Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Italy Seeks Jail for US Spies in Rendition Trial

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Published on Wednesday, September 30, 2009 by Reuters

Italy Seeks Jail for US Spies in Rendition Trial

MILAN - An Italian prosecutor called on Wednesday for 26 Americans, all but one believed to be members of the CIA, to be jailed for between 10 and 13 years each for the kidnapping of a terrorism suspect in 2003.

Public Prosecutor Armando Spataro also asked a Milan court to sentence four Italians, including the former head of Italy's Sismi secret service, to up to 13 years in prison for the abduction of Muslim cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr.

Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was snatched from the streets of Milan six years ago and secretly flown for interrogation in Egypt, where he says he was tortured and held until 2007 without charge.

The trial is the most high profile case in Europe to challenge the extra-judicial transfers, known as 'renditions', used by the government of former President George W. Bush in its fight against terrorism.

"Democracies are founded on principles that cannot be renounced even in moments of emergency. If we give up that vision we would have partly lost the fight against terrorism," Spataro told the court in his summary of the evidence.

"This was an unbearable blow to legality and fundamental human rights, unacceptable even in the interests of security."

None of the Americans is in Italy for the trial and the United States has ruled out extraditing them, so any conviction would be purely symbolic. The longest jail term, 13 years, was requested for the ex-head of the CIA station in Rome, identified as Jeff Castelli.

Prosecutors sought 12 years for the former chief of the Milan station, identified as Robert Feldon Lady. Spataro said a verdict could be delivered by late October or early November.

Spataro dropped charges against three of the seven Italian suspects after an earlier Constitutional Court ruling made evidence against them inadmissable as it broke state secrecy.

Prosecutors had used wiretaps on the spies and questioned them on classified matters, such as relations with the CIA.

Last week, Washington said it invoked jurisdiction in the case against Colonel Joseph Romano -- believed to be the only non-CIA member on trial -- under a NATO accord. The other U.S. suspects in the Italian trial do not face prosecution in their homeland.

Under the Bush administration, the United States has said it used rendition to seize terrorism suspects around the world and deliver them for interrogation in third countries. It has not acknowledged any rendition in Italy.

Washington is currently debating the harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects who were in U.S. custody and whether to prosecute the officials responsible.

Egyptian-born Nasr, who was released from Egyptian custody in 2007, faces an arrest warrant in Italy on suspicion of terrorist activity.

© 2009 Reuters


Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


Why Are We Lying to Ourselves About Our Catastrophic Economic Meltdown?

Why Are We Lying to Ourselves About Our Catastrophic Economic Meltdown?

By Arun Gupta, AlterNet
Posted on September 29, 2009, Printed on September 30, 2009

Over the last year, the world has received a crash course in real-world capitalism as the follies of Wall Street nearly torpedoed the global economy, which had to be rescued by a trillion-dollar government handout.

Economics, the study of systems of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services, touches virtually facet of our lives from work, recreation and home life to entertainment, culture and social relations.

While there is a wealth of information and some excellent reporters in the business press, the mainstream media has botched virtually every major economic story over the last decade. It helped inflate the Internet bubble. It worshiped at the shrine of the free market and Alan Greenspan. It ignored the evidence of the housing bubble. It was missing in action on the commodities bubble. It celebrated billionaires and speculators even as they manufactured financial weapons of mass destruction. It only sporadically reports on the myriad ways Wall Street games the financial system.

Even now, the corporate media downplay the scope of the disastrous U.S. economy. The current economic downturn, the longest since the Great Depression more than 70 years ago, has been dubbed by many the “Great Recession.”

It's a useful way for journalists to acknowledge the pain of tens of millions of Americans who have lost homes, livelihoods, health care and more, while distinguishing the current misfortune from the Great Depression. But the term also makes the situation seem rosier than it is.

Despite the financial industry’s self-induced catastrophe in 2008, most corporate media reporting still assumes “What’s good for Wall Street is good for America.”

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has already said this recession is “very likely over.” The S&P 500 index, from its low point in March 2009, has rocketed upward by nearly 60 percent in barely six months. And Wall Street banks are reporting record profits, less than a year after taxpayers threw them a trillion-dollar lifeline.

But for the average household, the reality is grim. The number of unemployed and underemployed is nearly 17 percent of the U.S. workforce, or around 25 million people. Residential mortgage foreclosure filings have exceeded 300,000 a month for six months in a row, starting in March 2009. Tent cities are sprouting across the country. Personal incomes continues to shrink, and it’s projected that medical bankruptcies, people who file for personal bankruptcy because of medical bills, will reach 900,000 cases this year.

There is also little hope for a sustained recovery. Even if the recession technically ends in 2009, it’s only because of the (flawed) stimulus plan passed by Washington earlier this year.

One way to measure the gross domestic product is to divide it up in four segments: consumer spending, which is negative year over year; business investment, which is still in a recession; trade, or the value of exports minus import, which has been running a massive gap for years; and government spending, which has increased dramatically at the federal level while dropping precipitously at the local and state level. These factors are represented by the formula GDP = C+I+G+(X-M).

In simple language, there is no sector that appears capable of pulling the economy out of its deep funk: manufacturing has virtually disappeared in this country; most service sector jobs pay dismally; the tech sector and “creative industries” can’t employ tens of millions; those hopes of green jobs appear to vanished with Van Jones; and there are no more bubbles that can be pulled out of the Federal Reserves’ bag of tricks, at least ones that trickle down to Main Street.

It’s a distinct possibility that we may even see a double-dip recession, while the unemployment rate stays in the double digits for years.

The United States may be headed for a lost decade, like Japan experienced during the 1990s. It seems more fitting, then, to call this current downturn Depression 2.0.

This decline is not a re-run of the 1930s. After all, it’s the extreme right that is organizing around this downturn, not the left or labor as in the Roosevelt years. But it does appear like it will be severe and long-lasting, and profoundly re-shape our lives, culture, society and the world.

It’s going to be a rough ride, but information is the key to organizing for a better world.

Arun Gupta is an editor of the Indypendent. He's writing a book about the decline of American Empire to be published by Haymarket Books.

© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


US income gap widens as poor take hit in recession

US income gap widens as poor take hit in recession

By HOPE YEN, Associated Press Writer Hope Yen, Associated Press Writer Tue Sep 29, 11:22 am ET

WASHINGTON – The recession has hit middle-income and poor families hardest, widening the economic gap between the richest and poorest Americans as rippling job layoffs ravaged household budgets.

The wealthiest 10 percent of Americans — those making more than $138,000 each year — earned 11.4 times the roughly $12,000 made by those living near or below the poverty line in 2008, according to newly released census figures. That ratio was an increase from 11.2 in 2007 and the previous high of 11.22 in 2003.

Household income declined across all groups, but at sharper percentage levels for middle-income and poor Americans. Median income fell last year from $52,163 to $50,303, wiping out a decade's worth of gains to hit the lowest level since 1997.

Poverty jumped sharply to 13.2 percent, an 11-year high.

"No one should be surprised at the increased disparity," said Richard Freeman, an economist at Harvard University. "Unemployment hurts normal workers who do not have the golden parachutes the folks at the top have."

Analysts attributed the widening gap to the wave of layoffs in the economic downturn that have devastated household budgets. They said while the richest Americans may be seeing reductions in executive pay, those at the bottom of the income ladder are often unemployed and struggling to get by.

Large cities such as Atlanta, Washington, New York, San Francisco, Miami and Chicago had the most inequality, due largely to years of middle-class flight to the suburbs. Declining industrial cities with pockets of well-off neighborhoods, such as Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Buffalo, N.Y., also had sharp disparities.

Up-and-coming cities with growing middle-class populations, such as Mesa, Ariz., Riverside, Calif., Arlington, Texas, and Henderson, Nev., were among the areas showing the least income differences between rich and poor.

It's unclear whether income inequality will continue to worsen in major cities, said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. Many Americans are staying put for now in traditional cities to look for jobs and because of frozen lines of credit.

"During the years of the housing bubble, there was middle-class movement from unaffordable metros with high-income inequality," Frey said. "Now that the bubble burst, more of the population may be headed back to the high-inequality areas, stemming their middle-class losses."

As to poverty, the biggest shifts last year were increases in metropolitan areas in Florida and central California. Stockton, Calif., jumped from 14.1 percent to 16.8 percent, while Lakeland-Winter Haven, Fla., rose from 12.7 percent to 15.4 percent. Tampa-St. Petersburg, Orlando, Bradenton and Palm Bay — all in Florida — also saw gains in the share of poor residents.

Among other findings:

_Income at the top 5 percent of households — those making $180,000 or more — was 3.58 times the median income, the highest since 2006.

_Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia had higher poverty rates than the national average, many of them in the South, such as Mississippi (21.2 percent), Kentucky, Arkansas and Louisiana (each with 17.3 percent). That's compared with 19 states and the District of Columbia that ranked above U.S. poverty in 2007.

_Use of food stamps jumped 13 percent last year to nearly 9.8 million U.S. households, led by Louisiana, Maine and Kentucky. The increase was most evident in households with two or more workers, highlighting the impact of the recession on both working families and unemployed single people.

_Pharr, Texas, and Flint, Mich., each had more than a third of its residents on food stamps, at 38.5 percent and 35.4 percent, respectively.

_Between 2007 and 2008, income at the 50th percentile (median) and the 10th percentile fell by 3.6 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively, compared with a 2.1 percent decline at the 90th percentile. Between 1999 and 2008, income at the 50th and 10th percentiles decreased 4.3 percent and 9 percent, respectively, while income at the 90th percentile was statistically unchanged.

_Plano, Texas, a Dallas suburb, had the highest median income among larger cities, earning $85,003. Cleveland ranked at the bottom, at $26,731.

The findings come as the federal government considers new regulations to rein in executive pay at companies in which it has invested. President Barack Obama also typically cites the need for higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for health care overhaul and other measures, arguing that the wealthy have disproportionately benefited from tax cuts during the Bush administration.

The 2008 figures come from the Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey, which gathers information from 3 million households. The government first began tracking household income in 1967.


Associated Press writer Frank Bass contributed to this report.

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ex-Bush Officials Face Lawsuits Over Their Actions

Published on Tuesday, September 29, 2009 by the Associated Press

Ex-Bush Officials Face Lawsuits Over Their Actions

by Mark Sherman

WASHINGTON — High-ranking government officials are usually protected from claims that they violated a person's civil rights. In lawsuits stemming from law enforcement and intelligence efforts after the Sept. 11 attacks, three federal courts have left open the possibility that former Attorney General John Ashcroft and a lieutenant may be held personally liable.

[In lawsuits stemming from law enforcement and intelligence efforts after the Sept. 11 attacks, three federal courts have left open the possibility that former Attorney General John Ashcroft and a lieutenant may be held personally liable.(AFP/Getty Images/File/Alex Wong)]In lawsuits stemming from law enforcement and intelligence efforts after the Sept. 11 attacks, three federal courts have left open the possibility that former Attorney General John Ashcroft and a lieutenant may be held personally liable.(AFP/Getty Images/File/Alex Wong)

In two cases, judges appointed by Republican presidents have refused at an early stage to dismiss lawsuits that were filed against Ashcroft and former Justice Department official John Yoo. One complaint challenges Ashcroft's strategy of preventive detention. The other seeks to hold Yoo accountable for legal memos he wrote supporting detention, interrogation and presidential power.

In a third case, the full federal appeals court in New York is reconsidering an earlier decision by three of its members to toss out a lawsuit by a man who was changing planes in the United States when he was mistaken for a terrorist and sent to Syria, where he claims he was tortured.

Senior officials are accustomed to having their actions in office judged by history, not the courts. Exposing them to legal risk might complicate recruitment as top prospects shun positions that could land them in personal trouble. It also could make officials think twice about aggressive use of executive authority.

The cases have been uncomfortable for the Obama administration, which inherited the task of representing Ashcroft and Yoo from the Bush administration, even though President Barack Obama opposed some of the homeland-security practices under his predecessor. As well, both the Obama and Bush administrations renounced some of Yoo's legal positions.

Among the Yoo memos retracted was his Oct. 23, 2001, opinion that the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches did not apply to domestic military operations aimed at terror suspects — so soldiers could enter and search homes without warrants in pursuit of terrorists.

The Obama administration has yet to spell out its views on when people may be detained because of suspected terrorism links but without evidence of criminal activity.

No attorney general has ever been held personally liable for official actions, said Yeshiva University law professor Alexander Reinert, who represents another post-9/11 detainee who is suing Ashcroft. Other federal officials, particularly at a lower level, have been held personally liable for their actions. It's just very rare.

Supreme Court rulings allow high-ranking officials to be held liable but set a high bar: An official must be tied directly to a violation of constitutional rights and must have clearly understood the action crossed that line.

Even when officials are held personally liable, their agencies still may agree to pay damages assessed against them — unless there is blatant wrongdoing, like clear racial prejudice. And for many plaintiffs, the chance to saddle a top official with the shame of a court's condemnation is more important than collecting cash from the officeholder.

Critics of George W. Bush's administration see the recent actions of the courts as a chance to wring a measure of accountability from the Bush White House — at a time when Obama expresses reluctance to look backward and Congress has shown little appetite for investigating the past.

"It shows a willingness on the part of the courts to hold those who authorized illegal action responsible, not only those who carry it out," said David Cole, a constitutional law professor at Georgetown University.

But Ashcroft's former chief spokesman, Mark Corallo, said there is good reason to protect officials from damages for actions they take in the course of their duties.

"People are not going to want to serve in government if they have to hire a battery of lawyers the minute they take their oath of office," Corallo said.

Most lawsuits seeking personal liability of officials are dismissed early. Either a plaintiff hasn't made a strong enough case or a judge finds the officeholder can't be held liable for those official actions.

In these three cases, however, judges have considered arguments from both sides and still allowed the lawsuits to proceed — or, in the case of the man sent to Syria, are weighing the arguments now.

"This is frustrating for judges," said Orin Kerr, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University. "The law is not that clear and it's hard to get rulings that clarify it."

But Kerr said the Ashcroft case has enough important elements that it could be reviewed by the Supreme Court, where a ruling might clarify the law.

First, though, the Justice Department has to decide whether to appeal an early September ruling by a panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The appeals court said a Muslim U.S. citizen could pursue his lawsuit to hold Ashcroft personally liable for his arrest in 2003.

Less than two months after the Sept. 11 attacks, Ashcroft said the government would preventively detain people suspected of terrorist ties, even if it had no evidence they committed a crime.

To hold such people, Justice used material witness warrants, which until then had detained people to ensure they would appear in court and testify at a trial.

Abdullah al-Kidd was one of at least 70 people detained under the warrants, according to a study by civil liberties groups. Like many others, al-Kidd was never called to testify before a grand jury or in open court and was not charged with a crime.

Rejecting Ashcroft's bid for immunity, Judge Milan D. Smith Jr. strongly criticized the use of material witness warrants for national security. "We find this to be repugnant to the Constitution," Smith said in a 2-1 decision. Smith, appointed by Bush, was joined in the majority by a Ronald Reagan appointee.

Cole called the ruling an important challenge to the "core strategy of preventive detention." He said the issue remains relevant because Obama has kept open the possibility of holding terrorist suspects without charge.

The Justice Department is appealing the ruling against Yoo, a lawyer in the department's Office of Legal Counsel from 2001 to 2003.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco, also named by Bush, seemed to question whether the Bush administration overstepped the bounds set by the Constitution.

In allowing the case to go forward, he wrote, "This lawsuit poses the question addressed by our Founding Fathers about how to strike the proper balance of fighting a war against terror, at home and abroad, and fighting a war using tactics of terror."

The full 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to issue its opinion in the case of Maher Arar, who claims he was tortured after being sent to Syria. Arar is suing Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller and others in their official and personal capacities.

When the New York-based court heard the argument in December, one judge voiced skepticism that the government and individual officials always could avoid liability in such cases.

"So the minute the executive raises the specter of foreign policy, national security, it is the government's position that that is a license to torture anyone, a U.S. citizen or foreign citizen — license meaning that you can do so without any financial consequence?" the judge asked.

The judge was Sonia Sotomayor, now Supreme Court justice. She withdrew from the case after Obama nominated her to the high court earlier this year.

© 2009 Associated Press


Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


Iranian Protester Flees After Telling of Torture

The New York Times


September 27, 2009

Iranian Protester Flees After Telling of Torture


When he eagerly joined the mass street protests that followed Iran’s tainted June 12 presidential elections, Ibrahim Sharifi, 24, hoped only to add his voice to the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators demanding that the government nullify the results. He never imagined that he would eventually have a far greater impact, as the only person willing to speak publicly about the brutal treatment he was subjected to in prison, including rape and torture.

Mr. Sharifi, who recounted his ordeal to the opposition leader and former presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, and then released a video account last month on opposition Web sites, is now in Turkey. He said he fled Iran after a stranger stopped him on the street to tell him his family would be killed if he testified before a parliamentary committee that was investigating the torture and rape accusations.

“I felt that I was not safe anymore and I could put my family’s life in danger, too,” he said in a series of telephone interviews, in which he spoke in detail about the protests, his imprisonment and the psychological scars he said the abuse had left.


Since he was dumped by his captors on the side of a Tehran highway, he said, he has been terrified of being alone. First, he had trouble sleeping, fearing that the guard who raped him in prison would attack him again. Now he is convinced he is being followed by someone who means to kill him.


“I was ready to be tortured to death,” he said, his voice trembling. “But not ever to go through what happened to me there.”


Mr. Karroubi and another opposition leader and presidential candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, have vigorously condemned the vicious tactics the security authorities used against the demonstrators, 72 of whom they say were killed. Yet, of all the allegations of brutality and abuse that were lodged, none have presented such a threat to the government as those involving rape and sodomy, which are culturally and religiously unacceptable in Iran.


The rape allegations were aired publicly by Mr. Karroubi after the victims began coming to his office to report the abuses. The allegations — which appeared to reinvigorate the battered opposition — were immediately rejected by the government, which then raided the offices of Mr. Karroubi and Mr. Moussavi and seized materials. Subsequently, a judicial investigating committee ruled that documents presented as evidence of rapes and other abuse were fabricated.


But the government has been unable to silence the opposition and human rights groups who dismiss the government’s claims.


Human rights groups say that Mr. Sharifi’s account conforms closely with those of other abuse victims. Omid Memarian, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said he had confirmed the credibility of Mr. Sharifi’s story with people close to Mr. Karroubi.


“His narrative is consistent,” Mr. Memarian said. “He has no reason to risk making up a story like that, especially because he also met with judiciary authorities and demanded a thorough investigation.”


Mr. Sharifi was one of five brothers raised in north Tehran in a middle class family that was religious but not fanatically so. His father, a retired military officer, was a supporter of the 1979 revolution and participated in the rallies against the shah. His mother wore the traditional head-to-toe chador.


At Open University in Tehran, Mr. Sharifi studied computer engineering, and Italian at the Italian Consulate, the latter in hopes of studying medicine in Italy.


Not overtly political, he said he wanted more democracy and freedom, but gradually and peacefully. “I always told my father that even the 1979 revolution was a mistake, and that my generation did not want one,” he said.


He says everyone in his family favored the reform movement and were shocked when Mr. Ahmadinejad announced that he had won in a landslide victory, an outcome that has been denounced as a fraud.


Mr. Sharifi was outraged, and the only one in his family who began participating in rallies every day. He was on his way back home the afternoon of June 22 when he was grabbed by two men. “I had taken part in every single protest, so I saw this coming,” he said.


He said he was handcuffed, blindfolded and, as he later learned, taken to the notorious Kahrizak detention center in southwestern Tehran, where even the government concedes that several detainees were killed.


He said he remained handcuffed and blindfolded for four days in a cramped cell with about 30 other prisoners.


They were beaten senseless the first day, he said, and periodically after that over the next four days. Urine and blood covered the floor.


By the fourth day he was beginning to lose hope of getting out alive. He had trouble closing his mouth and he said he began vomiting blood.


“I told the guard that he should go ahead and just kill me if he wanted to,” he said, breaking into tears. “Then he called another guard and said ‘Take this bastard and impregnate him.’ ”


They took him out of the cell to another room where they pushed him against a wall that had handcuffs and two metal hooks to keep his legs open. The guard pulled down his underwear, he said, and began raping him.


“He laughed mockingly as he was doing it and said that I could not even defend myself so how did I think that I could stage a revolution.


“They wanted to horrify and intimidate me,” he said, weeping.


At that point, Mr. Sharifi said, he passed out. The next thing he remembered was opening his eyes and realizing he was in a hospital with one hand cuffed to his bed. Another young man was screaming hysterically on a bed next to him.


He said he heard a doctor tell someone, “Dump him or you’ll have the same problem as the other ones,” meaning that he would die in custody. Two days later, he said, they put him in a car, took him to a highway in Tehran and left him there, blindfolded.


He immediately went to a psychiatrist who put him on a heavy dose of anxiety medication. Then he went to a police station to file a complaint, but the officers advised him to be thankful that he was alive and to try to forget about it.


In time, he decided to go see Mr. Karroubi, having heard that other victims of rape and torture were doing so. At first he spoke only about the torture; the rape was too painful and embarrassing to talk about.

But Mr. Karroubi pressed him, suspecting that he had been sexually assaulted because he began weeping and shaking every time he was asked about his last day in prison. Finally, Mr. Sharifi told him.

Even after his shattering ordeal, Mr. Sharifi, who hopes eventually to get to the United States, refuses to be intimidated.


“I think they are following me to kill me,” he said. “But I will not let them force me into silence.”



Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company


Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


Alexander Cockburn | Insanity Trumps Common Sense in Afghan Policy Fight

Insanity Trumps Common Sense in Afghan Policy Fight

Monday 28 September 2009

by: Alexander Cockburn, t r u t h o u t | Perspective


Obama visits Pentagon. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley / The US Army)

    The ripest moment of absurdity last week was the spectacle of Pentagon officials berating The Washington Post for publishing the supposedly confidential assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, prepared by General Stanley McChrystal, America's Man in Charge of that doomed adventure.

    The Pentagon asked the Post to cut certain passages on the ground that they would compromise national security.

    Since the document is commonly supposed to have been leaked to Bob Woodward by either McChrystal himself or one of his retinue, it seems silly to start whining about the irresponsibility of the press. The record for willful indiscretion is probably held by Henry "Hap" Arnold, the only five-star general to hold the grades of General of the Army and later, during World War Two, General of the Air Force.

    Arnold's leak was a famous one. During WWII someone gave a Chicago newspaper the entire order of battle of the U.S. Navy. The newspaper published it in what was undoubtedly one of the most serious security breaches of the era. The identity of the leaker remained unknown for many years. Finally, my brother, Andrew, discovered it a few years ago. It was Arnold, pursuing some ferocious bureaucratic struggle against the Enemy - which was, of course, the U.S. Navy.

    Anyone wanting to understand how JFK plunged into the Vietnamese quagmire and how LBJ got in even deeper has only to follow the current fight over Afghan policy. Insanity effortlessly trumps common sense.

    By common agreement, the situation is rapidly getting worse. In terms of military advantage, the Taliban have been doing very well, helped by America's bizarre policy of trying to assassinate the Taliban's high command by drones, thus allowing vigorous young Taliban commanders to step into senior positions.

    Ahmed Rahid writes in a savage and well-informed piece in The New York Review of Books:

    "For much of this year the Taliban have been on the offensive in Afghanistan. Their control of just 30 out of 364 districts in 2003 expanded to 164 districts at the end of 2008, according to the military expert Anthony Cordesman, who is advising General McChrystal. Taliban attacks increased by 60 percent between October 2008 and April 2009....

    "In August, moreover - as part of their well-planned anti-election campaign - the Taliban opened new fronts in the north and west of the country where they had little presence before. On election day in Kunduz in the far northeast of the country, considered to be one of the safest cities in Afghanistan, the Taliban fired 57 rockets. The U.S. military has acknowledged the gravity of the situation. 'It is serious and it is deteriorating. ... The Taliban insurgency has gotten better, more sophisticated' in their tactics, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN on August 23....

    "Yet if it is to have any chance of success, the Obama plan for Afghanistan needs a serious long-term commitment - at least for the next three years. Democratic politicians are demanding results before next year's congressional elections, which is neither realistic nor possible. Moreover, the Taliban are quite aware of the Democrats' timetable. With Obama's plan the U.S. will be taking Afghanistan seriously for the first time since 2001; if it is to be successful, it will need not only time but international and U.S. support - both open to question.

    "After Obama's injection of 21,000 troops and trainers, total Western forces in Afghanistan now number 100,000, including 68,000 U.S. troops. It is likely that Gen. McChrystal will soon ask for more. Obama's overall plan has been to achieve security by doubling the Afghan army's strength to 240,000 men and the police to 160,000; but these are tasks that would take at least until 2014 to complete, if indeed they can be carried out. Meanwhile the military operation in Afghanistan is now costing cash-strapped U.S. taxpayers $4 billion a month.

    "Across the region many people fear that the U.S. and NATO may start to pull out of Afghanistan during the next 12 months despite their uncompleted mission. That would almost certainly result in the Taliban walking into Kabul. Al-Qaida would be in a stronger position to launch global terrorist attacks. The Pakistani Taliban would be able to 'liberate' large parts of Pakistan. The Taliban's game plan of waiting out the Americans now looks more plausible than ever."

    After months of derision about Iran's "faked elections," President Hamid Karzai's fakery in the recent Afghan election was too blatant to permit even pro forma denial and can no longer be concealed. The corruption of Karzai's regime is the staple of every news report. CounterPunchers should read the admirable dispatch on this site this weekend by Ehsan Azari.

    The oft-announced goal of training an Afghan army and police force is faring no better - in fact, considerably worse - than the efforts at "Vietnamization" 40 years ago. Once furnished with a few square meals, some new clothes and a weapon, the recruits - some of them having been sent by the Taliban to get some basic training - promptly desert.

    The expedition to Afghanistan is not popular, either here or in Europe. It is also very expensive. But it has powerful sponsors, starting with Obama, who made it a campaign plank and now may or may not be having second thoughts - but who is showered daily with demented counsels to "stay the course" by his secretaries of state and about 80 percent of the permanent foreign policy establishment. So the involvement will get deeper and the disasters will mount and powerfully assist in the destruction of Obama's presidency, starting with major reverses for the Democrats in the midterm elections next year.

    Copyright 2009

   Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through

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Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


Street Report From the G20

Street Report From the G20

Monday 28 September 2009

by: Bill Quigley, t r u t h o u t | Perspective


A car bombing in Iraq.

Downtown Pittsburgh was like an militarized zone during the G20. (Photo: andrewwws's posterous)

    The G20 in Pittsburgh showed us how pitifully fearful our leaders have become.

    What no terrorist could do to us, our own leaders did.

    Out of fear of the possibility of a terrorist attack, authorities militarize our towns, scare our people away, stop daily life and quash our constitutional rights.

    For days, downtown Pittsburgh, home to the G20, was a turned into a militarized, people-free ghost town. Sirens screamed day and night.

    Helicopters crisscrossed the skies. Gunboats sat in the rivers. The skies were defended by Air Force jets. Streets were barricaded by huge cement blocks and fencing. Bridges were closed with National Guard across the entrances. Public transportation was stopped downtown. Amtrak train service was suspended for days.

    In many areas, there were armed police every 100 feet. Businesses closed. Schools closed. Tens of thousands were unable to work.

    Four thousand police were on duty, plus 2,500 National Guard, plus Coast Guard and Air Force and dozens of other security agencies. A thousand volunteers from other police forces were sworn in to help out.

    Police were dressed in battle gear, bulky, black ninja-turtle outfits - helmets with clear visors, strapped on body armor, shin guards, big boots, batons and long guns.

    In addition to helicopters, the police had hundreds of cars and motorcycles, armored vehicles, monster trucks, small electric go-karts. There were even passenger vans screaming through town so stuffed with heavily armed ninja turtles that the side and rear doors remained open.

    No terrorists showed up at the G20.

    Since no terrorists showed up, those in charge of the heavily armed security forces chose to deploy their forces around those who were protesting.

    Not everyone is delighted that 20 countries control 80 percent of the world's resources. Several thousand of them chose to express their displeasure by protesting.

    Unfortunately, the officials in charge thought that it was more important to create a militarized people-free zone around the G20 people than to allow freedom of speech, freedom of assembly or the freedom to protest.

    It took a lawsuit by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU to get any major protest permitted anywhere near downtown Pittsburgh. Even then, the police "forgot" what was permitted and turned people away from areas of town. Hundreds of police also harassed a bus full of people who were giving away free food - repeatedly detaining the bus and searching it and its passengers without warrants.

    Then, a group of young people decided that they did not need a permit to express their human and constitutional rights to freedom. They announced they were going to hold their own gathering at a city park and go down the deserted city streets to protest the G20. Maybe 200 of these young people were self-described anarchists, dressed in black, many with bandannas across their faces. The police warned everyone these people were very scary. My cab driver said the anarchist spokesperson looked like Harry Potter in a black hoodie. The anarchists were joined in the park by hundreds of other activists of all ages, ultimately one thousand strong, all insisting on exercising their right to protest.

    This drove the authorities crazy.

    Battle dressed ninja turtles showed up at the park and formed a line across one entrance. Helicopters buzzed overhead. Armored vehicles gathered.

    The crowd surged out of the park and up a side street yelling, chanting, drumming and holding signs. As they exited the park, everyone passed an ice cream truck that was playing "It's a small world after all." Indeed.

    Any remaining doubts about the militarization of the police were dispelled shortly after the crowd left the park. A few blocks away, the police unveiled their latest high tech anti-protester toy. It was mounted on the back of a huge black truck. The Pittsburgh-Gazette described it as Long Range Acoustic Device designed to break up crowds with piercing noise. Similar devices have been used in Fallujah, Mosul and Basra, Iraq. The police backed the truck up, told people not to go any further down the street and then blasted them with piercing noise.

    The crowd then moved to other streets. Now, they were being tracked by helicopters. The police repeatedly tried to block them from regrouping, ultimately firing tear gas into the crowd, injuring hundreds, including people in the residential neighborhood where the police decided to confront the marchers. I was treated to some of the tear gas myself and I found the Pittsburgh brand to be spiced with a hint of kielbasa. Fortunately, I was handed some paper towels soaked in apple cider vinegar, which helped fight the tears and cough a bit. Who would have thought?

    After the large group broke and ran from the tear gas, smaller groups went into commercial neighborhoods and broke glass at a bank and a couple of other businesses. The police chased and the glass breakers ran. And the police chased and the people ran. For a few hours.

    By day, the police were menacing, but at night they lost their cool. Around a park by the University of Pittsburgh, the ninja turtles pushed and shoved and beat and arrested not just protesters, but people passing by. One young woman reported she and her friend had watched "Grey's Anatomy" and were on their way back to their dorm when they were cornered by police. One was bruised by a police baton and her friend was arrested. Police shot tear gas, pepper spray, smoke canisters and rubber bullets. They pushed with big plastic shields and struck with batons.

    The biggest march was Friday. Thousands of people from Pittsburgh and other places protested the G20. Since the court had ruled on this march, the police did not confront the marchers. Ninja-turtled police showed up in formation sometimes and the helicopters hovered, but no confrontations occurred.

    Again, Friday night, riot-clad police fought with students outside of the University of Pittsburgh. To what end was just as unclear as the night before.

    Ultimately about 200 were arrested, mostly in clashes with the police around the University.

    The G20 leaders left by helicopter and limousine.

    Pittsburgh now belongs again to the people of Pittsburgh. The cement barricades were removed; the fences were taken down; the bridges and roads were opened. The gunboats packed up and left. The police packed away their ninja-turtle outfits and tear gas and rubber bullets. They don't look like military commandos anymore. No more gunboats on the river. No more sirens all the time. No more armored vehicles and ear-splitting machines used in Iraq. On Monday, the businesses will open and kids will have to go back to school. Civil society has returned.

    It is now probably even safe to exercise constitutional rights in Pittsburgh once again.

    The USA really showed those terrorists didn't we?

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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs