Monday, July 31, 2006

Random News & Views Roundup

- On the heel of the news that Fidel Castro has handed over power to his brother Raul while he undergoes intestinal surgery, pandemonium has broken out in the Little Havana district of Miami.

People waved Cuban flags on Little Havana's Calle Ocho, shouting "Cuba, Cuba, Cuba," hoping that the end was near for the man most of them consider a ruthless dictator. There were hugs, cheers and dancing as drivers honked their horns. Many of Miami's exiles fled the communist island or have parents and grandparents who did.

Newsweek has more on how Raul Castro would govern.

- Texas Democrats are in court trying to keep Tom DeLay's name on the November ballot. Republicans, of course want DeLay's name to be history after all of the shenanigans he's pulled. It looks like the Dems will win and DeLay will get the public flogging he deserves.

- Note to American lefty bloggers: Enough with the Lieberman/Lamont daily postings! Holy crap. Yes, it would be great if Lamont wins, but by now everybody and their dog knows where to send money to support Lamont. And, let's get serious here, Lieberman's defeat would be sweet but this is about a Democrat replacing a Democrat which will not affect the outcome of the November election. Why not focus more on Dems who need help defeating Republicans? (not that American bloggers ever listen what I have to say...I just had to say it...)

- Jimmy Carter in a Washington Post editorial:

It is inarguable that Israel has a right to defend itself against attacks on its citizens, but it is inhumane and counterproductive to punish civilian populations in the illogical hope that somehow they will blame Hamas and Hezbollah for provoking the devastating response. The result instead has been that broad Arab and worldwide support has been rallied for these groups, while condemnation of both Israel and the United States has intensified.

Israel belatedly announced, but did not carry out, a two-day cessation in bombing Lebanon, responding to the global condemnation of an air attack on the Lebanese village of Qana, where 57 civilians were killed this past weekend and where 106 died from the same cause 10 years ago. As before there were expressions of "deep regret," a promise of "immediate investigation" and the explanation that dropped leaflets had warned families in the region to leave their homes. The urgent need in Lebanon is that Israeli attacks stop, the nation's regular military forces control the southern region, Hezbollah cease as a separate fighting force, and future attacks against Israel be prevented. Israel should withdraw from all Lebanese territory, including Shebaa Farms, and release the Lebanese prisoners. Yet yesterday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected a cease-fire.

These are ambitious hopes, but even if the U.N. Security Council adopts and implements a resolution that would lead to such an eventual solution, it will provide just another band-aid and temporary relief. Tragically, the current conflict is part of the inevitably repetitive cycle of violence that results from the absence of a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, exacerbated by the almost unprecedented six-year absence of any real effort to achieve such a goal.



- Gunfire :

SEOUL (Reuters) - North and South Korean troops along their heavily fortified border exchanged gunfire for the first time in about a year, a military official said on Tuesday, with the incident coming as once-warming ties have turned chilly.

North Korean troops fired two shots at a South Korean guard post near the Demilitarized Zone late on Monday and South Korean troops returned six shots, an official said by telephone.

"No one was injured in the incident," the Joint Chiefs of Staff official said referring to South Korean troops. There was no word if any North Korean soldiers were hurt.

And you probably didn't hear about the fact that North Korea test fired up to 4 long range missiles on Monday, since everybody's so focused on the Middle East and this isn't the fourth of July, like the last time around. It looks like Kim Jong-Il may be a bit pissed off that Israel and Lebanon are getting all of the attention while he's been pushed to the backburner again. 'Hello?? Over here! Firing missiles!!! Hello??'

- While a few Democrats have signed a letter asking for a timeline for troop withdrawals from Iraq, Bush is busy sending more soldiers over there. The letter is short on specifics though and was only signed by 14 Dems.

- Speaking of Iraq: Some Thoughts about Colonialism on Day 1,230 of the Iraq Occupation.

Boxes and Pointy Sticks

The recent furor on all sides that has been brought to the forefront by the new Middle East war reminds us all, once again, how so many have a compelling need to shove people into boxes so they can then be poked at with pointy sticks.

This is not new and it was to be expected, especially in North America where saying anything having to do with Israel has largely been taboo - no matter which 'side' you're on. Not so in the Middle East, of course because the volatile situation there has been a matter of everyday life for millions for a very long time.

So, here we are again. Labeling people like Iraq's Prime Minister an anti-semite for what he didn't say and regardless of the fact that he is also a semitic person. This distortion is common and has a longstanding history as a tactic used by politicians and people to attack those who oppose Israel's policies.

Take a walk back to 1986 with me. Responding to a battle of words between author Gore Vidal and journalist Norman Podhoretz at the time, historian and author Dr. Alfred M. Lilienthal penned the article, 'Semite and Anti-Semite: A Confusion Stifling American Freedom'. He could have written it yesterday. It is still that relevant.

Some key points:

The biting, mocking Vidal article claimed that pro-Israel lobbyists, including the American Jewish Committee, the employers of Podhoretz, "make common cause with the lunatic fringe" to frighten Americans into spending enormous sums of money for defense against the Soviet Union and for the support of Israel. Podhoretz and his wife, Midge Decter, Vidal insisted, were more interested in Israel than in this country. This may be anti-Podhoretz, anti-Decter, anti-Conservative, even anti-Israel, but it is certainly not anti-Semitic.

An implication of dual loyalty is no proof of anti-Semitic intent. Unfortunately, many Jews themselves confuse their allegiances to religion and state, and hence the word "Jew" has become widely used to denote simultaneously a universal faith and a particular nationality.

No one but the most irrational would deny that there are bigots and haters, that there was a Nazi Germany whose unparaeled genocide still stings the conscience of Man, and that there is still anti-Semitism. The latter is only one of an infinite number of prejudices that ought to be eradicated. However, Podhoretz and other neo-Conservatives are using the existence of this sociological phenomenon to suppress any and all criticism of the Israeli state, the multi-fold Zionist organizations, and their actions.

Sound familiar? Except now it isn't only the neocons who are trying to score political points for Israel by labelling dissenters as 'anti-semitic'. It's also some Democrats and some so-called liberals. And their fierce defense of Israel is used as a blatant tool to stifle free speech and instill fear on a western population that has long chosen to ignore the elephant in the living room - the reality underlying the current situation in the Middle East.

Anti-Zionism should not be equated with anti-Semitism, the racist ideology directed against Jews as Jews. Nor should Zionism, the political movement established to reconstitute Jews as a nation, be equated with Judaism, the universal faith which knows no national boundaries and constitutes a relationship between man and God, requiring no political loyalty to any country.

While it has little bearing on the substance of the political discussion in the U.S., the words "anti-Semitism" and "anti-Semitic" are, in fact, semantic misnomers. Jews constitute no more than 10 percent of the world's Semites. The overwhelming majority of Semites are Arabs. Furthermore, most Jews today could not trace their ancestry back to the Holy Land and, therefore, are not true Semites at all. Ninety percent of the world's Jews are descended from converts to Judaism, mostly the Khazars in what is now the southern USSR. The Khazars accepted Judaism as their monotheistic faith. They did not have the remotest connection with the Semites of the Holy Land.

Notwithstanding, the mere interjection of the label "anti-Semite" halts discussion, mutes doubt and crushes debate on Middle East policy. In fact, nothing has accounted more for the success of Zionism and Israelism in the Western world than the skillful attack on the soft underbelly of world opinion--"Mr. Decent Man's" total repugnance toward anti-Semitism. The charge of this bias, bringing forth the spectre of Nazi Germany, so totally pulverizes the average Christian that, by contrast, calling him a Communist is a pleasant epithet.

Even the full-blooded Semite, the Arab, absurd as it may be, finds it difficult to defend himself against this charge.

It's not my intention to speak on behalf of the Dr's views of the history behind all of this. He's the historian and I'm sure many will choose to debate his perspective. Learning that history is a challenge for all of us who engage in debating the current situation. Regardless, he makes the point clear: there is a difference between anti-semitism and anti-zionism. There are also Christian zionists, although their beliefs are somewhat different from Jewish zionists. It must also be made clear that there are definitely people who are anti-Israel, in the sense that they believe the state of Israel does not have the right to exist along with others who are clearly bigoted towards all Jewish people. But, that's beyond the topic at hand.

Lilienthal also makes the sensitive point that, I believe, explains why so many people don't even want to talk about Israel's policies, yet alone disagree with them:

The emotional reaction engendered by Nazi genocide has given rise to an Eleventh Commandment, "Thou shalt not be anti-Semitic," and to a corollary Twelfth Commandment, "Thou shalt be anti-anti-Semitic." No Christian wishes to run afoul of these 20th century supplements to the interdictions brought back by Moses from Mt. Sinai.

Nor do many others, regardless of what religion they may or may not subscribe to. The Holocaust is still fresh in all of our minds - as it should be. The horrendous actions of the Nazis, resulting in the deaths of so many Jewish people are simply beyond comprehension. However, and this is a big 'however', the fact that Jewish people were so horribly victimized - not only by the Nazis, but throughout history - ought not stifle debate about the state of any Israeli government policies. One can oppose policies while not opposing people of a certain country for the actions of their government.

We cannot allow our sense of collective grief to overcome reason when it comes to evaluating what is happening in the Middle East today. History must never be forgotten, but it cannot be allowed to inflict charges of anti-semitism or anti-Jewishisness to stop reasonable people from looking at the facts of the war the last few weeks. Most of us are quite able to examine the actions of all involved in order to determine any supposed justness of the current actions. We can rely on modern rules of warfare set out in the Geneva Conventions and the words of objective humanitarian observers like the International Red Cross to give us an unbiased view. There is no doubt that the media are biased - either pro or anti-Isareli policies (except for those reporters who only set the facts before us, without interpretation) - so we must choose our sources carefully and with an open mind. And we certainly cannot trust politicians or their representatives to give us anything more than their opinions, reminding us that many are also beholden to lobby groups and money men behind the scenes who expect them to toe a certain line.

Renowned Harvard sociologist Dr. David Reisman once wrote in the Jewish Newsletter:

The Zionists can muster not merely the threat of the Jewish vote and the no-less important Jewish financial and organizational skills, but also the blackmail of attacking anyone who opposes their political aims for Israel, as anti-Semitic.

That ought not be read as saying anything close to bigoted assertions that 'Jews run the banks' etc. Politicians of all stripes know they have to please certain special interest groups, whether they're the feminists, the pro-lifers, the environmentalists or whoever they're relying on to bring in votes for them. Witness Bush's pandering to the religious right and the effect they've had on his policy choices. It's just a fact that those votes are crucial to a politician's survival and some will set aside their conscience to stand for those whose support they seek.

Lilienthal concludes:

Any group of people may achieve something of a separate identity merely by believing they belong together. American tolerance toward separatism ceases, however, when group thought and group action run counter to the mores and interests of the country in which they live.
If the political problems of Israel become the political responsibility of American Jews, disaster will eventually follow.

And here we are, 20 years after Lilienthal wrote that article foreshadowing this 21st century reality or, more to the point perhaps, the obvious inability of our nations to move forward on these issues. The bullish stance of the Bush administration and its congress (including the vast majority of Democrats) has made Israel's problems their problems and their responsibility. After years of providing Israel with billions of dollars of foreign aid it now appears, depending on which theory you believe, that Israel's Olmert is either snubbing the US government by refusing a ceasefire or that it is simply playing its role in the neocon plan to draw in Syria and Iran - the evolution of a crisis of unknown proportions.

So, while many would like to stuff people into those narrow 'anti-semitic' boxes while taunting them with their pointy sticks based on their political agendas as a distraction from what's actually happening on a daily basis, those who choose not to fight their way out of those boxes are simply giving the abusers what they want so deperately - power.

Note: I do not vouch for Lienthal's credentials. I simply came across this old article and thought what he wrote was applicable to today's events.

Poll: Conservative Party Support Slipping

A new Ipsos Reid poll taken last week shows that support for the federal Conservatives has dropped 4% since May.

Conservatives: 39% (-4)
Liberals: 27% (+2)
NDP: 17% (+2)
Bloc (in Quebec): 41% (+3)

Via CanWest:

OTTAWA -- Support for Stephen Harper's Conservative government has dipped especially in the critical battlegrounds of Quebec, B.C. and Atlantic Canada likely pushed by discomfort with the prime minister's policies in Afghanistan and the Middle East, a new poll suggests.

Pollster John Wright says the new data, including an approval rating of 60 per cent for Harper, suggests the party is still in good shape. The Conservatives, which won 36 per cent of the vote in the federal election in January, would, however, likely still be stuck in minority-government territory if an election were held now, he said.
Wright, vice-president of Ipsos Reid, says the numbers suggest foreign policy has put a dent in Harper's popularity. His government's support dipped most in the three areas of the country Quebec, Atlantic Canada and B.C. which recent polls have shown are most uncomfortable with his Mideast and Afghanistan policies, Wright said.

The drop was 12 points each in B.C. and Atlantic Canada, and six points in Quebec.

Support for the mission in Afghanistan has also dropped 10 points since March, according to Ipsos Reid.

"Foreign policy is now defining this government," Wright said, adding it has taken the focus away from the government's search for its next five priorities now that it has enjoyed some success on its first five.

"Now they know what the next five priorities are," Wright said. "They are called the Middle East and Afghanistan, the Middle East and Afghanistan, the Middle East andE[sic]"

So, Steve now finds himself in the same political position as Bush and Blair since foreign policy decisions may now override domestic issues in the minds of many voters. It will be interesting to see the results of the next poll that takes into account the situation in the Middle East following the news of the massacre in Qana which Harper didn't even comment on immediately - as is expected by world leaders in such situations.

Note: Harper's cabinet has not even met to discuss the Middle East situation.

Sources confirmed that there have not been any full Cabinet meetings since the Middle East crisis erupted on July 12, but one source told The Hill Times that more than 12 ministers representing Canada's different regions had taken their concerns to the PMO after consultations with interested groups and constituents.

"A significant number of ministers I know have been engaged and in consultation with the Prime Minister and Peter MacKay on the issues. Part of it is, I think, political. I think they're trying to ensure that their assessment of how this is playing out in the country and amongst their own supporters is accurate and keeps them safe," the source told The Hill Times.

(hat tip to commenter knb for the link)

Israel/Lebanon War Updates

Updated throughout the day.

Following the Qana massacre on Sunday, the Israeli government announed very early Monday morning that it would cease airstrikes on southern Lebanon in order to allow for an investigation of the incident and to give residents the ability to evacuate the region safely.

But the IDF is still attacking.

Via AP:

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to a 48-hour halt in the airstrikes beginning at 2 a.m. Monday while the military concludes its inquiry into the attack on the south Lebanese village of Qana.

But Israel left open the option it might hit targets to stop imminent attacks or if the military completed its inquiry within 48 hours.

Monday's airstrikes near the village of Taibe were meant to protect ground forces operating in the area and were not targeting anyone or anything specific, the army said.

In a second airstrike around the port city of Tyre, Israel accidentally killed a Lebanese soldier when it hit a car that it believed was carrying a senior Hezbollah official, the Israeli army said. Lebanese security officials said the soldier was killed by a rocket strike from a drone aircraft.

The Israeli army justified the action, saying the leader believed to have been in the car was a threat to Israel. Instead, the car was carrying a Lebanese army officer and soldiers.

And while some people are trying to make their way out of the area, journalist Robert Fisk reporting from Lebanon told the CBC on Monday that the IDF is, in fact, blocking some convoys from getting through to safety.

- Human Rights Watch: Indiscriminate Bombing in Lebanon a War Crime.

Human Rights Watch researchers have been in Lebanon since the onset of the current hostilities and have documented dozens of cases in which Israeli forces have carried out indiscriminate attacks against civilians while in their homes or traveling on roads to flee the fighting. A report of these findings and their legal consequences will be issued later this week.

Note: HRW also has this to say about Hezbollah's actions:
Human Rights Watch has also documented Hezbollah’s deliberate and indiscriminate firing of Katyusha rockets into civilian areas in Israel, resulting in 18 civilian deaths to date. These serious violations of international humanitarian law are also war crimes.

“War crimes by one party to a conflict never justify war crimes by another,” Roth said.

- Amnesty International has a summary of applicable international humanitarian laws on its site.

- Qana Last Time: 'Just a bunch of [dead] Arabs'.

- Lebanese Civilians Bear the Brunt of Israel's Destruction.

- Israel will 'expand and deepen its actions against Hezbollah'.

"We cannot agree to an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon because then we will find ourselves in a few months in a similar situation," Peretz told a heated parliamentary debate during which four Israeli Arab lawmakers were escorted out for heckling. One Knesset member called Peretz a murderer.

- Update: The Israeli government has just approved the widening of its ground attack in Lebanon.

- CNN reports that 15,000 IDF reservists have been called up according to Israeli radio.

- News from Syria:

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the Syrian military on Monday to raise its readiness, pledging not to abandon support for Lebanese resistance against Israel.

more to come...

Sunday, July 30, 2006

On Qana: Why are Steve & Pete AWOL?

I've searched much of the day for an official reaction to the massacre in Qana, Lebanon by PM Harper ('Steve') and have found nothing. It seems the only reference to this atrocity was this statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay was unavailable for comment Sunday. Instead, his Department issued a release saying that "Canada remains concerned about the far reaching impact on civilians on the ongoing conflict in Lebanon."

Where's Steve? After all, his time dedicated to watching Coronation Street on Sundays is only a two hour committment (which he could Tivo anyway). Then's the hour or so it takes to attend church and maybe he goes to brunch after that. Who knows? Still, that doesn't exactly take up the whole day.

Is Steve still taking Sundays off like he did during the election campaign?

And what about Pete (Foreign Affairs minister)? Where's he? Golfing?

Why haven't either of these supposed leaders appeared in public today to make a statement (which would most likely be in defense of Israel anyway)?

That press release by the Foreign Affairs ministry is absolutely pathetic and don't count on the assumption that either one of these guys wants to take back their backing of Israel's so-called 'measured' response after this day's news. I'd like to feel smug and say that they're hiding somewhere with their tails between their legs. Most likely though, this is the position they currently find themselves in.

Sunday Food for Thought

The reality of modern warfare is that the whole enterprise has become almost like a computer game. The ever-increasing sophistication of weaponry has outrun the imaginative capacity of the average lay person. Their destructive capacity is so astonishing that whatever arguments there may be in favour of war, they must be vastly inferior to those against. We could almost be forgiven for feeling nostalgia for the way in which battles were fought in ancient times. At least then people fought one another face to face. There was no denying the suffering involved. And, in those days, it was usual for rulers to lead their troops in battle. If the ruler was killed, that was usually the end of the matter. But as technology improved, the generals began to stay farther behind. Today they can be thousands of miles away in their bunkers underground. In view of this, I could almost see developing a 'smart' bullet that could seek out those who decided on wars in the first place. This would seem to me more fair, and on these grounds, I would welcome a weapon that eliminated the decision-makers while leaving the innocent unharmed.
We each have a role to play in creating a climate for genuine peace. When, as individuals, we disarm ourselves internally - through countering our negative thoughts and emotions and cultivating positive qualities - we create the conditions for external disarmament. Indeed, genuine, lasting world peace will only be possible as a result of us each making an effort internally. Afflictive emotion is the oxygen of conflict.

- HH The Dalai Lama
Ancient Wisdom, Modern World; Ethics For the New Millenium (1999)

Meanwhile, Condi is Worried About Her Reputation

CNN's John King reported on Sunday (transcript will follow) that despite the fact Condi Rice was meeting with Israel's Defense Minister while she was in Jerusalem this weekend, he did not tell her about the Qana attack. King said Rice learned of the bombing from one of her aides who interrupted that meeting.

He also said that Rice was upset because she had returned to the region in an attempt to exercise so-called diplomacy and was concerned that, as a result of the Qana bombing, her reputation would now suffer.

Yes, her reputation.

I guess that's what happens when your country backs everything Israel is doing in the name of the 'war on terrorism' that your president proudly declared with no end in sight ever, thereby emboldening allies like Israel to justify its actions ad infinitum as well.

Update via Reuters:

Rice was with Israel's defense minister when she heard of the bombing, but did not show public anger toward Israel for the attack. Nevertheless, U.S. officials said privately she had strong words with Olmert and made her distress clear.

Lebanon's Prime Minister has refused to meet with her.

Israel/Lebanon War Updates

Updated throughout the day.

- An airstrike in southern Lebanon has killed 54 civilians. 34 of them were children. (figures updated below)

Displaced families had been sheltering in the basement of a house in Qana, which was crushed after a direct hit.

Lebanon's prime minister denounced "Israeli war criminals" and cancelled talks with the US secretary of state.

Israel said it regretted the incident - but added that civilians had been warned to flee the village.

Where were they supposed to go? And how were they supposed to get there since convoys are being hit as well?

Hundreds of Lebanese protesters staged a violent demonstration, ransacking the UN headquarters in Beirut, chanting slogans against the US and Israel and in support of the Hezbollah militants.

Lebanese soldiers are protecting the building.

Several countries have condemned the attack and renewed their calls for an immediate ceasefire - opposed by Israel, the US and UK.

The UN Security Council is to hold an emergency meeting at 1500 GMT on Sunday.

It's about damn time. Meanwhile, the BBC also reports that Olmert has told Rice that Israel needs another '10-14 days' to complete its operation. What is its operation then? Is it really to destroy Hezbollah or is it simply to destroy Lebanon?

Qana was the site of an Israeli bombing of a UN base in 1996 that killed more than 100 people sheltering there during Israel's "Grapes of Wrath" offensive, which was also aimed at destroying Hezbollah.

And the Israeli government once again had the audacity in this massacre to claim that 'the Shia militant group was responsible for the Qana strike, because it used the town to launch rockets.' So that gives them the right to obliterate the lives of 34 children? I thought Israel had precision weapons. Is it now going to claim that Hezbollah was firing rockets from that particular building? I cannot even put into words how incensed I am about all of this insanity. Israel must stop now and it must be held to account this time for its war crimes.

- I swear my head really is going to explode for real today. Listening to Israel's UN ambassador on Meet the Press saying that he 'would not be surprised' if the timing of this Israeli airstrike - remember that: Israel attacked - was chosen by Hezbollah to coincide with Rice's visit to the area. Well, holy flipping Orwellian propaganda Batman! What kind of drugs is he on??

- George Stephanopoulos to Israel's ambassador to the US on This Week today:

Q: Was this a war crime?

Ayalon: Absolutely. This was a war crime committed by Hezbollah.

- The emergency meeting of the UN Security Council is over for now and will reconvene later on Sunday. More details when I find a link. Annan is holding a press conference as I write this. Annan: 'There is no military solution'.

Update: BBC has more information about the Security Council meeting.

Several states have condemned the strike on Qana - the deadliest of the conflict so far.

"Action is needed now before many more children, women and men become casualties of a conflict over which they have no control," Mr Annan told the council.

"I'm deeply dismayed that my earlier calls for immediate cessation of hostilities were not heard, with the result that innocent lives continue to be taken and innocent civilians continue to suffer."

Mr Annan said both Israel and Hezbollah had committed grave breaches of international law.

- Reuters has updated numbers of the casualties in Qana: 60 Lebanese civilians including 37 children are dead. Olmert offered his stock phrase of so-called regret 'deep sorrow' over the deaths. This is the same wording he uses every single time innocent civilians are killed by his army. 'deep sorrow', my ass.

Update: Forget all of that Israeli biased propaganda you're hearing on CNN and reading about on right-wing blogs. The International Red Cross has spoken:

"These are all civilians," said Bassam Muqad of the Red Cross. "There's no base here. This isn't a military area. There's nothing around here. People thought they were safe in the shelter."

Update: While Israel has said it will suspend the bombing of Lebanon for 48 hours in the fallout of the Qana massacre, an announcement made late at night in the region, the UN released a toothless statement, reportedly so due to the efforts of the US to block a stronger one from being passed by the Security Council. John Bolton strikes again.

more to come...

Saturday, July 29, 2006

New Max Security Prison in Guantanamo Bay Opening Soon; Americans Rights in Peril

Considering the fact that the Bush administration has not only been pressured to close their detention facility at Gitmo by a worldwide outcry, but that it has also said it is trying to repatriate hundreds of detainees, the idea that a new, permanent maximum security prison named Camp 6 will open soon seems to be a bit of a mystery. But, what the Pentagon wants, the Pentagon gets.

Via The Independent:

Camp 6, a state-of-the-art maximum-security jail built by a Halliburton subsidiary, will be able to hold 200 prisoners. Commander Robert Durand, a spokesman for Joint Task Force Guantanamo, said the $30m, two-storey block was due to open at the end of September. He added: "Camp 6 is designed to improve the quality of life for the detainees and provide greater protection for the people working in the facility."

Just another money-making scheme for Halliburton, obviously, as if that company hasn't already made enough from this so-called 'war on terrorism'. Cheney's buddies must be thrilled.

Zachary KatzNelson, senior counsel with the group Reprieve, which represents 36 Guantanamo prisoners, argued that public opinion and the courts would ultimately force the US to close the camp down. "If Bush had the choice, he would not shut it, and the men [held there] would never see the light of day, and neither would their stories come out," he said. "The reality is that the world knows too much. He has to shut it down."

Unlikely, especially since it's been revealed that the Bush administration, in defiance of last month's Supreme Court Hamdan decision has crafted a new draft legislation to circumvent that decision.

WASHINGTON - U.S. citizens suspected of terror ties might be detained indefinitely and barred from access to civilian courts under legislation proposed by the Bush administration, say legal experts reviewing an early version of the bill.

A 32-page draft measure is intended to authorize the
Pentagon's tribunal system, established shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks to detain and prosecute detainees captured in the war on terror. The tribunal system was thrown out last month by the Supreme Court.
According to the draft, the military would be allowed to detain all "enemy combatants" until hostilities cease. The bill defines enemy combatants as anyone "engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners who has committed an act that violates the law of war and this statute."

Legal experts said Friday that such language is dangerously broad and could authorize the military to detain indefinitely U.S. citizens who had only tenuous ties to terror networks like al Qaeda.
Scott L. Silliman, a retired Air Force Judge Advocate, said the broad definition of enemy combatants is alarming because a U.S. citizen loosely suspected of terror ties would lose access to a civilian court — and all the rights that come with it.

You can kiss your rights goodbye, Americans.

The administration's proposal, as considered at one point during discussions, would toss out several legal rights common in civilian and military courts, including barring hearsay evidence, guaranteeing "speedy trials" and granting a defendant access to evidence. The proposal also would allow defendants to be barred from their own trial and likely allow the submission of coerced testimony.

Law professor Marty Lederman has posted a copy of the first draft and outlines the legal aspects of the bill. Needless to say, they are frightening.

So, while the Bush administration appears to express concern about the fate of its detainees, it is actually attempting to broaden its executive power once again. Will the Republican-led congress finally say 'No' or will we discover that more Americans are in peril than ever before from a government intent on stripping away its legal protections in the name of a war that, it seems, will never end?

Will these proposed measures be enough to provoke millions to take to the streets in order to stand up for those rights or will many simply acquiesce with the old justification 'I'm not a terrorist, so I don't care'?

Perhaps they need to be reminded of these statistics:

Of all the prisoners ever held at Guatanamo since it was established in January 2002, only 10 have been formally charged. An investigation earlier this year by New Jersey's Seton Hall University showed that, based on the military's own documents, 55 per cent of prisoners are not alleged to have committed any hostile acts against the US, and 40 per cent are not accused of affiliation with al-Qa'ida.

The same documents suggested only 8 per cent of prisoners are accused of fighting for a terrorist group, and that 86 per cent were captured by the Northern Alliance or Pakistani authorities "at a time when the US offered large bounties for the capture of suspected terrorists".

Israel/Lebanon War Updates

Updated throughout the day.

- Two UN observers have been wounded at their observation post in Lebanon, the BBC reports. This, the day after the UN had decided to pull all of its observers out of Lebanon.

- Israeli airstrikes have blocked the main road between Lebanon and Syria:

An Israeli air strike has closed the main border crossing from Lebanon into Syria, witnesses and officials say.

Missiles hit the road between the two states' immigration posts, but on the Lebanese side, the reports said.

- Israel still refuses to stop bombing so humanitarian concerns in Lebanon can be addressed:

Earlier, Israel rejected a UN call for a three-day truce in southern Lebanon.

The UN said children, the elderly and disabled people were trapped and supplies were short, but Israel said there was no need for a truce as a humanitarian corridor to the area had been opened.

Right. They'll probably bomb it anyway since I've heard Israeli spokespeople accuse Hezbollah of locating their fighters near those corridors.

- Condi's back in the region but she's not likely to get much done besides PR shots.

- Tony Blair faces an 'open revolt' from his cabinet over his stance on Israel.

Tony Blair was facing a full-scale cabinet rebellion last night over the Middle East crisis after his former Foreign Secretary warned that Israel's actions risked destabilising all of Lebanon.

Jack Straw, now Leader of the Commons, said in a statement released after meeting Muslim residents of his Blackburn constituency that while he grieved for the innocent Israelis killed, he also mourned the '10 times as many innocent Lebanese men, women and children killed by Israeli fire'.

He said he agreed with the Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells that it was 'very difficult to understand the kind of military tactics used by Israel', adding: 'These are not surgical strikes but have instead caused death and misery amongst innocent civilians.' Straw said he was worried that 'a continuation of such tactics by Israel could destabilise the already fragile Lebanese nation'.

The Observer can also reveal that at a cabinet meeting before Blair left for last Friday's Washington summit with President George Bush, minister after minister pressed him to break with the Americans and publicly criticise Israel over the scale of death and destruction.

Blair's response? 'I will never apologise for Britain being a strong ally of the US.' Never say never, Tony.

- Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard, came under attack from protesters on Saturday:

Protesters kicked, punched and fired projectiles at John Howard's car on Saturday after the prime minister, who has been supportive of Israel, emerged from a Liberal Party conference in Perth.

About 200 protesters had gathered outside the venue, many waving Lebanese and Palestinian flags. A number of the protesters clashed violently with police as Mr Howard left a Perth hotel after delivering a keynote address to the WA Liberals' state conference.

Two men were later charged - a 21-year-old with obstructing police and a 34-year-old with assaulting police. They are expected to appear in a Perth court on Monday.

Mr Howard had used his conference speech to attack Hizbollah, which is fighting Israel in southern Lebanon.

Of course, this little incident didn't excatly help Howard make his point. Australia has also been invited to join a UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon. We'll see how well that goes over with the Australian public.

more to come...

CNN's Coverage of the Israel/Lebanon War

In order to keep up to date about the latest developments in the Middle East on an ongoing basis, I have to stay tuned to CNN TV. Canada's CBC news online is a good resource for in depth articles, but it's 24/7 news channel, Newsworld, just doesn't provide the kind of detail I need - often veering off by choosing to broadcast fashion shows and stories about people fishing in some obscure lake in Ontario. That's okay. We're not a military-based culture, so I wouldn't expect that shots of bombs exploding constantly would be something that many Canadians would want to tune into constantly anyway.

Now, about CNN. One of the most annoying things (and there are many) I've had to endure is watching reporters John Roberts and now Anderson Cooper trying to talk to CNN anchors while standing in front of IDF artillery positions where missiles are being fired. First of all, I wonder if they - or the viewers - give much thought to the people on the receiving end of that artillery who are being killed as those reporters speak. That bothers me. Secondly, I don't know about you but I'd probably go deaf listening to that firing over and over again, not to mention the constant barrage on the brain that responds to each blast as a perceived threat - even if they are being set off by 'friendly forces'. Lastly, why the need to stand in front of them anyway? Well, it's good propaganda value for the IDF - missile after missile after missile being lobbed into Lebanon shows just how hard the Israelis are fighting (which might actually mean something to some people if they weren't constantly killing civilians and destroying things like hospitals).

Then there's that Australian guy. Now there's a reporter with enthusiasm. Nothing wrong with that, but every time I hear his reports I can't help thinking about Steve Irwin, that in your face crocodile hunter guy who wears me out whenever I find myself accidentally having to watch him while channel surfing. If you look up 'annoying' in the dictionary, you'll see his picture. And CNN's Australian guy war reporter sounds just like him. It's scary, actually. I wonder if they're related.

On the more serious side, the amount of Israeli propaganda on CNN is astounding. Hour after hour you can catch Benjamin Netahyahu, Shimon Peres, Dan Gillerman (Israel's UN ambassador), that female mouthpiece Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin and on and on. And they are rarely challenged when they spout off lies. Believe me, they have told outright lies like asserting that Israel is not holding any Lebanese prisoners. Larry King seems to be doing an okay job in the 'fair and balanced' department - not perfect, but okay. On the other hand, pitbulls Lou Dobbs and Paula Zahn prefer to shout down anyone who dares criticize Israel. (I've never had much respect for either of them anyway but they've both become very poisonous in the ME debate and, afaic, could use a vacation somewhere - soon. And Kyra Phillips? Well, don't even get me started. She might as well wear an Israeli flag on her lapel. She's been appalling.

One of the worst things I've seen this past week on CNN was an IDF equivalent of a snuff film in which they showed a person on a seadoo (or whatever you call those things) being literally blown out of the water by the Israeli navy while the reporter tells the audience that he was suspected of being a suicide bomber. I doubt any kids who might have caught that on their teevee screen (which was shown without any kind of warning about its graphic nature) will ever want to get on one of those personal water vehicles again or ever. That clip was a cruel display of Israel's military might and was certainly not suitable for daytime teevee viewing.

So, I'm left with my love/hate relationship with CNN. I can't get FOX or MSNBC, which is probably just as well since my head would likely explode if I had to watch FOX, so I'm stuck with the warmongering network: CNN. As Kipling said, the first victim of war is the truth and that is being played out every day on a television screen near you.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Bush to Blair: Sorry our Bombs Were in Your Country

George Bush, according to Blair's spokeperson, apologized to the PM on Friday for not following 'proper procedures' when the US sent bombs to Israel last week.

'I'm sorry there was a problem.' It was literally that," the spokesman told reporters aboard his plane.

The British government had formally complained to the United States over its use of a British airport for transiting bombs to Israel.

British media reported on Wednesday that aircraft carrying "bunker-busting" bombs from the United States to Israel refueled at Prestwick airport in Scotland over the weekend.

Bush has yet to apologize to anyone for the use of their country's airports in his torture flight program, not to mention the kidnap victims, their families, friends, the American people or the rest of the world.

So, Who Really Started This War?

We've all heard the same line for weeks now: Hezbollah was responsible for this new war because they kidnapped two IDF soldiers in July and, as a result, many believe that Israel was correct to bombard Lebanon into oblivion in order to try to eliminate Hezbollah's presence in the country. Sometimes, though, situations are not quite as cut and dried as we've been led to believe they are.

In researching statements by Canadian General Lewis MacKenzie, who has now been held up by many who defend Israel's reaction to the kidnappings and question the UN's position about the recent death of its 4 observers in Lebanon, an e-mail written by one of those observers, Major Paeta Hess-von Kruedener (who is actually missing and presumed dead) has come to light. It is being used as proof that Hezbollah used the bombed UNIFIL observation post as a Hezbollah shield.

Here is the text of that July 18, 2006 e-mail from Major Hess-von Kruedener. Note: I have edited out the 'Background' and 'Mission' sections because they are not relevant to my broader findings:

Information Requested

(1) Currently, there are several nationalities that are here on the patrol base with me. I am serving with an Australian, Chinese, Finnish, Austrian, and Irish Officers. They come from various different backgrounds, levels of experience and services (Army, Navy and Air Force) from within their militaries.

(2) I have been here for nine months of a one-year tour of duty. Since I have arrived here in Lebanon, this current incident is the fourth I have seen and by far the most spectacular and intensive.

The first was 21 Nov 05, when the Hezbollah tried to capture IDF soldiers from an IDF observation position overlooking the Wazzani river near the town of Ghajjar on the Blue Line. This action was unsuccessful and resulted in the deaths of the Hezbollah raiding force.

On 01 Feb 06, a young shepherd boy was Killed by an IDF patrol near an abandon goat farm called Bastarra. Hassan Nasrallah (note: Hezbollah's leader) vowed that there would be consequences to this action. Team Sierra was tasked on 2 Feb 06, to assist in the investigation of the incident, and we sent one team to do so while the other team conducted its normal mobile patrolling activities.

On 03 Feb 06, a limited engagement took place initiated by the Hezbollah on several of the IDF defensive positions located in occupied Lebanon.

Then on 28 May, the Islamic Jihad (PLO) fired rockets from South Lebanon, into Israel, which elicited an immediate aerial bombardment of positions near our patrol base and in the Bekka valley.
(3) Our Team's normal operational activities are to plan, and execute daily vehicle and foot patrols of the Blue Line area within our area of responsibility. Unfortunately, with the current artillery and aerial bombing campaign being carried out by the IDF/IAF, it is not safe or prudent for us to conduct normal patrol activities. Currently, we are observing and reporting on all activities in our area of responsibility, with specific attention to activities along the Blue Line, which is clearly visible from our hilltop position.

(4) Team Sierra is currently observing both IDF/IAF and Hezbollah military clashes from our vantage point which has a commanding view of the IDF positions on the Golan mountains to our east and the IDF positions along the Blue Line to our south, as well as, most of the Hezbollah static positions in and around our patrol Base. It appears that the lion's share of fighting between the IDF and Hezbollah has taken place in our area. On the night of 16 July, at 2125 hrs, a large firefight broke out between the Hezbollah and the IDF near a village called Majidyye and lasted for one hour and 40 minutes.

(5) Based on the intensity and volatility of this current situation and the unpredictability of both sides (Hezbollah and Israel), and given the operational tempo of the Hezbollah and the IDF, we are not safe to venture out to conduct our normal patrol activities. We have now switched to Observation Post Duties and are observing any and all violations as they occur.

This is all the information of a non-tactical nature that I can provide you. I cannot give you any info on Hezbollah position, proximity or the amount of or types of sorties the IAF is currently flying. Suffice to say that the activity levels and operational tempo of both parties is currently very high and continuous, with short breaks or pauses. Please understand the nature of my job here is to be impartial and to report violations from both sides without bias. As an Unarmed Military Observer, this is my raison d'etre.

What I can tell you is this: we have on a daily basis had numerous occasions where our position has come under direct or indirect fire from both artillery and aerial bombing. The closest artillery has landed within 2 meters of our position and the closest 1000 lb aerial bomb has landed 100 meters from our patrol base. This has not been deliberate targeting, but has rather been due to tactical necessity.

I thank you for the opportunity to provide you with some information from the front lines here in south Lebanon.

Maj Hess-von Kruedener

Now, here are some points of note:

1) Hezbollah had warned Israel that it would retaliate for the killing of the shepherd boy in February, 2006.
2) The kidnapping of the two IDF soldiers can be seen as retribution for that boy's death.
3) Despite the fact that Israeli officials keep insisting that they pulled out of Lebanon six years ago, they obviously still had troops in 'occupied Lebanon'.
4) This e-mail was written on July 18, 2006. The UNIFIL post was bombed repeatedly by Israel on July 25, 2006 despite the fact that the UN observers asked the IDF ten times to stop. This e-mail is not proof that Hezbollah was active in the area of that post on that date, as many have falsely concluded.
5) Many have also grabbed onto this conclusion, 'This has not been deliberate targeting, but has rather been due to tactical necessity' as proof that the IDF was justified in its continuous bombing on the UNIFIL post on July 25, 2006 but, once again, the Major wrote this e-mail on July 18 and it does not represent what the situation was on the date of the deaths.

Further, the fact that a Canadian general who has pushed this e-mail as justifying what happened seems to add to the weight of those whose opinions support the IDF bombing. So, let's take a look at the recent actions and words of General MacKenzie.

On July 26, 2006 the general was the keynote speaker at a pro-Israel rally in Toronto where he said:

"This is Israel versus terrorism because unfortunately the government of Lebanon is not in a position to control a significant element within their own country" says Mackenzie.

And, here's MacKenzie's clearly biased opinion on having peacekeepers in the region:

Retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie, who spent time as a peacekeeper in the Gaza Strip and other parts of the Middle East, dismissed the idea of creating another peacekeeping force.

"It's a dumb idea," Mr. MacKenzie said. "There is no place in the region for another peacekeeping force."

A NATO-led force could be an option, Mr. MacKenzie said, adding Canada could contribute a 1,200-strong "battle group" if the government approves the extension of current units operating in Afghanistan by six months.

But Mr. MacKenzie said it would be almost impossible for the Security Council to approve a force robust enough to provide enforcement of any ceasefire.

"Any armed intervention would need more than what you need to do the job, not less like with other peacekeeping operations," Mr. MacKenzie said. "It's got to be heavy, it's got to be tough. We do not need more monitors."

Mr. MacKenzie praised the soldiers and military observers currently working in the region, but said the efforts have been "totally and absolutely ineffective."

MacKenzie's motives, therefore, for pushing the belief that Israel was justified in its bombing on the UNIFIL post that day ought to be seen via the bias he has obviously expressed.

There is much more to what happened than can be quickly decided by snap judgements made against the UN based on what Israel, Maj Hess-von Kruedener or General Lewis MacKenzie have said. In the meantime, the world will have to wait for a proper investigation to be undertaken that will, hopefully, include people from outside of the Israeli government and military to ensure that the full story will finally come to light.

Israel/Lebanon War Updates

Updated throughout the day.

- Bush and the poodle held a press conference today in which both were very defensive about their support of Israel's ongoing bombardment of Lebanon and Gaza. 'Stay the course' Tony was obviously perturbed as was The Decider. The tone was 'look! what part of this don't you all get?'. While some people were openly hoping that Tony would somehow infiltrate The Decider's grey matter to get him to call for a ceasefire, they forgot about the power of the evil neocons who obviously sent telepathic laser-guided nasty rays to Tony's cranium to make sure he toed the Bushco line. That's how I saw it all, anyway.

- BBC has more on Tony and George's meeting today including the call made by both of them for an international force to be sent to the region ASAP. Of course, Bush isn't interested in sending any of his country's soldiers to participate and many countries have been less than forthcoming about committing their troops as well. So, who's going to end up there? Who knows?

Here is Tony and George's bestest plan:

Help provide immediate humanitarian relief

Achieve an end to the violence

Return those displaced by the crisis

Help with reconstruction

A 4th grader could have come up with the same ideas. What a waste of time that meeting was.


Earlier on Friday, two mortar rounds hit a convoy of vehicles carrying civilians escaping the violence in southern Lebanon.

The BBC's Jim Muir, who was with the convoy, said two people travelling in German TV vehicle were wounded when the rounds exploded next to their car.

The convoy, organised by the Australian embassy, was returning to the port city of Tyre from the border village of Rmeish, where hundreds of people have been trapped by the Israeli offensive.

Our correspondent says the cars were clearly marked as a press and civilian convoy, and that individual journalists had been in contact with the Israelis who knew about the journey.

A BBC security adviser travelling in a car behind the German car said he believed the mortar rounds had been fired from the Israeli side.

The Israeli Defence Forces say they do not believe it was one of their mortars but say they are still checking.

- Kofi's holding a press conference too as I write this. I'll post more about that later.

- The UN has decided to pull its unarmed observers out of Lebanon.

- The US State Department say's it outraged...outraged! over 'a suggestion by Israel that it has been authorised by the world to continue bombing Lebanon'. And so they should be. It was only Canada, the US and Britain that gave them the authorization, after all.

more to come...

Judging Harper's Support of Israel

While the Calgary Herald's Don Martin prematurely declares that 'Harper Comes out Unscathed' over his pro-Israel stance and support of that country's so-called 'measured and justified' response, according to PM Steve Harper, declaring that 'nobody votes for a party's foreign policies', the Globe and Mail's Gloria Galloway offers a much different perspective on the situation.

Martin proclaims in his column that:

The payoff for his positions so far was rapturous reception by a 5,000-strong audience at a Wednesday rally in the last-stand Liberal fortress of Toronto, which should give the Official Opposition pause to gulp.

Note the word 'rapturous'.

Galloway sees that event like this:

That sentiment is less likely to run through Canada's other large cities, however. In Toronto, where the Conservatives have no MPs, some of the party's organizers are shaking their heads.

"The Jewish community is very staunchly in favour of the party's position. The Muslim community is not so happy," one very active member said. "And there's more of them than there are Jewish people. So in terms of a vote-getting thing, if he is doing it for that reason, I don't get it. It makes no sense to me." *

So, while Don Martin has already decided that the fallout for Harper's stance has been determined and that he is 'unscathed', what he fails to realize is that the war in the ME is far from being over and the people of Canada are not quite as shallow as he makes us out to be:

A vacationing public unaccustomed to decisive leadership seems generally supportive and is only reacting badly to the Middle East conflict when they pay soaring gas prices while filling up the RVs. As a long-term poll pleaser, Harper has delivered measured response.

Yes, Canadians are so self-centered that the only thing we care about is gas prices. And, if he thinks that we are so incredibly stupid that we would simply look at the fact that Harper has actually taken a stand, as if being 'decisive' is a be all and end all without considering what the decision was actually about, then maybe Don Martin needs to get out of Conservative Alberta more often where Alberta MP Lee Richardson backs up this decider talking point as well by telling the Globe and Mail, ' get the sense that they may not even agree but [Mr. Harper's] standing on principle and it's time we had somebody making a decision on principle and not on polls.'

Yes, I live in Alberta as well, so there are actually a few of us here who can actually look at the entirety of a situation and make a judgment that's based on something beyond Conservative party talking points and gas prices. But, the majority of the province's population is such a monolith of blind allegiance to all things conservative that we practically have to scream from our rooftops in order to be heard. The Calgary Herald should force Martin to spend a week or two in Quebec where, like it or not, Harper's future may yet be determined over this issue. He hasn't exactly come out 'unscathed' there or in many other places either.

And Saeed Rahnema, the director of the school of public policy and administration at York University in Toronto, was even more forceful.

"Canada built a reputation about the world, and particularly in the Middle East," Dr. Rahnema said. "Canada was so respectful -- and this is the product of 50 years of successive governments -- and unfortunately, overnight, Mr. Harper and [Foreign Affairs Minister] Peter MacKay have damaged that reputation. And I honestly don't know how long it will take to repair it."

But, who cares about that? As Don Martin says, all Canadians care about are gas prices and the fact that Steve actually made a decision. Right?

* (Note: While that Conservative 'party organizer' may be comfortable with saying that either the Jewish or Muslim communities speak with one voice on any issue, I certainly disagree. It would have been acceptable if they'd said that perhaps a majority of one or the other shared the same opinions, but it is inappropriate to speak of either community as not containing varied opinions.)

Retroactive Amnesty for US War Crimes?

The Washington Post reports that a 'nervous' Bush administration is trying to devise a way to exempt US soldiers from the 1996 US War Crimes Act. That's the pattern: break a law and then get congress to retroactively change it for you.

Senior officials have responded by drafting legislation that would grant U.S. personnel involved in the terrorism fight new protections against prosecution for past violations of the War Crimes Act of 1996. That law criminalizes violations of the Geneva Conventions governing conduct in war and threatens the death penalty if U.S.-held detainees die in custody from abusive treatment.
In light of a recent Supreme Court ruling that the international Conventions apply to the treatment of detainees in the terrorism fight, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has spoken privately with Republican lawmakers about the need for such "protections," according to someone who heard his remarks last week.

Gonzales told the lawmakers that a shield is needed for actions taken by U.S. personnel under a 2002 presidential order, which the Supreme Court declared illegal, and under Justice Department legal opinions that have been withdrawn under fire, the source said. A spokeswoman for Gonzales, Tasia Scolinos, declined to comment on Gonzales's remarks.

The legal trick to making this all go away? Just assert that the 'foreign' Geneva Conventions don't apply to Americans and redefine 'war crimes' to mean whatever you want them to. The Supreme Court doesn't appear to be all that helpful in this situation having said that foreign interpretations "should at least be considered by US courts".

Maybe the Republicans should have actually attended the hearings in 1996 (only two lawmakers actually did) when this law was being considered. It was supposed to set a standard for other countries to follow as well.

Who could have predicted a breach of the leveees Geneva Conventions?

Gonzales has been fretting about this for years, desperately trying to find some way to shield soldiers and officials from prosecution. The recent Hamdan decision has added to his anxiety smarminess.

Who else has been busy behind the scenes? Bush's favourite lawyers, David Addington and ('but she's not conservative enough!) Harriet Miers:

On July 7, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England signed a memorandum ordering all military departments to certify that their actions in the fight with al-Qaeda comply with Article 3. Several officials said the memo, which was reviewed by military lawyers, was provoked by the renewed threat of prosecution under the War Crimes Act.

England's memo was not sent to other agencies for review. Two White House officials heavily involved in past policymaking on detainee treatment matters, counsel Harriet Miers and Addington, told friends later that they had not been briefed before its release and were unhappy about its language, according to an informed source. Bradbury and Gonzales have since drafted legislation to repair what they consider the defects of the War Crimes Act and the ambiguities of Common Article 3.

Defects. Right.

Bushco opted out of the International Criminal Court early in Bush's first term in order to 'protect' US soldiers from the scrutiny of a foreign court and has tried every possible way to squeeze its way out of any responsibility or accountability for war crimes as outlined in the Geneva Conventions. Their unwillingness to comply with the most basic human rights laws has been absolutely appalling and now Republican lawmakers find themselves in a very uncomfortable position - having to amend war crimes laws that it approved ten years ago due to the actions of the military under Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush's guidance.

Or maybe they've so acquiesced to the neocons for the past six years that they'll just change that act without blinking an eye. It'll be interesting to see what John McCain has to say about this.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Israel Causes Catastrophic Lebanese Environmental Disaster

Beyond the deaths and woundings of hundreds of Lebanese civilians, the massive humanitarian and refugee disasters, the obliteration of much of Lebanon's physical infrastructure, the increasing weakening of Lebanon's democratically-elected government, Israel's bombings have also caused a catastrophic environmental disaster that will take years to clean up.

BEIRUT, July 27 (Reuters) - Along Lebanon's sandy beaches and rocky headlands runs a belt of black sludge, 10,000 to 30,000 tonnes of oil that spilled into the Mediterranean Sea after Israel bombed a power plant.

Lebanon's Environment Ministry says the oil flooded into the sea when Israeli jets hit storage tanks at the Jiyyeh plant south of Beirut on July 13 and 15, creating an ecological crisis that Lebanon's government has neither the money nor the expertise to deal with.

"We have never seen a spill like this in the history of Lebanon. It is a major catastrophe," Environment Minister Yacoub al-Sarraf told Reuters.

"The equipment we have is for minor spills. We use it once in a blue moon to clean a small spill of 50 tonnes or so. To clean this whole thing up we would need an armada ... The cost of a full clean-up could run as high as $40-50 million."


What will be left of Lebanon will this is all said and done? And, will it ever be all said and done?

Canada Blocked Ceasefire

I swear, Steve (our prime minister) and Pete (our foreign minister) are on a personal crusade to destroy Canada's reputation in the world and they're doing a damn fine job of it:

ROME—The United States, which has the backing of Britain and Canada on how to end the current Middle East crisis, frustrated attempts by other leading countries here yesterday to craft a plan for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon.
The U.S., backed by Britain and Canada, takes the position that a truce would be futile as long as Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon can pose a military threat to Israel.
After the closed-door meeting, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said the main issue was "how do we ensure that this will be not just a ceasefire that will erupt in violence again but that it will be a lasting peace?"

The approach adopted by the U.S., Britain and Canada is widely seen as a green light for the Israeli army to continue with the offensive meant to root out Hezbollah's military presence above the northern Israeli border.

And that green light resulted in this statement from Israel:

"We received yesterday at the Rome conference permission from the world .... to continue the operation, this war, until Hezbollah won't be located in Lebanon and until it is disarmed," Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon told Israel's Army Radio.

"Everyone understands that a victory for Hezbollah is a victory for world terror," said Ramon, believed to be close to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The European Union said today that Ramon's interpretation of the Rome meeting result was "totally wrong," and that Mideast hostilities should stop now.

We're now in bed with Bush and Blair and who will end up paying for it? Every Canadian citizen.

That Steve and Pete would be so daft as to go along with the Condi line that this ceasefire, or any ceasefire, should guarantee an end to hostilities ad infinitum is just plain ignorant. It's ignorance of what ceasefires are about. It's ignorance of the fact that Israel now believes it can continue its war crimes while sacrificing the lives of more of its citizens in the process. It's ignorant of the fact that some 600 Lebanese are now dead - including babies. And it's ignorant to believe that this won't have long-term ramifications for Canada.

Some commenters on Canadian blogs had posed this question before the Rome meeting, 'who cares what Canada thinks since we're not even on the world's radar screen in this war?'. Well, we certainly are now, aren't we? Maybe some who asked that question ought to start caring right about now.

We are now on the minority side in this conflict thanks to Steve and Pete. Don't think the world won't notice that. Cozying up with Bush and Blair, who are both horribly unpopular - and rightly so, was a huge mistake.

Welcome to Canada - the home of the new obstructionists.

(See also: The Ceasefire Scoreboard)

Condi Plays the Piano While the ME Burns

Meanwhile, back at the so-called diplomacy ranch: Condi plays the piano while the Middle East burns.

"It is not a time that is frivolous. It is a serious time. I will play something that is in accordance with my serious mood," said Rice, who had just attended a conference in Rome aimed at helping resolve the Lebanon crisis.

Rice said she would not be comfortable singing show tunes.

My reaction? This.

Israel/Lebanon War Updates

Updated throughout the day.

-CNN banner headline: 'Peretz: Israel wants to relocate Hezbollah'. To where? Hell? New Jersey? Mars?

- Oh great: Al-Qaida calls for holy war against Israel

It is a jihad (holy war) for the sake of God and will last until (our) religion prevails ... from Spain to Iraq," al-Zawahri said. "We will attack everywhere." Spain was controlled by Arab Muslims for more than seven centuries until they were driven from power in 1492.

- Lebanon claims their casualty rate may be as high as 600 dead.

An opinion poll published on Thursday showed 95 percent of Israelis still believed the offensive in Lebanon was justified.

- Actions speak louder than words:

JERUSALEM – Israel's government decided today against expanding its offensive against Hezbollah but called up at least 30,000 troops to begin training for duty in Lebanon.


"We received yesterday at the Rome conference permission from the world .... to continue the operation, this war, until Hezbollah won't be located in Lebanon and until it is disarmed," Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon told Israel's Army Radio.
The European Union said today that Ramon's interpretation of the Rome meeting result was "totally wrong," and that Mideast hostilities should stop now.

Way to go, Condi.

more to come...

On Today: John Bolton's Confirmation Hearing

US ambassador to the UN and bull in a china shop, John Bolton, is facing senate hearings in Washington today regarding his confirmation to the post. He became the ambassador originally when Bush appointed him during a recess, defying many who had opposed his nomination.

You can watch/listen to the hearings online at C-SPAN 3, which are already underway, and revisit them in the archives later if you missed them.

Think Progress has video of a protester who disrupted the hearings earlier.

Democrats: Bolton still a 'bully'

Abbas: Israeli Soldier May Soon Be Released

CNN reports (via AP) that Palestinian President Abbas has said kidnapped Israel soldier, Gilad Shalit, may be released "imminently".

More to come....

Update: Here's the AP story:

ROME (AP) -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday there could be an "imminent solution" for the release of an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian militants. A spokesman for the Hamas military wing quickly denied the assertion.

"With regards to the issue of the abducted Israeli soldier, I have reiterated that there are ongoing efforts that lead us to believe in an imminent solution," Abbas said, speaking through a translator.

The Ceasefire Scoreboard

On her flight to Malaysia from Rome, Condi warned Iran and Syria not to block a ceasefire.

So, who wants a ceasefire now?

Saudi Arabia
Kofi Annan
etc. etc. etc.
(I got tired of looking for links.)

Who doesn't want a ceasefire?

And, of course, the US.

Will Condi now warn Israel and the US not to block a ceasefire?

Ms Rice said she was pleased with the outcome of the Rome meeting and strongly rejected suggestions the United States was alone in not seeking an immediate ceasefire.

"It was not all countries calling for an immediate ceasefire and the United States saying 'no, we need to have an urgent and sustainable ceasefire'," said Ms Rice, who declined to name which countries had supported her view.

The United States fought hard and won language in the final communique that excluded a call for an "immediate ceasefire", arguing that conditions needed to be right otherwise such a truce would quickly break down.

Yes, just keep flying all over the world to places like Malaysia while people die. Good idea.

(h/t to for many of the links)

Update: CBC reports that Canada and Britain also opposed an immediate ceasefire.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Howard Dean Calls Maliki an "Anti-Semite"

You know, it was bad enough when Democratic congressperson William Delahunt called the Iraq prime minister's statements 'anti-semitic'. Now, Howard Dean has gone one step further and has labeled Maliki an 'anti-semite'.

"The Iraqi prime minister is an anti-Semite," the Democratic leader told a gathering of business leaders in Florida. "We don't need to spend $200 and $300 and $500 billion dollars bringing democracy to Iraq to turn it over to people who believe that Israel doesn't have a right to defend itself and who refuse to condemn Hezbollah."

The Republicans then seized the opportunity to (rightly) attack Dean:

The Republican National Committee rejected Dean's criticism of Al-Maliki, saying, "It is incredibly troubling that Howard Dean would seek to score cheap political points by attacking the democratically elected prime minister of Iraq."

On Capitol Hill, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said: "I dismiss Howard Dean. Really, he's a disappointment, even to Democrats. I don't care to deal with that."

Enough is enough. If I was an American Democrat, I certainly wouldn't be voting for the Dems this fall.

Right-Wing Blogger Claims Death Threat by Leopold

An 'American blogger in Norway', Seixon, claims it was Jason Leopold's voice on the phone which said, 'You're a dead man', during an early morning call today.

This blogger seems to have a long history of complaints and theories about Jason Leopold of truthout. I was trying to make sense of his/her ramblings the other day when I came upon the site by accident. I couldn't and just gave up.

But, why does this blogger believe it was Leopold?

I told the police that I believed this person to have been Jason Leopold. Due to the number not showing on my phone, I said I could not be 100% sure who it was. The voice on the phone sounded like Leopold's voice which I have heard on at least one radio interview. It should be noted that Ben from has spoken to John Dean (the person who was working with Leopold and called my parents on June 25th) a few times and he deems that Dean's voice is similar to that of Leopold.

I do not believe that Mr. Dean would have done this.
It is my firm belief that it was Mr. Leopold.

Well! Case solved, obviously!

How incredibly irresponsible. I hope that blogger gets their ass sued by Leopold. Soon.

Raw Story's Larisa Alexandrovna is also implicated in this incident.

Update: Someone has now posted Leopold's personal information (which I've edited out) at that blog. Check out this display of absolute hatred:

Jason "JEW BAG" Leopold
Beverly Hills, CA 90210


Dem Calls Maliki's Statements "Anti-semitic"

In a press conference held on Wednesday, William Delahunt (D-Mass) called Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki's comments about Israel 'anti-semitic'. (You can see exactly what Maliki said here.)

Several Democrats were furious that Maliki did not condemn Hezabollah or Hamas when he spoke previously and demanded that House Speaker Dennis Hastert not allow Maliki to address congress on Wednesday. Hastert refused and Maliki was met by a standing ovation when he addressed congress as scheduled.

Numerous concerned Democrats had written an angry letter expressing their disgust. Here's the list of those who signed it:

Among the signers of the letter were Emanuel, Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Il.), Gary Ackerman (D-NY), Steven Rothman (D-NJ), Michael McNulty (D-NY), John Lewis (D-Ga.), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Joseph Crowley (D-NY), William Delahunt (D-Mass.), C.B. Maloney (D-NY), Barney Frank (D-Mass.), John Olver (D-Mass.), Sander Levin (D-Mich.), George Miller (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tim Bishop (D-NY), Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and Artur Davis (D-Ala.)

Among the Dems' concerns raised in the letter was this one:

The goal of the invasion in Iraq was not to remove one threat in favor of another. The President's stated goal was to establish a strong liberal democracy in Iraq, which would help to bring stability to the Middle East.

A 'strong liberal democracy'? I don't recall Bush ever asserting any such thing. 'liberal'? C'mon. As for democracy, the Dems conveniently ignore the fact that free speech is an essential part of that concept.

And what about that whole WMD thing that was his first 'stated goal' for invading Iraq? Does he get a free pass from these Democrats for that now?

Let's face it, bringing this disagreement down to the point where a congressperson has the audacity to call Maliki's statements 'anti-semitic' just shows how desperate and confused some Democrats really are.

Annan Blamed For Deaths Of UN Observers

I suppose many of us knew it wouldn't take long for someone to blame Kofi Annan for the deaths of the four UNIFIL observers whose compound was bombed on Tuesday by the IDF.

And so, it begins:

Kofi Annan Could Have Ordered Peacekeepers to Leave
By Julie Stahl Jerusalem Bureau Chief
July 26, 2006

Haifa, Israel ( - The four United Nations peacekeepers killed in an Israeli attack on their outpost were required to stay at that post "until they were ordered by the [U.N.] secretary general to withdraw," said a member of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization on Wednesday.

But the peacekeepers apparently never received such an order, despite the fierce cross-border fighting that erupted in southern Lebanon two weeks ago.

The UN observers were mandated to be there (an extension was passed on January 31, 2006) and Annan had no reason to call for their removal, especially since Israel had clearly identified maps and coordinates of all UN positions in Lebanon - not to mention the fact that UN officials from the position that was hit were in frequent contact with the IDF on Tuesday pleading to the IDF to stop bombing their area.

The CNS article adds this note in an attempt to denigrate Annan's reaction:

Anan[sic] -- and China -- were among the first to condemn what Israel has called an unintended attack. They are demanding an investigation.

Lump him in with the communists. Good propaganda tactic.

And then, the article's author writes this:

Neither Annan nor Israel has said anything about why the unarmed peacekeepers -- who were supposed to be monitoring a ceasefire -- were left in what's become a war zone. Israeli officials flatly refused comment about that on Wednesday.

...even though she herself outlined exactly why UNIFIL was in Lebanon 4 paragraphs earlier:

(UNTSO is an unarmed U.N. body whose "observer" mandate dates from 1948. By contrast, UNIFIL -- the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon -- was created in 1978 to "restore the international peace and security" in southern Lebanon.)

Here's a clue, Stahl: peacekeepers are not required in areas where there has not been or is not currrently is a war underway.

Stahl then goes on to practically offer a justification of the bombing since 'many Israelis harbor a deep distrust of the U.N. in general'.

Ms Stahl, a 'former editor of the Israel Information Center of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' is obviously working this story for the maximum amount of anti-UN spin she can possibly muster. Blaming Annan for these deaths, however, is as low as it gets.

Israel/Lebanon War Updates

- One of the four UN observers killed in the Israeli missile strike on UNIFIL in Lebanon on Tuesday was Canadian and, frankly, Olmert can take his apology and shove it, especially considering that UN officials had been in repeated contact with the IDF throughout the day urging them to stop bombing the area. Seven members of a Canadian family were also killed in Lebanon earlier this month. Yet, our BushLite prime minister is still defending Israel and had stated at the beginning of this war that Israel's response was 'measured and justified'. Booting him out of office will certainly be 'measured and justified' when the time comes, unlike Israel's literally overblown response to the kidnapping of two of its soldiers by Hezbollah.

- The Rome talks concluded without an agreement on Wednesday. Even though Iran and Syria have been blamed for supporting Hezbollah, they were not invited to participate in those talks. Those who were there refused to collectively call for a ceasefire. So, while they can't get their act together politically, people will just continue to die. Rice has stated that she does not want a ceasefire unless it can guarantee that all of the fighting will stop forever. That is not the way to exercise diplomacy. There are no guarantees. The blood of the victims, including that of the dead and wounded Israelis, Condi and George, is on your hands. You can find the current death toll here.

- Despite objections by the Democrats, who chastised Iraq's PM Maliki for not toeing the line on US foreign policy regarding Israel and demanded that he not be allowed to speak to congress, Maliki received a standing ovation following his lofty speech in congress on Wednesday. He made no mention of the Israel/Lebanon war. The speech was also interrupted by a protester, reportedly wearing a pink t-shirt (a Code Pink member?) Update: It was a Code Pink member and C&L has the video.

PROTESTER: Iraqis want the troops to leave! Bring them home now! Iraqis want the troops to leave! Bring them home now!

HASTERT: If our honored guest will suspend for the moment, the chair notes disturbance in the gallery. The sergeant at arms will secure order by removing those engaging in disruption.


PROTESTER: Bring them home now!

HASTERT: The gentleman may resume.

more to come...

Feminizing Israel

The power of the political message is one that is carefully crafted by experts and advisers in order to ensure that a leader's statements have the maximum impact, most especially during times of war. While many, though obviously not all, of us are able to dissect the overt messages, we sometimes miss the more subtle cues.

During a press conference on July 13th in Germany held with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at his side (whom he had the audacity to grope at the G8 summit - a display of his male dominance?), George Bush made the following assertion which was then widely disseminated by the world press: 'Israel has the right to defend herself'.

On the face of it, that statement was viewed as Bush simply standing up for an ally in a time of crisis. But, look at the imagery and the subtlety involved. Bush, standing beside a woman, feminizes an entire country by using a gender-specific pronoun. Despite the fact that the women's movement has 'come a long way, baby', females are still stereotypically regarded as weaker persons in need of protection from a stronger - usually male or impersonal aggressor - ie. Hezbollah is spoken of as 'it' and its face is universally male.

According to many modern style guides for writing, the practice of assigning female pronouns to countries went out of fashion some time ago. But, it hardly seems like Bush's characterization of Israel as a female who must fight back was a simple grammatical mistake. He has repeated the same statement many times since that press conference in his public appearances.

Consider the power of early 20th century Germany being referred to as 'the fatherland'. That was a clear reflection of what was then an extremely paternalistic society and set up its leaders in the 'father knows best' role. The Bush administration has the same attitude, even going so far as to allow Bush to circumvent some 800 laws passed by congress by issuing his own signing statements. He has given himself the stereotypical father role as the head of the family of America whose supposed wisdom is not to be questioned. He has similarly treated the media as unruly children who are to be seen and not heard, threatening to silence them at every turn.

Therefore, it certainly isn't a stretch that he would also extend his sense of fatherly protection to his weaker (female) ally, Israel. His femininization of Israel was no mistake. It was a calculated method of attempting to garner support via sympathy for Israel's current conflict.

Propaganda can have power, but only if it's allowed to by those who are its recipients.