out of control, the US is far in the lead in Security Council vetoes, Britain second, with no one else even close. It is also of some interest to note that a majority of the American public favors abandonment of the veto, and following the will of the majority even if Washington disapproves, facts virtually unknown in the US, or I suppose elsewhere. That suggests another conservative way to deal with some of the problems of the world: pay attention to public opinion.

Terrorism directed or supported by the most powerful states continues to the present, often in shocking ways. These facts offer one useful suggestion as to how to mitigate the plague spread by "depraved opponents of civilization itself" in "a return to barbarism in the modern age": Stop participating in terror and supporting it. That would certainly contribute to the proclaimed objections. But that suggestion too is off the agenda, for the usual reasons. When it is occasionally voiced, the reaction is reflexive: a tantrum about how those who make this rather conservative proposal are blaming everything on the US.

Even with careful sanitization of discussion, dilemmas constantly arise. One just arose very recently, when Luis Posada Carriles entered the US illegally. Even by the narrow operative definition of "terror," he is clearly one of the most notorious international terrorists, from the 1960s to the present. Venezuela requested that he be extradited to face charges for the bombing of a Cubana airliner in Venezuela, killing 73 people. The charges are admittedly credible, but there is a real difficulty. After Posada miraculously escaped from a Venezuelan prison, the liberal Boston Globe reports, he "was hired by US covert operatives to direct the resupply operation for the Nicaraguan contras from El Salvador"--that is, to play a prominent role in terrorist atrocities that are incomparably worse than blowing up the Cubana airliner. Hence the dilemma. To quote the press: "Extraditing him for trial could send a worrisome signal to covert foreign agents that they cannot count on unconditional protection from the US government, and it could expose the CIA to embarrassing public disclosures from a former operative." Evidently, a difficult problem.

The Posada dilemma was, thankfully, resolved by the courts, which rejected Venezuela's appeal for his extradition, in violation of the US-Venezuela extradition treaty. A day later, the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, urged Europe to speed US demands for extradition: "We are always looking to see how we can make the extradition process go faster," he said. "We think we owe it to the victims of terrorism to see to it that justice is done efficiently and effectively." At the Ibero-American Summit shortly after, the leaders of Spain and the Latin American countries "backed Venezuela's efforts to have [Posada] extradited from the United States to face trial" for the Cubana airliner bombing, and again condemned the "blockade" of Cuba by the US, endorsing regular near-unanimous UN resolutions, the most recent with a vote of 179-4 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau). After strong protests from the US Embassy, the Summit withdrew the call for extradition, but refused to yield on the demand for an end to the economic warfare. Posada is therefore free to join his colleague Orlando Bosch in Miami. Bosch is implicated in dozens of terrorist crimes, including the Cubana airliner bombing, many on US soil. The FBI and Justice Department wanted him deported as a threat to national security, but Bush I took care of that by granting him a presidential pardon.

There are other such examples. We might want to bear them in mind when we read Bush II's impassioned pronouncement that "the United States makes no distinction between those who commit acts of terror and those who support them, because they're equally as guilty of murder," and "the civilized world must hold those regimes to account." This was proclaimed to great applause at the National Endowment for Democracy, a few days after Venezuela's extradition request had been refused. Bush's remarks pose another dilemma. Either the US is part of the civilized world, and must send the US air force to bomb Washington; or it declares itself to be outside the civilized world. The logic is impeccable, but fortunately, logic has been dispatched as deep into the memory hole as moral truisms.

The Bush doctrine that "those who harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves" was promulgated when the Taliban asked for evidence before handing over people the US suspected of terrorism--without credible evidence, as the FBI conceded many months later. The doctrine is taken very seriously. Harvard international relations specialist Graham Allison writes that it has "already become a de facto rule of international relations," revoking "the sovereignty of states that provide sanctuary to terrorists." Some states, that is, thanks to the rejection of the principle of universality.

One might also have thought that a dilemma would have arisen when John Negroponte was appointed to the position of head of counter-terrorism. As Ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s, he was running the world's largest CIA station, not because of the grand role of Honduras in world affairs, but because Honduras was the primary US base for the international terrorist war for which Washington was condemned by the ICJ and Security Council (absent the veto). Known in Honduras as "the Proconsul," Negroponte had the task of ensuring that the international terrorist operations, which reached remarkable levels of savagery, would proceed efficiently. His responsibilities in managing the war on the scene took a new turn after official funding was barred in 1983, and he had to implement White House orders to bribe and pressure senior Honduran Generals to step up their support for the terrorist war using funds from other sources, later funds illegally transferred from US arms sales to Iran. The most vicious of the Honduran killers and torturers was General Alvarez Martínez, the chief of the Honduran armed forces at the time, who had informed the US that "he intended to use the Argentine method of eliminating suspected subversives." Negroponte regularly denied gruesome state crimes in Honduras to ensure that military aid would continue to flow for international terrorism. Knowing all about Alvarez, the Reagan administration awarded him the Legion of Merit medal for "encouraging the success of democratic processes in Honduras." The elite unit responsible for the worst crimes in Honduras was Battalion 3-16, organized and trained by Washington and its Argentine neo-Nazi associates. Honduran military officers in charge of the Battalion were on the CIA payroll. When the government of Honduras finally tried to deal with these crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice, the Reagan-Bush administration refused to allow Negroponte to testify, as the courts requested.

There was virtually no reaction to the appointment of a leading international terrorist to the top counter-terrorism position in the world. Nor to the fact that at the very same time, the heroine of the popular struggle that overthrew the vicious Somoza regime in Nicaragua, Dora María Téllez, was denied a visa to teach at the Harvard Divinity School, as a terrorist. Her crime was to have helped overthrow a US-backed tyrant and mass murderer. Orwell would not have known whether to laugh or weep. So far I have been keeping to the kinds of topics that would be addressed in a discussion of the War on Terror that is not deformed to accord with the iron laws of doctrine. And this barely scratches the surface. But let us now adopt prevailing Western hypocrisy and cynicism, and keep to the operative definition of "terror." It is the same as the official definitions, but with the Nuremberg exception: admissible terror is your terror; ours is exempt..
Even with this constraint, terror is a major problem, undoubtedly. And to mitigate or terminate the threat should be a high priority. Regrettably, it is not. That is all too easy to demonstrate, and the consequences are likely to be severe.

The invasion of Iraq is perhaps the most glaring example of the low priority assigned by US-UK leaders to the threat of terror. Washington planners had been advised, even by their own intelligence agencies, that the invasion was likely to increase the risk of terror. And it did, as their own intelligence agencies confirm. The National Intelligence Council reported a year ago that "Iraq and other possible conflicts in the future could provide recruitment, training grounds, technical skills and language proficiency for a new class of terrorists who are `professionalized' and for whom political violence becomes an end in itself," spreading elsewhere to defend Muslim lands from attack by "infidel invaders" in a globalized network of "diffuse Islamic extremist groups," with Iraq now replacing the Afghan training grounds for this more extensive network, as a result of the invasion. A high-level government review of the "war on terror" two years after the invasion `focused on how to deal with the rise of a new generation of terrorists, schooled in Iraq over the past couple years. Top government officials are increasingly turning their attention to anticipate what one called "the bleed out" of hundreds or thousands of Iraq-trained jihadists back to their home countries throughout the Middle East and Western Europe. "It's a new piece of a new equation," a former senior Bush administration official said. "If you don't know who they are in Iraq, how are you going to locate them in Istanbul or London?"' ( Washington Post).

Last May the CIA reported that "Iraq has become a magnet for Islamic militants similar to Soviet-occupied Afghanistan two decades ago and Bosnia in the 1990s," according to US officials quoted in the New York Times. The CIA concluded that "Iraq may prove to be an even more effective training ground for Islamic extremists than Afghanistan was in Al Qaeda's early days, because it is serving as a real-world laboratory for urban combat." Shortly after the London bombing last July, Chatham House released a study concluding that "there is `no doubt' that the invasion of Iraq has `given a boost to the al-Qaida network' in propaganda, recruitment and fundraising,` while providing an ideal training area for terrorists"; and that "the UK is at particular risk because it is the closest ally of the United States" and is "a pillion passenger" of American policy" in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is extensive supporting evidence to show that -- as anticipated -- the invasion increased the risk of terror and nuclear proliferation. None of this shows that planners prefer these consequences, of course. Rather, they are not of much concern in comparison with much higher priorities that are obscure only to those who prefer what human rights researchers sometimes call "intentional ignorance."

Once again we find, very easily, a way to reduce the threat of terror: stop acting in ways that--predictably--enhance the threat. Though enhancement of the threat of terror and proliferation was anticipated, the invasion did so even in unanticipated ways. It is common to say that no WMD were found in Iraq after exhaustive search. That is not quite accurate, however. There were stores of WMD in Iraq: namely, those produced in the 1980s, thanks to aid provided by the US and Britain, along with others. These sites had been secured by UN inspectors, who were dismantling the weapons. But the inspectors were dismissed by the invaders and the sites were left unguarded. The inspectors nevertheless continued to carry out their work with satellite imagery. They discovered sophisticated massive looting of these installations in over 100 sites, including equipment for producing solid and liquid propellant missiles, biotoxins and other materials usable for chemical and biological weapons, and high-precision equipment capable of making parts for nuclear and chemical weapons and missiles. A Jordanian journalist was informed by officials in charge of the Jordanian-Iraqi border that after US-UK forces took over, radioactive materials were detected in one of every eight trucks crossing to Jordan, destination unknown.

The ironies are almost inexpressible. The official justification for the US-UK invasion was to prevent the use of WMD that did not exist. The invasion provided the terrorists who had been mobilized by the US and its allies with the means to develop WMD -- namely, equipment they had provided to Saddam, caring nothing about the terrible crimes they later invoked to whip up support for the invasion. It is as if Iran were now making nuclear weapons using fissionable materials provided by the US to Iran under the Shah -- which may indeed be happening. Programs to recover and secure such materials were having considerable success in the '90s, but like the war on terror, these programs fell victim to Bush administration priorities as they dedicated their energy and resources to invading Iraq.

Elsewhere in the Mideast too terror is regarded as secondary to ensuring that the region is under control. Another illustration is Bush's imposition of new sanctions on Syria in May 2004, implementing the Syria Accountability Act passed by Congress a few months earlier. Syria is on the official list of states sponsoring terrorism, despite Washington's acknowledgment that Syria has not been implicated in terrorist acts for many years and has been highly cooperative in providing important intelligence to Washington on al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups. The gravity of Washington's concern over Syria's links to terror was revealed by President Clinton when he offered to remove Syria from the list of states sponsoring terror if it agreed to US-Israeli peace terms. When Syria insisted on recovering its conquered territory, it remained on the list. Implementation of the Syria Accountability Act deprived the US of an important source of information about radical Islamist terrorism in order to achieve the higher goal of establishing in Syria a regime that will accept US-Israeli demands.

Turning to another domain, the Treasury Department has a bureau (OFAC, Office of Foreign Assets Control) that is assigned the task of investigating suspicious financial transfers, a central component of the "war on terror." In April 2004, OFAC informed Congress that of its 120 employees, four were assigned to tracking the finances of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, while almost two dozen were occupied with enforcing the embargo against Cuba. From 1990 to 2003 there were 93 terrorism-related investigations with $9000 in fines; and 11,000 Cuba-related investigations with $8 million in fines. The revelations received the silent treatment in the US media, elsewhere as well to my knowledge.

Why should the Treasury Department devote vastly more energy to strangling Cuba than to the "war on terror"? The basic reasons were explained in internal documents of the Kennedy-Johnson years. State Department planners warned that the "very existence" of the Castro regime is "successful defiance" of US policies going back 150 years, to the Monroe Doctrine; not Russians, but intolerable defiance of the master of the hemisphere, much like Iran's crime of successful defiance in 1979, or Syria's rejection of Clinton's demands. Punishment of the population was regarded as fully legitimate, we learn from internal documents. "The Cuban people [are] responsible for the regime," the Eisenhower State Department decided, so that the US has the right to cause them to suffer by economic strangulation, later escalated to direct terror by Kennedy. Eisenhower and Kennedy agreed that the embargo would hasten Fidel Castro's departure as a result of the "rising discomfort among hungry Cubans." The basic thinking was summarized by State Department official Lester Mallory: Castro would be removed "through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship so every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba in order to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the government." When Cuba was in dire straits after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Washington intensified the punishment of the people of Cuba, at the initiative of liberal Democrats. The author of the 1992 measures to tighten the blockade proclaimed that "my objective is to wreak havoc in Cuba" (Representative Robert Torricelli). All of this continues until the present moment.

The Kennedy administration was also deeply concerned about the threat of Cuban successful development, which might be a model for others. But even apart from these standard concerns, successful defiance in itself is intolerable, ranked far higher as a priority than combating terror. These are just further illustrations of principles that are well-established, internally rational, clear enough to the victims, but scarcely perceptible in the intellectual world of the agents.

If reducing the threat of terror were a high priority for Washington or London, as it certainly should be, there would be ways to proceed--even apart from the unmentionable idea of withdrawing participation. The first step, plainly, is to try to understand its roots. With regard to Islamic terror, there is a broad consensus among intelligence agencies and researchers. They identify two categories: the jihadis, who regard themselves as a vanguard, and their audience, which may reject terror but nevertheless regard their cause as just. A serious counter-terror campaign would therefore begin by considering the grievances , and where appropriate, addressing them, as should be done with or without the threat of terror. There is broad agreement among specialists that al-Qaeda-style terror "is today less a product of Islamic fundamentalism than of a simple strategic goal: to compel the United States and its Western allies to withdraw combat forces from the Arabian Peninsula and other Muslim countries" (Robert Pape, who has done the major research on suicide bombers). Serious analysts have pointed out that bin Laden's words and deeds correlate closely. The jihadis organized by the Reagan administration and its allies ended their Afghan-based terrorism inside Russia after the Russians withdrew from Afghanistan, though they continued it from occupied Muslim Chechnya, the scene of horrifying Russian crimes back to the 19 th century. Osama turned against the US in 1991 because he took it to be occupying the holiest Arab land; that was later acknowledged by the Pentagon as a reason for shifting US bases from Saudi Arabia to Iraq. Additionally, he was angered by the rejection of his effort to join the attack against Saddam.

In the most extensive scholarly inquiry into the jihadi phenomenon, Fawaz Gerges concludes that after 9/11, "the dominant response to Al Qaeda in the Muslim world was very hostile," specifically among the jihadis, who regarded it as a dangerous extremist fringe. Instead of recognizing that opposition to Al Qaeda offered Washington "the most effective way to drive a nail into its coffin" by finding "intelligent means to nourish and support the internal forces that were opposed to militant ideologies like the bin Laden network," he writes, the Bush administration did exactly what bin Laden hoped it would do: resort to violence, particularly in the invasion of Iraq. Al-Azhar in Egypt, the oldest institution of religious higher learning in the Islamic world, issued a fatwa, which gained strong support, advising "all Muslims in the world to make jihad against invading American forces" in a war that Bush had declared against Islam. A leading religious figure at al-Azhar, who had been "one of the first Muslim scholars to condemn Al Qaeda [and was] often criticized by ultraconservative clerics as a pro-Western reformer, ruled that efforts to stop the American invasion [of Iraq] are a `binding Islamic duty'." Investigations by Israeli and Saudi intelligence, supported by US strategic studies institutes, conclude that foreign fighters in Iraq, some 5-10% of the insurgents, were mobilized by the invasion, and had no previous record of association with terrorist groups. The achievements of Bush administration planners in inspiring Islamic radicalism and terror, and joining Osama in creating a "clash of civilizations," are quite impressive.

The senior CIA analyst responsible for tracking Osama bin Laden from 1996, Michael Scheuer, writes that "bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging war on us. None of the reasons have anything to do with our freedom, liberty, and democracy, but have everything to do with U.S. policies and actions in the Muslim world." Osama's concern "is out to drastically alter U.S. and Western policies toward the Islamic world," Scheuer writes: "He is a practical warrior, not an apocalyptic terrorist in search of Armageddon." As Osama constantly repeats, "Al Qaeda supports no Islamic insurgency that seeks to conquer new lands." Preferring comforting illusions, Washington ignores "the ideological power, lethality, and growth potential of the threat personified by Osama bin Laden, as well as the impetus that threat has been given by the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Muslim Iraq, [which is] icing on the cake for al Qaeda." "U.S. forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world, something Osama bin Laden has been trying to do with substantial but incomplete success since the early 1990s. As a result, [Scheuer adds,] it is fair to conclude that the United States of America remains bin Laden's only indispensable ally."

The grievances are very real. A Pentagon advisory Panel concluded a year ago that "Muslims do not `hate our freedom,' but rather they hate our policies," adding that "when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy." The conclusions go back many years. In 1958, President Eisenhower puzzled about "the campaign of hatred against us" in the Arab world, "not by the governments but by the people," who are "on Nasser's side," supporting independent secular nationalism. The reasons for the "campaign of hatred" were outlined by the National Security Council: "In the eyes of the majority of Arabs the United States appears to be opposed to the realization of the goals of Arab nationalism. They believe that the United States is seeking to protect its interest in Near East oil by supporting the status quo and opposing political or economic progress." Furthermore, the perception is understandable: "our economic and cultural interests in the area have led not unnaturally to close U.S. relations with elements in the Arab world whose primary interest lies in the maintenance of relations with the West and the status quo in their countries," blocking democracy and development.

Much the same was found by the Wall Street Journal when it surveyed the opinions of "moneyed Muslims" immediately after 9/11: bankers, professionals, businessmen, committed to official "Western values" and embedded in the neoliberal globalization project. They too were dismayed by Washington's support for harsh authoritarian states and the barriers it erects against development and democracy by "propping up oppressive regimes." They had new grievances, however, beyond those reported by the NSC in 1958: Washington's sanctions regime in Iraq and support for Israel's military occupation and takeover of the territories. There was no survey of the great mass of poor and suffering people, but it is likely that their sentiments are more intense, coupled with bitter resentment of the Western-oriented elites and corrupt and brutal rulers backed by Western power who ensure that the enormous wealth of the region flows to the West, apart from enriching themselves. The Iraq invasion only intensified these feelings further, much as anticipated.

There are ways to deal constructively with the threat of terror, though not those preferred by "bin Laden's indispensable ally," or those who try to avoid the real world by striking heroic poses about Islamo-fascism, or who simply claim that no proposals are made when there are quite straightforward proposals that they do not like. The constructive ways have to begin with an honest look in the mirror, never an easy task, always a necessary one.


source: Information Clearing House

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Chimps more like humans than apes

By Robert Roy Britt

While you might think of yourself as smarter than the average ape, beware: Those distant relatives of ours have a knack for evolving more quickly than we do. And by revealing this through DNA analysis, scientists have provided support for a controversial hypothesis that chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than to other species of great apes with which they're currently classified.

The findings were announced today in a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers generally agree that humans and chimps diverged from a common ancestor about 5 million to 7 million years ago.

Chimps are lumped with gorillas and orangutans in the same family, Pongidae, whereas humans are in the family Hominidae.

But a study in 2003 found that 99.4 percent of important DNA sites are the same in chimps and humans. Other researchers have since concluded that there are crucial differences in the genetic software of the two species, however. Only a few months ago was the full chimp DNA sequence unraveled.

Chimps evolving faster
In the new study, scientists examined how quickly each species evolves. The figure they work with is called a molecular clock. It involves the rate at which DNA base pairs match up incorrectly, creating genetic errors called substitutions. These are the mutations that cause changes in a species over time.

Our clock began to slow down about 1 million years ago, and today it is 3 percent slower than that of the chimp and 11 percent slower than in the gorilla, concludes the study, led by Soojin Yi, a biologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The upshot: There seem to be fewer changes to the software of life in humans over time than in chimpanzees, and even fewer still than in the other apes.

This slower clock correlates with a longer time needed to reach sexual maturity — almost twice as long for humans as gorillas. Scientists call this "generation time." In order for mutations to cause lasting change in a species, they must pass on to the next generation.

Since well before modern times, humans have taken almost twice as long to reach sexual maturity as other apes, Yi said.

"A long generation time is an important trait that separates humans from their evolutionary relatives," said Navin Elango, a graduate student working with Yi. "We used to think that apes shared one generation time, but that's not true. There's a lot more variation."

"I think we can say that this study provides further support for the hypothesis that humans and chimpanzees should be in one genus, rather than two different genus' because we not only share extremely similar genomes, we share similar generation time," Yi said.

Humans slow but smart
Given our evolutionary snail's pace, you might be wondering why, in just a few million years, we got so smart while chimps lagged.

"Even though mutations per se may arise in fewer numbers in humans than in chimpanzees, those that matter will quickly spread," Yi told LiveScience. "Mutations that are advantageous to the human, such as intelligence, probably are under strong natural selection," meaning individuals either latch on to the good stuff or perish.

However, Yi and her colleagues looked only at mutations in non-functional regions of DNA, changes that don't affect evolution. "If we looked at only those mutations that are selected, it is possible we may see different results," she said.

source: MSNBC