Thursday, January 31, 2008

HRW Report: 'Truth, Justice' and 'American Way' Mutually Exclusive


The US government supports making the world safe for democracy as long as democracies make the world safe for American imperialism.

In the newly released World Report 2008, Human Rights Watch has found that established Western democracies (mostly the US and EU) have been "accepting flawed and unfair elections for political expediency," explaining that, "by allowing autocrats to pose as democrats, without demanding they uphold the civil and political rights that make democracy meaningful, the United States, the European Union and other influential democracies risk undermining human rights worldwide."

An introduction on the HRW website continues:

States claiming the mantle of democracy, including Kenya and Pakistan, should guarantee the human rights that are central to it, including the rights to free expression, assembly and association, as well as free and fair elections. But in 2007 too many governments, including Bahrain, Jordan, Nigeria, Russia and Thailand, acted as if simply holding a vote is enough to prove a nation “democratic,” and Washington, Brussels and European capitals played along, Human Rights Watch said. The Bush administration has spoken of its commitment to democracy abroad but often kept silent about the need for all governments to respect human rights.

“It’s now too easy for autocrats to get away with mounting a sham democracy,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “That’s because too many Western governments insist on elections and leave it at that. They don’t press governments on the key human rights issues that make democracy function – a free press, peaceful assembly, and a functioning civil society that can really challenge power.”

In its World Report 2008, Human Rights Watch surveys the human rights situation in more than 75 countries. Human Rights Watch identified many human rights challenges in need of attention, including atrocities in Chad, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia’s Ogaden region, Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Sudan’s Darfur region, as well as closed societies or severe repression in Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Libya, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. Abuses in the “war on terror” featured in France, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, among others.

Grave human rights abuses are fueling the worsening humanitarian crisis in Somalia and the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia. “The situation in Somalia and Ethiopia’s Ogaden region, where millions are suffering, is a forgotten tragedy,” said Roth.

Sudan’s government bears principal responsibility for five years of the Darfur crisis, Human Rights Watch said. Some 2.4 million people are displaced, and 4 million people survive on humanitarian aid. In the last weeks, villages in West Darfur have been attacked, and civilians are at great risk as all sides ignore international humanitarian law.

Burma’s military government, notorious for decades of abuse, used deadly force in August and September in response to peaceful protests by monks, pro-democracy activists, and ordinary civilians. Hundreds of people remain arbitrarily detained.

In Sri Lanka, heavy fighting between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and government forces led to deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Hundreds of people have “disappeared,” and more than 20,000 have been displaced.

Israel’s blockade of Gaza denies 1.4 million residents the food, fuel and medicine they need to survive, a collective punishment that violates international law. Palestinian armed groups continue to launch indiscriminate rocket attacks on populated areas of Israel in violation of international law.

Human Rights Watch said sustained international pressure around the 2008 Olympic Games could push Chinese leaders to better respect human rights in China. But Human Rights Watch warned that the staging of the Olympics is exacerbating problems of forced evictions, migrant labor rights abuses, and the use of house arrests to silence dissidents. The Chinese government is cracking down on lawyers and human rights activists.

“The 2008 Olympics are an historic opportunity for the Chinese government to show the world that it can make human rights a reality for its 1.3 billion citizens,” said Roth.

US abuses against so-called “war on terror” detainees are a major concern; 275 detainees are still held at Guantanamo Bay without charge. Some of those remain after being cleared by the United States for release, because they cannot be sent home and no country will resettle them.

The United States continues to have the highest incarceration rate in the world, with black men incarcerated at more than six times the rate of white men.

Human Rights Watch has documented a number of elections manipulated through: outright fraud (Chad, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Uzbekistan); control of electoral machinery (Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Malaysia, Thailand, Zimbabwe); blocking or discouraging opposition candidates (Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Libya, Turkmenistan, Uganda); political violence (Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Lebanon); stifling the media and civil society (Russia, Tunisia); and undermining the rule of law (China, Pakistan).

Many of these tactics are illegal under domestic and international law, but rarely do outside powers call governments to account for it. Human Rights Watch said established democracies are often unwilling to do so for fear of losing access to resources or commercial opportunities, or because of the perceived requirements of fighting terrorism.

Human Rights Watch said the United States and the European Union should insist governments do more than hold a vote, and demand they uphold rights guaranteed by international law, including a free media, freedom of assembly, and a secret ballot.

“It seems Washington and European governments will accept even the most dubious election so long as the ‘victor’ is a strategic or commercial ally,” Roth said.

The United States and some allies have made it harder to demand other governments uphold human rights when they are committing abuses in the fight against terrorism. And when autocratic governments deflect criticism for violating human rights by pretending to be democrats, the global defense of rights is jeopardized, Human Rights Watch said.

In Pakistan, where President Pervez Musharraf has tilted the electoral playing field by rewriting the constitution and firing the independent judiciary, parliamentary elections are due in February. But the United States and Britain, Islamabad’s largest aid donors, have refused to condition assistance to the government on improving pre-electoral conditions.

In Kenya, the United States has at least expressed concern about the apparent rigging of December’s presidential poll and the violence that to date has claimed more than 700 lives. But having accepted the results of oil-rich Nigeria’s February 2007 vote, despite widespread and credible accusations of poll-rigging and electoral violence, Washington left the impression in Nairobi that fraud would be tolerated. It has not even threatened to withhold aid to push the government to negotiate with the opposition.

Nigeria’s leader came to power in a violent and fraudulent vote, yet he’s been accepted on the international stage,” said Roth. “It’s no wonder Kenya’s president felt able to rig his re-election.”

Bizarrely, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is supposed to promote democracy, human rights, and security, agreed to give its chair in 2010 to Kazakhstan, which has vast oil and gas reserves coveted by both the EU and Russia. The OSCE decision came after the Kazakh ruling party “won” every seat in August parliamentary elections, in which, according to the OSCE’s own monitors, the media was censored, the opposition suppressed, and the counting flawed.

Human Rights Watch noted positive developments in holding abusive leaders to account. Alberto Fujimori and Charles Taylor, the former presidents of Peru and Liberia, are on trial for human rights abuses. The International Criminal Court holds its first trial in May.

The World Report 2008 includes essays on China’s foreign policy; how activists helped create the Yogyakarta Principles for gay rights; the scourge of violence against children at school, in the home, on the streets and in institutions; and the British government’s erosion of the torture ban through “diplomatic assurances” against ill-treatment.

Click here for the full report.


HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth, a BBC News article reports, "said it had become too easy for autocrats to get away with mounting a sham democracy 'because too many Western governments insist on elections and leave it at that.'"
'They don't press governments on the key human rights issues that make democracy function - a free press, peaceful assembly, and a functioning civil society that can really challenge power,' he added.
The BBC article continues, "HRW said the West was often unwilling to criticise the autocrats for fear of losing access to resources or commercial opportunities, or because of the perceived requirements of fighting terrorism.
'It seems Washington and European governments will accept even the most dubious election so long as the 'victor' is a strategic or commercial ally,' Mr Roth said.

Aid donors

HRW highlighted Pakistan as an example.

It said the US and UK, its largest aid donors, had refused to distance themselves from President Pervez Musharraf, despite his "tilting the electoral playing field" by rewriting the constitution and firing the independent judiciary ahead of February's election.

It also argued that Washington's acceptance of the result of the Nigerian election in February 2007, "despite widespread and credible accusations of poll-rigging and electoral violence", had encouraged the Kenyan government to believe that fraud would be tolerated in December's presidential poll.

And it said the US and some allies like Britain and France had made it harder to demand other countries uphold human rights by committing abuses themselves in the "war on terror".

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other European leaders were criticised for their reluctance to allow Turkey to join the EU, despite its improved human rights record.

HRW said the EU "lost leverage itself and diminished the clout of those in Turkey who have cited the prospect of EU membership as a reason for reform".


Among the countries where the watchdog said human rights atrocities had been committed were Chad, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Sudan.

Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam were criticised for severe repression and closed societies.

When asked about the claims made by HRW, US state department spokesman Sean McCormack said he had not seen the report, but insisted his country did not promote false democracy and condone human rights abuses.

"In terms of the United States and this administration speaking up in defence of, and advocating for, and putting its effort behind its rhetoric, I don't think there's any question about where we stand in terms of promotion of democracy," he told reporters.

EU Under Fire Over Human Rights

The EU is neglecting human rights in favour of securing trade deals or co-operation on anti-terror measures, a human rights group has said.
In its annual report, Human Rights Watch said the UK in particular was ignoring abuses in Russia and Saudi Arabia to secure business contracts.

And it accused the US of having a deliberate strategy of abusing terror suspects during interrogation.

The US dismissed the report as "based more on a political agenda than facts".

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the United States did "more than any country in the world to advance freedom and promote human rights".

"We have liberated 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq, people that lived under oppressive, brutal regimes, and now they are living in freedom and they have human rights that previously they were denied," he said.
He said Human Rights Watch (HRW) should focus on countries that violate and deny people their liberties, not on the US.

There has been little public reaction to the report from European governments.

'Hollow denials'

The rights group said before Mr McClellan spoke that White House reassurances that it does not torture should not be believed.

President George W Bush "continues to offer deceptive reassurances that the United States does not 'torture' suspects, but that reassurance rang hollow", the report said.
The country's resulting lack of credibility on human rights issues left "a global leadership void when it came to defending human rights".

The 544-page annual report said 2005 was marked by a "continuing tendency to subordinate human rights to various economic and political interests".

The group said there was an "unseemly competition" between leaders from the UK, France and Germany to proclaim the closeness of their relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite human rights concerns in Chechnya.

The EU also "utterly failed" to tackle the US on its "practice of 'disappearing' terrorist suspects", HRW said.

It singled out France and Germany for pressing to lift the EU arms embargo on China despite a lack of progress on holding accountable those responsible for the crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Meanwhile, the UK has been pressing hard for Saudi Arabia to buy arms from British manufacturers "while remaining silent on the kingdom's abysmal human rights record", the report said.

In its look at other countries, HRW said:
* The situation in Iraq has deteriorated significantly through the actions of anti-US insurgents and US-led international and Iraqi forces. The group said it was particularly concerned about "the absence of basic precautions by the US military to protect civilians"

* Pakistani President Gen Pervez Musharraf has neglected the rights of women and religious minorities since he came to power in 1999, political opponents are arbitrarily detained, and news media are intimidated and harassed

* China has made progress but remains a one-party state that "leads the world in executions... and represses minorities"

* In Nepal, government forces and Maoist rebels "continue to engage in serious violations of international humanitarian law"

* North Korea continues to be one of the most repressive countries in the world, with its citizens lacking even basic civil freedoms

* India drew praise for halting weapons sales to Nepal after a royal seizure of power, and Kyrgyzstan was lauded for rescuing about 400 people from Uzbekistan after a government crackdown in Andjian.

JAILBREAK: When Gaza Resists

Not enough can be said about the situation in Gaza. The facts speak for themselves...and loudly. The collective punishment of a civilian population of over 1.5 million people, forced to live in conditions beyond squalid, beyond poverty, beyond humanity, restricted by economic, trade, and military blockades, unable to move, sleep, eat, work, or live with the freedom and dignity that the brutal occupying force boasts about in its own cities. In simple terms: Gaza is occupied. Gaza's resident refugees are being starved and neglected by its occupying power (a direct breach of international law) while the rest of the world looks on in horror, at best doing nothing, at worst eagerly encouraging the Israeli siege.

And for what? Because a resistance party won a transparent, legitimate and democratic election? Because a resistance movement has disrupted the lives of the residents of Israeli border town Sderot with Qassam rockets - rockets that have killed a total of 18 people in the past four years, while the Israeli military engages in constant extrajudicial executions (read: murder) that has claimed the lives of more than 816 Gazans - including 379 'noncombatants' - since January 2006? This is why Israel is presiding proudly over a humanitarian crisis they have created and threaten to prolong this indefensible catastrophe? This is why raw sewage runs in the streets of Gaza and why hospitals have no electricity to keep their patients alive and their surgeons operating? This is why, as of Saturday January 26, over 80 patients - including 16 children - have died in Gazan hospitals due to lack of power and resources?

Let's all remind ourselves again of the most important facts: Gaza is occupied and Gaza is under siege.

Rockets fired over the border into Israel are acts of resistance to an occupation. True, not peaceful resistance...but this is not a peaceful occupation. No occupation is peaceful and occupations do not end due to submission and subjugation to them. Are non-military Israelis really innocent? Of course not, just in the way that your average insurance saleswoman in Nebraska is not innocent of the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They live through it, they fund it, they vote for it, they support it. Just like we do with our country's various occupations. They are responsible, we are responsible. (And by the way, there is no such thing as a non-military Israeli since service in the military is mandatory.)

Does this mean that I think people deserve to live their lives on high alert, deserve to live in constant fear of what horrible weaponry might rain down from above, deserve to die? Absolutely not. No none deserves that. But the fear felt by residents of Sderot most likely approximates about one hundredth of a percent of what Palestinians feel and live through every single day in Gaza. Should the price of resistance equal the price of occupation? Would that not simply perpetuate an unjust status quo? The cost to an occupying power must at some point become greater than the benefit of the occupation itself. Occupations should become unsustainable to the occupier.

And as history has always taught us, occupations (just like empires) do not last forever. And this one will be no different. And when the walls come down, on which side will you have been standing?


Power of the People

Nada Elia, The Electronic Intifada, 29 January 2008

Palestinians walk into Egypt over the Israeli built wall on the southern border of the Gaza Strip after it was destroyed by Hamas, 26 January 2008. (Matthew Cassel)
Today, more than any other day in my life, I am proud to be Palestinian.

Let me explain. Nation-states mean little to me. They represent artificial boundaries, legal restrictions, "No Entry" signs, and collective brainwashing into the "uniqueness" of cultures that only humans acknowledge. What fish has ever stopped swimming as it approached that most invisible "water line" separating one country from another? What migratory bird's instincts made it hesitate for even the briefest of moments as it crossed from Canada to the US to Mexico, heading south for the winter? Show me a flower, even in the most private garden, that doesn't mix its aroma with the flowers in the garden next door, with the highest "security fence."

Such boundaries are unnatural. And because they are unnatural, I have never related to them. Yes, I have long advocated Palestinian rights, but my own national identity is tangential to my passion. I advocate Palestinian rights because they are human rights that are violated for the sake of these artificial boundaries. But today, as I see the Palestinian people represent the finest in people power, I am proud to be Palestinian. I am proud to be part of a people that refuses to submit to unnatural limits on our most basic freedoms: the freedom to eat, to drink, to grow.

The International Court of Justice declared the Wall illegal, but did not have the power to bring it down. The Fourth Geneva Convention declared collective punishment illegal, but did not have the power to stop it. International law declared the occupation illegal, but did not have the power to end it. And then Palestinians, possibly the most downtrodden of all peoples today, brought the wall down.

Yet, ecstatic as I am, I am not naive. I know this is only a temporary breach, and I know national leaders will take credit for this achievement. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has already claimed that he "allowed" the Palestinians into Egypt because Gazans were starving, even as his security forces arrested 500 demonstrators in Cairo for protesting the siege. And Dov Weissglas, advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, referred to the strangulation of Gaza as if he were doing Palestinians a favor: "It's like an appointment with a dietitian. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won't die."

But Palestinians are dying from the "diet" imposed upon them by the illegal occupier. A World Food Program study conducted last year revealed that half the Palestinian population is "food-insecure." Indicators of malnutrition include being underweight, wasting, and stunted. Also as a result of the restrictive Israeli measures, Palestinian still-births in the West Bank rose by 52 percent in 2007. There are no such figures available for the Gaza Strip.

And even as I am writing this, news comes in that Israel has killed Mohammad Harb, the Gaza leader whose forces blew up sections of the wall, allowing Palestinians to stock up on essentials. Harb paid with his life for the temporary freedom of my people, the people who democratically elected him as their representative, despite immense pressure from Israel and the US to "elect" a peon of the occupation. So I do not want to forget. Harb was the people's choice, and it is people power that brought the wall down.

And that is one model we can all emulate, wherever we are. If disenfranchised Palestinians could bring down a wall constructed by the region's most heavily-armed nuclear power, backed by the world's uberpower, then all oppressed peoples, everywhere, can do it too.

Today, for a brief moment, it feels great to be Palestinian.

Nada Elia teaches Gender and Cultural Studies at Antioch University-Seattle.


Bush's Delusions Die in Gaza

The mass jailbreak of Gazans into Egypt revealed the bankruptcy of both Israel's policy of collective punishment and Bush's attempt to make Mideast peace.

By Gary Kamiya
Palestinians make their way to Egypt through the destroyed section of the border wall between Gaza and Egypt Jan. 26, 2008. (Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafag)
Jan. 29, 2008 | It was a heart-wrenching story. Hundreds of thousands of people, trapped for endless years in an open-air jail and recently subjected to an airtight siege, blew up their prison wall and poured out to freedom.

A 24-year-old man named Fares Al-Ghoul talked to the Chicago Tribune. "It was like a dream," Al-Ghoul said. "Suddenly in the morning we found out that we could travel. Everybody started to rush to the border, and I found my way inside. We walked a few kilometers but we were not tired. I was ready to continue walking forever. I wanted to explore everything. It was a taste of freedom."

Freedom. It's the ultimate American ideal. It's what George W. Bush says he launched his "war on terror" to defend. But because this is Gaza, and the people are Palestinians, their freedom isn't worth defending. Al-Ghoul is not going to walk forever, or even for more than a few days. He and the rest of his fellow prisoners are going to go back to their jail. And we're going to forget about them.

America can't deal with the Gaza breakout, because it shows that Gaza is a jail that we own the key to. The crisis undercuts our simplistic narrative about the Middle East. If the noble "war on terrorism" turns out to include keeping a million and a half people locked up indefinitely, it's better not to think about it. The inmates should just return to their cells, behave themselves, and wait for further instructions. If it takes 40 more years for them to get out, so be it.

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" "Something there is that doesn't love a wall." Ronald Reagan's famous injunction to Mikhail Gorbachev and Robert Frost's line speak to something deep in the American conscience. But when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that conscience is asleep. Even the sight of hundreds of thousands of desperate people, one-fifth of Gaza's entire population, rushing out to buy oil and medicine and cement doesn't awaken it.

Of the mass breakout, the Associated Press wrote, "It ... reminded the world that 1.5 million Gazans, many already bitterly poor, cannot remain locked up indefinitely." It may have reminded the world of that, but it certainly didn't remind America. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice blamed Hamas for the crisis and issued a call to deal "creatively" with the situation, a response the respected moderate Lebanese commentator Rami Khouri called "an ethical weapon of mass destruction." "Why 'creatively'? Is this a kindergarten finger painting class?" Khouri wrote. "Why not deal with the Gaza situation on the basis of more compelling adult criteria, such as legality, legitimacy, and humanity?" The Washington Post ran an editorial that attacked Hamas for derailing the peace process, belittled Palestinian suffering (it referred to a "humanitarian crisis" in scare quotes), scolded Gazans for "blowing up international borders," and concluded by testily demanding that they stop making trouble and wait for the "peace process" to go forward (that is, go back to jail and wait for another few decades). The Congress and the presidential candidates, Democratic and Republican, ignored the Gaza crisis, or weighed in with predictably pro-Israel statements.

Even the most progressive candidate, Barack Obama, went out of his way to take Israel's side. In a letter to U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Obama urged the United States not to allow a resolution condemning Israel's illegal collective punishment of the Palestinians to pass unless it also acknowledged Palestinian rocket attacks, which Israel's latest closure was a response to. "Israel is forced to do this," Obama wrote.

Obama's objection to the resolution as one-sided was legitimate -- up to a point. Of course the Palestinian rocket attacks that have killed 18 Israelis in four years are morally indefensible. But as usual with American pronouncements about anything involving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, Obama's letter completely failed to address the context of those attacks, including the harsh Israeli military actions (including extrajudicial executions) in Gaza that have killed more than 816 Gazans, including 379 noncombatants, since January 2006. And, of course, it failed to mention the most crucial fact: Gaza has been under a brutal occupation for decades.

But even leaving those matters aside, Obama's claim that Israel was "forced" to impose a total siege on the population of Gaza to try to end rocket attacks by Palestinian militants is simply false. Israel was not "forced" to do that any more than America was "forced" to invade Iraq. Yes, Israel has the right to defend itself against the Qassam rocket attacks. But it was not forced to cut off power, medicine and food to do that. It chose to impose that siege (with Bush's obvious, if unspoken, blessing) because it hoped that by punishing the people of Gaza, they would overthrow their Hamas-led government.

One need not defend Hamas to recognize that "sending a message" by punishing the people who live under its rule is a textbook case of collective punishment, which is illegal under international law. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert not only confirmed that this is Israel's policy, but unabashedly revealed its purely retributive nature. "We won't allow a situation in which people in Sderot walk around in fear day and night, while Gazans lead a completely normal life," Olmert told members of his ruling Kadima party. "We won't allow for a humanitarian crisis, but have no intention of making their lives easier. And the harder their lives, excluding humanitarian damage, we will not allow them to lead a pleasant life. As far as I am concerned, all of Gaza's residents can walk and have no fuel for their cars, as they live under a murderous regime."

Forget Olmert's pious cant about "not allowing for a humanitarian crisis." The truth is that Gaza has been in such a crisis for years, as Israeli journalist Amira Hass documented in her 1999 book "Drinking the Sea at Gaza." The furor over Israel's latest blockade obscures the fact that Israel has long used collective punishment as a tactic in Gaza. As Hass shows, Israeli policies during the Oslo years had the effect of slowly strangling Gaza. Israel had complete control over the Gaza economy. Gazans couldn't work or visit sick relatives without Israeli permission. Israel could make life in Gaza better or worse with the flick of a pen. And most damningly, Hass shows that contrary to Israeli claims, Israel's stifling closures (the Strip was completely sealed 18 times between 1994 and 1996, for example) were not carried out solely because of security concerns, but for various strategic reasons.

Since Hamas took over, and the West decided to try to bludgeon it into submission, the crisis has gotten even worse. In effect, the slow strangulation simply became faster. It's like a macabre social science experiment sanctioned by the civilized West, a clinical study of whether you can get people to do what you want by depriving them of necessities. Rocket attacks? Turn the thermostat down to 48 degrees. More attacks? Let raw sewage flow in the streets. Still more? Cut power to the hospitals.

By punishing all Gazans for the indefensible actions of a few, Israel and its ally America are validating the argument used by the militant Palestinians who insist that all Israelis are fair targets because they all serve in the Israeli army, or the jihadists who insist that all Americans are fair targets because they vote and are therefore responsible for their government's actions. One of the ironies of the situation is that in Israel these policies are openly criticized, as in this Haaretz column by Bradley Burston; in America, these points are almost never raised.

If it were just a matter of morality, we could ignore the agony of Gaza. After all, we countenance immoral actions all over the world. But this isn't a matter only of morality, but of national security. For we are seen by the Arab-Muslim world as Israel's co-jailers -- and ultimately, we are. We support and pay for Israel's occupation. If we were to demand that that occupation stop, sooner or later Israel would be forced to comply. The people in the region know this, and they are deeply angry and frustrated, and as a result some of them are driven to fight us. There is no troop surge big enough to defeat the jihadis and anti-American militants our Middle East policies are breeding.

The Gaza jailbreak represents the end of Bush's delusional attempt to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Annapolis is now dead, killed before it even started. The fatal flaw of Bush's approach was that it assumed that dividing the Palestinians would lead to peace, when just the opposite is true. Bush and Olmert planned to squeeze Gaza until Hamas collapsed, while simultaneously pumping up Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority. They reasoned that by getting rid of the extremists in Hamas, they would smooth the way to make a deal with the moderates in Fatah.

But this approach was doomed for two reasons. First, Olmert is unwilling or incapable of taking the steps required to strengthen Abbas -- certainly not fast enough to make his Fatah party a viable alternative to Hamas in Palestinian eyes. (The announcement on Jan. 24 that Israel is freezing all settlement growth was a positive development, but too little, too late.) And Bush, "the greatest friend Israel has ever had," is not about to put the pressure on Olmert that alone could force his hand. Second, Hamas is not going away. Collectively punishing the people of Gaza, far from causing them to rise up and throw out Hamas, as Bush and Olmert fantasized, only further radicalized them. American and Israeli intransigence and ineptitude have only succeeded in strengthening the hard-liners and weakening the moderates.

By destroying the wall, Hamas instantly gained enormous prestige among Palestinians -- and proved that it cannot be excluded from political discussions. And, perhaps most significantly, it also opened what could be an entirely new economic and political frontier with Egypt.

For his part, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is in an extremely delicate position. He also bears responsibility for the plight of the Gazans, as a paid-off collaborator in the U.S.-Israeli policy. But Mubarak is also hostile toward and afraid of empowering the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, of which Hamas is an offshoot. He allowed the Palestinians to burst through into Egypt only when Arab and Muslim anger over his collaboration with the United States and Israel became too great to resist. But now that the precedent has been set, it will be extremely difficult for Mubarak to return to the status quo ante.

Egypt is moving to reclose the border and has closed shops to discourage Palestinians. But if Mubarak closes the wall and Israel imposes another blockade, or invades the Strip, and he refuses to open it again, he will be perceived as a traitor and collaborator -- possibly threatening his regime. Mubarak will try to work out some compromise that will absolve him of full responsibility for Gaza but will keep the border porous enough to serve as a safety valve from the Gaza pressure cooker. Of course, any such safety valve strengthens Hamas.

The Rafah breakout shows the limits of Washington's policy of trying to cajole and bully "moderate" Arab regimes into doing our bidding. Right-wing commentators are fond of disparaging the "Arab street," but people power, it turns out, can still make a decisive difference in the Middle East. When popular outrage gets too great, even bought-and-paid-for despots like Mubarak have to yield to it. The situation closely parallels what happened during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, when Israel tried to bomb the Lebanese into overthrowing Hezbollah. The moderate Sunni regimes initially condemned Hezbollah but were forced by public outrage to reverse course, just as Mubarak was.

In the end, the road to peace remains the same. The United States and Israel need to accept Hamas' offer of a cease-fire. Then they need to bite the bullet and accept that even though Hamas refuses to recognize Israel and renounce terror, it is a rational actor and can be persuaded to accept a two-state deal so long as the final goal of a viable Palestinian state, as described in the Arab League plan, is clearly on the table. And they need to bring Fatah and Hamas back together and negotiate final-status issues -- Jerusalem, security, borders, refugees -- with both at the same time. As Hussein Agha and Robert Malley argued recently in the Washington Post, so long as each of the three players in what they call the "Middle East triangle" regards a gain by either of the other two as their loss, no progress is possible. But if each of the three players can be made to understand that a gain for one is a gain for them all, then a deal could be possible.

The recent Gaza jailbreak showed that a deal is urgently necessary. The pot just boiled over. It hasn't exploded yet, but if it does, it won't just be the Palestinians and Israelis who get burned.


Another World is Necessary

Serene Assir, The Electronic Intifada, 31 January 2008
Breaking the siege: A young Palestinian boy from Rafah, Gaza enjoys a cup of tea in front of the fallen wall at the border with Egypt. (Matthew Cassel)
Under siege since 9 June 2007, the Palestinian people of Gaza moved the world by breaking out and materially reclaiming their stolen freedom of movement, rights to travel to and from their country, and right to resist the illegal status imposed on them through occupation since 1967 and economic and near-total physical blockade since the democratic election of Hamas in the legislative election of January 2006.

The present siege, which began shortly after Hamas' takeover of Gaza, led to a total collapse of the Gazan economy, as well as an escalating humanitarian crisis affecting every aspect of life for Palestinian residents of the world's most densely populated area, including business, health care and sanitation, state of mind, infrastructure and indeed survival itself. Israel's total blockade that began one week before the popular disruption of the siege led to total power blackouts, to the extent that the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, whose role in providing assistance to 1948 refugees living in Gaza is central for the provision and distribution of goods including baby milk and basic foodstuffs, was rendered almost incapable of continuing its work. Where Gaza would have stood today without the act of disruption that awed the world last week cannot be gauged -- without pushing the limits of our imagination beyond the parameters of the worst plausible.

Under the 25 November 2005 agreement reached by Israel, the European Union and the Palestinian Authority (PA) -- then in charge of the Gaza Strip -- and under the surveillance of the United States, it was established that the PA would take over from Israel to control entry into and exit from Gaza of persons via the Rafah border terminal, with the EU deploying monitors at the terminal. Owing to Israeli interventionism, such as that exercised on and ever since 9 June 2007, the terminal was closed more often than it was open, in contravention to the spirit of the 2005 agreement. As of the election of Hamas in January 2006, the terminal was closed 86 percent of the time, according to information gathered by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Egypt was not a signatory to the agreement governing the Rafah border terminal. Instead it was granted observer status, which appeared to some high-ranking security officials bizarre enough given that the agreement concerned an Egyptian border. According to security sources, Egypt had expressed some interest in having its status upgraded to that of signatory when the agreement was renewed. This renewal was set to take place in 2006; however, it never did, owing to Israeli postponement.

Thus the precise details of Egypt's role in maintaining the blockade of Gaza have through much of the duration of the siege remained murky. For the most comfortable of analyses, all that was publicly known was that Israel instigated the closure of the terminals leading in and out of the Gaza Strip, and that the closure was supported by PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who criminally enough believed that Hamas would lose popularity to his advantage if the people of Gaza were progressively starved. Meanwhile Egypt's grassroots, Cairo-based human rights organizations remained conspicuously silent for months, for the most part speaking out only when Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip became total, by which time fear of reprimand from the notorious state security services was overwhelmed by the absolute rejection of the continuous suffering of fellow Arabs in Gaza. Only the Muslim Brotherhood-run Doctors' Syndicate remained active throughout the seven months of illegal collective punishment faced by the Palestinians of Gaza, and even then on a principally humanitarian level. Only in the time nearing the Palestinians' act of disruption last week did Cairo see mass action, the most notable example of which was a protest before the headquarters of the Arab League in the heart of the Arab world's most populous capital, organized by the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition parties. Hundreds of people were arrested during and prior to the protest.

On the state level, even though it had been Israel and the PA which had created the humanitarian and political crisis in Gaza, Egypt could conceivably have unilaterally ended it. Under international law, given the illegality of the siege, Egypt had an obligation to act, an obligation to which it failed to fulfill. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Egypt is a High Contracting Party, parties are obliged "to respect and ensure respect" for all the provisions contained, including the criminalization of collective punishment (Article 33). No doubt, the besiegement of Gaza as a pressure mechanism to turn the Palestinian civilian population against Hamas constitutes, at the very least, collective punishment.

However, if there remained any shred of doubt that Egypt could have done more to interrupt the siege, then recent days' events have helped establish an even more glaring understanding of the role of Cairo. "To Egypt the disruption of the siege came as a surprise, and under growing pressure from the population and particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, it was impossible for the regime in Cairo to put an immediate end to the flow of Palestinians to and from Gaza," said director of the Addameer human rights group in Gaza Khalil Abu Shammala. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak "tried to capitalize on the events, by issuing statements that would paint Egypt in a more humanitarian light and thus to persuade opposition that the regime was doing its part in support of the Palestinians of Gaza. It was foolish, however, on the part of the regime to think that simply allowing Palestinians exit into Egypt for a few days would rid Egypt of its responsibility towards the Palestinians under the present conditions. Much, much more needs to be done. Egypt has to actively end its participation in the siege," Abu Shammala added.

But within five days of the disruption of the siege of Gaza, the deployment of Central Security Forces to north Sinai, particularly from al-Arish to Rafah, had been massively intensified. While initial attempts to close down the border were thwarted following clashes with armed Hamas members, later attempts were rendered impossible by the sheer fury of Palestinian civilians, who threw stones in the spirit of self-defense from renewed imprisonment by the simplest means at their disposal. Meanwhile, it was reported less than a week on from the popular outbreak that up to 3,000 Palestinians were detained by the Egyptian authorities as the campaign to prohibit the entry of Gazans without visas escalated. In addition, there were daily reports of the authorities prohibiting the entry into Sinai of Egyptian human rights and political campaigners from across the political spectrum as they brought with them medicines and supplies in demonstration of solidarity with the people of Gaza.

At the time of writing, such had been the forcefulness of the Egyptian regime's effort to expel the remaining Palestinians and to prevent any new entry that very few managed to remain in Sinai one week on from the initial outbreak. Barring approximately 1,000 Palestinians who set up camp by the Security Headquarters in al-Arish in an attempt to secure visas and thus acquire legal means to remain in Egypt, or to travel to third countries where they work or study, most Gaza residents had returned home, ready to face a renewed closure up until the time that new arrangements for the border are reached.

Perhaps a total defeat of the natural and legal act of struggle against siege, poverty, occupation and death that the Palestinians of Gaza demonstrated over the past week is precisely what the Israelis and their allies in Washington and peace partners in Cairo would desire most. However, gauging from the mood in Gaza, that they would secure such a result in the long run is unlikely. First off, according to Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, "It would be absurd to suggest that Hamas would open the border only to then close it again. The destruction of the border is not intended solely to give Palestinians temporary relief, but essentially to work towards negotiations for a solution that would end the siege once and for all."

Meanwhile, on the streets the effects of the disruption of the siege extend far beyond a mere re-injection of economic life into Gaza, to the lifting of Palestinian confidence in struggle. "What has been made clear by this single action is that no matter how dark the abandonment by the entire world has been of the Palestinian people, the people can still take the initiative to secure their freedom," said Emad Abu Mohamed, one refugee resident of Gaza City. "There can be no going back from here." Insofar as the action raised the spirits of the people of Gaza, it also re-directed the focus of a people who have seen fierce factional rivalry and bloodshed to the occupation, which is the origin of the problem, said Mohammed Dahman, a Gaza-based journalist. "The whole of Gaza celebrated the outbreak in unity, and in so doing proved that the rivalries are superficial," Dahman added.

The immensity of the overwhelmingly peaceful movement of Palestinians in and out of north Sinai indicated that another reality is possible and indeed necessary in the Arab world. Occupation in Palestine cannot be successfully challenged if the Arab world does not wake up to the fact that anything but more actions of a similarly massive, popular nature are not encouraged. Acceptance of a continued oppression of Arab popular movements is tantamount to acceptance of Israel's siege of Gaza. Under international law, nothing short of full Egyptian cooperation at the state level with the people of Gaza will do. And it was precisely this sort of cooperation that Hamas called for, using last week's outbreak as a state-of-the-art pressure card to ensure it, alongside the promise of greater economic influence in the Gaza Strip. "We are looking to end Gaza's economic ties to Israel, and for Egypt to step in to take over," Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said.

Now given that Cairo has already turned down Hamas overtures to take control of the border, and that Hamas has rejected proposals for an international presence at Rafah, and granted that Cairo's relations with Washington have long been unequal to the effect that it is safe to say that the present regime survives because it is supported by the world's only superpower, it remains to be seen just where the unfolding crisis will lead. There is no doubt that the short-term economic advantage of maintaining ties with Washington over developing a longer-term strategy involving the Palestinian people, who are determined to emerge victorious over occupation, appears more beneficial to Cairo. However, what is clear is that, as is the case every minute of every day within Egyptian jurisdiction ever since the signing of the Camp David Peace Treaty in 1978, there is a fundamental discord between what the vast majority of the people of Egypt really want, and what power has imposed on them. Given the reality of power distribution in the Arab world, it is not yet the time to imagine that the crisis will lead to an immediate settlement that will aptly meet the requirements of the people of Gaza. But what the surprise disruption of the siege, involving the instantaneous, physical realization of what has been the dream of millions of human beings the world over for hundreds of years -- namely the downfall of borders and the victory of the people over brutality and oppression -- indicates, is that it is necessary to think beyond the limits of the mundane. This was a lesson learned not only by the Gazans, but also no doubt by hundreds of thousands of Arabs who watched in awe at the spontaneous creativity of their brothers and sisters, the Palestinians.

Serene Assir is a Beirut and Cairo-based independent journalist and blogger.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Gathering of Damning Evidence
(and still no moss)

Over the past few years, Rolling Stone magazine has published a slew of fantastic articles on a wide range of political issues (most impressive to me is this piece on the PR build-up to the 'war' in Iraq and this one, entitled "Iran: The Next War"). More recently, in the past few days, two reports that deal with revealing the truth behind the 'War on Terror' have been published by the magazine. The following piece from January 22, 2008, by reporter Tom Dickinson, is illuminating, as is a newer piece by Guy Lawson, entitled "The Fear Factor," which can be read here.


Truth or Terrorism?
The Real Story Behind Five Years of High Alerts

A history of the Bush administration's most dubious terror scares — and the headlines they buried

TIM DICKINSON | | Jan. 22, 2008

"Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment. There were times when some people in the administration were really aggressive about raising the threat level, and we said, 'For that?!'" — Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, May 2005
The Bush administration has never shied from playing the fear card to distract the American public from scandal or goad them into supporting a deeply flawed foreign policy. Here a history of the administration's most-dubious terror alerts — including three consecutive Memorial Day scare-a-thons — all of which proved far less terrifying than the screamer headlines they inspired.

February 12, 2002

The Threat: Yemenite terrorist set to attack U.S. — today! "I want, to encourage... all Americans everywhere to be on the highest state of alert," warns Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The Reality: The threat hadn't been corroborated by U.S. intelligence agencies — and the evidence actually pointed to an attack not in the U.S., but in Yemen.

The Real News: Announced the same day that Enron CEO Ken Lay appeared before Congress, and a week after the White House was instructed not to destroy its Enron-related documents.

May 19-27, 2002

The Threat: Dick Cheney kicks off Memorial Day weekend by calling a new Al Qaeda strike "almost a certainty — it could happen tomorrow." FBI Director Robert Mueller adds, "There will be another terrorist attack." The FBI warns of strikes on the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.

The Reality: The administration "made a political decision" to make public all threats — even those from "hoaxers," says a retired CIA counterterrorism expert. "The amount of chatter hasn't changed in volume," adds a defense official. As for the New York threats, "There really isn't any hard information," declares the former head of the FBI bureau in New York.

The Real News: The administration's failures in preventing 9/11 were under the microscope: Bush acknowledged receiving a briefing titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." a month before the attacks; the FAA said it had failed to alert airlines of the arrest of would-be hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui; the FBI admitted it had ignored a pre-9/11 warning that Al Qaeda had infiltrated American flight schools.

June 10, 2002

The Threat: U.S.-born Al Qaeda agent captured. John Ashcroft interrupts a trip to Russia to brag on live TV of bagging "a known terrorist who was exploring a plan to build and explode a 'dirty bomb' in the United States."

The Reality: The suspect, Jose Padilla, had actually been in custody for a month. The "dirty bomb" allegations were so flimsy that they were dropped after the administration agreed to try the case in federal court rather than in a military tribunal.

The Real News: The threat was announced four days after FBI whistle-blower Coleen Rowley testified before Congress that 9/11 might have been prevented if the FBI flight-school warning had reached federal agents investigating Moussaoui.

September 10, 2002

The Threat: Bush personally announces the first nationwide Orange Alert. Cheney flees to a "secure location" as Ashcroft warns that Al Qaeda appears to be targeting "transportation and energy sectors."

The Reality: There was no specific threat against any American target.

The Real News: The heightened terror alert went into effect just in time for the president's address to the nation from Ellis Island on the first anniversary of 9/11.

February 7, 2003

The Threat: Orange Alert. CIA Director George Tenet calls the threat "the most specific we have seen" since 9/11; says Al Qaeda may use a "radiological dispersal device, as well as poisons and chemicals."

The Reality: The alert, accompanied by a warning to stock up on plastic sheets and duct tape, was debunked within days; the main source failed an FBI polygraph. Threat level remained stuck on orange for two more weeks.

The Real News: The alert followed less than forty-eight hours after Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations in which he falsely accused Saddam Hussein of harboring Al Qaeda and training terrorists in the use of chemical weapons.

March 17, 2003

The Threat: Orange Alert. FBI warns of terror strikes by Saddam or "allied or sympathetic terrorist organizations, most notably the Al Qaeda network."

The Reality: Claim debunked by future CIA director Porter Goss, then chair of House intelligence committee: No intel suggests new attack.

The Real News: Nation's third Orange Alert came three days before Bush invaded Iraq, opening what he called the "central front of the War on Terror."

May 20, 2003

The Threat: For a second Memorial Day in a row, country is placed on Orange Alert following warning that "Al Qaeda has entered an operational period worldwide."

The Reality: No specific threat ever cited; alert issued because of what the Department of Homeland Security calls "the heightened vulnerability associated with the Memorial Day holiday."

The Real News: Two weeks after Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, administration's plan to implement Iraq, self-rule was postponed "indefinitely" due to looting and lawlessness.

July 29, 2003

The Threat: Homeland Security warns that new, 9/11-like strikes are in the works: "At least one of these attacks could be executed by the end of the summer."

The Reality: Not one of the alleged attacks ever materialized.

The Real News: Days earlier, the Bush administration revealed that the CIA forewarned the president about the lack of evidence for his claim that Saddam was seeking uranium from Africa.

December 21, 2003

The Threat: Orange Alert for the holidays. Ridge warns that threat of attack is "perhaps greater now than at any point since 9/11." Six flights are canceled; several passengers match terror watch list.

The Reality: The supposed "terrorists" included a Welsh insurance salesman, an elderly Chinese woman and a kindergartner.

The Real News: The alert came after 9/11 Commission chair Tom Kean suggested the 9/11 attacks could have been thwarted. Bush is also under fire for failing to find weapons of mass destruction.

May 26, 2004

The Threat: Memorial Day again: "They are going to attack and hit us hard," warns a senior intelligence official. Ashcroft relays an Al Qaeda threat that "ninety percent of the arrangements for an attack in the United States were complete."

The Reality: The threat Ashcroft attributed to Al Qaeda was actually made by a discredited group that falsely claimed credit for the Madrid train bombings. This group "is not really taken seriously by Western intelligence," says one expert.

The Real News: The Abu Ghraib torture scandal has come to a full boil.

June 14, 2004

The Threat: A shopping mall in Columbus, Ohio, is threatened by Al Qaeda bomber. "The American heartland was targeted for death and destruction," Ashcroft declares.

The Reality: The Somali suspect whose indictment Ashcroft trumpeted had been in custody for seven months. The charges against him made no mention of a shopping mall.

The Real News: John Kerry leads Bush by seven points in early Ohio polling.

July 8, 2004

The Threat: Tom Ridge warns that "Al Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States in an effort to disrupt our democratic process."

The Reality: The plot did not exist: Says a top European spy, "I am aware of no intelligence, nothing that shows there will be an attack before the U.S. presidential election." Real News: Two days earlier, John Kerry tapped John Edwards as his running mate.

August 1, 2004

The Threat: Orange Alert. Citing "new and unusually specific" intelligence, Ridge details a threat to the Citigroup building and the New York Stock Exchange. Adds Bush, "We wouldn't be, you know, contacting authorities at the local level unless something was real."

The Reality: The president allowed his own daughters to do a photo-op at one of the targeted buildings. Perhaps that's because the "new" intelligence was actually three years old. "There is nothing right now that we're hearing that is new," says a senior law-enforcement official. Real News: Alert came three days after Kerry took the Democratic nomination at the party's convention in Boston.

October 6, 2005

The Threat: FBI warns of Al Qaeda subway bombing "on or about October 9th, 2005." Bush claims to have foiled ten terror plots since 9/11.

The Reality: A counter-terrorism official calls the warning unfounded: "There was no there there." None of the plots cited by Bush were operational.

The Real News: Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court is failing.

June 23, 2006

The Threat: Miami-based terrorists plotting to topple the Sears Tower. "These homegrown terrorists may prove to be as dangerous as groups like Al Qaida," says Alberto Gonzales.

The Reality: FBI Deputy Director John Pistole terms plot “more aspirational than operational.” Suspects armed to the teeth — with paintball guns — attempted to secure Al Qaeda funds at local 7-11.

The Real News: Abu Musab Al Zarqawi had been killed days earlier — removing the villain who was then America's poster boy of terror.

July 7, 2006

The Threat: New York Daily News breaks news of plot to bomb Holland Tunnel, flood Wall Street. FBI Assistant Director Mark Mershon calls threat "the real deal."

The Reality: Suspect had been arrested three months earlier, after bragging about his planned exploits in an Internet chat room. Said one CIA officer, "The plot, if that is what we would call it, was not well conceived, and there was no possibility of flooding Wall Street. There was no connection to a cell in the US. Finally, professional terrorists generally do not discuss targeting on open channels."

The Real News: News of plot leaked to coincide with the first anniversary of the July 7, 2005 London bombings.

July 10, 2007

The Threat: Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff warns of his "gut feeling" that the U.S. is entering "a period of increased vulnerability" of attack from terrorists: “Summertime seems to be appealing to them.”

The Reality: Chertoff subsequently confessed, "We don't have specific intelligence about an attack, that is, a particular attack against the homeland, that is imminent or scheduled for the summer."

The Real News: Two days later, the intelligence community revealed Al Qaeda's strength was "undiminished" in spite of six years of the "War on Terror."


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

State of the Union 2008 Wrap-Up
Wait, What Year is This?

No, I didn't watch it. But I have read a bit about what was said, and made the unfortunate decision to actually visit the White House website to take a gander at the transcript. At least I can read the word "nuclear" correctly.

Needless to say, nothing surprised me. I think this piece, entitled The Sorry State of a Lame-Duck's Legacy, by The Nation's John Nichols provides a pretty solid post-mortem, but it does leave certain things out. Things that I find rather important.

Let's start with Palestine. Last night, Bush said,

We're also standing against the forces of extremism in the Holy Land, where we have new cause for hope. Palestinians have elected a president who recognizes that confronting terror is essential to achieving a state where his people can live in dignity and at peace with Israel. Israelis have leaders who recognize that a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state will be a source of lasting security. This month in Ramallah and Jerusalem, I assured leaders from both sides that America will do, and I will do, everything we can to help them achieve a peace agreement that defines a Palestinian state by the end of this year. The time has come for a Holy Land where a democratic Israel and a democratic Palestine live side-by-side in peace.
The time for a democratic Palestine, eh? You mean the same democratic Palestine that democratically elected Hamas only to have Israel and the US shun the results because it didn't fit into their carefully planned agenda? 'A resistence against us?! But we're the good guys!'

At least we can be sure that Bush's (speech-writer's) idea of the Palestinian people 'living in dignity and at peace' doesn't necessarily have to include a working sewer system, the importing of medical supplies, or right to not be killed by the Israeli military. All Bush wants are some purple thumbs and half-price hummus, is that too much to ask? Apparently.

Moving on...

This choice bit of rhetoric was spouted last night as well:
We're also standing against the forces of extremism embodied by the regime in Tehran. Iran's rulers oppress a good and talented people. And wherever freedom advances in the Middle East, it seems the Iranian regime is there to oppose it. Iran is funding and training militia groups in Iraq, supporting Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon, and backing Hamas' efforts to undermine peace in the Holy Land. Tehran is also developing ballistic missiles of increasing range, and continues to develop its capability to enrich uranium, which could be used to create a nuclear weapon.

Our message to the people of Iran is clear: We have no quarrel with you. We respect your traditions and your history. We look forward to the day when you have your freedom. Our message to the leaders of Iran is also clear: Verifiably suspend your nuclear enrichment, so negotiations can begin. And to rejoin the community of nations, come clean about your nuclear intentions and past actions, stop your oppression at home, cease your support for terror abroad. But above all, know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops. We will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf.
A lovely sentiment, as usual. Now let's just refresh our memories with some glorious words spoken by the same guy, exactly five years ago to the day, back in 2003:
And tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country - your enemy is ruling your country. And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation.

The world has waited 12 years for Iraq to disarm. America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country, and our friends and our allies. The United States will ask the U.N. Security Council to convene on February the 5th to consider the facts of Iraq's ongoing defiance of the world. Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraqi's legal -- Iraq's illegal weapons programs, its attempt to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups.

We will consult. But let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.
Hey, if only the Iraqis could remember that America is their friend and that they have been free ever since Saddam was deposed, maybe they'd smile a bit more before getting tortured and murdered by our beloved troops.

Huh. I'm done.

Here's an excellent, if not troubling, piece on the ridiculous speech Bush gave last night. William Rivers Pitt is a teacher, political commentator, a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books, and was formerly the Press Secretary for Dennis Kucinich during the 2004 presidential campaign.

The Beginning of the End

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Columnist

Tuesday 29 January 2008

And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.
- Revelations 8:1, King James Bible
George W. Bush's State of the Union (SOTU) speeches have been the basis for a new kind of drinking game for several years now, basically because the things have always needed some kind of actual substance from somewhere, and because it was a good way to dull the pain of it all. The rules: 1. When he says the word "terra" or "terra-ists," take a drink. 2. When he says "tax cuts," take a drink. 3. When he says "Iraq," take a drink. 4. When he says "nook-yuh-lerr," take a drink and a shot and a good swift kick to the head. Et cetera.

But that's just one night out of the year. Reality has proven to be far more alcoholic in nature. For seven years now, the whole phenomenon of this government has been one long drinking game played out each and every day. The rules of this game? 1. Say the words, "George W. Bush is in charge of the country." 2. Turn off the TV. 3. Just drink.

Sounds familiar, right? Just about everyone has played that game a time or two by now. We have endured seven Bush SOTU speeches as of last night. Seven years worth of lies, carnage, greed, disgrace, failure, ignominy, calamity heaped upon calamity heaped upon calamity for more than two thousand five hundred days now, with three hundred and fifty seven more days still to go.

Seven speeches. Seven years.

No more.

The final deal went down in DC last night, wreathed in all the pomp and circumstance of political theater and media spectacle. The first tangible evidence this long national and planetary nightmare is actually beginning to come to an end was served up live on network television, for the viewing pleasure of a thoroughly disgusted and entirely disinterested American public.

If Bush's lips are moving, it means he must be lying; so it has been for all those days, and so it was again on Monday evening. Some 75 percent of the citizenry believe this country to be "on the wrong track," and since the gomer giving the speech last night is seen as being largely responsible for putting us all on this "wrong track" to begin with, a vast American majority pretty much didn't give a fig about what he had to say.

All that most people cared about was the historic significance of the night itself. It was The Last Bush SOTU Speech Ever.

Seven speeches.

Seven years.

No more.

Remember Bush's SOTU speech from January 20 of 2003? That was the one when he told America Iraq was in possession of 6,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent - for those without calculators, 500 tons equals 1,000,000 pounds - plus around 30,000 munitions to deliver these agents, mobile biological weapons labs and uranium from Niger for use in a robust nook-yuh-lerr weapons program.

Take your drink. Take your shot. Don't forget your kick to the head: Each and every single one of those comprehensively-debunked claims can still be found on the White House web site.

Five American soldiers died in Iraq during the afternoon preceding Bush's SOTU speech on Monday. They were patrolling the city of Mosul and were struck by a roadside bomb that was followed up with lethal gunfire. There have now been 36 American soldiers killed in Iraq during the month of January, and 3,940 killed in total since Bush gave that January 2003 SOTU address and thus signed the death warrants for our fallen troops.

We don't do body counts, so there's no accurate way to assess how many tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed and maimed since that 2003 speech. Last Wednesday, 60 Iraqis were killed and 280 others were wounded when a huge bomb exploded in Mosul. The casualties, according to a New York Times report, were "mostly children, women and the elderly."

"Americans are still dying at the rate of one every day," wrote Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman last week. "And violent civilian Iraqi deaths, according to the independent web site Iraq Body Count (, have averaged about 1,000 a month since September. That's far lower than last January, but it's no better than in 2005, and it's well above the levels of 2004 - when Iraq was already in the grip of bloody chaos. To pronounce that reduction a success is like driving your car into a lake and then bragging when you pull it halfway out."

Bush managed all this with just the one 2003 SOTU speech. He's given seven of the things now, so adjust the body-count mathematics accordingly. Seven speeches. Seven years.

No more.

Monday night's speech was almost breathtaking in its lack of substance. He promised to bring the 9/11 perpetrators to justice, again. He promised to bring democracy to the Middle East, again. He talked up tax cuts for the financially solvent, again. He threatened Iran, again. He massaged the debacle known as "No Child Left Behind," again. He mispronounced "nuclear" at least three times, again. Basically, Bush could have just as easily been replaced by one of those high-school-chemistry-class projection screens showing some random video snippets from his other six SOTU addresses. Nobody would have noticed the difference.

There was no there, there. Again.

We have to put up with this man and his people for less than a year, or so most people believe. A story on today's Washington Post front page by Michael Abramowitz, however, reeled off a laundry list of pre-speech challenges for Bush that was capped by this line: "That is the problem Bush faces as he prepares to deliver his seventh and probably final State of the Union address tonight."

"Probably final"?

"Probably final"?!



Obama's Next Photo-Op:
Barack's Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem
(Star of David tattoo and makeout session with Torah still pending)

Young and charismatic though he may be, candidate of change or first potential black president, regardless of whether he's the far lesser of two offensive evils, there is no way I will vote for Barack Obama for president in 2008. None. Zero.

What we agree on pales in comparison to where we differ, and on the two issues facing the world today that I care most about (Iran and Palestine), Barack Obama represents everything that I despise. So, all Kennedy endorsements and Hillary-bashing aside, I will not be able to pull the lever for Obama in November (or on February 5th for that matter).

Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the wonderful website The Electronic Intifada, had some choice words to say about Obama and the rest of the presidential candidates about their unfliching support of Israel during an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! last week:

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah, I wanted to ask you about the candidates in the United States. You’re speaking to us from Chicago, so let’s start with Barack Obama. The stances of the presidential Democratic and Republican candidates on the Israel-Palestine conflict. I can’t remember when in a debate they were asked about the mounting crisis there.

ALI ABUNIMAH: I don’t know if they’ve been asked in a debate, but whenever they have been asked, they have all gone out of their way to express full support for what Israel is doing. Barack Obama is not distinguished from the rest of the pack, except by for how far he has moved to try to appease AIPAC and pro-Israel movements.

I remember, Amy—I knew Barack Obama for many years as my state senator—when he used to attend events in the Palestinian community in Chicago all the time. I remember personally introducing him onstage in 1999, when we had a major community fundraiser for the community center in Deheisha refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. And that’s just one example of how Barack Obama used to be very comfortable speaking up for and being associated with Palestinian rights and opposing the Israeli occupation. And just yesterday, he apparently sent a letter to Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador at the UN, to urge the US not to allow any resolution to pass criticizing Israel and saying how Israel was forced to impose this barbaric medieval siege on Israel.

None of the other candidates in the mainstream have spoken out for Palestinian rights. The only ones who have taken forceful positions opposing the current US strategy are Dennis Kucinich on the Democratic side and Ron Paul on the Republican side. The mainstream are all perfectly comfortable with the war crimes that Israel is committing, no matter how much they talk about human rights elsewhere.

AMY GOODMAN: Hillary Clinton, her view on the Israel-Palestine conflict, specifically also what’s happening now in Gaza?

ALI ABUNIMAH: Again, we saw Hillary Clinton, the moment her political ambitions became pronounced, shift. You’ll remember, when she spoke in the 1990s in favor of a Palestinian state, since then she has become one of the most anti-Palestinian hawks. For example, a couple of years ago, she went and staged a photo opportunity in an Israeli settlement by the apartheid wall and talked about how the wall was necessary. This wall, of course, which has been condemned as illegal by the International Court of Justice, which has ordered Israel to tear it down, Hillary Clinton went and stood in front of it and endorsed it.

And we’ve seen that time and again. John Edwards, the same, staunchly pro-Israel. On the Republican side, you have John McCain, who talks like a maverick on other issues, but on this one he has gone out of his way to offer full support for Israel. You have Huckabee, who is on the Christian evangelical right, that is historically not very friendly towards Jewish people, but is very strongly pro-Israel for reasons of biblical prophecy. And Huckabee, who is—according to a report in the Jerusalem Post, talked about a Palestinian state in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, so really talking about the forced transfer or ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians as a solution. That, unfortunately, is the level of discourse.

And maybe it’s because there’s such a consensus in the mainstream on unconditional support for Israel, no matter how illegal its actions or how harmful they are to the United States, perhaps because there’s such a consensus, that’s why there’s no debate.

AMY GOODMAN: Governor Romney?

ALI ABUNIMAH: Governor Romney, I haven’t heard his specific words, except that he has been particularly outspoken in claiming that Islamic militancy, of which he claims Palestinians are a part, is the greatest threat to the United States. And what we’ve seen is this debate happening, this discussion happening in a broader context, Amy, where many of the candidates, not just on the Republican side, whereas they claim to be running against Bush or at least away from Bush, have actually absorbed some of the basic tenets of Bush’s worldview, which sees the United States and the West engaged in this massive civilizational struggle against Islam. It’s a very dangerous and false idea.

And many Muslims feel that they are now the targets of a hysteria, which is similar or has even become worse than the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s, where Islamic militancy is under every bed and where any form of resistance, any form of resistance to US imperialism, to Israeli colonization and occupation, is defined as extremism. And there’s nobody who’s—you’re not even allowed to go and get food for your family from Egypt if you’re starving without being called an extremist, without being accused of militancy or terrorism. That’s level we’ve reached.

No resistance is permitted, Amy. But what we’ve seen from Gaza and what we’ve seen time and again in Lebanon is that resistance will continue, that people will not quietly accept the fate that has been designed for them in the boardrooms of the Pentagon and the White House and the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. People will resist.
There is even more evidence mounting about Obama's strongly pro-Israel stance due to his recent belief that his opponents are doing their best to stifle his support among the American (and Israeli) Jewish community, regardless of the fact that one of Obama's biggest supporters is Lee Rosenberg, a member of AIPAC's board of governors. Check out the following information, taken from an article by Ha'aretz correspondent Shmuel Rosner:
U.S. presidential hopeful speaks to Jewish newspapers, Haaretz to dispel accusations of anti-patriotism.

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Monday that there is a "constant virulent campaign" being waged against him as he strives to win the party's nomination, aimed particularly at weakening support for him from within the Jewish community.

Obama told Haaretz and writers from several Jewish-American newspapers that the campaign against him - calling him Muslim and accusing him of not pledging allegiance to the United States - is especially visible in the Jewish community.

The presidential hopeful said he would ordinarily ignore such comments, but he fears that they have been "getting some traction" and are being tuned into by public ears.

Thus he said, he has asked the Jewish newspapers and Haaretz to use their "megaphone" so people can hear "from the horse's mouth" that all such accusations against him are unfounded.


Israel as a 'Jewish state'

With regard to his policy on Israel, Obama repeated his established position, which has already been distorted into countless different versions.

Obama believes in Israel "as a Jewish state." He does not accept that a right of return for Palestinians can be interpreted "in any literal way."

He opposes talks with Hamas as long as the Islamist organization refuses to recognize Israel.

And yes - he believes in a two state solution for two nations, but only as long as Israel has "security" that the Palestinians will not only sign a final agreement, but also actualize it.

No state, he said, would accept the reality of rockets striking civilians on a daily basis.

Until the security is returned, he said, it will be difficult "to move forward."

Regarding Iran, Obama is in favor of the "carrot and stick" approach. While he supports continuing the sanctions, he still wishes to insist on reminding the Islamic country of the benefits it could be entitled to if it returned to the straight and narrow path.
For more info on Obama's efforts to make himself the most pro-Israel candidate there could be, read the following articles:

Obama Supports Israel. Period. - Shmuel Rosner, Ha'aretz

Obama Fights Nasty Whisper Campaign - Cecilie Surasky, MuzzleWatch

Obama and Israel - Editorial, New York Sun

Obama's Israel Problem - Joshua Frank, Counterpunch

How Barack Obama Learned to Love Israel - Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada

Obama's Speech to AIPAC - Barack Obama, AIPAC Policy Forum


Monday, January 28, 2008

Visit Har Homa and Reconnect with the Taxes Taken Out of Your Paycheck!

A common refrain that I keep hearing these days when it comes to the situation in Palestine is that we, the people here in the US, should really just mind our own business and let whatever happens over there happen. 'It's none of our business,' they say, 'We have our own problems to deal with over here.' And they're not wrong, but they're also not right.

We do have problems here in America. Many, actually. From education to health care to a massive recession and housing crisis to our dependence on oil and failure to address global warming to rampant racism and sexism to figuring out how to retrieve our Constitution from the proverbial shredder of the last seven years. Many people think that foreign policy is just one piece of this puzzle...and that domestic issues are just as, if not more important than talking endlessly about Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, the West Bank and Gaza. I understand this thought process, I just don't agree.

Want more money here at home? End the two illegal "wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan and cut 'defense' sepending severely. Want to improve national (and global) security and regain the respect and confidence of the rest of the world? Stop supporting Israel unconditionally, recognize the real inequities of the Palestinian situation, and allow a real resistence movement to progress - with the help of boycotts, divestments, and sanctions - against the racist, apartheid state. Along the way, we might want to ask that Israel actually heed UN resolutions and international law...and I suppose we'd have to adhere to those ideas too.

If the US were an isolationist rather than an imperial power in this world, I might agree that domestic issues trump foreign policy. But that is anything but the reality of the situation. Read the following piece and then tell me how to best mind my own business about foreign policy.


US Military Aid to Israel Tops $30 Billion

Looked at another way, this aid to Israel represents a gift of $100 worth of money and weaponry from every man, woman and child in America to the people of Israel.

By Dave Lindorff, Palestine Chronicle, 23 August 2007

According to a new Associated Press report, the US is offering Israel a record $30-billion 10-year military aid package.

Let's ignore for a moment the AP story's irony-free comment that "Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said the package was meant to back peace-seeking countries like Israel and moderate Arab states in the region to counter U.S. adversaries such as Iran." (Israel is a "peace-seeking" country?) We'll just focus on the amount of money that's being promised here.

Israel is a land of only 6 million people. That works out to about $5000 in arms aid per man, woman and child, and of course, since nearly a third of the people in Israel are Palestinian, and won't see a penny's (or bullet's) worth of that aid, it's really closer to $7500 per person. And remember, this is no basket case nation; this is one of the most technologically developed and wealthiest countries on earth we're talking about here.

Looked at another way, this aid to Israel represents a gift of $100 worth of money and weaponry from every man, woman and child in America to the people of Israel.

Think about that the next time you are scraping together the money to make your next mortgage payment or rent check.

Then think about the additional $20 billion that the U.S. is offering to the so-called "moderate" Arab states around Israel, by which we mean Saudi Arabia (you know, the country that gave us most of the 9-11 bombers and that is the prime country of origin of the foreign fighters we hear so much about in Iraq attacking US troops), Jordan and Egypt. the US has to offer that military aid if it's going to give weapons to Israel, or risk losing the friendship of those countries.

So that's $50 billion in weapons aid to a region that is a perpetual powderkeg. It makes about as much sense as giving a gift of matches and lighters to a rehab center full of pyromaniacs and convicted arsonists.

Viewed another way, the new military aid to Israel, which represents a 25 percent increase over last year (a reward for Israel's brutal and pointless invasion of Lebanon, perhaps?), which comes to about $3 billion per year, is ten times the entire US aid budget to fight AIDS in Africa.

So not only is this aid offer stupid in the extreme, giving Israel no reason whatsoever to work to achieve some kind of just and abiding settlement with its neighbors and with the Palestinians inside and outside its borders, but it's immoral for the reason that it shortchanges those who really need the aid.

I mean, this military aid to Israel is also equal to or greater than all US aid to Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean region.

But the news isn't all bad. At least in Latin America and the Caribbean, Venezuela is picking up the slack (and the rewards in terms of public acclaim) by providing the aid that the US is skimping on while it bankrolls Israel's war machine.

Is this how you want your tax dollars used?


Or maybe you'd rather your taxes go here instead? (Please watch this, it's very short)

2008 State of the Union Preview

I will not be tuning in to tonight's "State of the Union" address. Even though Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will and D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation are impressive examples of such a supreme and brilliant mastery of unapologetic propaganda, I find both to be morally reprehensible, historically frustrating, and nauseatingly unwatchable. Same goes for any speech given by George W. Bush, and especially the annual Congressional address. Though, I suppose it's only fitting that after the recent death of Indonesian "New Order" dictator Suharto, we are assured (by a fellow autocrat) that his legacy of authoritarianism, corruption, collusion, and nepotism is living vibrantly on in our own country.

Even though I will not be watching the televised lies of this evening's oration, I believe I am still in the position to ruin the main points in advance of speech's delivery. To sum up:

1. Apparently, the American economy is astoundingly strong, despite what we may all have heard...or be experiencing. But if anyone faces hardship, take solace in the fact that you can freely place the blame not on the fiscal misconduct of the government, unsustainable spending levels, and insurmountable amounts of debt - lay it squarely on your housekeeper, nanny, gardener, and your local diner's short-order cooks and busboys. It's really their fault, not yours. If only they had a Social Security number and spoke better English, we'd all be in the black!

2. The escalation in Iraq last year was an unmitigated success and brought staggering progress, showing once again how pursuing an agenda of ethnic cleansing is the key to subverting an active resistance movement. Oh yeah, and the Iraqis want us there.

3. 9/11.

4. In a surprise twist, Iran (the only remaining spoke on the administration's Happy Fun Wheel of Evil) is the world's leading state sponsor of terror, regardless of anything having to do with reality and/or reason. Also, the solidarity of the US-allied Gulf States is total and unshakable, especially if you don't know how to read.

5. Illegal surveillance of US citizens is integral to the security of a brainwashed public and the systematic closing down of a free and democratic society; therefore, Congress should do its best to approve whatever further legislation is suggested by the Executive branch so that the givernment can effectively spy on everyone with a funny last name or membership in some tree-hugging, bleeding-heart knitting club. Hopefully, visions of turbaned and bearded sugarplums dance menacingly in all of your heads, while Orwellian programs that silences all dissent go largely unnoticed (and without any real oversight or regard for the Constitution). Whew!

6. Uh, 9/11?

7. Support the troops, as they are the perfect ambassadors of the good will and humanitarianism that the United States provides to unwitting countries across the globe, despite being greeted as invaders and oppressors...and returning home as a shell-shocked testament to freedom and honor. As a result, they deserve our unflinching respect and tight-lipped awe, because let's not forget, they put the "war" in Iraq and the 'surge' in insurgents.

8. Tax cuts are essential to keep this country in control of the world economy and to keep John Q. Punchclock shopping at BestBuy instead of paying back his loans.

9. We are winning. Everywhere.

10. Only if the next president of the United States is a Republican will America (and the rest of the world [read: Israel]) be safe against the constant attacks, threats, and ideology of "extremists, "insurgents," "fundamentalists," and "terrorists." Interestingly, women, black guys, and John Edwards are not only soft on terror, but they actually encourage it and often incite it themselves.

11. Osama bin Laden has been found. Reading the newest issue of Maxim whilst reclining on the king-sized bed in the White House's famed Lincoln Bedroom. Just kidding...9/11!!!!!

12. In this final year of his presidency, George Walker Bush will silence all critics and skeptics by vanquishing all enemies, proving the unquestionable existence of the lord Jesus Christ, and being able to kind of point to the Middle East on a map and stating, with a resounding snicker, "Been there, done that."

13. Good night and god bless 9/11.


For a glimpse of the real state of our union, watch this lecture by Naomi Wolf, author of The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot:


Also, check out this article by Laurence W. Britt from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 23, Number 2.

Fascism Anyone?

Laurence W. Britt

Free Inquiry readers may pause to read the “Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles” on the inside cover of the magazine. To a secular humanist, these principles seem so logical, so right, so crucial. Yet, there is one archetypal political philosophy that is anathema to almost all of these principles. It is fascism. And fascism’s principles are wafting in the air today, surreptitiously masquerading as something else, challenging everything we stand for. The cliché that people and nations learn from history is not only overused, but also overestimated; often we fail to learn from history, or draw the wrong conclusions. Sadly, historical amnesia is the norm.

We are two-and-a-half generations removed from the horrors of Nazi Germany, although constant reminders jog the consciousness. German and Italian fascism form the historical models that define this twisted political worldview. Although they no longer exist, this worldview and the characteristics of these models have been imitated by protofascist regimes at various times in the twentieth century. Both the original German and Italian models and the later protofascist regimes show remarkably similar characteristics. Although many scholars question any direct connection among these regimes, few can dispute their visual similarities.

Beyond the visual, even a cursory study of these fascist and protofascist regimes reveals the absolutely striking convergence of their modus operandi. This, of course, is not a revelation to the informed political observer, but it is sometimes useful in the interests of perspective to restate obvious facts and in so doing shed needed light on current circumstances.

For the purpose of this perspective, I will consider the following regimes: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Papadopoulos’s Greece, Pinochet’s Chile, and Suharto’s Indonesia. To be sure, they constitute a mixed bag of national identities, cultures, developmental levels, and history. But they all followed the fascist or protofascist model in obtaining, expanding, and maintaining power. Further, all these regimes have been overthrown, so a more or less complete picture of their basic characteristics and abuses is possible.

Analysis of these seven regimes reveals fourteen common threads that link them in recognizable patterns of national behavior and abuse of power. These basic characteristics are more prevalent and intense in some regimes than in others, but they all share at least some level of similarity.

1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism. From the prominent displays of flags and bunting to the ubiquitous lapel pins, the fervor to show patriotic nationalism, both on the part of the regime itself and of citizens caught up in its frenzy, was always obvious. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity were common themes in expressing this nationalism. It was usually coupled with a suspicion of things foreign that often bordered on xenophobia.

2. Disdain for the importance of human rights. The regimes themselves viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance to realizing the objectives of the ruling elite. Through clever use of propaganda, the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by marginalizing, even demonizing, those being targeted. When abuse was egregious, the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation.

3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of scapegoating as a means to divert the people’s attention from other problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled directions. The methods of choice—relentless propaganda and disinformation—were usually effective. Often the regimes would incite “spontaneous” acts against the target scapegoats, usually communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals, and “terrorists.” Active opponents of these regimes were inevitably labeled as terrorists and dealt with accordingly.

4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism. Ruling elites always identified closely with the military and the industrial infrastructure that supported it. A disproportionate share of national resources was allocated to the military, even when domestic needs were acute. The military was seen as an expression of nationalism, and was used whenever possible to assert national goals, intimidate other nations, and increase the power and prestige of the ruling elite.

5. Rampant sexism. Beyond the simple fact that the political elite and the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes inevitably viewed women as second-class citizens. They were adamantly anti-abortion and also homophobic. These attitudes were usually codified in Draconian laws that enjoyed strong support by the orthodox religion of the country, thus lending the regime cover for its abuses.

6. A controlled mass media. Under some of the regimes, the mass media were under strict direct control and could be relied upon never to stray from the party line. Other regimes exercised more subtle power to ensure media orthodoxy. Methods included the control of licensing and access to resources, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats. The leaders of the mass media were often politically compatible with the power elite. The result was usually success in keeping the general public unaware of the regimes’ excesses.

7. Obsession with national security. Inevitably, a national security apparatus was under direct control of the ruling elite. It was usually an instrument of oppression, operating in secret and beyond any constraints. Its actions were justified under the rubric of protecting “national security,” and questioning its activities was portrayed as unpatriotic or even treasonous.

8. Religion and ruling elite tied together. Unlike communist regimes, the fascist and protofascist regimes were never proclaimed as godless by their opponents. In fact, most of the regimes attached themselves to the predominant religion of the country and chose to portray themselves as militant defenders of that religion. The fact that the ruling elite’s behavior was incompatible with the precepts of the religion was generally swept under the rug. Propaganda kept up the illusion that the ruling elites were defenders of the faith and opponents of the “godless.” A perception was manufactured that opposing the power elite was tantamount to an attack on religion.

9. Power of corporations protected. Although the personal life of ordinary citizens was under strict control, the ability of large corporations to operate in relative freedom was not compromised. The ruling elite saw the corporate structure as a way to not only ensure military production (in developed states), but also as an additional means of social control. Members of the economic elite were often pampered by the political elite to ensure a continued mutuality of interests, especially in the repression of “have-not” citizens.

10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated. Since organized labor was seen as the one power center that could challenge the political hegemony of the ruling elite and its corporate allies, it was inevitably crushed or made powerless. The poor formed an underclass, viewed with suspicion or outright contempt. Under some regimes, being poor was considered akin to a vice.

11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts. Intellectuals and the inherent freedom of ideas and expression associated with them were anathema to these regimes. Intellectual and academic freedom were considered subversive to national security and the patriotic ideal. Universities were tightly controlled; politically unreliable faculty harassed or eliminated. Unorthodox ideas or expressions of dissent were strongly attacked, silenced, or crushed. To these regimes, art and literature should serve the national interest or they had no right to exist.

12. Obsession with crime and punishment. Most of these regimes maintained Draconian systems of criminal justice with huge prison populations. The police were often glorified and had almost unchecked power, leading to rampant abuse. “Normal” and political crime were often merged into trumped-up criminal charges and sometimes used against political opponents of the regime. Fear, and hatred, of criminals or “traitors” was often promoted among the population as an excuse for more police power.

13. Rampant cronyism and corruption. Those in business circles and close to the power elite often used their position to enrich themselves. This corruption worked both ways; the power elite would receive financial gifts and property from the economic elite, who in turn would gain the benefit of government favoritism. Members of the power elite were in a position to obtain vast wealth from other sources as well: for example, by stealing national resources. With the national security apparatus under control and the media muzzled, this corruption was largely unconstrained and not well understood by the general population.

14. Fraudulent elections. Elections in the form of plebiscites or public opinion polls were usually bogus. When actual elections with candidates were held, they would usually be perverted by the power elite to get the desired result. Common methods included maintaining control of the election machinery, intimidating and disenfranchising opposition voters, destroying or disallowing legal votes, and, as a last resort, turning to a judiciary beholden to the power elite.

Does any of this ring alarm bells? Of course not. After all, this is America, officially a democracy with the rule of law, a constitution, a free press, honest elections, and a well-informed public constantly being put on guard against evils. Historical comparisons like these are just exercises in verbal gymnastics. Maybe, maybe not.


1. Defined as a “political movement or regime tending toward or imitating Fascism”—Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary.


Andrews, Kevin. Greece in the Dark. Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1980. Chabod, Frederico. A History of Italian Fascism. London: Weidenfeld, 1963. Cooper, Marc. Pinochet and Me. New York: Verso, 2001. Cornwell, John. Hitler as Pope. New York: Viking, 1999. de Figuerio, Antonio. Portugal—Fifty Years of Dictatorship. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1976. Eatwell, Roger. Fascism, A History. New York: Penguin, 1995. Fest, Joachim C. The Face of the Third Reich. New York: Pantheon, 1970. Gallo, Max. Mussolini’s Italy. New York: MacMillan, 1973. Kershaw, Ian. Hitler (two volumes). New York: Norton, 1999. Laqueur, Walter. Fascism, Past, Present, and Future. New York: Oxford, 1996. Papandreau, Andreas. Democracy at Gunpoint. New York: Penguin Books, 1971. Phillips, Peter. Censored 2001: 25 Years of Censored News. New York: Seven Stories. 2001. Sharp, M.E. Indonesia Beyond Suharto. Armonk, 1999. Verdugo, Patricia. Chile, Pinochet, and the Caravan of Death. Coral Gables, Florida: North-South Center Press, 2001. Yglesias, Jose. The Franco Years. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1977.


See further analysis of Britt's 14 Points here and here at The Project for the Old American Century.