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Four Hundred Chernobyls: Solar Flares, Electromagnetic Pulses and Nuclear Armageddon

Posted by Admin on March 28, 2012

http://truth-out.org/news/item/7301-400-chernobyls-solar-flares-electromagnetic-pulses-and-nuclear-armageddon

Saturday, 24 March 2012 00:00By Matthew Stein, Truthout | News Analysis

There are nearly 450 nuclear reactors in the world, with hundreds more being planned or under construction. There are 104 of these reactors in the United States and 195 in Europe. Imagine what havoc it would wreak on our civilization and the planet’s ecosystems if we were to suddenly witness not just one or two nuclear meltdowns, but 400 or more! How likely is it that our world might experience an event that could ultimately cause hundreds of reactors to fail and melt down at approximately the same time? I venture to say that, unless we take significant protective measures, this apocalyptic scenario is not only possible, but probable.

Consider the ongoing problems caused by three reactor core meltdowns, explosions and breached containment vessels at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi facility and the subsequent health and environmental issues. Consider the millions of innocent victims who have already died or continue to suffer from horrific radiation-related health problems (“Chernobyl AIDS,” epidemic cancers, chronic fatigue, etcetera) resulting from the Chernobyl reactor explosions, fires and fallout. If just two serious nuclear disasters, spaced 25 years apart, could cause such horrendous environmental catastrophes, it is hard to imagine how we could ever hope to recover from hundreds of similar nuclear incidents occurring simultaneously across the planet. Since more than one-third of all Americans live within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant, this is a serious issue that should be given top priority.[1]

In the past 152 years, Earth has been struck by roughly 100 solar storms, causing significant geomagnetic disturbances (GMD), two of which were powerful enough to rank as “extreme GMDs.” If an extreme GMD of such magnitude were to occur today, in all likelihood, it would initiate a chain of events leading to catastrophic failures at the vast majority of our world’s nuclear reactors, similar to but over 100 times worse than, the disasters at both Chernobyl and Fukushima. When massive solar flares launch a huge mass of highly charged plasma (a coronal mass ejection, or CME) directly toward Earth, colliding with our planet’s outer atmosphere and magnetosphere, the result is a significant geomagnetic disturbance.

The last extreme GMD of a magnitude that could collapse much of the US grid was in May of 1921, long before the advent of modern electronics, widespread electric power grids, and nuclear power plants. We are, mostly, blissfully unaware of this threat and unprepared for its consequences. The good news is that relatively affordable equipment and processes could be installed to protect critical components in the electric power grid and its nuclear reactors, thereby averting this “end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it” scenario. The bad news is that even though panels of scientists and engineers have studied the problem, and the bipartisan Congressional electromagnetic pulse (EMP) commission has presented a list of specific recommendations to Congress, our leaders have yet to approve and implement any significant preventative measures.

Most of us believe that an emergency like this could never happen, and that, if it could, our “authorities” would do everything in their power to prevent such an apocalypse. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. “How could this happen?” you might ask.

Nuclear Power Plants and the Electric Power Grid

Our current global system of electrical power generation and distribution (“the grid”), upon which our modern lifestyles are utterly dependent, is extremely vulnerable to severe geomagnetic storms, which tend to strike our planet on an average of approximately once every 70 to 100 years. We depend on this grid to maintain food production and distribution, telecommunications, Internet services, medical services, military defense, transportation, government, water treatment, sewage and garbage removal, refrigeration, oil refining, gas pumping and all forms of commerce.

Unfortunately, the world’s nuclear power plants, as they are currently designed, are critically dependent upon maintaining connection to a functioning electrical grid, for all but relatively short periods of electrical blackouts, in order to keep their reactor cores continuously cooled so as to avoid catastrophic reactor core meltdowns and fires in storage ponds for spent fuel rods.

If an extreme GMD were to cause widespread grid collapse (which it most certainly will), in as little as one or two hours after each nuclear reactor facility’s backup generators either fail to start, or run out of fuel, the reactor cores will start to melt down. After a few days without electricity to run the cooling system pumps, the water bath covering the spent fuel rods stored in “spent-fuel ponds” will boil away, allowing the stored fuel rods to melt down and burn [2]. Since the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) currently mandates that only one week’s supply of backup generator fuel needs to be stored at each reactor site, it is likely that, after we witness the spectacular nighttime celestial light show from the next extreme GMD, we will have about one week in which to prepare ourselves for Armageddon.

To do nothing is to behave like ostriches with our heads in the sand, blindly believing that “everything will be okay” as our world drifts towards the next natural, inevitable super solar storm and resultant extreme GMD. Such a storm would end the industrialized world as we know it, creating almost incalculable suffering, death and environmental destruction on a scale not seen since the extinction of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.

The End of “The Grid” as We Know It

There are records from the 1850s to today of roughly 100 significant geomagnetic solar storms, two of which, in the last 25 years, were strong enough to cause millions of dollars worth of damage to key components that keep our modern grid powered. In March of 1989, a severe solar storm induced powerful electric currents in grid wiring that fried a main power transformer in the HydroQuebec system, causing a cascading grid failure that knocked out power to 6 million customers for nine hours and damaging similar transformers in New Jersey and the UK. More recently, in 2003, a less intense but longer solar storm caused a blackout in Sweden and induced powerful currents in the South African grid that severely damaged or destroyed 14 of their major power transformers, impairing commerce and comfort over major portions of that country as it was forced to resort to massive rolling blackouts that dragged on for many months.[3]

During the great geomagnetic storm of May 14-15, 1921, brilliant aurora displays were reported in the Northern Hemisphere as far south as Mexico and Puerto Rico, and in the Southern Hemisphere as far north as Samoa.[4] This extreme GMD produced ground currents roughly ten times as strong as the 1989 Quebec incident. Just 62 years earlier, the great granddaddy of recorded GMDs, referred to as “the Carrington Event,” raged from August 28 to September 4, 1859. This extreme GMD induced currents so powerful that telegraph lines, towers and stations caught on fire at a number of locations around the world. Best estimates are that the Carrington Event was approximately 50 percent stronger than the 1921 storm.[5]Since we are headed into an active solar period much like the one preceding the Carrington Event, scientists are concerned that conditions could be ripe for the next extreme GMD.[6]

Prior to the advent of the microchip and modern extra-high-voltage (EHV) transformers (key grid components that were first introduced in the late 1960s), most electrical systems were relatively robust and resistant to the effects of GMDs. Given that a simple electrostatic spark can fry a microchip and thousands of miles of power lines could act like giant antennas for capturing massive amounts of GMD-spawned electromagnetic energy, modern electrical systems are far more vulnerable than their predecessors.

The federal government recently sponsored a detailed scientific study to better understand how much critical components of our national electrical power grid might be affected by either a naturally occurring GMD or a man-made EMP. Under the auspices of the EMP Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and reviewed in depth by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Academy of Sciences, Metatech Corporation undertook extensive modeling and analysis of the potential effects of extreme geomagnetic storms on the US electrical power grid. Based upon a storm as intense as the 1921 storm, Metatech estimated that within the United States, induced voltage and current spikes, combined with harmonic anomalies, would severely damage or destroy over 350 EHV power transformers critical to the functioning of the US grid and possibly impact well over 2000 EHV transformers worldwide.[7]

EHV transformers are made to order and custom-designed for each installation, each weighing as much as 300 tons and costing well over $1 million. Given that there is currently a three-year waiting list for a single EHV transformer (due to recent demand from China and India, lead times grew from one to three years), and that the total global manufacturing capacity is roughly 100 EHV transformers per year when the world’s manufacturing centers are functioning properly, you can begin to grasp the implications of widespread transformer losses.

The loss of thousands of EHV transformers worldwide would cause a catastrophic grid collapse across much of the industrialized world. It will take years, at best, for the industrialized world to put itself back together after such an event, especially considering the fact that most of the manufacturing centers that make this equipment will also be grappling with widespread grid failure.

Our Nuclear “Achilles Heel”

Five years ago, I visited the still highly contaminated areas of Ukraine and the Belarus border where much of the radioactive plume from Chernobyl descended on 26 April 1986. I challenge chief scientist John Beddington and environmentalists like George Monbiot or any of the pundits now downplaying the risks of radiation to talk to the doctors, the scientists, the mothers, children and villagers who have been left with the consequences of a major nuclear accident. It was grim. We went from hospital to hospital and from one contaminated village to another. We found deformed and genetically mutated babies in the wards; pitifully sick children in the homes; adolescents with stunted growth and dwarf torsos; fetuses without thighs or fingers and villagers who told us every member of their family was sick. This was 20 years after the accident, but we heard of many unusual clusters of people with rare bone cancers…. Villages testified that ‘the Chernobyl necklace’ – thyroid cancer – was so common as to be unremarkable.
– John Vidal, “Nuclear’s Green Cheerleaders Forget Chernobyl at Our Peril,” The Guardian, April 1, 2011
 [8]

What do extended grid blackouts have to do with potential nuclear catastrophes? Nuclear power plants are designed to disconnect automatically from the grid in the event of a local power failure or major grid anomaly; once disconnected, they begin the process of shutting down the reactor’s core. In the event of the loss of coolant flow to an active nuclear reactor’s core, the reactor will start to melt down and fail catastrophically within a matter of a few hours, at most. In an extreme GMD, nearly every reactor in the world could be affected.

It was a short-term cooling-system failure that caused the partial reactor core meltdown in March 1979 at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania. Similarly, according to Japanese authorities, it was not direct damage from Japan’s 9.0 magnitude Tohoku Earthquake on March 11, 2011, that caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor disaster, but the loss of electric power to the reactor’s cooling system pumps when the reactor’s backup batteries and diesel generators were wiped out by the ensuing tidal waves. In the hours and days after the tidal waves shuttered the cooling systems, the cores of reactors number 1, 2 and 3 were in full meltdown and released hydrogen gas, fueling explosions which breached several reactor containment vessels and blew the roof off the building housing reactor number 4’s spent-fuel storage pond. Of even greater danger and concern than the reactor cores themselves are the spent fuel rods stored in on-site cooling ponds. Lacking a permanent spent nuclear fuel storage facility, so-called “temporary” nuclear fuel containment ponds are features common to nearly all nuclear reactor facilities. They typically contain the accumulated spent fuel from ten or more decommissioned reactor cores. Due to lack of a permanent repository, most of these fuel containment ponds are greatly overloaded and tightly packed beyond original design. They are generally surrounded by common light industrial buildings with concrete walls and corrugated steel roofs. Unlike the active reactor cores, which are encased inside massive “containment vessels” with thick walls of concrete and steel, the buildings surrounding spent fuel rod storage ponds would do practically nothing to contain radioactive contaminants in the event of prolonged cooling system failures.

Since spent fuel ponds typically hold far greater quantities of highly radioactive material then the active nuclear reactors locked inside reinforced containment vessels, they clearly present far greater potential for the catastrophic spread of highly radioactive contaminants over huge swaths of land, polluting the environment for multiple generations. A study by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) determined that the “boil down time” for spent fuel rod containment ponds runs from between 4 and 22 days after loss of cooling system power before degenerating into a Fukushima-like situation, depending upon the type of nuclear reactor and how recently its latest batch of fuel rods had been decommissioned.[9]

Reactor fuel rods have a protective zirconium cladding, which, if superheated while exposed to air, will burn with intense, self-generating heat, much like a magnesium fire, releasing highly radioactive aerosols and smoke. According to nuclear whistleblower and former senior vice president for Nuclear Engineering Services Arnie Gundersen, once a zirconium fire has started, due to its extreme temperatures and high reactivity, contact with water will result in the water dissociating into hydrogen and oxygen gases, which will almost certainly lead to violent explosions. Gundersen says that once a zirconium fuel rod fire has started, the worst thing you could do is to try to quench the fire with water streams, which would cause violent explosions. Gundersen believes the massive explosion that blew the roof off the spent fuel pond at Fukushima was caused by zirconium-induced hydrogen dissociation.[10]

Had it not been for heroic efforts on the part of Japan’s nuclear workers to replenish waters in the spent fuel pool at Fukushima, those spent fuel rods would have melted down and ignited their zirconium cladding, which most likely would have released far more radioactive contamination than what came from the three reactor core meltdowns. Japanese officials have estimated that Fukushima Daiichi has already released just over half as much total radioactive contamination as was released by Chernobyl into the local environment, but other sources estimate it could be significantly more than at Chernobyl. In the event of an extreme GMD-induced long-term grid collapse covering much of the globe, if just half of the world’s spent fuel ponds were to boil off their water and become radioactive, zirconium-fed infernos, the ensuing contamination could far exceed the cumulative effect of 400 Chernobyls.

Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack

Many of the control systems we considered achieved optimal connectivity through Ethernet cabling. EMP coupling of electrical transients to the cables proved to be an important vulnerability during threat illumination…. The testing and analysis indicate that the electronics could be expected to see roughly 100 to 700 ampere current transients on typical Ethernet cables. Effects noted in EMP testing occurred at the lower end of this scale. The bottom line observation at the end of the testing was that every system failed when exposed to the simulated EMP environment.
— Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack [11]

Electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) and solar super storms are two different, but related, categories of events that are often described as high-impact, low frequency (HILF) events. Events categorized as HILF don’t happen very often, but if and when they do, they have the potential to severely affect the lives of millions of people. Think of an EMP as a super-powerful radio wave capable of inducing damaging voltage spikes in electrical wires and electronic devices across vast geographical areas. (Note that the geomagnetic effects of solar storms are also described as “natural EMP.”)

What is generally referred to as an EMP strike is the deliberate detonation of a nuclear device at a high altitude, roughly defined as somewhere between 24 and 240 miles (40 and 400 kilometers) above the surface of the Earth. Nuclear detonations of this type have the potential to seriously damage electronics and electrical power grids along their line of sight, covering distances on the order of an area 1,500 miles (2,500 kilometers) in diameter, an area roughly equal to the distance between Quebec City in Canada and Dallas, Texas.

The concern is that some rogue state or terrorist organization might build its own nuclear device from scratch or buy one illegally, procure a Scud missile (or similar weapon) on the black market and launch the nuclear device from a large fishing boat or freighter somewhere off the coast of the United States, causing grid collapse and widespread damage to electronic devices across roughly 50 percent of America. Much like an extreme GMD, a powerful EMP attack would also cause widespread grid collapse, but one limited to a much smaller geographical area.

A powerful EMP from a sub-orbital nuclear detonation would cause extreme electromagnetic effects, starting with an initial, short-duration, “speed of light” pulse, referred to as an “E1” effect, followed by a middle-duration pulse called an “E2” effect, followed by a longer-duration disturbance known as an “E3” effect. The “E1” effect lasts a few nanoseconds and is similar to massive discharges of electrostatic sparks, which are particularly damaging to digital microelectronic chips used in most modern electronic equipment.

The “E2” effects last a fraction of a second and are equal to many thousands to millions of lightning strikes hitting over a widespread area at almost exactly the same time. In the case of a nuclear-induced EMP, its E3 effect starts after about a half-second and may continue for several minutes. The E3 effect can be thought of as a “long, slow burn,” and, electromagnetically, it is quite similar to the effects from an extreme GMD, except that the latter may continue for a number of hours or days.

A “successful” EMP attack launched against the US would most likely result in the immediate collapse of the grid across roughly 50 percent of the country, a stock market crash and critical failures in many affected areas’ electronic systems that control nuclear reactors, chemical plants, telecommunications systems and industrial processes. These systems include programmable logic controllers (PLC), digital control systems (DCS), and supervisory control and data acquisition systems (SCADA).

The only good news about an EMP strike is that its effect will cover a much smaller area than an extreme GMD, so there will be a significant portion of the rest of the United States, as well as the rest of the outside world, left intact and able to lend a hand toward rebuilding critical infrastructure in the affected areas. Imagine the near-total loss of a functioning infrastructure across an area of about a million square miles (approximately 1.6 million square kilometers, roughly equivalent to 50 Hurricane Katrinas happening simultaneously) and you will have some idea of the potentially crippling effect of an EMP attack from a single, medium-sized, sub-orbital nuclear detonation!

Preventing Armageddon

The Congressionally mandated EMP Commission has studied the threat of both EMP and extreme GMD events and made recommendations to the US Congress to implement protective devices and procedures to ensure the survival of the grid and other critical infrastructures in either event. John Kappenman, author of the Metatech study, estimates that it would cost about $1 billion to build special protective devices into the US grid to protect its EHV transformers from EMP or extreme GMD damage and to build stores of critical replacement parts should some of these items be damaged or destroyed. Kappenman estimates that it would cost significantly less than $1 billion to store at least a year’s worth of diesel fuel for backup generators at each US nuclear facility and to store sets of critical spare parts, such as backup generators, inside EMP-hardened steel containers to be available for quick change-out in the event that any of these items were damaged by an EMP or GMD.[12]

For the cost of a single B-2 bomber or a tiny fraction of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bank bailout, we could invest in preventative measures to avert what might well become the end of life as we know it. There is no way to protect against all possible effects from an extreme GMD or an EMP attack, but we could implement measures to protect against the worst effects. Since 2008, Congress has narrowly failed to pass legislation that would implement at least some of the EMP Commission’s recommendations.[13]

We have a long ways to go to make our world EMP and GMD safe. Citizens can do their part to push for legislation to move toward this goal and work inside our homes and communities to develop local resilience and self reliance, so that in the event of a long-term grid-down scenario, we might make the most of a bad situation. The same tools that are espoused by the Transition movement for developing local self-reliance and resilience to help cope with the twin effects of climate change and peak oil could also serve communities well in the event of an EMP attack or extreme GMD. If our country were to implement safeguards to protect our grid and nuclear power plants from EMP, it would also eliminate the primary incentive for a terrorist to launch an EMP attack. The sooner we take these actions, the less chance that an EMP attack will occur.

For more information or to get involved, see http://empactamerica.orghttp://survive-emp.com and http://www.transitionnetwork.org, or contact your Congressperson athttp://www.contactingthecongress.org.

Endnotes
[1] Bill Dedman, “Nuclear Neighbors: Population Rises Near Nuclear Reactors,” MSNBC.com. Accessed December 2011.

[2] Dina Cappiello, “Long Blackouts Pose Risk to U.S. Nuclear Reactors,” Associated Press, March 29, 2011.

[3] Lawrence E. Joseph, “The Sun Also Surprises,” New York Times, August 15, 2010. Accessed August 2010.

[4] S. M. Silverman and E. W. Cliver, “Low-Altitude Auroras: The Magnetic Storm of 14-15 May 1921,” Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics 63, (2001), p. 523-535. Additionally, “High-Impact, Low-Frequency Event Risk to the North American Bulk Power System: A Jointly Commissioned Summary Report of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation and the U.S. Department of Energy’s November 2009 Workshop,” June, 2010, p. 68.

[5] Committee on the Societal and Economic Impacts of Severe Space Weather Events: A Workshop National Research Council, “Severe Space Weather Events: Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts Workshop Report,” National Research Council of the National Academies (2008), p. 7-13, and p. 100. Additionally, E. W. Cliver and L. Svalgaard, “The 1859 Solar-Terrestrial Disturbance and the Current Limits of Extreme Space Weather Activity,” Solar Physics (2004) 224, P. 407-422.

[6] Richard A. Lovett, “What if the Biggest Solar Storm on Record Happened Today?” National Geographic News, March 2, 2011. Accessed December 2011.

[7] John Kappenman, “Geomagnetic Storms and Their Impacts on the U.S. Power Grid,” Metatech Corporation, prepared for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Meta-R-319, January 2010, p. 2-29.

[8] John Vidal, “Nuclear’s Green Cheerleaders Forget Chernobyl at Our Peril,” Guardian.co.uk, April 1, 2011.  Accessed May 2011.

[9] NUREG-1738, “Technical Study of Spent Fuel Pool Accident Risk at Decommissioning Nuclear Power Plants,” February 2001, as reported in “Petition for Rulemaking: Docket No. PRM-50-96,” Foundation for Resilient Societies before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, p. 3-9 and 49-50. Accessed December, 2011.

[10] Arnold Gundersen, interview by author, November 2011.

[11] “Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack: Critical National Infrastructures,” April, 2008, p. 6.

[12] John Kappenman, interview by author, December 2011.

[13] Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, “Statement Before the Congressional Caucus on EMP,” EMPact America, February 15, 2011. Accessed November 2011.

This article may not be republished without permission from Truthout.

MATTHEW STEIN

Matthew Stein is a design engineer, green builder and author of two bestselling books, “When Disaster Strikes: A Comprehensive Guide to Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival” (Chelsea Green 2011), and “When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency” (Chelsea Green 2008). Stein is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he majored in mechanical engineering. Stein has appeared on numerous radio and television programs and is a repeat guest on Fox News, Lionel, Coast-to-Coast AM and the Thom Hartmann Show. He is an active mountain climber, serves as a guide and instructor for blind skiers, has written several articles on the subject of sustainable living and is a guest columnist for The Huffington Post.

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Continuing Colonialism: World Bank Funds Mining in Africa

Posted by Admin on March 27, 2011

http://www.truth-out.org/continuing-colonialism-world-bank-funds-mining-africa68756

Thursday 24 March 2011

by: Cyril Mychalejko   |  Toward Freedom | Report

The private finance sector arm of the World Bank Group announced last month that it would invest $300 million to promote mining in Africa.

“Mining is a critically important yet challenging sector and [the International Finance Corporation] IFC has a role to play in supporting responsible companies that will bring jobs, related infrastructure and government revenues to Africa,” said Andrew Gunther, IFC’s Senior Manager of Infrastructure and Natural Resources in Africa and Latin America.

Dr. Aaron Tesfaye, a professor of International Political Economy and African Politics at William Paterson University, said he is not surprised by the announcement because of the economic and security implications mining and strategic metals have for industrialized nations.

“Much has been written about China’s voracious appetite for Africa’s mineral resources as it attempts to become a global industrial power. I think the World Bank‘s investment is a precursor of larger investments on projects, as big and emerging powers engage in the new scramble for Africa,” said Tesfaye.

While the IFC claims to promote poverty reduction through sustainable development in developing countries, it has been criticized because the mining projects it has funded have a track record of causing human rights abuses and massive environmental damage.

“This is bad news for Africans, at least those who aren’t members of the business and political elite,” said Jamie Kneen, Communications Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada.

According to a 2006 report published by a group of NGO’s that includeEARTHWORKS and Oxfam International, “Mining does not have a good record of contributing to sustainable development or poverty reduction. The World Bank’s own research has indicated that mineral extraction is neither necessary nor sufficient for sustained economic growth, and that it has not helped developing nations escape from poverty.”

Kneen also voiced concerns over human rights, labor rights and environmental sustainability. Sakura Saunders, an anti-mining activist and editor of ProtestBarrick.net, also pointed out the mining industry’s horrendous history.

“The extractive industry is not only correlated with high rates of militarism and corruption, but it is also an industry that is inextricably linked to externalized environmental and social costs,” said Saunders. “Additionally, these industries traditionally provide very little revenues in terms of royalties and taxes to their host countries.”

The EARTHWORKS and Oxfam report, which focused on gold mining, also pointed out that, “These vast industrial operations often irreversibly alter landscapes, displace communities, contaminate drinking water, harm workers, and destroy pristine ecosystems or farm lands.”

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In January 2006, the IFC awarded Newmont Mining Corporation a loan of $125 million to develop an open-pit gold mine in Ghana. According to the IFC, Newmont’s Ahafo gold mine served as a model for “responsible mining and community development.” The IFC-Newmont development model ended up displacing over 10,000 people, many of whom were subsistence farmers, while in October 2009 the company was responsible for a cyanide spill which poisoned local water supplies and killed scores of fish. As a result it was ordered to pay $5 million in “compensation”. EARTHWORKS, which has been working with local communities against the project through its No Dirty Gold campaign, also noted that: “Security forces associated with the mine have also been implicated in human rights abuses…have beaten and arrested protesters who were demonstrating over unfair Newmont practices. On one occasion protesting workers were shot. Some residents who were displaced have been assaulted by security forces for allegedly trespassing on company property.”

Saunders’ criticism of paltry royalties and taxes provided to host countries is also supported by a report released in 2009 by the Tax Justice Network for Africa, ActionAid, Southern Africa Resource Watch, Third World Network Africa and Christian Aid, titled “Breaking the Curse: How Transparent Taxation and Fair Taxes can Turn Africa’s Mineral Wealth into Development.”

The report stated, “Mining companies operating in Africa are granted too many tax subsidies and concessions [and] there is a high incidence of tax avoidance by mining companies conditioned by such measures as secret mining contracts, corporate mergers and acquisitions, and various ‘creative’ accounting mechanisms.”

The report also blamed the World Bank for pushing mining reforms on the continent during the early 1990’s that called for deregulation and tax subsidies to attract foreign investment, policies that either created or reinforced these corrupt and harmful conditions plaguing communities across Africa. The report calls for reforms that include more transparency from the mining industry and the creation of a new accounting system and oversight board.

But MiningWatch’s Kneen questions whether such policies are attainable, or even advantageous. “Whether a reasonable tax structure could even be implemented in the face of pressure from the industry and the [World] Bank, it’s not clear how that money would be used for social investment, compensation, and environmental protection and rehabilitation in the absence of competent agencies to do this. It seems obvious that the independent institutional and governance capacity cannot be created once the extraction is underway – technical capacity can be created but it cannot escape corruption or the more insidious regulatory capture that afflicts even developed countries like Canada.”

What all of this amounts to is the continuation of colonialism’s brutal legacy through a corporate neocolonialism carried out by transnational mining companies with the aid of international financial institutions working at the behest of developed nations.

“In the division of labor in the international economy, Africa has been relegated to a plantation economy. The primary reason still is the intrusion and present consequences of colonialism resulting in lop-sided development,” said William Paterson’s Tesfaye. “Today this is evidenced by a highly developed mineral extracting/commodity producing sector for export and a large peasant based rural subsistence economy. It is true of course, that Africans employed in the mineral extraction sector do earn better wages. But neither this minuscule industrial labor force nor the gelatinous and peripheral African bourgeoisie have been able to connect with the larger African population to determine the trajectory of the state and its economy. Thus the colonial model is not a way out for Africa.”

Kneen offered a similar analysis. He said, “The colonial underdevelopment of Africa, transformed into a post-independence model of corporate exploitation – for the most part no longer directly run by rich countries – has deprived Africans of not only the capital and resources they need to undertake their own development (fertile land, timber, fish, fresh water), but the democratic and participatory processes by which this could be done.”

The underdevelopment of Africa – democratic, social and economic – is not an accident, but rather a strategy to maintain domination over a region rich in resources and cheap labor.

This helps explain why, as Kneen points out, “Investors, governments, and the multilateral institutions don’t just tolerate corruption and repression, they eagerly support it.”

Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at www.UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America.

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Economic Roots of Bahrain’s Crisis and a Needed GCC Response

Posted by Admin on March 27, 2011

http://www.truth-out.org/economic-roots-bahrain%E2%80%99s-crisis-and-a-needed-gcc-response68782

Monday 21 March 2011

by: James Zogby  |  Arab American Institute | News Analysis

All too frequently these days, I am asked whether our past polling at Zogby International gave us any advance clues to the uprisings that have occurred in several Arab countries. The answer, of course, is no. We were surprised, as, I believe, were the demonstrators themselves by the outpouring of support and the rapid growth of their movements in Tunisia, Egypt and beyond.

But while our polling couldn’t predict the uprisings, it nevertheless has been helpful in contributing to our understanding of the issues and concerns that define the political landscape in countries across the region.

In preparing for a talk on Bahrain earlier this week, I took a look at a survey of the “middle class” in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain we conducted a few years ago for McKinsey and Company. It was most instructive. What I found, back then, in that in-depth look into the economic status and outlook of Gulf Arabs were yellow flags flying all over our Bahrain data, warning that the country’s citizens were distressed.

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We found that not only are Bahrain’s neighbors in Saudi Arabia and the UAE wealthier, in terms of macro-economic indicators, their citizens are also more satisfied with their current status and more optimistic about their prospects for the future. Ask the questions “are you better off than your parents were when they were your age” and between two-thirds to three-quarters of Saudis and Emiratis say “yes”. On the other hand, only one-third of Bahrainis would agree that they are better off than their parent’s generation. And when asked whether their children would be better off in the future, more than a half of Saudis and Emiratis agreed that they would be better off, while only 17% of Bahrainis are optimistic about the future of their offspring.

Hard data establishes that Bahrain’s unemployment is significantly more than double that of its neighbors, but this is only part of the story. Most unemployed Saudis and Emiratis report having incomes (with some being fairly substantial coming from family support; others report income from rental properties or investments, etc). And most of those reporting themselves to be “unemployed” in those two countries come from households in which two or more individuals are employed. In Bahrain, on the other hand, most of the unemployed report having no sources of other income, most have no savings, and most come from households where only one person or no one at all is a wage-earner.

One doesn’t have to make the leap to a crude type of economic determinism to conclude that this economic stress in Bahrain would have consequences. Bahrainis report being less satisfied with their jobs and the salaries they receive, and give lower grades to government services than their neighbors in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

While this obvious economic distress in Bahrain is only one factor among others to which one can point in an effort to account for the turmoil in the country – it is a revealing and important factor nonetheless.

The issues of political reform, concerns with discrimination, and government accountability have now been brought to the forefront in Bahrain and are the key agenda items for a much needed national dialogue. But as this broader political discussion advances (and one can only hope that it does), the economic needs of Bahrain’s people should not be ignored. Meeting economic concerns will not substitute for political reform, but not addressing these economic matters will only make advancing on the political front all the harder.

In this area, Bahrain’s neighbors have a key role to play. Earlier this year, Gulf Cooperation Council members made a commitment of long-term financial assistance to Bahrain. And now they have sent troops into the country deepening their commitment to their neighbor and fellow member. More must be done. Bahrain needs help. Just as other GCC countries realized that the long-term standoff that shut down a vital part of the country was not sustainable or constructive, so too they must realize that the government’s crack-down that ended the standoff will also not solve the country’s problems or even contribute to a resolution. An honest, open, and good faith dialogue on all key issues is the only way forward. As that occurs, the GCC can design a more comprehensive economic package for Bahrain – as an incentive to move the reform process forward, as a sign of GCC solidarity with the Bahraini people and government, and as a way of demonstrating that Arab problems can be solved by Arabs.

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Tension and Grief in Syria After Protests and Deadly Reprisals as Emergency Law Lifted

Posted by Admin on March 27, 2011

http://www.truth-out.org/tension-and-grief-syria-after-protests-and-deadly-reprisals68789

Saturday 26 March 2011

by: Michael Slackman and Liam Stack, The New York Times News Service | Report

 

Tension and Grief in Syria After Protests and Deadly Reprisals as Emergency Law Lifted
President Bashar al-Assad called Sunday for the United States to use its influence to revive negotiations between his country and Israel. (Photo: Tyler Hicks / The New York Times)

Cairo – Violence continued to plague Syria this weekend, as government forces killed more demonstrators in Latakia, protesters burned offices of the ruling party in the south and west, and mourners throughout the country buried the dozens of unarmed protesters killed a day earlier.

President Bashar al-Assad of the ruling Baath Party began the day in what appeared to be a gesture intended to ease the crisis, when he announced the release of as many as 200 political prisoners. But by sunset, Baath Party offices were burning in at least two cities, the military was deployed in Latakia and once again government forces opened fire with live rounds, witnesses said.

After more than a week of protests and human rights groups confirming that 61 people had been killed by government forces, there appeared to be no clear path forward for protesters, who had erupted in angry demonstrations around the country on Friday, or for the government, which has offered words of compromise at the same time that it has unleashed lethal force.

“People are afraid,” said a prominent religious leader from a community at the center of the conflicts, who was not identified to protect him from reprisal. “People are afraid that the events might get bigger. They are afraid there might be more protests.”

Exact numbers of the dead are hard to determine, as the official government news service denied the authorities’ culpability in new reports blaming criminal gangs. By nightfall, government officials were blaming a sectarian clash for the crisis, which was quickly dismissed by protest supporters, who said the goal was freedom for all Syrians and an end to authoritarian rule.

The protesters, according to the religious leader, want “freedom and their rights; they were making demands from the government for things to get better here and for an end to the state of emergency.”

The day broke over a landscape of grief as mourners set out for funerals in the southern towns of Sanamayn and Dara’a, in Latakia, in the central city of Homs and in the suburbs of Damascus. In each place, demonstrators had been killed hours earlier, shot by government forces in the most violent government oppression since 1982, when the leadership killed at least 10,000 people in the northern city of Hama.

But the mourning soon gave way to another surge of demonstrations, and then violence. At least two demonstrators in Latakia were killed after protesters set fire to the local headquarters of the Baath Party. Ammar Qurabi, the chairman of the National Association for Human Rights, said two witnesses reported seeing Syrian Special Forces open fire into a crowd.

One Latakia resident reached by telephone said 10,000 to 15,000 antigovernment protesters from the city and surrounding villages, some armed with knives, machetes and clubs, had taken to the streets. “The demonstrations have been peaceful, “ the resident said, “but after the violence yesterday protesters brought weapons.”

In the southern village of Tafas, near the protest movement’s epicenter in Dara’a, mourners also set fire to the local Baath headquarters.

Pro-government demonstrators were also out in Damascus, where about 200 people drove around the city on Saturday evening in a convoy of cars, trucks and minibuses. They carried portraits of President Assad and his father, former President Hafez al-Assad, and chanted, “We are national unity” and “With our soul and with our blood, we will redeem you, Bashar.”

A government spokeswoman, Buthaina Shaaban, denied to BBC Arabic that government forces had opened fire on protesters, blaming instead foreigners and an armed group of villagers. “We arrested outsiders in Syria charged with opening fire on the crowd,” she said. “They stole weapons. The authorities did not shoot protesters, but an armed group from Sanamayn” did.

Protests have taken place around Syria since the start of the tumultuous movement for change that has shaken the Arab world with peaceful protest and conflicts approaching civil war. But the political crisis blew wide open about a week ago when demonstrators took to the streets in Dara’a after the police arrested a group of young people for scrawling antigovernment graffiti, hauling them away without notifying their parents.

Syria is a resource-poor nation with great strategic influence in the region because of its alliances with Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, and its location bordering Israel, Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. But it also struggles with a fragile sense of national unity amid sectarian tensions between its rulers, all members of the minority Alawite religious sect, and a Sunni majority. It also clings to a pan-Arab Baathist ideology.

“The events are developing and succeeding each other rapidly all over Syria,” Abdel Majid Manjouni, assistant chairman of the Socialist Democratic Arab Union Party in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, said in a telephone interview. “They are going from city to city, and the ruling party is not being successful in its attempt to block the protests or the demands for democratic change in the country.”

The Syrian crisis has in many ways followed a course similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt, which ended with the resignation of each country’s president.

In Syria, there have been no widespread calls for President Assad’s departure, though as the anger mounts in the wake of protesters’ deaths, that view has started to gain voice.

“I am calling him to go to the television,” said Ayman Abdel Nour, a childhood friend of the president’s now living in the United Arab Emirates. “The people still respect him. First, he must deliver his condolences face to face to the people. No. 2, he must say there will be a multiple party system, a free parliamentary election in two months from now.”

Mr. Qurabi, the chairman of the human rights group, said that more than two dozen protesters were killed Friday, including 20 in the tiny southern village of Sanamayn, 4 in Latakia, 3 in Homs and 3 in the greater Damascus area. Mr. Qurabi blamed live ammunition for all those deaths on Friday.

“The protest in Sanamayn was very, very, very big,” Mr. Qurabi said in a phone call from Cairo, where he is attending a conference. “They killed them in the streets because there is not even really a square for the people to protest in.”

People in Syria were far more reluctant to speak, including one young man who said he had been detained by the police for three days after talking to the news media. “I was talking about the news of the protest with some reporters,” he said in a phone call to Damascus. “The police came for me at about 11:15 on Tuesday morning and took me off the street in front of my house. My phone calls are monitored, and I don’t want to say anything over the phone.”

An employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Damascus, Syria.

This article “Tension and Grief in Syria After Protests and Deadly Reprisals” originally appeared at The New York Times.

© 2011 The New York Times Company

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Toxic Intervention: Are NATO Forces Poisoning Libya With Depleted Uranium as They “Protect” Civilians?

Posted by Admin on March 27, 2011

http://www.truth-out.org/toxic-intervention-are-nato-forces-poisoning-libya-with-depleted-uranium-they-protect-civilians68787

Wednesday 23 March 2011

by: Dave Lindorff  |  This Can’t Be Happening | News Analysis

Toxic Intervention: Are NATO Forces Poisoning Libya With Depleted Uranium as They "Protect" Civilians?
On a tour led by an official of the Libyan government, a girl is seen next to a house covered in shrapnel marks on the eastern outskirts of Tripoli that government officials said was targeted by western air strikes, March 25, 2011. (Photo: Moises Saman / The New York Times)

President Obama’s criminal launch of an undeclared and Congressionally unauthorized war against Libya may be compounded by the crime of spreading toxic uranium oxide in populated areas of that country.

This is latest concern of groups like the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons, which monitor the military use of so-called depleted-uranium (DU) anti-tank and bunker-penetrating shells.

Images of Libyan civilians and rebels celebrating around the burning hulks of the Libyan army’s tanks and armored personnel carriers, which had been hit by US, French and British aircraft ordinance in the early hours of the US-led assault on the forces of Col. Muammar Gaddafy, could well have been unknowingly inhaling the deadly dust of the uranium weapons favored by Western military forces for anti-tank warfare.

Specifically, the British-built Harrier jets used by British naval air forces and also by US Marine pilots, are often equipped with pod-mounted cannons that fire 20 mm shells–shells that often have uranium projectiles designed to penetrate heavy armor.

So far, the US has not introduced its A-10 Thunderbolts, known also as Warthogs, into the Libyan campaign, probably because these sub-sonic, straight-wing craft, while heavily armored, are vulnerable to shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles which Libyan forces are known to possess in large numbers. Once the air-control situation is improved by continued bombardment, however, these specialized ground-attack aircraft will probably be added to the attacking forces. The A-10 has a particularly large automatic cannon which fires an unusually large 30 mm shell. These shells are often fitted with solid uranium projectiles for attacking tanks, APCs or groups of fighters holed up in concrete bunkers.

A-10s were heavily used in the Balkan conflict, and officials of Kosovo were dismayed to learn that some 11 tons of uranium weapons were fired there, leaving dangerous uranium dust fallout in their wake.

The US military is fond of DU weapons because the material, made from uranium from which the fissionable U-235 has been removed, because it is extremely heavy, and, in alloy form, also extremely hard. Because of its mass, such projectiles can penetrate even the heaviest armor. Then, in the heat caused by the collision with an object, the uranium bursts into flame at extreme heat, causing an explosive (and toxic) inferno inside a tank or other vehicle, which usually also ignites any ammunition being carried. Soldiers inside a target vehicle are incinerated. The problem is that the resulting uranium oxide produced by such explosions, besides being highly toxic chemically, is also a microscopic alpha-emitter, which if inhaled or ingested by human beings is extremely carcinogenic and mutagenic.

Cities in Iraq where DU weapons were heavily used, such as Basra, Samara, Baghdad, Mosul and probably especially Fallujah, which was virtually leveled in a November 2004 Marine assault, are showing high rates of birth defects, many of which, along with unusually high rates of leukemia, medical experts say are emblematic of fetal radiation damage.

A University of Michigan peer-reviewed study of births in Fallujahpublished in December 2010 found that of 547 births in Fallujah General Hospital in May of 2010, six years after the all-out US assault on that city of 300,000, in which DU weapons were reportedly used widely, 15% of babies had birth defects–a rate more than five times higher than the global average of 2-3%.

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It would be a tragic irony if rebels in Libya, after calling for assistance from the US and other NATO countries, succeeded in overthrowing the country’s long-time tyrant Gaddafy, only to have their country contaminated by uranium dust–the fate already suffered by the peoples of Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.

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Hybrid Newsletter – 2 for 04.12.2010 A.D

Posted by Admin on December 4, 2010

Memos reveal US-Libya standoff over uranium

By LEE KEATH, Associated Press – 27 mins ago

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101204/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_wikileaks_libya_nuclear

Seif al-Islam Gadhafi

AP – FILE – Seif al-Islam Gadhafi talks to reporters at the ancient city of Cyrene near the city of al-Bayda

CAIRO – As it dismantled its nuclear weapons program, Libya sparked a tense diplomatic standoff with the United States last year when it refused to hand over its last batch of highly enriched uranium to protest the slowness of improving ties with Washington, leaked U.S. diplomatic memos reveal.

The monthlong standoff, which has not previously been made public, was resolved only after a call from U.S. Secretary of State HillaryRodham Clinton to Libya’s foreign minister, apparently to underline Washington’s commitment to warming relations. After the call, Libya allowed Russia to take away the uranium in December 2009.

But for that month, U.S. officials issued frantic warnings that the 11.5 pounds (5.2 kilograms) of highly enriched uranium was vulnerable to start leaking or be stolen, since it was sitting at Libya’s Tajoura nuclear facility with only a single armed guard.

The incident illustrates Libya’s unpredictability as it shakes off its longtime pariah status and rebuilds ties with the U.S. and the world. The series of memos released by the WikiLeaks website to the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, which published them this week, also shows the efforts of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli — which reopened in 2007 after a closure of nearly 30 years — to track Libya’s opaque and often confusing politics. Several memos speculate on the jockeying for succession to power among the sons of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi — Seif al-Islam, Mutassim and Khamis.

“Burgeoning sibling rivalry between Gadhafi’s progeny is near inevitable,” reads a November 2009 embassy memo. Gadhafi “has placed his sons … on a succession high wire act, perpetually thrown off-balance, in what might be a calculated effort by the aging leader to prevent any one of them from authoritatively gaining the prize.”

Gadhafi’s 2003 decision to renounce terrorism and dismantle Libya’s secret nuclear, chemical and biological weapons development program was a key step in opening the door to normalization with the U.S and the West. Since that time, the U.S., Russia and other countries have been transporting centrifuges, uranium and other nuclear equipment out of Libya. The U.S. and the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, have declared Libya’s nuclear and chemical weapons programs fully dismantled.

The standoff was a last-minute surprise.

On Nov. 23, 2009, a Russian cargo plane landed at Tripoli, expecting to take the last of Libya’s highly enriched uranium, contained in seven containers known as casks. Then the Libyans informed the Russians and Americans that the material would not be handed over — and the plane left without the cargo, according to a Nov. 25 memo from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

The embassy raised the alarm, warning that Tajoura was “lightly guarded” and that U.S. experts had seen “only one security guard with a gun” there. It said it asked the Libyans to beef up security and remove a loading crane at the site “to prevent an intruder from using it to remove the casks.” It also warned that within three months, the casks would start to leak and release radioactive material.

Two days later, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi — seen as a the main reform proponent in Libya — told the ambassador that the shipment was halted because Libya was “fed up” with the slow pace of relations between Tripoli and Washington, another memo reported.

Specifically, he said Libya wanted deals to purchase military equipment and other “compensation” for its dismantled facilities.

More broadly, he said the U.S.-Libyan relationship was “not going well” and pointed to slights against his father during his visit to New York the previous September for the U.N. General Assembly — including protests in several suburbs against Gadhafi’s attempts to pitch a ceremonial Bedouin-style tent to stay in, and the refusal to allow Gadhafi to visit Ground Zero.

In the memo, the embassy recommended that Clinton contact Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa with a “general statement of commitment to work with the Libyans to move the relationship forward,” coupled with a “strong” demand that the uranium be released and “not be held hostage.”

On Dec. 3, Clinton called Kusa with “the statement of commitment,” a later memo said, without specifying the content of the message. Soon after, the embassy reported that the Libyans promised the uranium would be released.

On Dec. 20, the Russian cargo plane returned, the uranium was loaded and taken to Russia the next day.

“Today’s flight marked the successful completion of Libya’s commitments to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs,” the embassy reported.

=====================================================================================================================================================

Obama, troops cheer each other in Afghan visit

By BEN FELLER, AP White House Correspondent – 1 hr 11 mins ago

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101204/ap_on_re_as/as_obama

Barack Obama

AP – President Barack Obama greets troops at a rally during an unannounced visit at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – In a rousing holiday-season visit, President Barack Obama on Friday told cheering U.S. troops inAfghanistan they’re succeeding in their vital mission fighting terrorism. But after he flew in secrecy for 13 hours to get here, foul weather kept him from nearby Kabul and a meeting to address frayed relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai

Obama’s surprise visit to the war zone, his second as president, came 10 days before he is to address the nation about a new review of U.S. strategy to defeat the Taliban and strengthen the Afghan government so American troops can begin leaving next year.

The trip also came at a particularly awkward moment in already strained U.S. relations with Afghanistan because of new and embarrassing leaked cables alleging widespread fraud and underscoring deep American concerns about Karzai.

There was no mention of that as the president spoke to more than 3,500 service members packed into a huge airplane hangar. After his remarks, he spent more than 10 minutes shaking hands, going around the hangar three times as they grabbed his hand and held cameras and cell phones high to take photos.

Obama stayed on this U.S. military base, the headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division, the entire time he was here, just under four hours. He huddled with U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan and U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. And he visited wounded soldiers at a base hospital, personally dispensing five Purple Hearts to wounded service members.

“Because of the progress we’re making, we look forward to a new phase next year, the beginning of the transition to Afghan responsibility,” Obama told the troops. He thanked them for their efforts, noting the difficulty in being away from home during the holidays, and they repeatedly cheered him in return.

He said the U.S. was continuing “to forge a partnership with the Afghan people for the long term.” And he said, “we will never let this country serve as a safe haven for terrorists who would attack the United States of America again. That will never happen.”

There are now about 150,000 coalition forces in Afghanistan, roughly 100,000 of them Americans. The U.S. and its NATO partners agreed last month in Lisbon, Portugal, to begin turning over control to local Afghan authorities in 2011, with a goal of completing that transition by the end of 2014.

White House officials said gusty winds and swirling dust led them to cancel Obama’s planned helicopter visit to Kabul, about 30 miles north of here. A backup plan for a secure videoconference was also scrapped.

Waheed Omar, a Karzai spokesman, said the Afghan leader was “not upset” that the palace visit was scuttled. He noted that the two leaders had met during the conference in Lisbon and discussed the situation in Afghanistan in detail.

Obama, who has tripled U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan, has come under increasing pressure to demonstrate progress in turning the tide against the Taliban insurgency in the battle that has now gone on for more than nine years. In his remarks to the troops, Obama cited “important progress.”

“We said we were going to break the Taliban’s momentum. And that’s what you’re doing. You’re going on the offense, tired of playing defense, targeting their leaders, pushing them out of their strongholds. Today, we can be proud that there are fewer areas under Taliban control and more Afghans have a chance to build a more hopeful future,” he said.

He thanked the troops for their work and sacrifice “on behalf of more than 300 million Americans.”

“You give me hope. You give me inspiration. Your resolve shows that Americans will never succumb to fear,” he said to cheers and shouts.

Petraeus, the commander Obama is looking to to turn things around, introduced Obama to the troops and teased the president about the basketball injury to his lip last week. Presenting him with a 101st Airborne T-shirt, Petraeus told the president: “No one will mess with you if you wear this, Mr. President.”

At the base hospital, Obama met with platoon members from the unit that lost six soldiers this week in brazen killings by an Afghan border policeman who turned fire on his U.S. trainers.

Mentioning that visit and his meeting with what Petraeus called “wounded warriors,” Obama told the assembled troops: “I don’t need to tell you this is a tough fight. … It’s a tough business. Progress comes slow. And there are going to be difficult days ahead. Progress comes at a high price.”

Newly leaked U.S. cables show American diplomats portraying Afghanistan as rife with graft to the highest levels of government, with tens of millions of dollars flowing out of the country and a cash transfer network that facilitates bribes for corrupt Afghan officials, drug traffickers and insurgents.

A main concern in the cables appears to be Karzai himself, who emerges as a mercurial figure. In a July 7, 2009, dispatch, Eikenberry describes “two contrasting portraits” of the Afghan president.

“The first is of a paranoid and weak individual unfamiliar with the basics of nation building and overly self-conscious that his time in the spotlight of glowing reviews from the international community has passed,” the cable says. “The other is that of an ever-shrewd politician who sees himself as a nationalist hero. … In order to recalibrate our relationship with Karzai, we must deal with and challenge both of these personalities.”

Obama aides later said the subject of the cables didn’t come up during the Obama-Karzai phone call, which lasted 15 minutes. Ben Rhodes, a White House national security aide, told reporters Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had already spoken to Karzai about WikiLeaks disclosures.

After the long, unannounced flight from Washington, Obama landed in darkness under intense security.

He stepped off Air Force One clad in a brown leather jacket that he was also wearing when he spoke to troops. Plans of his trip into the war zone were tightly guarded.

Despite the upcoming review results, White House officials on the trip played down the significance of his upcoming speech. No big policy changes are expected, they said.

To deal with any doubts about reasons for the Karzai meeting being canceled, reporters traveling with Obama were escorted outside the air field hangar to get a glimpse of the conditions. The wind was blowing strongly, kicking up dust clouds as troops streamed in to hear Obama. An American flag whipped against its pole. At the presidential palace, U.S. armored vehicles were securing entrances. Carpets were ready to be unrolled.

The war in Afghanistan is the nation’s longest after Vietnam, launched in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. This has been the deadliest year to date for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. More than 1,300 have died here since the war began, more than 450 in 2010.

The visit comes a year after Obama announced he was sending an additional 30,000 troops to try to gain control — and then get the United States out — of a worsening conflict. Obama’s plan is to start pulling U.S. forces out of Afghanistan in July.

___

Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann in Kabul and Tom Raum in Washington contributed to this report.

(This version corrects length of flight to 13 hours, not 14.)

=====================================================================================================================================================

US, South Korea reach highly coveted trade deal

By JULIE PACE and KEN THOMAS, Associated Press – 50 mins ago

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101204/ap_on_bi_ge/us_us_skorea_trade_talks

S.Korea trade deal in limbo after talks failure
S.Korea trade deal in limbo after talks failure

WASHINGTON – The U.S. and South Korea have reached an agreement on America’s largest trade pact in more than a decade, a highly coveted deal the Obama administration hopes will boost U.S. exports and create tens of thousands of jobs at home.

After a week of marathon negotiations, representatives from both countries broke through a stalemate Friday morning on outstanding issues related to the automobile industry, which have been a sticking point in the talks. The agreement would be the largest U.S. trade dealsince the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, with Canada and Mexico and would bolster U.S. ties with the fast-growing South Korea economy.

South Korea is agreeing to allow the U.S. to lift a 2.5 percent tariff on Korean cars in five years, instead of cutting the tariff immediately. The agreement also allows each U.S. automaker to export 25,000 cars to South Korea as long as they meet U.S. federal safety standards and allows the U.S. to continue a 25 percent tariff on trucks for eight years and then phase it out by the 10th year. South Korea would be required to eliminate its 10 percent tariff on U.S. trucks immediately.

President Barack Obama hailed the agreement as a “landmark trade deal” that would support at least 70,000 U.S. jobs.

“We are strengthening our ability to create and defend manufacturing jobs in the United States, increasing exports of agricultural products for American farmers and ranchers and opening Korea’s services market to American companies,” Obama said in a statement.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak praised the deal as bringing huge economic benefits to both countries and further boosting the two nations’ alliance.

“This agreement is meaningful in that it has laid the basis for a mutual win-win by reflecting interests for the two countries in a balanced manner,” Lee said in a statement posted on the presidential website.

The White House had hoped to strike a deal last month during Obama’s trip to Seoul for the G-20 economic summit, but both countries were unable to broker a compromise on issues pertaining to trade of autos and beef. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and his counterpart, Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon, resumed negotiations outside Washington this week.

The agreement did not address issues with the beef trade. The U.S. had sought greater access to the beef market in South Korea, which restricts imports of older U.S. meat. A senior administration official said discussions on beef are ongoing. The official insisted on anonymity to discuss private negotiations.

The wider agreement would eliminate tariffs on more than 95 percent of industrial and consumer goods within five years, a move that the U.S. International Trade Commission estimated would increase exports of U.S. goods by at least $10 billion. The deal would also open up South Korea’s vast $560 billion services markets to U.S. companies.

Lee expressed hope for a quick ratification of the deal by the legislatures of the two countries. Obama administration officials offered no timeline for ratification on Capitol Hill.

The South Korea deal has been widely supported by those in the private sector and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has criticized other administration policies as antibusiness.

“This agreement will create thousands of new jobs, advance our national goal of doubling exports in five years, and demonstrate that America is once again ready to lead on trade,” Chamber president Tom Donohue said Friday. Ford CEO Alan Mulally said the deal was, “a transformational agreement” that would open one of the most closed auto markets in the world to U.S. manufacturers.

The chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea, David Ruch, called the trade deal “a historic juncture.” And California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who visited South Korea during an Asia trade mission in September, issued a statement urging Congress to ratify “this vital agreement as soon as possible.”

The deal was a bright spot for Obama on a day the Labor Department reported weak economic weak economic news: the U.S. unemployment rate climbed to 9.8 percent and job growth slowed to a trickle. Obama has pledged to aggressively seek new markets for U.S. exports in South Korea and other countries as a way to spur job growth at home.

The agreement also won Obama some rare support from the GOP.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the agreement was, “a positive development” toward promoting economic growth and private sector job creation. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the agreement would make U.S. exports more competitive and create more opportunities for American companies to create jobs.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he was deeply disappointed that the deal didn’t address the ongoing issues with the beef trade. Baucus said he would reserve judgment on the larger trade agreement until those issues were resolved.

The U.S. and South Korea reached a deal in 2007 that slashed tariffs and other barriers to commerce. But the pact has been in limbo since then, due in part to political changes in both countries and the Obama administration’s demands that South Korea make concessions on trade in autos and beef. Administration officials hoped finalizing the South Korea deal could lead to breakthroughs on other pending agreements with Panama and Colombia.

Bilateral trade between South Korea and the U.S. totaled $66.7 billion in 2009, down sharply from $84.7 billion in 2008 as global commerce suffered during the economic downturn.

The U.S. auto industry would be one of the biggest benefactors of the agreements. Figures compiled by auto industry groups in South Korea show that it exported 449,403 vehicles to the U.S. last year, while South Koreans purchased 6,140 vehicles made by American manufacturers, based on vehicle registrations.

“This trade agreement, once finalized, will provide jobs, products, and renewed sense of partnership to both the United States and South Korea,” said Cody Lusk, president of the American International Automobile Dealers Association.

But Lori Wallach, director of the liberal-leaning advocacy group Public Citizen, criticized the deal, saying it would lead foreign investors to move U.S. jobs overseas and put Obama’s political future in peril.

“Choosing to advance Bush’s NAFTA-style Korea free trade agreement rather than the new trade policy President Obama promised during his campaign will mean more American job loss and puts the White House at odds with the majority of Americans,” Wallach said in a statement.

___

Associated Press writer Kwang-tae Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.

=====================================================================================================================================================

Spain military takes over air traffic control

By ALAN CLENDENNING and HAROLD HECKLE, Associated Press – 1 hr 5 mins ago

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101204/ap_on_bi_ge/eu_spain_airport_closures

Passengers wait for news about their flights at the Barajas airport in Madrid.

Passengers wait for news about their flights at the Barajas airport in Madrid.

MADRID – Spain’s military took control of the nation’s airspace Friday night after air traffic controllers staged a massive sickout that stranded at least 330,000 travelers on the eve of a long holiday weekend, forcing the government to shut down Madrid’s big international hub and seven other airports.

About six hours after the nation descended into total travel chaos, Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba announced that the Defense Ministry had “taken control of air traffic in all the national territory.” He said the army would make all decisions on air trafficcontrol, organization, planning and supervision.

If enough controllers do not show up for work Saturday to restore normal flight operations, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero plans to declare a national emergency that would force them to do so, Rubalcaba said. No-show controllers will face unspecified criminal charges punishable by “serious prison time,” he said.

Spanish flagship carrier Iberia SA said all of its flights in and out of Madrid were suspended until at least 11 a.m. Saturday, but other airlines did not give guidance for when flights might resume.

The controllers abandoned their posts amid a lengthy dispute over working conditions and after Zapatero and his ministers on Friday approved a package of austerity measures — including a move to partially privatize airports and hand over management of the Madrid and Barcelona airports to the private sector.

Angry passengers waited in huge lines for hours until giving up when it became clear their flights would not depart. Air traffic controllers meeting to plot strategy at a hotel near Madrid’s airport were heckled and filmed by stranded passengers as the controllers entered.

“To the unemployment line with you all!” one man yelled at the controllers, in footage shown by Spanish National Television.

Handfuls of passengers made it out of Madrid to destinations like Barcelona and Lisbon, Portugal, on buses provided by airlines. But the vast majority were forced to go home or to hotels with no information on when they might make their canceled flights. Some slept in the airports.

“It’s a disgrace, how can a group of people be so selfish as to wreck the plans of so many people?” said dentist Marcela Vega, 35, unable to travel from Madrid to Chile with her husband, 5-year-old son and baby boy.

Spain’s airport authority, known as Aena, said authorities were in contact with Europe’s air traffic agency,Eurocontrol, and the United State’s FAA about how best to deal with arriving international flights.

Aena chief Juan Ignacio Lema called the sickout “intolerable” and warned controllers to return to work, or face disciplinary action or criminal charges.

“We’re asking the controllers to stop blackmailing the Spanish people,” Lema said.

Spain’s air traffic controllers have been in bitter negotiations for a year with state-owned Aena over wages, working conditions and privileges. The dispute intensified in February after the government restricted overtime, cutting the average annual pay of controllers from about euro350,000 ($463,610) to around euro200,000 ($264,920).

The sickout also closed four airports in the Canary islands off Africa’s coast, a favorite winter destination for sun-seeking Europeans, and airports in prime Mediterranean tourism spots of Ibiza, Palma de Mallorca and Menorca.

Spanish Development Minister Jose Blanco convened an emergency meeting and his ministry announced that “controllers have begun to communicate their incapacity to continue offering their services, abandoning their places of work.” Blanco later told reporters that authorities were forced to close airspace around Madrid for safety reasons.

“We won’t permit this blackmail that they are using to turn citizens into hostages,” Blanco said

The controllers’ union has complained for weeks that many members have already worked their maximum hours for all of 2010, and that all 2,000 are overworked and understaffed. Friday’s sickout was not expected, but the union had warned it could mount one over the Christmas holiday. Spanish air traffic controllers are prohibited by law from going on strike.

Aena said most controllers had left their workstations or never showed up, and that only 10 controllers remained on duty in Madrid to handle emergencies.

Some controllers began to return to work late Friday, including about half of the normal staff in Barcelona, where several flights took off by early Saturday. But Rubalcaba said the number of returning controllers was spotty, and that some who showed up refused to perform their duties.

Madrid’s sprawling Barajas airport was empty after midnight. It had 1,300 flights scheduled for Friday, but it wasn’t clear how many had taken off and landed before the sickout.

More than 5,000 flights were scheduled for the nation Friday, and about 3,000 departed or landed before the sickout began in the late afternoon.

Monday is a national holiday marking the Day of the Spanish Constitution, and Wednesday is a religious holiday. Many Spaniards take advantage of them for a five-day weekend or a week of vacation, and about 4 million people had flights booked for the period in the nation of 46 million.

Many of Spain’s famed football players were forced to head on trains and buses with their teams so they could make it to weekend games.

___

Jorge Sainz contributed from Madrid.

=======================================================================================================================================================================

WikiLeaks fights to stay online amid attacks

By RAPHAEL G. SATTER and PETER SVENSSON, Associated Press 1 hr 6 mins ago

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101204/ap_on_bi_ge/wikileaks

The Internet homepage of Wikileaks is shown in ...

AP – The Internet homepage of Wikileaks is shown in this photo taken in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010

LONDON – WikiLeaks became an Internet vagabond Friday, moving from one website to another as governments and hackers hounded the organization, trying to deprive it of a direct line to the public.

The organization that has embarrassed Washington and foreign leaders by releasing a cache of secret — and brutally frank — U.S. diplomatic cables found a new home after an American company stopped directing traffic to wikileaks.org. Then French officials moved to oust it from its new site.

By late Friday, WikiLeaks was up in at least three new places.

“The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops,” tweeted John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the online free-speech group Electronic Frontier Foundation. His message was reposted by WikiLeaks to its 300,000-odd followers.

Legal pressure increased on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after Swedish authorities revised a warrant for his arrest in response to procedural questions from British officials.

British law enforcement authorities have refused to say if or when Assange would be arrested. His lawyers have said they believe they would be notified of any move to arrest him but had yet to be served with a warrant as of Friday afternoon.

The 39-year-old Australian is wanted on allegations of rape and other sex crimes that emerged after a trip to Sweden in August.

Assange said that his arrest would do nothing to halt the flow of American diplomatic cables being released by his group and newspapers in several countries, and he threatened to escalate the rush of information if he is taken into custody.

Hundreds of cables have been published by WikiLeaks and several newspapers in recent days. Assange said that all of the cables had already been distributed in a heavily encrypted form to tens of thousands of people.

If something happens to him, he suggested, the password needed to decrypt the data will be released and all the secrets will go out at once.

“History will win,” Assange said in a Web chat with readers of The Guardian newspaper, one of the mediaorganizations helping to coordinate the documents’ publication. “The world will be elevated to a better place. Will we survive? That depends on you.”

WikiLeaks doesn’t depend entirely on its website for disseminating secret documents; if it were knocked off the Web, the nationless organization could continue to communicate directly with news organizations. But the site provides a direct line to the public, fulfilling the organization’s stated goal of maximum distribution for the secret documents it receives from mainly anonymous contributors.

In an online chat with readers of The Guardian, Assange promised to improve the availability of the website as soon as possible.

“Rest assured I am deeply unhappy that the 3 1/2 years of my work and others is not easily available or searchable by the general public,” Assange said.

EveryDNS — a company based in Manchester, New Hampshire, that had been directing traffic to the website wikileaks.org — stopped doing so late Thursday after cyber attacks threatened the rest of its network. WikiLeaks responded by moving to a Swiss domain name, wikileaks.ch — and calling on activists for support.

The loss of support from EveryDNS just a minor annoyance because the site can leap from one name to the next, said Fraser Howard, a researcher with Internet security firm Sophos.

“The whack-a-mole analogy is fairly good,” he said.

The Swiss address directs traffic to servers in France, where Industry Minister Eric Besson called it unacceptable to host a site that “violates the secret of diplomatic relations and puts people protected by diplomatic secret in danger.”

The general manager of French web hosting company OVH, Octave Klaba, confirmed that it had been hosting WikiLeaks since early Thursday, after a client asked for a “dedicated server with … protection against attacks.”

He said the company has asked a judge to decide on the legality of hosting the site on French soil.

“It is not up to the political realm or to OVH to request or decide the closure of a site, but rather up to the courts,” Klaba said.

WikiLeaks has been brought down numerous times this week by what appear to be denial-of-service attacks. In a typical such attack, remote computers commandeered by rogue programs bombard a website with so many data packets that it becomes overwhelmed and unavailable to visitors. Pinpointing the culprits is difficult. The attacks are relatively easy to mount and can be performed by amateurs.

The attacks started Sunday, just before WikiLeaks released the diplomatic cables. To deal with the flood of traffic, WikiLeaks moved to Amazon.com’s Web hosting facility, which has vast numbers of servers that can be rented as needed to meet surges.

But Amazon booted WikiLeaks from the site on Wednesday after U.S. congressional staffers started asking the company about its relationship to WikiLeaks. Amazon said it ousted the organization in part because the leaks could endanger innocent people.

The U.S. is conducting a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks’ release of the diplomatic cables. Attorney General Eric Holder said this week that the leaks jeopardized national security, diplomatic efforts and U.S. relationships around the world.

In Washington, the lawmaker expected to take over the House Judiciary Committee in January, Republican Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, said he plans to conduct hearings on the matter.

Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada introduced a bill to amend the U.S. Espionage Act that would give prosecutors more flexibility to pursue a criminal case against Assange and his organization. But there was little chance of passing a new law in the remaining weeks of the congressional session.

Assange also risks legal action in his homeland, where Australia said it would detain Assange if possible in response to the warrant filed in the Swedish case by Interpol.

Wikileaks.ch, is owned by the Swiss Pirate Party, formed two years ago to campaign for freedom of information. Its officials said they gave Assange information on how to seek asylum in Switzerland.

___

Svensson reported from New York. Louise Nordstrom reported from Stockholm, Jenny Barchfield from Paris, Holly Ramer from Manchester, New Hampshire, John Heilprin from Geneva and Larry Margasak from Washington.

=======================================================================================================================================================================

NEWSLETTER CLOSED

 

Posted in Economic Upheavals, Geo-Politics, Press Releases | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Hybrid Newsletter – 2 for 04.12.2010 A.D

Hungary Toxic Sludge Could Cause Long-Term Environmental Damage

Posted by Admin on October 8, 2010

Toxic Sludge

Hungary - Toxic Sludge

by: Phil Cain  |  The Christian Science Monitor | Report

Kolontár, Hungary – Workers with red-stained hands covered this town and others in southwest Hungary on Wednesday, cleaning the toxic sludge that remains from the wave of red mud that poured out of a nearby alumina refinery’s reservoir Monday.

The heavy rains, which pushed the dam at one of the Ajkai Aluminia Refinery’s 10 containment pools beyond its limits, have subsided. Now, clean-up crews are trying to limit the damage from the 35 million cubic feet of spilled toxic muck, which is the byproduct of the alumina refining process, that has left a thick, rust-red icing for miles around.

Officials worry that the highly caustic spill, which has already been blamed for four deaths and scores of injuries, will contaminate drinking water supplies, rivers, crops, and ecosystems throughout southwest Hungary. Officials are also searching for at least three people who remain missing.

On Wednesday, Hungary opened a criminal investigation into the cause of the spill and the European Union called for authorities to take every measure to contain the environmental damage.

As the sludge dries, officials say, fine particles that make up the red sludge could become airborne and inhaled. Environmentalists say they hope the disaster will bolster their arguments that storing the sludge, which contains heavy metalsin open reservoirs should be outlawed.

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While officials are concentrating on cleaning up the affected towns, there appears to be little attention paid to the acres of spoiled fields.

Hungarians living in the most seriously affected areas have been evacuated, but the authorities allowed them back Wednesday to collect belongings not ruined in the flood.

In a community center in Devecser, officials handed out rubber boots and rations of cheese and bread rolls in plastic bags.

Zita Soha, who is helping distribute clean water and food, says there was no warning before the sludge swept through her town. Their only clue that the refinery’s dam had burst was the sound of water. “At 12:30 on Monday, we heard the sound of rushing water,” she says. “What will happen next? We just don’t know.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said authorities were caught off guard by the disaster since the plant and reservoir had been inspected only two weeks earlier and no irregularities had been found.

The huge reservoir, which is more than 1,000 feet long and 1,500 feet wide, was no longer leaking Wednesday but a triple-tiered protective wall was being built around its damaged area.

IN PICTURES: Hungary sludge flood

Associated Press material was used in this report.

All republished content that appears on Truthout has been obtained by permission or license.

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In Abu Zubaydah’s Case, Court Relies on Propaganda and Lies

Posted by Admin on July 22, 2010

In Abu Zubaydah’s Case, Court Relies on Propaganda and Lies

Tuesday 20 July 2010

by: Andy Worthington, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis

http://www.truth-out.org/in-abu-zubaydahs-case-court-relies-propaganda-and-lies61547

photo
Abu Zubaydah. (Illustration: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t)

In the history of the “War on Terror,” few stories are as disturbing as that of Abu Zubaydah. Seized in Pakistan in March 2002, Zubaydah was initially regarded as a “high-value detainee” of such significance that the Bush administration conceived its torture program specifically for use on him. But the case against him has steadily unraveled over the years, as officials — first in the Bush administration, and then under President Obama — have conceded that his significance was monstrously overstated, and that he was not a member of al-Qaeda, was not involved in planning any international terrorist attacks, and had no advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks.

With this in mind, it is distressing to note that, last month, in the case of Sufyian Barhoumi, an Algerian seized with Zubaydah, who lost his habeas corpus petition last September, the Court of Appeals in Washington DC drew on discredited information about Zubaydah to overstate his importance, and to justify Barhoumi’s ongoing detention. The Circuit Court also drew on the diary of a previously unknown associate of Zubaydah’s to present another view of Zubaydah — as the leader of a militia allied with al-Qaeda — to justify Barhoumi’s detention, and, by extension, that of Zubaydah himself, even though there are doubts about the government’s interpretation of the diary, and the whereabouts of the diary’s author are unknown.

On June 22, when a panel of judges led by Judge David S. Tatel upheld Barhoumi’s detention, the ruling was superficially unsurprising. Barhoumi was not only seized in the house raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan, on March 28, 2002, that led to the capture of Abu Zubaydah, along with other alleged terror suspects, but he had also conceded, in publicly available documents from Guantanamo, that he had attended military training camps in Afghanistan.

This, on its own, may not have been sufficient for Barhoumi’s detention to be upheld, but last September, when his habeas petition was denied, Judge Rosemary Collyer provided another reason. Although she noted that Barhoumi “said that he is not now and has never been a member of al-Qaeda,” and added, “I have no reason not to believe that,” she nevertheless concluded that “he was with an associated force that was engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners and therefore was properly detained.”

At the time, Judge Collyer’s unclassified opinion was not made publicly available (and has still not been made available), and the quotes above are from the court transcript that was eventuallyunearthed by researchers at ProPublica. It was not, therefore, until the Circuit Court upheld his detention last month that the details of this “associated force” were revealed as a militia that was allegedly maintained by Abu Zubaydah, and it was also revealed that the Circuit Court was relying on a long-discredited opinion of Zubaydah as the leader of a training camp in Afghanistan and an associate of Osama bin Laden.

How the Case Against Abu Zubaydah Collapsed

What is troubling about this is the fact that since Zubaydah’s capture (when Donald Rumsfeld described it as “well established” that he was “a close associate” of Osama bin Laden, “and if not the number two, very close to the number two person in the organization”), the government has steadily backed away from these claims, as accounts have emerged that thoroughly discredit the allegations.

These include devastating statements by Dan Coleman, the FBI’s senior expert on al-Qaeda. Coleman and his FBI colleagues had access to Zubaydah’s diaries, in which they found entries in the voices of three people — a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego — which recorded in numbing detail, over the course of 10 years, “what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said,” and Coleman’s conclusion, which he told his superiors, was, “This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality.”

That was reported in 2006, and in December 2007, Coleman followed up, describing Zubaydah as a “safehouse keeper” who “claimed to know more about al-Qaeda and its inner workings than he really did,” and explaining how Coleman and others at the FBI had concluded not only that Zubaydah had severe mental problems — particularly because of a head injury he had suffered in 1992 — but also that this explained why he was regarded with suspicion by the al-Qaeda leadership. “They all knew he was crazy, and they knew he was always on the damn phone,” Coleman said. “You think they’re going to tell him anything?”

This analysis was, essentially, reinforced by a Justice Department official who spoke anonymously to the Washington Post last March. As I reported at the time:

[Abu Zubaydah] was not even an official member of al-Qaeda, and was, instead, a “kind of travel agent” for would-be jihadists. A former Justice Department official, who knows his case, explained, “He was the above-ground support. He was the guy keeping the safe house, and that’s not someone who gets to know the details of the plans. To make him the mastermind of anything is ridiculous.” What happened, it transpired, was that because his name often turned up in intelligence traffic linked to al-Qaeda transactions, some within the intelligence community presumed that he was a significant figure, whereas the truth was that, although committed to the idea of jihad, he did not share Osama bin Laden’s aims, and regarded the United States as an enemy principally because of its support of Israel. The officials explained that he “had strained and limited relations with bin Laden and only vague knowledge before the Sept. 11 attacks that something was brewing.”

The Circuit Court’s Reliance on Discredited Intelligence

Alarmingly, despite these concessions on the government’s part, both the District Court and the Circuit Court drew on another source in Barhoumi’s habeas petition in an attempt to demonstrate that Zubaydah was “the person in charge” of the Khaldan training camp, and that he was “an associate of [Osama bin Laden]” who “coordinates and cooperates with [bin Laden] in the conduct of training and trainee movements between [redacted] camps and al-Qaeda camps.”

As the judges explained, the source of this information, which also fooled the authors of the 9/11 Commission Report, who referred to “Abu Zubaydah’s Khaldan Camp” (p. 175), was Ahmed Ressam, the failed “Millennium Bomber” who is currently serving a 22-year sentence in the US. The problem with Ressam’s evidence is that, although he initially cooperated with the authorities in exchange for a reduced sentence, and provided information about dozens of alleged terrorist suspects, including Zubaydah, he then stopped cooperating and withdrew his statements. As a result, numerous cases involving Ressam’s statements have collapsed (including that of Ahcene Zemiri (aka Hassan Zemiri), falsely fingered by Ressam as an associate in the bomb plot, who was freed from Guantanamo in January this year), and the portrayal of Zubaydah accepted by the judges is fundamentally at odds with the one now accepted by the Obama administration.

The Government Concedes That Abu Zubaydah Was Not a Member of al-Qaeda

As Jason Leopold explained in an article for Truthout in March this year, in a federal court filing the government officially endorsed the view put forward by the anonymous Justice Department official to the Washington Post in March 2009, “back(ing) away from the Bush administration’s statements that Zubaydah was the No. 2 or No. 3 official in al-Qaeda who had helped plan the 9/11 attacks, as well as even earlier claims from the Clinton administration that he was directly involved in planning the 1998 embassy bombings in East Africa,” and admitting for the first time that “Zubaydah did not have ‘any direct role in or advance knowledge of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001,’ and was neither a ‘member’ of al-Qaeda nor ‘formally’ identified with the terrorist organization.”

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The government also appeared to have accepted that that “the military camp he was alleged to be affiliated with, Khaldan, was closed by the Afghan Taliban after refusing to let it go under the formal control of bin Laden and al-Qaeda,” conceding, in its court filing, that Khaldan was “organizationally and operationally independent” of al-Qaeda’s camps.

This corresponds with Zubaydah’s own revelation, during his Combatant Status Review Tribunal at Guantanamo in 2007 (in a passage that was only unclassified in June 2009, in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU), that, after his extensive torture, his interrogators told him, “sorry we discover that you are not number three [in al-Qaeda], not a partner, even not a fighter.” It also confirms other accounts about Khaldan, which was actually run by Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a former CIA “ghost prisoner,” who died in mysterious circumstances in a Libyan jail last year. Al-Libi, notoriously, was tortured in Egypt, on behalf of the CIA, until he produced a false confession about links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq, and his death means that a key witness has been lost who might have been able to explain the strained relationship he had with bin Laden, and how Khaldan was closed in 2000 after he refused to allow it to come under bin Laden’s control.

Dubious Allegations About Abu Zubaydah’s “Militia”

While these revelations indicate that the Circuit Court is lamentably out-of-date in its consideration of Abu Zubaydah, it is also noticeable that the judges relied on another document, the diary of an alleged associate of Zubaydah, Abu Kamil al-Suri, to demonstrate that Zubaydah was in charge of a militia, which included Sufyian Barhoumi. Whether there is any truth in this is difficult to ascertain, as Abu Kamil al-Suri is not available to ask about his diary, His whereabouts are unknown, but he may have died in the raid that led to Zubaydah’s capture, or he may be one of a handful of men — and boys — seized with Zubaydah who were rendered to Syria, and have never been heard of since.

This is deeply troubling, of course, in the wider context of “disappearances” in the “War on Terror,” but its relevance to Sufyian Barhoumi’s case — and to that of Abu Zubaydah — is also significant. The diary purports to identify the movements of various men, including Barhoumi, to and from Tora Bora, where a showdown between al-Qaeda and the US took place in December 2001, and from Afghanistan to Pakistan, although it should be noted that, in Guantanamo, Barhoumi strenuously and repeatedly denied ever being in Tora Bora. Al-Suri’s diary also identifies 15 members of what is described as “Zubaydah’s militia,” although, in the translation of al-Suri’s own words, it is described, less spectacularly, as a “group,” and a fractious one, moreover, with al-Suri noting that several of the members were “trying to take over this group,” to “lead us to join Sheikh Osama bin Laden.”

The interpretation of the diary is clearly of importance not only to Sufyian Barhoumi but also to Abu Zubaydah, as it seems to form part of the government’s revised claims about Zubaydah, mentioned in the court filing in March, in which the Justice Department maintained that Zubaydah should still be detained based on his “actions” as an “affiliate” of al-Qaeda, and alleged that he “supported enemy forces and participated in hostilities” and “facilitat(ed) the retreat and escape of enemy forces” after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001.

His lawyers have countered this by stating that “the persons whom [Zubaydah] assisted in escaping Afghanistan in 2001 included ‘women, children, and/or other non-combatants’ ” and that the government has “evidence to support those assertions,” which contrasts starkly with the Circuit Court’s conclusions about both Sufyian Barhoumi and Abu Zubaydah. The scope of Zubaydah’s involvement with securing the escape of non-combatants from Afghanistan is unknown, because the government has not provided any information about this publicly, and Zubaydah’s lawyers are prevented from discussing almost anything about their client’s case because of sweeping classification rules relating to the “high-value detainees.”

However, it seems clear that one non-combatant whose escape from Afghanistan was facilitated by a network in which Zubaydah played a part is Ravil Mingazov, a Russian seized in a guest house in Faisalabad (with over a dozen other men, mostly students) on the night Zubaydah was seized. Mingazov recently won his habeas corpus petition, and he explained in Guantanamo that, after fleeing Afghanistan, where he had traveled in search of a new life free from religious persecution, he had spent three months at a religious center in Lahore run by the missionary organization Jamaat-al-Tablighi, until he and two other men accepted an offer of safe passage to a house in Faisalabad, where, they were told, it would be easier for them to leave the country.

This example of a civilian helped out of Afghanistan as part of some sort of loose transportation network, in which Zubaydah was involved, is starkly at odds with the Circuit Court’s assertion of Zubaydah’s role as the head of a militia, in which Barhoumi was implicated. In their ruling, the judges noted that Barhoumi does not “dispute that Zubaydah’s militia qualifies as an ‘associated force’ that engaged in hostilities against US or coalition forces. The only dispute, then, is whether Barhoumi was, as the district court found, ‘part of’ Zubaydah’s organization.”

Ulterior Motives?

In light of the failed claims about Zubaydah’s status as a senior figure in al-Qaeda, and the government’s revised analysis of him as someone who “supported enemy forces and participated in hostilities” and “facilitat(ed) the retreat and escape of enemy forces,” it is obviously alarming that the Circuit Court clung to a discredited view of Zubaydah’s role in upholding Sufyian Barhoumi’s detention, and it is, moreover, no less alarming that the allegation about Zubaydah’s purported “militia” was allowed to pass unchallenged.

In contrast to this claim, all the evidence suggests that, in its desperation to find charges that will stick to Zubaydah, the government has every incentive to dress up a fractious group of men, nominally led by Zubaydah, as an organized “militia,” and to ignore counter-claims that he was not involved in fighting US forces, but was involved in facilitating the escape from Afghanistan of a variety of individuals, including “women, children, and/or other non-combatants.”

In establishing this picture of Zubaydah as the leader of a militia — based on a translation of a diary by a man who appears to have vanished off the face of the earth — the government, with the support of the Circuit Court, appears determined to use it in a last-ditch attempt to cover up the much more distressing fact that the US government brutally tortured someone who was never part of al-Qaeda at all.

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Talking to Taliban and Tribal Warlords

Posted by Admin on March 29, 2010

Talking to Taliban and Tribal Warlords

Sunday 28 March 2010

by: J. Sri Raman, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis

Across the sands

Across the sands

From October 7, 2001, until about a year ago, the world was hearing of the “war on terror” in the Af-Pak region as one on Taliban and tribal warlords allied to them. No longer. What assails our ears increasingly over the recent period is talk of a campaign to woo and win over a section of the same “enemies of civilization.”

All the avowed “anti-terror” warriors are engaged in the campaign. The US administration and the Afghanistan government are publicly committed to this policy change, with powerful quarters emulating the example despite protestations of uncompromising opposition to terrorism. Voices from within India, meanwhile, suggest pressures for a similar attempt by New Delhi. South Asia’s biggest power is being nudged to do business with forces officially regarded until the other day as implacably fundamentalist foes.

The campaign is approaching its culmination, with the highest international forum extending far-from-hidden support to the process. The United Nations, too, is now involved in not-so-secret talks with those considered not long ago as too terrorist for such UN-conferred legitimacy.

In one sense, it all began with President Barack Obama’s moves for a new Afghanistan strategy. Weeks before the strategy was announced on March 27, 2009, Obama said in a newspaper interview that the US “was not winning the war in Afghanistan and opened the door to a reconciliation process in which the American military would reach out to moderate elements of the Taliban, much as it did with Sunni militias in Iraq.”

Around the same time, speaking at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Vice President Joe Biden claimed that “at least 70 percent” of Taliban guerrilla fighters were “mercenaries” who could be “persuaded” to lay down their arms and join the “peace process.”

These signals could not but have strengthened the hands of those in Pakistan who were never excited about engaging in a serious conflict with Afghan insurgents – particularly the Taliban, perceived as largely a creation of Pakistan during the days of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Officially, of course, Pakistan is supposed to have abandoned all its reservations about an all-out “war on terror” with its offensive in the Swat region in May 2009. Ties with the Taliban, however, are still cherished in powerful quarters.

Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, caused much more than a ripple recently when he issued an appeal to the Taliban as the chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest and leading province closely identified with the country’s army. Shahbaz requested his “friendly” terrorists to spare Punjab because his party, the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), had “something in common with them” (opposition to former President General Pervez Musharrf).

The appeal came in the wake of 12 terror attacks in less than a year, which left hundreds killed, including women and children, in Punjab’s Lahore, considered the country’s cultural capital. It has led to an outrage.

In a newspaper article captioned “The terror is next door, Mr. CM,” leading cultural activist Naeem Tahir says: “Rarely had he (Shahbaz) been noticed as much as he was noticed this time. Explanations followed, but these explained nothing. Everyone, including parliamentarians, journalists, government functionaries and the general public tried to figure out the meaning of this request.”

“Did he mean to suggest” – asked Tahir – “that the terrorists should spare Punjab and try Balochistan? Or Sindh or, for convenience of proximity to the Punjabi Taliban, try the capital Islamabad?” No convincing answer has been forthcoming.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani army has undertaken an agitprop operation alleging links between India and the Taliban. Military aircraft drop pamphlets in North Waziristan on ties between the Taliban and India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). The pamphlets also talk of relations between Israeli intelligence outfit Mossad and Indian consulates in Afghanistan.

Until recently, the official Indian stand was against attempts to differentiate between “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban.” Of late, however, New Delhi has signaled its willingness to try out the line. The policy draws support from the thinking of the country’s security establishment over more than a decade of experience in the Af-Pak region as well.

A case for some ties with the Taliban is argued, for example, in an over-a-decade-old document authored by a former RAW official who is an informed and influential security analyst today. B. Raman, now a well-known columnist as well, talks in this paper titled “Bin Laden, Taliban and India” of the al-Qaeda leader’s ambiguous stance on Pakistan’s chief adversary.

Noting that the Taliban had issued no “call for killing Indians or Hindus,” Raman says: “The past anti-India comments of Osama and the Taliban were restricted to supporting the right of the Kashmiris to self-determination … It has repeatedly denied Indian allegations that its volunteers were active in Kashmir.”

Raman quotes the Taliban’s “most comprehensive statement to date on this subject (September 20, 1998)” as saying: “Afghanistan and India had friendly relations in the past. We don’t have any diplomatic ties now, but we won’t mind resuming relations with India as, at least, we won’t have to contend with an enemy India…. We obviously support the jihad in Kashmir… It is also true that some Afghans are fighting against Indian troops in Kashmir. The Taliban has not sent them…. We have no intention of exporting our jihad or revolution to any country.”

Raman’s counsel: “… India should test out the sincerity of the Taliban’s interest in a non-adversarial relationship with India by maintaining a line of communication with the Taliban leadership through their office in New York. Its professions of innocence should be tested out and not dismissed out of hand.” He adds: “The USA too, while taking strong action against the Taliban’s support to Osama and its violation of human rights, has at the same time maintained a dialogue with the Taliban leadership through their New York office and during the visits of US officials to Islamabad.”

Whether the counsel is heeded at last remains to be seen. Meanwhile, however, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has opened talks with the country’s second-largest militant group linked to the Taliban. The Hizb-e-Islami has reportedly submitted to Karzai a 15-point plan for possible peace talks. The main point envisages withdrawal of all foreign forces from July this year, to be completed within six months.

At the helm of the Hizb-e-Islami stands Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a warlord and former prime minister classified as a terrorist by the US and the UN. This, however, has not stopped the world body from joining the bandwagon and initiating its own parleys with the insurgents.

First came former UN special envoy Kai Eide’s secret talks with Taliban leaders during his two-year tenure (from March 2008) in Afghanistan. The process was made public on March 25, 2010, with Staffan de Mistura, special UN representative in Afghanistan, meeting the men of UN-blacklisted Hekmatyar.

We do not know where the process will lead. It will be a strange end to the “war on terror,” however, if it leaves the Taliban and tribal warlords tyrannizing over their wild terrain and threatening peace over a larger South Asian region.

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False Profits…

Posted by Admin on February 8, 2010

False Profits

Sunday 07 February 2010

by: Leslie Thatcher, t r u t h o u t | Book Review

photo

The Neo-Cons

False Profits: Recovering From the Bubble Economy

By Dean Baker

PoliPoint Press, 2010

He who feels punctured must once have been a bubble.

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, 6th century BCE

As the nation struggled to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the people who got us here are desperately working to rewrite history. The basic story of this economic collapse is very simple. The Federal Reserve Board, guided by its revered chairman, Alan Greenspan, allowed an $8 trillion housing bubble to grow unchecked.

– Dean Baker’s “False Profits”

The delicious double-entendre of Dean Baker’s most recent title is enhanced by the book’s cover photo of a trio of false prophets, Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan and Henry (Hank) Paulson, all of whom are thoroughly excoriated within the book’s pages for their responsibility in feeding, prolonging, misdiagnosing and incorrectly responding to the 2007-2009 financial meltdown and the associated economic collapse. However, the book also chronicles the loss of $8 trillion of housing “wealth,” $1.4 trillion in annual demand, whatever financial security the vast majority of baby-boomers ever had, “increases” in homeownership rates and any other widespread economic gains associated to the post-2000 period. Truthout has published Dean Baker’s columns about net job losses for 2000-2010, a decade that also saw a 26 percent drop in the stock market, the elimination of the $236 billion federal budget surplus President Bush inherited and its transformation into a record deficit and the overall deliquescence of any societal and most people’s personal economic “profits.”

While most of us find ourselves economically worse off after the last ten years, some have done extremely well and most of those who bear the burden of responsibility for the American economic catastrophe have suffered no consequences whatsoever: financial, social or professional. Writing about Bernanke specifically, Baker’s remarks are equally apposite to other titans of finance, central banking and the financial regulatory regimes:

It would difficult to imagine someone with a comparable record of disastrous failures being allowed to remain in most jobs. Would a nurse who routinely administers the wrong medicine and causes his patients to die be allowed to keep his job? Would a bank teller who leaves the cash drawer open remain in her position? How about the school bus driver who comes drunk to work?

In most lines of work, a certain level of competence is expected. Unfortunately, this is not the case for those who set US economic policy.

Baker places the burden of blame on regulators and the political establishment because they utterly perverted their mission:

Progressives do conservatives’ bidding when we denounce them as “market fundamentalists.” We should, instead, be exposing their use of government to set up structures that ensure the market works to benefit the wealthy. We could then bring our policies into focus as those designed to ensure that market outcomes will benefit the bulk of the population.

The market is just a tool, like a wheel or a hammer. It would be bad politics and bad policy for progressives to make a big scene attacking the wheel. It is similarly bad politics and bad policy to put these attacks on the market at the center of a political agenda.

Baker never attacks the wheel; instead he demonstrates how it was deliberately allowed to run wild. As Baker himself warned as early as summer 2002, all indicators pointed to the rise in housing prices as a classic bubble, divorced from any tether in reality, yet the regulators, media and most mainstream economists kept pumping hot air into that bubble. Further, Dean Baker exposes the pathetic excuses that the regulators did not have the necessary tools to put on the brakes for the self-serving and specious rationalizations they are. Ever debunking the myth that somehow it was the “free” market at work, he relentlessly exposes how regulation, regulatory bodies and the public officials charged with supervising the financial industry have used their power to favor a narrow swathe of private interests over the public good. And, as always, Baker highlights what alternatives were and are available to turn that equation around. Baker’s relentless exposé of what is actually subsidized and who profits from specific policies, how wealth is transferred and how all this activity is disguised fuels his narrative with “true prophet” power.

“False Profits” combines impeccable scholarship – assembling an array of relevant facts and data totally accessible to non-economists – with Baker’s acerbic, but unforced, wit and verve. His iconoclasm constantly renews its sources and consistently targets those “false prophets” in all sectors who contribute to misleading the American people. Baker is the journalists’ economist, the reality-based economist: whatever other case he may be making, he invariably demonstrates why correct and timely information and clear understanding are essential to economic problem-solving, as well as how “fudges” harm everyone.

The book’s structure begins by a backward look, an analysis of precisely how we reached the present situation and what our present situation actually is (in chapters, “Economic Collapse: It Is Their Fault,” “Surveying the Damage” and “The Terrible Tale of the TARP”), then pivots on an exposition of why correct diagnosis and analysis are so crucial (“Will They Ever Discover the Housing Bubble?”), develops the case he has presented with three chapters of prescription (“Stimulus: It Is Just Spending,” “Real Stimulus: Programs to Boost the Economy” and “Reforming the Financial System”) and concludes with a resounding final call for accountability (“Remember the Housing Bubble”).

Unfortunately, recent events – the absence of any effective policy to slow down foreclosures; the most probably ineffective and unquestionably inadequate stimulus measures in the just-presented budget; financial services regulatory proposals that do not address the causes for regulatory failure – suggest that the present administration is only slightly more willing to learn from Dean Baker’s acute analyses than was its predecessor. And Ben Bernanke’s reconfirmation as Fed chairman is just the most recent and flagrant sign that the administration has no intention of investigating, let alone punishing, the regulatory – and individual regulators’ – blunders that led to the present pass.

Economics is a science of human behavior. It rests on the observation that people respond to incentives. Consequently, Baker’s apparently political argument that there must be consequences for the failures of judgment and action that resulted in the economic meltdown is a quintessentially economic one. With no disincentives for failure and the ever-present incentives for complicity offered by the industry that has captured them, regulators will continue to fail the whipping boy who pays for their transgressions – us.

1. Dean Baker, “False Profits,” p.5.

2. OpCit. p.9.

3. Read the book for the argument, but the unequivocal conclusion is, “The regulators – first and foremost the Fed – had all the tools necessary to combat the bubble. They chose not to.” (p.153)

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Leslie Thatcher is Truthout’s French Language Editor and sometime book reviewer.

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