Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rachel Corrie's Family Sues IDF

Peace activist Rachel Corrie died while protesting in front of a bulldozer trying to destroy a Palestinian home in Rafah in March 2003. Photograph: Denny Sternstein/AP.

Rachel Corrie's family bring civil suit over human shield's death in Gaza
By Rory McCarthy / February 23, 2010

Parents want case to highlight events that led to American activist's death under Israeli army bulldozer

Jerusalem -- The family of the American activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed by an Israeli army bulldozer in Gaza seven years ago, is to bring a civil suit over her death against the Israeli defence ministry.

The case, which begins on 10 March in Haifa, northern Israel, is seen by her parents as an opportunity to put on public record the events that led to their daughter's death in March 2003. Four key witnesses – three Britons and an American – who were at the scene in Rafah when Corrie was killed will give evidence, according the family lawyer, Hussein Abu Hussein.

The four were all with the International Solidarity Movement, the activist group to which Corrie belonged. They have since been denied entry to Israel, and the group's offices in Ramallah have been raided several times in recent weeks by the Israeli military.

Now, under apparent US pressure, the Israeli government has agreed to allow them entry so they can testify. Corrie's parents, Cindy and Craig, will also fly to Israel for the hearing.

A Palestinian doctor from Gaza, Ahmed Abu Nakira, who treated Corrie after she was injured and later confirmed her death, has not been given permission by the Israeli authorities to leave Gaza to attend.

Abu Hussein, a leading human rights lawyer in Israel, said there was evidence from witnesses that soldiers saw Corrie at the scene, with other activists, well before the incident and could have arrested or removed her from the area before there was any risk of her being killed.

"After her death the military began an investigation but unfortunately, as in most of these cases, it found the activity of the army was legal and there was no intentional killing," he said. "We would like the court to decide her killing was due to wrong-doing or was intentional." If the Israeli state is found responsible, the family will press for damages.

Corrie, who was born in Olympia, Washington, travelled to Gaza to act as a human shield at a moment of intense conflict between the Israeli military and the Palestinians. On the day she died, when she was 23, she was dressed in a fluorescent orange vest and was trying to stop the demolition of a Palestinian home. She was crushed under a military Caterpillar bulldozer and died shortly afterwards.

A month after her death the Israeli military said an investigation had determined its troops were not to blame and said the driver of the bulldozer had not seen her and did not intentionally run her over. Instead, it accused her and the International Solidarity Movement of behaviour that was "illegal, irresponsible and dangerous."

The army report, obtained by the Guardian in April 2003, said she "was struck as she stood behind a mound of earth that was created by an engineering vehicle operating in the area and she was hidden from the view of the vehicle's operator who continued with his work. Corrie was struck by dirt and a slab of concrete resulting in her death."

Witnesses presented a strikingly different version of events. Tom Dale, a British activist who was 10m away when Corrie was killed, wrote an account of the incident two days later.

He described how she first knelt in the path of an approaching bulldozer and then stood as it reached her. She climbed on a mound of earth and the crowd nearby shouted at the bulldozer to stop. He said the bulldozer pushed her down and drove over her.

"They pushed Rachel, first beneath the scoop, then beneath the blade, then continued till her body was beneath the cockpit," Dale wrote.

"They waited over her for a few seconds, before reversing. They reversed with the blade pressed down, so it scraped over her body a second time. Every second I believed they would stop but they never did."

While she was in the Palestinian territories, Corrie wrote vividly about her experiences. Her diaries were later turned into a play, My Name is Rachel Corrie, which has toured internationally, including to Israel and the West Bank.

Other foreigners killed by Israeli forces

Iain Hook, 54, a British UN official, was shot dead by an Israeli army sniper in Jenin in November 2002. A British inquest found he had been unlawfully killed. The Israeli government paid an undisclosed sum in compensation to Hook's family.

Tom Hurndall, a 22-year-old British photography student, was shot in the head in Rafah, Gaza, in April 2003 while helping to pull Palestinian children to safety. In August 2005 an Israeli soldier was sentenced to eight years for manslaughter.

James Miller, 34, a British cameraman, was shot dead in Gaza in May 2003. He was leaving the home of a Palestinian family in Rafah refugee camp at night, waving a white flag. An inquest in Britain found Miller had been murdered. Last year Israel paid about £1.5m in damages to Miller's family.

Source / The Guardian

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Terrorist": Just Another Example of Racist Terminology

Terrorism: the most meaningless and manipulated word
By Glenn Greenwald / February 19, 2010

(updated below)

Yesterday, Joseph Stack deliberately flew an airplane into a building housing IRS offices in Austin, Texas, in order to advance the political grievances he outlined in a perfectly cogent suicide-manifesto. Stack's worldview contained elements of the tea party's anti-government anger along with substantial populist complaints generally associated with "the Left" (rage over bailouts, the suffering of America's poor, and the pilfering of the middle class by a corrupt economic elite and their government-servants). All of that was accompanied by an argument as to why violence was justified (indeed necessary) to protest those injustices:

I remember reading about the stock market crash before the "great" depression and how there were wealthy bankers and businessmen jumping out of windows when they realized they screwed up and lost everything. Isn't it ironic how far we've come in 60 years in this country that they now know how to fix that little economic problem; they just steal from the middle class (who doesn't have any say in it, elections are a joke) to cover their asses and it's "business-as-usual" . . . . Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.

Despite all that, The New York Times' Brian Stelter documents the deep reluctance of cable news chatterers and government officials to label the incident an act of "terrorism," even though -- as Dave Neiwert ably documents -- it perfectly fits, indeed is a classic illustration of, every official definition of that term. The issue isn't whether Stack's grievances are real or his responses just; it is that the act unquestionably comports with the official definition. But as NBC's Pete Williams said of the official insistence that this was not an act of Terrorism: there are "a couple of reasons to say that . . . One is he’s an American citizen." Fox News' Megan Kelley asked Catherine Herridge about these denials: "I take it that they mean terrorism in the larger sense that most of us are used to?," to which Herridge replied: "they mean terrorism in that capital T way."

All of this underscores, yet again, that Terrorism is simultaneously the single most meaningless and most manipulated word in the American political lexicon. The term now has virtually nothing to do with the act itself and everything to do with the identity of the actor, especially his or her religious identity. It has really come to mean: "a Muslim who fights against or even expresses hostility towards the United States, Israel and their allies." That's why all of this confusion and doubt arose yesterday over whether a person who perpetrated a classic act of Terrorism should, in fact, be called a Terrorist: he's not a Muslim and isn't acting on behalf of standard Muslim grievances against the U.S. or Israel, and thus does not fit the "definition." One might concede that perhaps there's some technical sense in which term might apply to Stack, but as Fox News emphasized: it's not "terrorism in the larger sense that most of us are used to . . . terrorism in that capital T way." We all know who commits terrorism in "that capital T way," and it's not people named Joseph Stack.

Contrast the collective hesitance to call Stack a Terrorist with the extremely dubious circumstances under which that term is reflexively applied to Muslims. If a Muslim attacks a military base preparing to deploy soldiers to a war zone, that person is a Terrorist. If an American Muslim argues that violence against the U.S. (particularly when aimed at military targets) is justified due to American violence aimed at the Muslim world, that person is a Terrorist who deserves assassination. And if the U.S. military invades a Muslim country, Muslims who live in the invaded and occupied country and who fight back against the invading American army -- by attacking nothing but military targets -- are also Terrorists. Indeed, large numbers of detainees at Guantanamo were accused of being Terrorists for nothing more than attacking members of an invading foreign army in their country, including 14-year-old Mohamed Jawad, who spent many years in Guantanamo, accused (almost certainly falsely) of throwing a grenade at two American troops in Afghanistan who were part of an invading force in that country. Obviously, plots targeting civilians for death -- the 9/11 attacks and attempts to blow up civilian aircraft -- are pure terrorism, but a huge portion of the acts committed by Muslims that receive that label are not.

In sum: a Muslim who attacks military targets, including in war zones or even in their own countries that have been invaded by a foreign army, are Terrorists. A non-Muslim who flies an airplane into a government building in pursuit of a political agenda is not, or at least is not a Real Terrorist with a capital T -- not the kind who should be tortured and thrown in a cage with no charges and assassinated with no due process. Nor are Christians who stand outside abortion clinics and murder doctors and clinic workers. Nor are acts undertaken by us or our favored allies designed to kill large numbers of civilians or which will recklessly cause such deaths as a means of terrorizing the population into desired behavioral change -- the Glorious Shock and Awe campaign and the pummeling of Gaza. Except as a means for demonizing Muslims, the word is used so inconsistently and manipulatively that it is impoverished of any discernible meaning.

All of this would be an interesting though not terribly important semantic matter if not for the fact that the term Terrorist plays a central role in our political debates. It is the all-justifying term for anything the U.S. Government does. Invasions, torture, due-process-free detentions, military commissions, drone attacks, warrantless surveillance, obsessive secrecy, and even assassinations of American citizens are all justified by the claim that it's only being done to "Terrorists," who, by definition, have no rights. Even worse, one becomes a "Terrorist" not through any judicial adjudication or other formal process, but solely by virtue of the untested, unchecked say-so of the Executive Branch. The President decrees someone to be a Terrorist and that's the end of that: uncritical followers of both political parties immediately justify anything done to the person on the ground that he's a Terrorist (by which they actually mean: he's been accused of being one, though that distinction -- between presidential accusations and proof -- is not one they recognize).

If we're really going to vest virtually unlimited power in the Government to do anything it wants to people they call "Terrorists," we ought at least to have a common understanding of what the term means. But there is none. It's just become a malleable, all-justifying term to allow the U.S. Government carte blanche to do whatever it wants to Muslims it does not like or who do not like it (i.e., The Terrorists). It's really more of a hypnotic mantra than an actual word: its mere utterance causes the nation blindly to cheer on whatever is done against the Muslims who are so labeled.

UPDATE: I want to add one point: the immediate official and media reaction was to avoid, even deny, the term "terrorist" because the perpetrator of the violence wasn't Muslim. But if Stack's manifesto begins to attract serious attention, I think it's likely the term Terrorist will be decisively applied to him in order to discredit what he wrote. His message is a sharply anti-establishment and populist grievance of the type that transcends ideological and partisan divisions -- the complaints which Stack passionately voices are found as common threads in the tea party movement and among citizens on both the Left and on the Right -- and thus tend to be the type which the establishment (which benefits from high levels of partisan distractions and divisions) finds most threatening and in need of demonization. Nothing is more effective at demonizing something than slapping the Terrorist label onto it.

Source / Salon

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Epitome of Hypocrisy: The Persecution of Iran

Natanz, Iran nuclear facilities. Photo Source.

Behind Clinton's tough talk on Iran
By Mark Weisbrot / February 18, 2010

The goal of Hillary Clinton's rhetoric seems to be to promote conflict and convince Americans Iran is a threat to their security

In a visit to Qatar and Saudi Arabia this week, Hillary Clinton said that Iran "is moving toward a military dictatorship," and continued the administration's campaign for tougher sanctions against that country.

What could America's top diplomat hope to accomplish with this kind of inflammatory rhetoric? It seems unlikely that the goal was to support human rights in Iran. Because of the United States' history in Iran and in the region, it tends to give legitimacy to repression. The more that any opposition can be linked to the United States' actions, words, or support, the harder time they will have.

Second, it is tough for anyone – especially in the region – to believe that the US is really concerned about human rights abuses. In addition to supporting Israel's collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza, Washington has been remarkably quiet as the most important opposition leaders in Egypt were arrested as part of the government's preparations for October elections. Amnesty International stated that the arrestees were "prisoners of conscience, detained solely for their peaceful political activities".

So what is the purpose of a speech like this? The most obvious conclusion is that it is to promote conflict, and to convince Americans that Iran is an actual threat to their security. Americans generally have to be prepared and persuaded for years if they are to accept that they must go to war. The groundwork for the Iraq war was laid during the Clinton presidency. President Clinton imposed sanctions on the country that devastated the civilian population, carried out bombings, and publicly declared that Washington's intention was to overthrow the government. Although, as we now know, Iraq never posed any significant security threat to the US, President Clinton spent years trying to convince Americans that it did.

President Bush picked up where President Clinton left off; and President Clinton publicly supported his campaign for the war. So did Hillary, and she defended her decision in 2008 even as it looked like it might cost her the presidency.

President Obama is unlikely to start a war with Iran – which would likely begin as an air war, not a ground war – not least because he already has two wars to deal with. But, as in the case of the Iraq war, his secretary of state is preparing the ground for the next president that may have a stronger desire or better opportunity to do so. There is a strong faction of our foreign policy establishment that believes it has the right and obligation to bomb Iran in order to curtail its nuclear programme, and they have a long-term strategy.

The public relations campaign is working. A new Gallup poll finds that 61% of Americans see Iran as "as a critical threat to US vital interests," with an additional 29% believing that it is "an important threat". It is not clear why anyone would believe this; even if Iran did obtain a nuclear weapon, which is still a way off, they would not have the capacity to deliver it as far as the US. Nor is it likely that they would want to commit national suicide, any more than a number of other countries that currently have nuclear weapons.

The Obama team's messaging is not nearly so successful with regard to the issues that the vast majority of the electorate will base their votes on in this year's elections: the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that 53% disapprove of his handling of the economy.

For the immediate future, foreign policy concerns will likely rank low, far behind the economy, for the electorate. But the Obama team's foreign policy will hurt Democrats in the future. If I believed what Hillary Clinton and the Democratic leadership are telling me, I would have to consider voting Republican. If it's really true that all these people just want to kill us for no reason; that it has nothing to do with our foreign policy or wars; that we can effectively reduce terrorism by bombing and occupying Muslim countries; and that terrorism is the country's most urgent security threat – then why not vote for the party that looks tougher? This will inevitably come back to haunt the Democratic party, as it did in the 2002 and 2004 elections.

Meanwhile, US military spending – by the Congressional Budget Office's relatively narrow definition of the department of defence budget – reached 5.6% of GDP in 2009. Just before September 11, 2001, the Congressional Budget Office projected this spending for 2009 at 2.4% of GDP.

The difference, over 10 years, is more than four times the ten-year cost of proposed healthcare reform.

Source / The Guardian

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

It Can't Happen Here

Source / Whatcom Watch

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US Foreclosure Policy

Photo of an armed sheriff moving thru a US Midwest home foreclosed after an eviction to assure residents have really moved out. This won the World Press Photo of the year in 2008. Jury chair MaryAnne Golon said: "Now war in its classic sense is coming into people's houses because they can't pay their mortgages."

Thanks to Jeffrey Segal / Fluxed Up World

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tea Party People: What's the Big Deal?

Corporate Media Hype Tea Partiers Way Beyond Their Actual Significance
By Juan Cole / February 17, 2010

Percentage of Americans who favor socialism: 20

Percentage of Americans involved in Tea Party Movement: 11

Number of mentions of "Tea Party" past month in Lexis radio and tv transcript search: 1042*

Number of mentions of "socialism" past month in Lexis radio and tv transcript search: 69+

Percentage of Americans who say it is unacceptable to take the Public Option out of the health care bill: 44

Number of mentions of the "public option" past month in Lexis radio and tv transcript search: 235

Only 9 percent of Tea Partiers are urban, whereas a majority of Americans are.

Tea partiers are half as big as proponents of socialism in the US body politic, but corporate media gives them 15 times more mention, and overwhelmingly more positive mention.

Although nearly one of every two Americans is committed to a public option in the health care bill, the public option received only 1/4 as many mentions in US mass media in the past month as Tea Partiers, who are supported by 1 in 9 Americans.


* Often corporate media transcripts show the tiny 'Tea Party' movement taken seriously, praised.

+ Most mentions of socialism, the political-economy preference of a fifth of Americans, in US corporate media are pejorative, occurring in stories about North Korea or China, or as insults directed at President Barack Obama. (In a recent Rasmussen poll, 52% of Americans supported capitalism and 20% supported socialism. Some 27% did not know which they supported.)

Source / Informed Comment

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Showing the Wrong Priorities: Death Over Life

Dollars for Death, Pennies for Life
By Norman Solomon / February 15, 2010

When the U.S. military began a major offensive in southern Afghanistan over the weekend, the killing of children and other civilians was predictable. Lofty rhetoric aside, such deaths come with the territory of war and occupation.

A month ago, President Obama pledged $100 million in U.S. government aid to earthquake-devastated Haiti. Compare that to the $100 billion price tag to keep 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan for a year.

While commanders in Afghanistan were launching what the New York Times called "the largest offensive military operation since the American-led coalition invaded the country in 2001," the situation in Haiti was clearly dire.

With more than a million Haitians still homeless, vast numbers -- the latest estimates are around 75 percent -- don't have tents or tarps. The rainy season is fast approaching, with serious dangers of typhoid and dysentery.

No shortage of bombs in Afghanistan; a lethal shortage of tents in Haiti. Such priorities -- actual, not rhetorical -- are routine.

Last summer, I saw hundreds of children and other civilians at the Helmand Refugee Camp District 5, a miserable makeshift encampment in Kabul. The U.S. government had ample resources for bombing their neighborhoods in the Helmand Valley -- but was doing nothing to help the desperate refugees to survive after they fled to Afghanistan's capital city.

Such priorities have parallels at home. The military hawks and deficit hawks are now swooping along Pennsylvania Avenue in tight formation. There's plenty of money in the U.S. Treasury for war in Afghanistan. But domestic spending to meet human needs -- job creation, for instance -- is another matter.

Joblessness is now crushing many low-income Americans. Among those with annual household incomes of less than $12,500, the unemployment rate during the fourth quarter of last year "was a staggering 30.8 percent," Bob Herbert noted in a February 9 column. "That's more than five points higher than the overall jobless rate at the height of the Depression."

Herbert added: "The next lowest group, with incomes of $12,500 to $20,000, had an unemployment rate of 19.1 percent. These are the kinds of jobless rates that push families already struggling on meager incomes into destitution."

The current situation is akin to the one that Martin Luther King Jr. confronted in 1967 when he challenged Congress for showing "hostility to the poor" -- appropriating "military funds with alacrity and generosity" but providing "poverty funds with miserliness."

Such priorities are taking lives every day, near and far.

Early this month, the National Council of Churches sent out an article by theologians George Hunsinger and Michael Kinnamon, who wrote: "What the Haitians obviously need most is massive humanitarian relief. They need food, water, medical supplies. They need shelter and physical reconstruction. . . . Over half of Haiti's population are children, 15 years old or younger. Many were already hungry and homeless before the earthquake hit."

But the warfare state, with vast budgets for military purposes, has scant funds for sustaining life.

These priorities kill.

[Norman Solomon is national co-chair of the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign, launched by Progressive Democrats of America. His books include "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death." For more information, go to: www.normansolomon.com.]

Source / Common Dreams

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Government Terrorist Cases: Bad Techniques, Bad Outcomes

2008 habeas ruling may pose snag as U.S. weighs indefinite Guantanamo detentions
By Del Quentin Wilber / February 13, 2010

The case against Saeed Mohammed Saleh Hatim seemed ironclad.

The Justice Department alleged that Hatim, a detainee at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, trained at an al-Qaeda military camp in Afghanistan, stayed at terrorist guesthouses and even fought in the battle of Tora Bora. The accusations were built on Hatim's own words and those of a witness, a fellow Guantanamo Bay detainee, court records show.

But a federal judge reviewed the case and found the government's evidence too weak to justify Hatim's confinement. The judge ordered the detainee's release, ruling that he could not rely on Hatim's statements because they had been coerced. He also found that the government's informer was "profoundly unreliable."

The case is more the rule than the exception. Federal judges, acting under a landmark 2008 Supreme Court ruling that grants Guantanamo Bay detainees the right to challenge their confinements, have ordered the government to free 32 prisoners and backed the detention of nine others. In their opinions, the judges have gutted allegations and questioned the reliability of statements by the prisoners during interrogations and by the informants. Even when ruling for the government, the judges have not always endorsed the Justice Department's case.

The rulings in the Hatim case and the 31 others may be a harbinger of trouble for the Obama administration, which is considering plans to indefinitely detain dozens of Guantanamo Bay prisoners without civilian or military trials. Although the detainees will never face a jury, they are entitled to their day in court under the Supreme Court ruling.

Legal scholars and outside experts who have studied the issue say the government is likely to suffer further losses because many cases appear to be built on the same kinds of evidence that have drawn such skepticism -- incriminating statements by detainees and informers.

"Nobody who has looked at the last 18 months of litigation can emerge with a high confidence level that the government is going to prevail uniformly in cases of people it regards as extremely dangerous," said Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who recently co-authored a long paper about the detainee challenges.

The detainees' lawsuits have been brought under the centuries-old legal doctrine of habeas corpus, which permits prisoners to contest confinements before judges.

Of the 192 detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay, a Justice Department-led task force has concluded that about 110 can be safely released, either immediately or eventually. It recommended that about 35 be prosecuted in federal or military courts, leaving about 50 who are considered too dangerous to be freed but cannot face trial because the evidence is too shaky to hold up in court. Justice Department officials say they are also concerned that public trials might expose intelligence operations or other classified information.

The number of detainees in that category might rise. Authorities think they must continue to detain at least 30 Yemenis, perhaps more, until the security situation in their homeland stabilizes. About 90 Yemenis are detained at Guantanamo Bay.

Burden of proof

Obama officials are optimistic that they will prevail in upcoming habeas challenges. The Justice Department task force evaluated detainee files for months, and the strength of the habeas cases was a top factor in deciding whether to detain prisoners without trials, the officials said.

"We're confident in our ability to demonstrate to the courts that these individuals are being lawfully held," a department official said.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, said four prisoners who lost habeas challenges are assigned to the indefinite-detention group. The official would not say how many of those ordered released would have been put in the indefinite-detention category if the judges had ruled differently or not yet ruled.

Another Justice Department official noted that the win-loss ratio is affected by 17 Chinese Muslims who have been ordered released but are not considered enemies of the United States. The department abandoned efforts to justify their detentions before a federal judge. Ten have been transferred to third countries.

Habeas rulings do not always guarantee the immediate release of detainees. Under an appeals court ruling, judges do not have the authority to order the release of prisoners into the United States; that matter is before the Supreme Court. They may only order the government to engage in diplomatic negotiations to facilitate the transfer of detainees.

Federal judges in the District, who preside over all Guantanamo Bay habeas challenges, have established procedures that generally favor the government, allowing the Justice Department to justify detentions based on the "preponderance of evidence," a standard by which the government wins if the facts tip slightly in its favor. In criminal cases, prosecutors must prove a case "beyond a reasonable doubt."

A recent appeals court decision backed that standard and suggested that the burden of proof might be even lower. The appeals panel adopted a broad definition of who may be subject to detention, which could ease the government's burden in future cases.

The reliability issue

Even so, the effect of such rulings remains unclear because judges have being focusing intensely on the building blocks of the government's cases: its witnesses and other evidence.

They have been particularly troubled by the dependability of detainees who become government informants. One in particular, Yasim Muhammed Basardah, has been problematic. The Yemeni has serious psychological problems that include suicide attempts, hallucinations, a severe personality disorder and depression, according to court records, as well as lawyers and government officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not permitted to discuss the litigation.

At least three judges have concluded that they could not rely on Basardah's information. He was the principal witness against Hatim, the detainee recently ordered freed by U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina, who found that Basardah's "grasp on reality appears to have been tenuous at best."

Urbina did not identify the informant by name, but a review of court records makes it clear that he was referring to Basardah.

The government also relied on Hatim's interrogations and his testimony at military hearings, during which he is said to have admitted to training at an al-Qaeda military camp. Judges have been skeptical of such statements unless the government provides evidence that the men were not seriously mistreated. In Hatim's case, the Justice Department did not dispute his contention that he was tortured in U.S. custody and that he made those admissions to avoid further mistreatment.

In November, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the release of an Algerian, Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed, despite government contentions that he was a member of al-Qaeda.

The judge was particularly puzzled by the government's reliance on statements by Binyam Mohamed, a fellow detainee who has since been freed. Mohamed, an Ethiopian, provided the government its most sensational allegation: He told interrogators that the Algerian trained at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan. Kessler wrote that she could not credit Mohamed's allegations because he had been mistreated in foreign and U.S. custody. The government did not dispute his well-publicized accounts of torture. On Wednesday, the British government released a long-secret description of how Mohamed suffered "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment at the hands of U.S. authorities.

In December, U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan threw out incriminating statements made by a 28-year-old Yemeni to interrogators at Guantanamo Bay that the government used to justify his detention. Musa'ab al-Madhwani had admitted to interrogators and testified before military hearings that he had trained at an al-Qaeda camp and traveled with its members in Afghanistan and Pakistan, records show.

But the detainees' attorneys argued that the statements were tainted because their client was brutally tortured while in U.S. custody before his arrival in Cuba. He confessed only to prevent further mistreatment, they argued. The government did not contest Madhwani's claims.

Although he threw out the statements to interrogators, Hogan considered the detainee's testimony during military hearings because he did not believe they had been made under duress. That was enough to justify the Yemeni's detention, Hogan ruled. Still, the judge said, "it's a very close case."

[Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.]

Source / Washington Post

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Valentine's Day 1945: The Truth About Dresden

A scene from the populous German city of Dresden after American and British forces dropped more than 700,000 incendiary bombs on Valentines Day eve in 1945.

The Myth of the Good War: America in World War II
60 Years Ago, February 13-14, 1945: Why was Dresden Destroyed?

By Jacques R. Pauwels / February 9, 2010

In the night of February 13-14, 1945, the ancient and beautiful capital of Saxony, Dresden, was attacked three times, twice by the RAF and once by the USAAF, the United States Army Air Force, in an operation involving well over 1,000 bombers. The consequences were catastrophic, as the historical city centre was incinerated and between 25,000 and 40,000 people lost their lives.[1] Dresden was not an important industrial or military centre and therefore not a target worthy of the considerable and unusual common American and British effort involved in the raid. The city was not attacked as retribution for earlier German bombing raids on cities such as Rotterdam and Coventry, either. In revenge for the destruction of these cities, bombed ruthlessly by the Luftwaffe in 1940, Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne and countless other German towns big and small had already paid dearly in 1942, 1943, and 1944. Furthermore, by the beginning of 1945, the Allied commanders knew perfectly well that even the most ferocious bombing raid would not succeed in “terrorizing [the Germans] into submission,”[2] so that it is not realistic to ascribe this motive to the planners of the operation. The bombing of Dresden, then, seems to have been a senseless slaughter, and looms as an even more terrible undertaking than the atomic obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which is at least supposed to have led to the capitulation of Japan.

In recent times, however, the bombing of countries and of cities has almost become an everyday occurrence, rationalized not only by our political leaders but also presented by our media as an effective military undertaking and as a perfectly legitimate means to achieve supposedly worthwhile objectives. In this context, even the terrible attack on Dresden has recently been rehabilitated by a British historian, Frederick Taylor, who argues that the huge destruction wreaked on the Saxon city was not intended by the planners of the attack, but was the unexpected result of a combination of unfortunate circumstances, including perfect weather conditions and hopelessly inadequate German air defenses.[3] However, Taylor’s claim is contradicted by a fact that he himself refers to in his book, namely, that approximately 40 American “heavies” strayed from the flight path and ended up dropping their bombs on Prague instead of Dresden.[4] If everything had gone according to plan, the destruction in Dresden would surely have been even bigger than it already was. It is thus obvious that an unusually high degree of destruction had been intended. More serious is Taylor’s insistence that Dresden did constitute a legitimate target, since it was not only an important military centre but also a first-rate turntable for rail traffic as well as a major industrial city, where countless factories and workshops produced all sorts of militarily important equipment. A string of facts, however, indicate that these “legitimate” targets hardly played a role in the calculations of the planners of the raid. First, the only truly significant military installation, the Luftwaffe airfield a few kilometres to the north of the city, was not attacked. Second, the presumably crucially important railway station was not marked as a target by the British “Pathfinder” planes that guided the bombers. Instead, the crews were instructed to drop their bombs on the inner city, situated to the north of the railway station.[5] Consequently, even though the Americans did bomb the station and countless people perished in it, the facility suffered relatively little structural damage, so little, in fact, that it was again able to handle trains transporting troops within days of the operation.[6] Third, the great majority of Dresden’s militarily important industries were not located downtown but in the suburbs, where no bombs were dropped, at least not deliberately.[7]

It cannot be denied that Dresden, like any other major German city, contained militarily important industrial installations, and that at least some of these installations were located in the inner city and were therefore wiped out in the raid, but this does not logically lead to the conclusion that the attack was planned for this purpose. Hospitals and churches were also destroyed, and numerous Allied POWs who happened to be in the city were killed, but nobody argues that the raid was organized to bring that about. Similarly, a number of Jews and members of Germany’s anti-Nazi resistance, awaiting deportation and/or execution, were able to escape from prison during the chaos caused by the bombing,[8] but no one claims that this was the objective of the raid. There is no logical reason, then, to conclude that the destruction of an unknown number of industrial installations of greater or lesser military importance was the raison d’être of the raid. The destruction of Dresden’s industry – like the liberation of a handful of Jews – was nothing more than an unplanned “by-product” of the operation.

It is frequently suggested, also by Taylor, that the bombing of the Saxon capital was intended to facilitate the advance of the Red Army. The Soviets themselves allegedly asked their western partners during the Yalta Conference of February 4 to 11, 1945, to weaken the German resistance on the eastern front by means of air raids. However, there is no evidence whatsoever that confirms such allegations. The possibility of Anglo-American air raids on targets in eastern Germany was indeed discussed at Yalta, but during these talks the Soviets expressed the concern that their own lines might be hit by the bombers, so they requested that the RAF and USAAF would not operate too far to the east.[9] (The Soviets’ fear of being hit by what is now called “friendly fire” was not unwarranted, as was demonstrated during the raid on Dresden itself, when a considerable number of planes mistakenly bombed Prague, situated about as far from Dresden as the Red Army lines were.) It was in this context that a Soviet general by the name of Antonov expressed a general interest in “air attacks that would impede enemy movements,” but this can hardly be interpreted as a request to mete out to the Saxon capital – which, incidentally, he did not mention at all – or to any other German city the kind of treatment that Dresden received on February 13-14. Neither at Yalta, nor at any other occasion, did the Soviets ask their Western Allies for the kind of air support that presumably materialized in the form of the obliteration of Dresden. Moreover, they never gave their approval to the plan to bomb Dresden, as is also often claimed.[10] In any case, even if the Soviets would have asked for such assistance from the air, it is extremely unlikely that their allies would have responded by immediately unleashing the mighty fleet of bombers that did in fact attack Dresden.

In order to understand why this is so, we have to take a close look at inter-Allied relations in early 1945. In mid- to late January, the Americans were still involved in the final convulsions of the “Battle of the Bulge,” an unexpected German counter-offensive on the western front which had caused them great difficulties. The Americans, British, and Canadians had not yet crossed the Rhine, had not even reached the western banks of that river, and were still separated from Berlin by more than 500 kilometers. On the eastern front, meanwhile, the Red Army had launched a major offensive on January 12 and advanced rapidly to within 100 kilometers of the German capital. The resulting likelihood that the Soviets would not only take Berlin, but penetrate deep into Germany’s western half before the war ended, greatly perturbed many American and British military and political leaders. Is it realistic to believe that, under those circumstances, Washington and London were eager to enable the Soviets to achieve even greater progress? Even if Stalin had asked for Anglo-American assistance from the air, Churchill and Roosevelt might have provided some token assistance, but would never have launched the massive and unprecedented combined RAF-USAAF operation that the bombing of Dresden revealed itself to be. Moreover, attacking Dresden meant sending hundreds of big bombers more than 2,000 kilometers through enemy airspace, approaching the lines of the Red Army so closely that they would run the risk of dropping their bombs by mistake on the Soviets or being fired at by Soviet anti-aircraft artillery. Could Churchill or Roosevelt be expected to invest such huge human and material resources and to run such risks in an operation that would make it easier for the Red Army to take Berlin and possibly reach the Rhine before they did? Absolutely not. The American-British political and military leaders were undoubtedly of the opinion that the Red Army was already advancing fast enough.

Towards the end of January 1945, Roosevelt and Churchill prepared to travel to Yalta for a meeting with Stalin. They had asked for such a meeting because they wanted to make binding agreements about postwar Germany before the end of the hostilities. In the absence of such agreements, the military realities in the field would determine who would control which parts of Germany, and it looked very much as if, by the time the Nazis would finally capitulate, the Soviets would be in control of most of Germany and thus be able to unilaterally determine that country’s political, social, and economic future. For such a unilateral course of action, Washington and London themselves had created a fateful precedent, namely when they liberated Italy in 1943 and categorically denied the Soviet Union any participation in the reconstruction of that country; they did the same thing in France and Belgium in 1944.[11] Stalin, who had followed his allies’ example when he liberated countries in Eastern Europe, obviously did not need or want such a binding inter-allied agreement with respect to Germany, and therefore such a meeting. He did accept the proposal, but insisted on meeting on Soviet soil, namely in the Crimean resort of Yalta. Contrary to conventional beliefs about that Conference, Stalin would prove to be most accommodating there, agreeing to a formula proposed by the British and Americans and highly advantageous to them, namely, a division of postwar Germany into occupation zones, with only approximately one third of Germany’s territory – the later “East Germany” – being assigned to the Soviets. Roosevelt and Churchill could not have foreseen this happy outcome of the Yalta Conference, from which they would return “in an exultant spirit.”[12] In the weeks leading up to the conference, they expected the Soviet leader, buoyed by the recent successes of the Red Army and enjoying a kind of home-game advantage, to be a difficult and demanding interlocutor. A way had to be found to bring him down to earth, to condition him to make concessions despite being the temporary favourite of the god of war.

It was crucially important to make it clear to Stalin that the military power of the Western Allies, in spite of recent setbacks in the Belgian Ardennes, should not be underestimated. The Red Army admittedly featured huge masses of infantry, excellent tanks, and a formidable artillery, but the Western Allies held in their hands a military trump which the Soviets were unable to match. That trump was their air force, featuring the most impressive collection of bombers the world had ever seen. This weapon made it possible for the Americans and the British to launch devastating strikes on targets that were far removed from their own lines. If Stalin could be made aware of this, would he not prove easier to deal with at Yalta?

It was Churchill who decided that the total obliteration of a German city, under the noses of the Soviets so to speak, would send the desired message to the Kremlin. The RAF and USAAF had been able for some time to strike a devastating blow against any German city, and detailed plans for such an operation, known as “Operation Thunderclap,” had been meticulously prepared. During the summer of 1944, however, when the rapid advance from Normandy made it seem likely that the war would be won before the end of the year, and thoughts were already turning to postwar reconstruction, a Thunderclap-style operation had begun to be seen as a means to intimidate the Soviets. In August 1944, an RAF memorandum pointed out that “the total devastation of the centre of a vast [German] city…would convince the Russian allies…of the effectiveness of Anglo-American air power.”[13]

For the purpose of defeating Germany, Thunderclap was no longer considered necessary by early 1945. But towards the end of January 1945, while preparing to travel to Yalta, Churchill suddenly showed great interest in this project, insisted that it be carried out tout de suite, and specifically ordered the head of the RAF Bomber Command, Arthur Harris, to wipe out a city in Germany’s east.[14] On January 25 the British Prime Minister indicated where he wanted the Germans to be “blasted,” namely, somewhere “in their [westward] retreat from Breslau [now Wroclaw in Poland].”[15] In terms of urban centres, this was tantamount to spelling D-R-E-S-D-E-N. That Churchill himself was behind the decision to bomb a city in Germany’s east is also hinted at in the autobiography of Arthur Harris, who wrote that “the attack on Dresden was at the time considered a military necessity by much more important people than myself.”[16] It is obvious that only personalities of the calibre of Churchill were able to impose their will on the czar of strategic bombing. As the British military historian Alexander McKee has written, Churchill “intended to write [a] lesson on the night sky [of Dresden]” for the benefit of the Soviets. However, since the USAAF also ended up being involved in the bombing of Dresden, we may assume that Churchill acted with the knowledge and approval of Roosevelt. Churchill’s partners at the top of the United States’ political as well as military hierarchy, including General Marshall, shared his viewpoint; they too were fascinated, as McKee writes, by the idea of “intimidating the [Soviet] communists by terrorising the Nazis.”[17] The American participation in the Dresden raid was not really necessary, because the RAF was undoubtedly capable of wiping out Dresden in a solo performance. But the “overkill” effect resulting from a redundant American contribution was perfectly functional for the purpose of demonstrating to the Soviets the lethality of Anglo-American air power. It is also likely that Churchill did not want the responsibility for what he knew would be a terrible slaughter to be exclusively British; it was a crime for which he needed a partner.

A Thunderclap–style operation would of course do damage to whatever military and industrial installations and communications infrastructure were housed in the targeted city, and would therefore inevitably amount to yet another blow to the already tottering German enemy. But when such an operation was finally launched, with Dresden as target, it was done far less in order to speed up the defeat of the Nazi enemy than in order to intimidate the Soviets. Using the terminology of the “functional analysis” school of American sociology, hitting the Germans as hard as possible was the “manifest function” of the operation, while intimidating the Soviets was its far more important “latent” or “hidden” function. The massive destruction wreaked in Dresden was planned – in other words, was “functional” – not for the purpose of striking a devastating blow to the German enemy, but for the purpose of demonstrating to the Soviet ally that the Anglo-Americans had a weapon which the Red Army, no matter how mighty and successful it was against the Germans, could not match, and against which it had no adequate defenses.

Many American and British generals and high-ranking officers were undoubtedly aware of the latent function of the destruction of Dresden, and approved of such an undertaking; this knowledge also reached the local commanders of the RAF and USAAF as well as the “master bombers.” (After the war, two master bombers claimed to remember that they had been told clearly that this attack was intended “to impress the Soviets with the hitting power of our Bomber Command.”)[18] But the Soviets, who had hitherto made the biggest contribution to the war against Nazi Germany, and who had thereby not only suffered the biggest losses but also scored the most spectacular successes, e.g. in Stalingrad, enjoyed much sympathy among low-ranking American and British military personnel, including bomber crews. This constituency would certainly have disapproved of any kind of plan to intimidate the Soviets, and most certainly of a plan – the obliteration of a German city from the air – which they would have to carry out. It was therefore necessary to camouflage the objective of the operation behind an official rationale. In other words, because the latent function of the raid was “unspeakable,” a “speakable” manifest function had to be concocted.

And so the regional commanders and the master bombers were instructed to formulate other, hopefully credible, objectives for the benefit of their crews. In view of this, we can understand why the instructions to the crews with respect to the objectives differed from unit to unit and were often fanciful and even contradictory. The majority of the commanders emphasized military objectives, and cited undefined “military targets,” hypothetical “vital ammunition factories” and “dumps of weapons and supplies,” Dresden’s alleged role as “fortified city,” and even the existence in the city of some “German Army Headquarters.” Vague references were also frequently made to “important industrial installations” and “marshalling yards.” In order to explain to the crews why the historical city centre was targeted and not the industrial suburbs, some commanders talked about the existence there of a “Gestapo headquarters” and of “a gigantic poison gas factory.” Some speakers were either unable to invent such imaginary targets, or were for some reason unwilling to do so; they laconically told their men that the bombs were to be dropped on “the built-up city centre of Dresden,” or “on Dresden” tout court.[19] To destroy the centre of a German city, hoping to wreak as much damage as possible to military and industrial installations and to communication infrastructures, happened to be the essence of the Allied, or at least British, strategy of “area bombing.”[20] The crew members had learned to accept this nasty fact of life, or rather of death, but in the case of Dresden many of them felt ill at ease. They questioned the instructions with respect to the objectives, and had the feeling that this raid involved something unusual and suspicious and was certainly not a “routine” affair, as Taylor presents things in his book. The radio operator of a B-17, for example, declared in a confidential communication that “this was the only time” that “[he] (and others) felt that the mission was unusual.” The anxiety experienced by the crews was also illustrated by the fact that in many cases a commander’s briefing did not trigger the crews’ traditional cheers but were met with icy silence.[21]

Directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, the instructions and briefings addressed to the crews sometimes revealed the true function of the attack. For example, a directive of the RAF to the crews of a number of bomber groups, issued on the day of the attack, February 13, 1945, unequivocally stated that it was the intention “to show the Russians, when they reach the city, what our Bomber Command is capable of doing.”[22] Under these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that many crew members understood clearly that they had to wipe Dresden from the map in order to scare the Soviets. A Canadian member of a bomber crew was to state after the war to an oral historian that he was convinced that the bombing of Dresden had aimed to make it clear to the Soviets “that they had to behave themselves, otherwise we would show them what we could also do to Russian cities.”[23]

The news of the particularly awful destruction of Dresden also caused great discomfort among British and American civilians, who shared the soldiers’ sympathy for the Soviet ally and who, upon learning the news of the raid, likewise sensed that this operation exuded something unusual and suspicious. The authorities attempted to exorcize the public’s unease by explaining the operation as an effort to facilitate the advance of the Red Army. At an RAF press conference in liberated Paris on February 16, 1945, journalists were told that the destruction of this “communications centre” situated close to “the Russian front” had been inspired by the desire to make it possible for the Russians “to continue their struggle with success.” That this was merely a rationale, concocted after the facts by what are called “spin doctors” today, was revealed by the military spokesman himself, who lamely acknowledged that he “thought” that it had “probably” been the intention to assist the Soviets.[24]

The hypothesis that the attack on Dresden was intended to intimidate the Soviets explains not only the magnitude of the operation but also the choice of the target. To the planners of Thunderclap, Berlin had always loomed as the perfect target. By early 1945, however, the German capital had already been bombed repeatedly. Could it be expected that yet another bombing raid, no matter how devastating, would have the desired effect on the Soviets when they would fight their way into the capital? Destruction wreaked within 24 hours would surely loom considerably more spectacular if a fairly big, compact, and “virginal” – i.e. not yet bombed – city were the target. Dresden, fortunate not to have been bombed thus far, was now unfortunate enough to meet all these criteria. Moreover, the British American commanders expected that the Soviets would reach the Saxon capital within days, so that they would be able to see very soon with their own eyes what the RAF and the USAAF could achieve in a single operation. Although the Red Army was to enter Dresden much later than the British and the Americans had expected, namely, on May 8, 1945, the destruction of the Saxon capital did have the desired effect. The Soviet lines were situated only a couple of hundred of kilometers from the city, so that the men and women of the Red Army could admire the glow of the Dresden inferno on the nocturnal horizon. The firestorm was allegedly visible up to a distance of 300 kilometers.

If intimidating the Soviets is viewed as the “latent,” in other words the real function of the destruction of Dresden, then not only the magnitude but also the timing of the operation makes sense. The attack was supposed to have taken place, at least according to some historians, on February 4, 1945, but had to be postponed on account of inclement weather to the night of February 13-14.[25] The Yalta Conference started on February 4. If the Dresden fireworks had taken place on that day, it might have provided Stalin with some food for thought at a critical moment. The Soviet leader, flying high after the recent successes of the Red Army, would be brought down to earth by this feat of his allies’ air forces, and would therefore turn out to be a less confident and more agreeable interlocutor at the conference table. This expectation was clearly reflected in a comment made one week before the start of the Yalta Conference by an American general, David M. Schlatter:

I feel that our air forces are the blue chips with which we will approach the post-war treaty table, and that this operation [the planned bombing of Dresden and/or Berlin] will add immeasurably to their strength, or rather to the Russian knowledge of their strength.[26]

The plan to bomb Dresden was not cancelled, but merely postponed. The kind of demonstration of military potency that it was supposed to be retained its psychological usefulness even after the end of the Crimean conference. It continued to be expected that the Soviets would soon enter Dresden and thus be able to see firsthand what horrible destruction the Anglo-American air forces were able to cause to a city far removed from their bases in a single night. Afterwards, when the rather vague agreements made at Yalta would have to be put into practice, the “boys in the Kremin” would surely remember what they had seen in Dresden, draw useful conclusions from their observations, and behave as Washington and London expected of them. When towards the end of the hostilities American troops had an opportunity to reach Dresden before the Soviets, Churchill vetoed this: even at that late stage, when Churchill was very eager for the Anglo-Americans to occupy as much German territory as possible, he still insisted that the Soviets be allowed to occupy Dresden, no doubt so they could benefit from the demonstration effect of the bombing.

Dresden was obliterated in order to intimidate the Soviets with a demonstration of the enormous firepower that permitted bombers of the RAF and the USAAF to unleash death and destruction hundreds of kilometers away from their bases, and the subtext was clear: this firepower could be aimed at the Soviet Union itself. This interpretation explains the many peculiarities of the bombing of Dresden, such as the magnitude of the operation, the unusual participation in one single raid of both the RAF and USAAF, the choice of a “virginal” target, the (intended) enormity of the destruction, the timing of the attack, and the fact that the supposedly crucially important railway station and the suburbs with their factories and Luftwaffe airfield were not targeted. The bombing of Dresden had little or nothing to do with the war against Nazi Germany: it was an American British message for Stalin, a message that cost the lives of tens of thousands of people. Later that same year, two more similarly coded yet not very subtle messages would follow, involving even more victims, but this time Japanese cities were targeted, and the idea was to direct Stalin’s attention to the lethality of America’s terrible new weapon, the atomic bomb.[27] Dresden had little or nothing to do with the war against Nazi Germany; it had much, if not everything, to do with a new conflict in which the enemy was to be the Soviet Union. In the horrible heat of the infernos of Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Cold War was born.


[1] Frederick Taylor. Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945, New York, 2004, pp. 354, 443-448; Götz Bergander, Dresden im Luftkrieg. Vorgeschichte, Zerstörung, Folgen, Weimar, 1995, chapter 12, and especially pp. 210 ff., 218-219, 229;

"Luftangriffe auf Dresden", p. 9.

[2] See for example the comments made by General Spaatz cited in Randall Hansen, Fire and fury: the Allied bombing of Germany, 1942-45, Toronto, 2008, p. 243.

[3] Taylor, p. 416.

[4] Taylor, pp. 321-322.

[5] Olaf Groehler. Bombenkrieg gegen Deutschland, Berlin, 1990, p. 414; Hansen, p. 245; "Luftangriffe auf Dresden, p.7.

[6] "Luftangriffe auf Dresden," p. 7.

[7] Taylor, pp. 152-154, 358-359.

[8] Eckart Spoo, “Die letzte der Familie Tucholsky,” Ossietzky, No. 11/2, June 2001, pp. 367-70.

[9] Taylor, p. 190; Groehler, pp. 400-401. Citing a study about Yalta, the British author of the latest study of Allied bombing during World War II notes that the Soviets “clearly preferred to keep the RAF and the USAAF away from territory they might soon be occupying,” see C. Grayling, Among the Dead Cities: Was the Allied Bombing of Civilians in WWII a Necessity or a Crime?, London, 2006, p. 176.

[10] Alexander McKee. Dresden 1945: The Devil’s Tinderbox, London, 1982, pp. 264-265; Groehler, pp. 400-402.

[11] See e.g. Jacques R. Pauwels, The Myth of the Good War: America in the Second World War, Toronto, 2002, p. 98 ff.

[12] Ibid., p. 119.

[13] Richard Davis, “Operation Thunderclap,” Journal of Strategic Studies, 14:1, March 1991, p. 96.

[14] Taylor, pp. 185-186, 376; Grayling, p. 71; David Irving. The Destruction of Dresden, London, 1971, pp. 96-99.

[15] Hansen, p. 241.

[16] Arthur Travers Harris, Bomber offensive, Don Mills/Ont., 1990, p. 242.

[17] McKee, pp. 46, 105.

[18] Groehler, p. 404.

[19] Ibid., p. 404.

[20] The Americans preferred “precision bombing,” in theory if not always in practice.

[21] Taylor, pp. 318-19; Irving, pp. 147-48.

[22] Quotation from Groehler, p. 404. See also Grayling, p. 260.

[23] Cited in Barry Broadfoot, Six War Years 1939-1945: Memories of Canadians at Home and Abroad, Don Mills, Ontario, 1976, p. 269.

[24] Taylor, pp. 361, 363-365.

[25] See e.g. Hans-Günther Dahms, Der Zweite Weltkrieg, second edition, Frankfurt am Main, 1971, p. 187.

[26] Cited in Ronald Schaffer. “American Military Ethics in World War II: The Bombing of German Civilians,” The Journal of Military History, 67: 2, September 1980, p. 330.

[27] A. C. Grayling, for example, writes in his new book on Allied bombing that “it is recognized that one of the main motives for the atomb-bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was to demonstrate to the Russians the superiority in waponry that the United States had attained…In the case of Dresden something similar is regrettably true.”

Source / Global Research

Fluxed Up World

[+/-]

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Obama: Just Getting Started with Bad Decisions

He was elected in part to drag us out of this trap. Instead, he's dragging us further in. Graphic: Chris Coady/NB Illustrations.

Obama's secret prisons in Afghanistan endanger us all
By Johann Hari / February 12, 2010

He was elected in part to drag us out of this trap. Instead, he's dragging us further in.

Osama bin Laden's favourite son, Omar, recently abandoned his father's cave in favour of spending his time dancing and drooling in the nightclubs of Damascus. The tang of freedom almost always trumps Islamist fanaticism in the end: three million people abandoned the Puritan hell of Taliban Afghanistan for freer countries, while only a few thousand faith-addled fanatics ever travelled the other way. Osama's vision can't even inspire his own kids. But Omar bin Laden says his father is banking on one thing to shore up his flailing, failing cause – and we are giving it to him.

The day George W Bush was elected, Omar says, "my father was so happy. This is the kind of president he needs – one who will attack and spend money and break [his own] country". Osama wanted the US and Europe to make his story about the world ring true in every mosque and every mountain-top and every souq. He said our countries were bent on looting Muslim countries of their resources, and any talk of civil liberties or democracy was a hypocritical facade. The jihadis I have interviewed – from London to Gaza to Syria – said their ranks swelled with each new whiff of Bushism as more and more were persuaded. It was like trying to extinguish fire with a blowtorch.

The revelations this week about how the CIA and British authorities handed over a suspected jihadi to torturers in Pakistan may sound at first glance like a hangover from the Bush years. Barack Obama was elected, in part, to drag us out of this trap – but in practice he is dragging us further in. He is escalating the war in Afghanistan, and has taken the war to another Muslim country. The CIA and hired mercenaries are now operating on Obama's orders inside Pakistan, where they are sending unarmed drones to drop bombs and sending secret agents to snatch suspects. The casualties are overwhelmingly civilians. We may not have noticed, but the Muslim world has: check out Al Jazeera any night.

Obama ran on an inspiring promise to shut down Bush's network of kidnappings and secret prisons. He said bluntly: "I do not want to hear this is a new world and we face a new kind of enemy. I know that... but as a parent I can also imagine the terror I would feel if one of my family members were rounded up in the middle of the night and sent to Guantanamo without even getting one chance to ask why they were being held and being able to prove their innocence." He said it made the US "less safe" because any gain in safety by Gitmo-ing one suspected jihadi – along with dozens of innocents – is wiped out by the huge number of young men tipped over into the vile madness of jihadism by seeing their brothers disappear into a vast military machine where they may never be heard from again. Indeed, following the failed attack in Detroit, Obama pointed out the wannabe-murderer named Guantanamo as the reason he signed up for the jihad.

Yet a string of recent exposes has shown that Obama is in fact maintaining a battery of secret prisons where people are held without charge indefinitely – and he is even expanding them. The Kabul-based journalist Anand Gopal has written a remarkable expose for The Nation magazine. His story begins in the Afghan village of Zaiwalat at 3.15am on the night of November 19th 2009. A platoon of US soldiers blasted their way into a house in search of Habib ur-Rahman, a young computer programmer and government employee who they had been told by someone, somewhere was a secret Talibanist. His two cousins came out to see what the noise was – and they were shot to death. As the children of the house screamed, Habib was bundled into a helicopter and whisked away. He has never been seen since. His family do not know if he is alive or dead.

This is not an unusual event in Afghanistan today. In this small village of 300 people, some 16 men have been "disappeared" by the US and 10 killed in night raids in the past two years. The locals believe people are simply settling old clan feuds by telling the Americans their rivals are jihadists. Habib's cousin Qarar, who works for the Afghan government, says: "I used to go on TV and argue that people should support the government and the foreigners. But I was wrong. Why should anyone do so?"

Where are all these men vanishing to? Obama ordered the closing of the CIA's secret prisons, but not those run by Joint Special Operations. They maintain a Bermuda Triangle of jails with the notorious Bagram Air Base at its centre. One of the few outsiders has been into this ex-Soviet air-hangar is the military prosecutor Stuart Couch. He says: "In my view, having visited Guantanamo several times, the Bagram facility made Guantanamo look like a nice hotel. The men did not appear to be able to move around at will, they mostly sat in rows on the floor. It smelled like the monkey house at the zoo."

We know that at least two innocent young men were tortured to death in Bagram. Der Spiegel has documented how some "inmates were raped with sticks or threatened with anal sex". The accounts of released prisoners suggest the very worst abuses stopped in the last few years of the Bush administration, and Obama is supposed to have forbidden torture, but it's hard to tell. We do know Obama has permitted the use of solitary confinement lasting for years – a process that often drives people insane. The International Red Cross has been allowed to visit some of them, but in highly restricted circumstances, and their reports remain confidential. In this darkness, abuse becomes far more likely.

The Obama administration is appealing against US court rulings insisting the detainees have the right to make a legal case against their arbitrary imprisonment. And the White House is insisting they can forcibly snatch anyone they suspect from anywhere in the world – with no legal process – and take them there. Yes: Obama is fighting for the principles behind Guantanamo Bay. The frenzied debate about whether the actual camp in Cuba is closed is a distraction, since he is proposing to simply relocate it to less sunny climes.

Once you vanish into this system, you have no way to get yourself out. The New York lawyer Tina Foster represents three men who were kidnapped by US forces in Thailand, Pakistan and Dubai and bundled to Bagram, where they have been held without charge for seven years now. She tells me there have been "shockingly few improvements" under Obama. "The Bush administration rubbed our faces in it, while Obama's much smoother. But the reality is still indefinite detention without charge for people who are judged guilty simply by association. It's contrary to everything we stand for as a country... I know there are children [in there] from personal experience. I have interviewed dozens of children who were detained in Bagram, some as young as 10."

Today, Bagram is being given a $60m expansion, allowing it to hold five times as many prisoners as Guantanamo Bay currently does. Gopal reports that the abuse is leaking out to other, more secretive sites across Afghanistan. They are so underground they are known only by the names given to them by released inmates – the Salt Pit, the Prison of Darkness. Obama also asserts his right to hand over the prisoners to countries that commit torture, provided they give a written "assurance" they won't be "abused" – assurances that have proved worthless in the past. The British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith estimates there are 18,000 people trapped in these "legal black holes" by the US.

As Obama warned in the distant days of the election campaign, these policies place us all in greater danger. Matthew Alexander, the senior interrogator in Iraq who tracked down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, says: "I listened time and time again to captured foreign fighters cite Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo as their main reason for coming to Iraq to fight... We have lost hundreds if not thousands of American lives because of our policy." The increased risk bleeds out onto the London Underground and the nightclubs of Bali. I oppose these policies precisely because I want to be safe, and I loathe jihadism.

President Obama has been tossing aside the calm jihad-draining insights of candidate Obama for a year now. Whenever Obama acts like Bush, listen carefully – you will hear the distant, delighted chuckle of Osama bin Laden, and the needless stomp of fresh recruits heading his way.

Source / The Independent

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Haiti: Forgive and Forget the False Debt

View of Port au Prince, Haiti.

Haiti: A Creditor, Not a Debtor
By Naomi Klein / February 11, 2010

If we are to believe the G-7 finance ministers, Haiti is on its way to getting something it has deserved for a very long time: full "forgiveness" of its foreign debt. In Port-au-Prince, Haitian economist Camille Chalmers has been watching these developments with cautious optimism. Debt cancellation is a good start, he told Al Jazeera English, but "It's time to go much further. We have to talk about reparations and restitution for the devastating consequences of debt." In this telling, the whole idea that Haiti is a debtor needs to be abandoned. Haiti, he argues, is a creditor--and it is we, in the West, who are deeply in arrears.

Our debt to Haiti stems from four main sources: slavery, the US occupation, dictatorship and climate change. These claims are not fantastical, nor are they merely rhetorical. They rest on multiple violations of legal norms and agreements. Here, far too briefly, are highlights of the Haiti case.

The Slavery Debt. When Haitians won their independence from France in 1804, they would have had every right to claim reparations from the powers that had profited from three centuries of stolen labor. France, however, was convinced that it was Haitians who had stolen the property of slave owners by refusing to work for free. So in 1825, with a flotilla of war ships stationed off the Haitian coast threatening to re-enslave the former colony, King Charles X came to collect: 90 million gold francs--ten times Haiti's annual revenue at the time. With no way to refuse, and no way to pay, the young nation was shackled to a debt that would take 122 years to pay off.

In 2003, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, facing a crippling economic embargo, announced that Haiti would sue the French government over that long-ago heist. "Our argument," Aristide's former lawyer Ira Kurzban told me, "was that the contract was an invalid agreement because it was based on the threat of re-enslavement at a time when the international community regarded slavery as an evil." The French government was sufficiently concerned that it sent a mediator to Port-au-Prince to keep the case out of court. In the end, however, its problem was eliminated: while trial preparations were under way, Aristide was toppled from power. The lawsuit disappeared, but for many Haitians the reparations claim lives on.

The Dictatorship Debt. From 1957 to 1986, Haiti was ruled by the defiantly kleptocratic Duvalier regime. Unlike the French debt, the case against the Duvaliers made it into several courts, which traced Haitian funds to an elaborate network of Swiss bank accounts and lavish properties. In 1988 Kurzban won a landmark suit against Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier when a US District Court in Miami found that the deposed ruler had "misappropriated more than $504,000,000 from public monies."

Haitians, of course, are still waiting for their payback--but that was only the beginning of their losses. For more than two decades, the country's creditors insisted that Haitians honor the huge debts incurred by the Duvaliers, estimated at $844 million, much of it owed to institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. In debt service alone, Haitians have paid out tens of millions every year.

Was it legal for foreign lenders to collect on the Duvalier debts when so much of it was never spent in Haiti? Very likely not. As Cephas Lumina, the United Nations Independent Expert on foreign debt, put it to me, "the case of Haiti is one of the best examples of odious debt in the world. On that basis alone the debt should be unconditionally canceled."

But even if Haiti does see full debt cancellation (a big if), that does not extinguish its right to be compensated for illegal debts already collected.

The Climate Debt. Championed by several developing countries at the climate summit in Copenhagen, the case for climate debt is straightforward. Wealthy countries that have so spectacularly failed to address the climate crisis they caused owe a debt to the developing countries that have done little to cause the crisis but are disproportionately facing its effects. In short: the polluter pays. Haiti has a particularly compelling claim. Its contribution to climate change has been negligible; Haiti's per capita CO2 emissions are just 1 percent of US emissions. Yet Haiti is among the hardest hit countries--according to one index, only Somalia is more vulnerable to climate change.

Haiti's vulnerability to climate change is not only--or even mostly--because of geography. Yes, it faces increasingly heavy storms. But it is Haiti's weak infrastructure that turns challenges into disasters and disasters into full-fledged catastrophes. The earthquake, though not linked to climate change, is a prime example. And this is where all those illegal debt payments may yet extract their most devastating cost. Each payment to a foreign creditor was money not spent on a road, a school, an electrical line. And that same illegitimate debt empowered the IMF and World Bank to attach onerous conditions to each new loan, requiring Haiti to deregulate its economy and slash its public sector still further. Failure to comply was met with a punishing aid embargo from 2001 to '04, the death knell to Haiti's public sphere.

This history needs to be confronted now, because it threatens to repeat itself. Haiti's creditors are already using the desperate need for earthquake aid to push for a fivefold increase in garment-sector production, some of the most exploitative jobs in the country. Haitians have no status in these talks, because they are regarded as passive recipients of aid, not full and dignified participants in a process of redress and restitution.

A reckoning with the debts the world owes to Haiti would radically change this poisonous dynamic. This is where the real road to repair begins: by recognizing the right of Haitians to reparations.

The interview with economist Camille Chalmers was conducted by my partner Avi Lewis for an in-depth report that aired [February 11, 2010] on Al Jazeera English. The piece, Haiti: The Politics of Rebuilding, offers a deeply compelling portrait of a people who are brimming with ideas about how how to rebuild their country based on principles of sovereignty and equity -- far from the passive victims we have seen on so many other networks. It was produced by my former colleague Andrea Schmidt, one of the main researchers on The Shock Doctrine, and is crucial viewing for anyone concerned with avoiding a disaster capitalism redux in Haiti.

[Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (September 2007); an earlier international best-seller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies; and the collection Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002).]

Source / The Nation

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How Could the US Government Sanction Torture?

Binyam Mohamed, a former detainee at the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who was tortured while in U.S. custody, in London after his release in 2009. Photo: Shaun Curry/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.

Britain Discloses Data on Ex-Detainee
By John F. Burns / February 10, 2010

LONDON — The British government lost a protracted court battle on Wednesday to protect secret American intelligence information about the treatment of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee, and immediately published details of what it called the “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” administered to the prisoner by American officials.

The seven paragraphs published on the Foreign Office Web site summarized secret information provided by American intelligence officials to Britain’s security service, MI5, on the treatment of Binyam Mohamed, a 31-year-old Ethiopian. Mr. Mohamed, the son of an Ethiopian Airlines official, moved to Britain as a teenager and left in 2000 for Pakistan, where he was arrested in April 2002 on suspicion of terrorist links.

Under intense American pressure, Foreign Office lawyers had sought for more than a year to prevent publication of the information. Citing warnings from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, among others, they argued that the summary’s publication could cause irrevocable damage to intelligence-sharing between the United States and Britain — a relationship that British officials said was essential to Britain’s security, in particular to its counterterrorist operations.

After the court ruling, Mr. Mohamed’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, who has handled many cases involving Guantánamo detainees, was bitterly critical of the “the shameful way” in which the British government had battled to keep secret what it knew of Mr. Mohamed’s treatment. “Suppressing any evidence of government criminality on the grounds of national security sets a very dangerous precedent,” he said in a comment posted on the Web site of The Guardian.

The newly released document said that while Mr. Mohamed had been in American custody before reaching Guantánamo he had been subjected to “continuous sleep deprivation,” was shackled during interrogations and was exposed to “threats and inducements” that included playing on his fears of being “removed from United States custody and ‘disappearing.’ ”

It also said that he had been kept on a suicide watch and cited that as evidence that the treatment was causing him “significant mental stress and suffering.” But David Miliband, Britain’s foreign secretary, told the House of Commons that Britain had “no information” to support other allegations made by Mr. Mohamed, including claims that interrogators under American orders cut his chest and genitals with a razor and that he was regularly tied to a wall, naked, and exposed to scrutiny by women who were also “naked or part naked.”

The details relate to Mr. Mohamed’s treatment after he was arrested in April 2002 by Pakistani officials, who accused him of using a false British passport, and handed over for a $5,000 bounty to American officials. He was then transported to a “ghost prison” in Morocco, where he said some of the worst abuses occurred, before being taken to the so-called dark prison in Kabul, the Afghan capital, and from there to Guantánamo Bay in 2004.

After the United States military dropped charges that he had planned with others to mount a “dirty bomb” attack on the United States, in part because of concerns that his confessions under interrogation would be voided at trial by the fact that they were obtained under physical duress, Mr. Mohamed was flown back to Britain in February 2009.

In themselves, the revelations in the Foreign Office document contained little that was not already known from previous disclosures by the Central Intelligence Agency about the so-called stress techniques used by American interrogators while questioning terrorist suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

What was starkly new, however, was the Foreign Office’s conclusion that the treatment Mr. Mohamed endured, had it been carried out under the authority of British officials, would have breached international treaties banning torture. It was the first time that Britain has been so blunt about its disapproval of the interrogation techniques approved by former President George W. Bush and curtailed last year by President Obama.

“Although it is not necessary for us to categorize the treatment reported, it could readily be contended to be at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities,” the document posted on the Foreign Office Web site said.

The court order, issued by a three-judge panel, could have been further appealed by the Foreign Office. Mr. Miliband told the Commons that the government had decided not to pursue the case because the judges had reaffirmed the so-called control principle governing intelligence-sharing relationships.

That rule, as Mr. Miliband put it, holds “that intelligence material provided by one country to another remains confidential to the country that provided it, and that it will never be disclosed directly or indirectly by the receiving country, without the permission of the provider of the information.”

Mr. Miliband said that he had discussed the case with Mrs. Clinton by telephone on Tuesday night, and that Britain was pledged to “work carefully with the United States in the weeks ahead to discuss the judgment and its implications” for future intelligence sharing. In response to opposition questioners, he hinted at continuing American disquiet, saying that it was “too early to come to this House and say that this will have no effect” on American-British intelligence relationships.

The foreign secretary said that what had persuaded Britain not to mount a further appeal— and by implication, what had opened the door to American agreement that the secret information could be released — was a United States district court ruling in December in Washington, D.C., which he said had “made a finding of fact” in respect to Mr. Mohamed’s allegations of mistreatment that closely paralleled what was revealed in the Foreign Office document.

Mr. Miliband was at pains to say that the government acknowledged that Mr. Mohamed had been right to allege that he had been mistreated. In fact, he said, “this judgment is not evidence that the system is broken; rather it is evidence that the system is working and the full force of the law is available when citizens believe they have just cause.”

See also The Lede: British Court Summary of Secret Documents Says U.S. Mistreated Detainee.

Source / New York Times

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