The Clash Over Dr. King’s Legacy

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is fittingly located between the monuments to Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. But historian William Loren Katz asks which version of the martyred civil rights leader will be remembered, the gentle advocate for racial tolerance or the fierce activist for peace and justice.

 By William Loren Katz

It has taken a hurricane to postpone the dedication of the long-awaited monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington — the first monument on the Mall for an individual who is not a president, not a white man and not a war leader.

King repeatedly proved he was not frightened by forces packing the power of hurricanes. He calmly faced many human storms before he was assassinated in April 1968.

However, since major corporations contributed to the monument, how will Dr. King’s message and courage be presented to the American public and remembered by children?

In 1964 when Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, frightened by King’s popularity since his 1963 March on Washington, called him “the most notorious liar in the country” and ordered the FBI to increase its surveillance and of the man and his movement. 

A more recent assessment of King was offered this Jan. 13 when the Pentagon commemorated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with an address by the Defense Department’s general counsel, PenJeh C. Johnson, who insisted that King would understand why the United States was at war today.

Speaking to Defense Department officials, Johnson frankly acknowledged that King, in the final year of his life, became an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War. But Johnson hastily added that today’s wars are not out of line with the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s teachings. 

“I believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nation’s military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack.”

 Really?

According to civil rights veteran and noted feminist scholar and author Jo Freeman, who worked for King’s SCLC beginning in 1965, King repeatedly opposed U.S. intervention in Vietnam before small gatherings, and only reluctantly and temporarily stopped when he warned that President Lyndon Johnson might withdraw the “war on poverty” if King continued.

But King’s conscience, and Johnson’s escalation of the war, drove him into a full-blown, highly public denunciation of the war in 1967. On April 4 at the Riverside Church in New York City, Dr. King delivered his speech, “Declaration of Independence from the War In Vietnam.”

It was not only eloquent and passionate but also carefully reasoned and as unambiguous in its message as its title. 

Dr. King’s call for U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam was also hard to ignore. That spring, he and Stokley Carmichael led a massive peace march to the United Nations building.

King’s war opposition also brought challenges from his enemies both to his leadership and to his moral purpose. There were more death threats and less government protection when he needed it most. He expected all that.

In 1967, King was denounced by the New York Times and the Washington Post and other parts of the liberal and the mainstream media. He was even challenged by some civil rights allies.

King had dared to speak at a time when U.S. officials from the president on down, warned that communism’s triumph in Vietnam would lead to victories across Asia and beyond. They used this “domino theory” to make Americans as fearful of communism as they are of today’s Middle Eastern terrorists.

But King was resolute and unmoved. “A time comes when silence is betrayal,” King said. He minced few words, referring to “my own government” as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”  

Has much changed today when the U.S. boasts the largest military budget in history, one larger than all other countries combined? The United States has untold bases across the globe, and its armed forces have been kept in Iraq and Afghanistan longer than in World War II.

Weekly we hear of the drone strikes in Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere and how the U.S. government is contemplating air strikes against Iran’s nuclear building sites. U.S. casualties are rising in the Middle East, and there seems no end in sight for U.S. occupation and war.

Would Dr. King have called for withdrawal from Vietnam and, had he lived, not called for a withdrawal from Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya? Would he have failed to see parallels that are as obvious as they are frightening?

In his Riverside address, Dr. King pointed out that “our leaders refused to tell us the truth” about the war in Vietnam. Can we ever forget that the U.S. attack on Iraq was initiated to destroy weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist, and retaliate against a Saddam Hussein and Iraq that had no part in the 9/11 attacks on the United States? 

In the name of “Iraqi freedom,” American leaders ordered the torture of prisoners, even sending some to other countries or U.S.-run “black sites” for torture; to assure “democracy,” the U.S. supported corrupt leaders who lacked popular support. 

The people of Vietnam, King said, “must see Americans as strange liberators.”

In Afghanistan today those who suffer from drone attacks directed from afar, and from deadly night ground searches for terrorists, do not see Americans as liberators. They see a distant, imperial power occupying their country, killing innocent civilians, and as doomed to fail as earlier invaders of Afghanistan.

“The madness of Vietnam,” Dr. King said in 1967, will “totally” poison “America’s soul.” He told how U.S. involvement in Vietnam “eviscerated” its war on poverty begun by President Johnson, and instead had its “funds and energies” and “men and skills” drawn into a war “like some demonic, destructive suction tube.” 

What happens to “America’s soul” as the U.S. fights three Middle Eastern wars, its budget spins out of control, and joblessness and hopelessness reach proportions known only during the Great Depression?

Dr. King emphasized how the Vietnam War was “devastating the hopes of the poor at home” and “sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight in extraordinarily high proportion relative to the rest of the population.”

In 2011, a volunteer army draws even more heavily on the poor, those without jobs, men and women losing hope of finding meaningful work. Dr. King said then “I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.”

Would the man who organized a Poor People’s March on Washington before his assassination be silent now?

Toward the end of his address at the Riverside Church, Dr. King said:

“Somehow this madness must cease. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam and the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam ….

“The great initiative in the war is ours. The initiative to stop must be ours.”

Was not Martin Luther King, Jr. reaching beyond Vietnam when he warned of “approaching spiritual death” and called for “a significant and profound change in American life and policy” and insisted “we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.”  

Was he only speaking of Vietnam when he said, “War is not the answer?”

We the people have to make sure it is neither the J. Edgar Hoover spin or the Pentagon version, but the real legacy of Dr. King that is acknowledged and celebrated. We owe that to future generations.

William Loren Katz, author of 40 books on American history including Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage, is a visiting scholar at New York University, his university affiliation since 1973. His website is williamlkatz.com. For Dr. King’s entire Riverside Church speech, click here.




The FBI Goes Rogue

One neoconservative argument against American Muslims is that there is a correlation between mosques and FBI terror investigations. But that may be circular logic since the FBI targets mosques with paid informants trying to detect potential “lone wolves” and lure them into terrorist acts, as Lawrence Davidson observes.

By Lawrence Davidson

Here is an important question: What single organization is responsible for more terror plots in the USA than any other?

Possible answers: Al Qaida. That would no doubt be the popular answer but it would be wrong. The KKK. Way past their prime, so that is not it. The Jewish Defense League. Good guess, but still not it. So what is the correct answer?

It is the Federal Bureau of Investigation, AKA the FBI. Don’t believe me? Well, just read Trevor Aaronson’s expose entitled “The Informants” published in the September/October 2011 issue of Mother Jones.
 
Aaronson looked at over 500 terrorism-related cases taken up by the FBI and found that over half of them involved the Bureau’s stable of 15,000 informants. Many of these are ex-felons and con men who are often paid well if their efforts result in an arrest and conviction.

So what, you might say. Using informants to obtain information about criminal activity is an old and legitimate tactic. Yes, however, that approach to information gathering is not exactly how the FBI uses all of its informants.

Indeed, the Bureau has a program, misnamed “prevention” which encourages its agents to get creative in the use of informants. How creative? Well, if they can’t find any terrorist activity going on, they have their informants instigate some. Where are they doing this? Mainly in our country’s Muslim communities.
 
According to the Mother Jones story, the FBI has concluded that Al-Qaeda as an organization is no longer a major threat to the US. The threat now comes from the “lone wolf,” the person who is angry at or frustrated by their life situation and open to the influence of terrorist rhetoric.

Allegedly, the American Muslim community is full of these “lone wolves” just sitting out there fuming, aching to vent their anger on a myriad array of significant and insignificant targets.

As the FBI’s logic goes, sooner or later a lot of these people will find the courage to act. So, the role of the informant is to find these folks and nab them before they blow up a Christmas tree in Portland, Oregon. Here is a typical scenario:
 
First, FBI informant A is assigned, in Aaronson’s words, to “troll the mosques” of some American Muslim community. They might work this area for months looking for those angry, frustrated types.

Gadeir Abbas, Staff Attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), says they may hit upon some fellows living “on the fringes of society.” These people are often poor and unsettled, with only a rudimentary knowledge if Islam, and usually quite gullible.
 
Second, having spotted a candidate B, informant A befriends him and encourages B to vent his anger and dissatisfaction. At one point informant A might suggest to B that Allah put him on this earth for better things and what would he like to do about all that anger and frustration?
 
Third, now we are at the seminal moment. What if B has no idea what he would like to do?

At this point informant A (carefully turning off his hidden recording device) transforms himself into an agent provocateur (remember he has a financial incentive to entrap this guy) and comes up with a suggestion. Why don’t we go blow up an army recruitment center?

In other words, A is a confidence artist, a con-man (one of these informants boasted that he could con the kernels off a cob of corn) and is using his “talent” to maneuver his victim, who as yet has done nothing illegal, into an incriminating situation.
 
Fourth, if B takes the bait, then A leads him on, concocting a plot, perhaps informing B that he A is an agent (not of the FBI of course) of some Pakistani terrorist organization come to the US to wage Jihad. He can supply B with weapons, explosives, vehicles and money.

In other words, all the things that B could never have reasonably procured on his own (such as the necessary money or appropriate vehicles). All the things that B has no knowledge how to construct (like a bomb).
 
Fifth, eventually B is led to enact the crime, usually using a fake bomb. Then, of course, he gets arrested. Typically, he is sent to jail for decades. A gets paid up to $100,000 by the FBI. Voila, another terrorist plot foiled.
 
Criminal Cops
 
There has always been a fine line between the behavior of the criminal and that of the policeman. The police know this to be true and that is why major state and local police departments have internal affairs sections which look out for “criminal cops.”

I do not know if the FBI has such an internal operation, but they certainly should. There are laws against what the FBI is doing. Their informants, at the Bureau’s direction, are not just rooting out criminals, they are inciting the crimes and organizing their commission.
 
This interpretation of the situation has been raised with Attorney General Eric Holder. His reply is that those who make these accusations “do not have their facts straight or do not have a full understanding of the law.”

This is not a very satisfactory response. The FBI will not give us all the facts and in many cases has carefully made sure some of the facts go unrecorded. And, as for the crime of incitement, if you look this topic up using Wikipedia, here is part of what you get:

“The plan to commit crime may exist only in the mind of one person until others are incited to join in, at which point the social danger becomes more real. The offence overlaps the offences of counseling or procuring as an accessory.”

This is exactly what the FBI informants are doing: counseling, procuring and inciting.
 
One can go on and read in the Wikipedia piece that incitement exists as a crime because if you wait for the actual crime to be committed, “it is too late to avert the harm. Thus the offence of incitement has been preserved to allow the police to intervene at an earlier time and so avert the threatened harm.”

This is probably the part of the law Holder feels is not understood. Yet in the FBI’s “prevention” campaign there is often no evidence of prior intent on the part of those eventually arrested.

That is, without the intervention of the informant, without his incitement, there is no evidence that any of these entrapped “criminals” would have done anything wrong. That being the case, it appears that in these incidents, the FBI is inciting others to criminal acts. This is illegal and an egregious abuse of power.
  
If one thinks this through, it becomes clear that the FBI policymakers have confused thought and action. This is a very Judeo-Christian thing to do. Is the sin in the thought or the action?

According to the Old Testament thought will do. You do not have to seduce your neighbor’s wife to break one of the Ten Commandments. All you have to do is “covet” her.

To pursue the metaphor a bit further, who is it in the Bible stories who goes around and encourages sin, first in the mind and then in action? Adam and Eve might have occasionally thought about eating that apple, but who incited them to do so?

Now we have the FBI reenacting this ancient storyline. They know that there are all these people with the sin of terrorism in their hearts. And, they have taken it upon themselves to play the role of the tempter and move these people from thought to action.

It seems to me that there must be a daring cartoonist out there who would like to lampoon Robert Mueller, current Director of the FBI, by drawing him with little horns and a pointed tail.
 
Peter Ahearn, a retired FBI agent who has directed some of these entrapment operations, would get upset at such a cartoon. He is one of the strongest defenders of “prevention.”

According to Mr. Ahearn it is important to understand who the FBI is dealing with. These are not “real people.” How so? Ahearn explains that “real people don’t say ‘Yeah, let’s go bomb that place.’ Real people call the cops.”

Alas, calling the cops has been tried. When one of the FBI’s more aggressive informants was “trolling” the mosques in the Los Angeles area representatives of the Muslim community called the FBI to report him as a potential terrorist. Nothing happened.

The FBI did not act as a “real cop” should and arrest this fellow. The community’s lawyers could not find anyone to arrest him and had to go to court to get a restraining order to get him out of the community. Tell me Peter Ahearn, how many “real cops” do you have in the FBI anti-terrorism unit?
 
Finally, there is a good chance that “prevention” is making us all less safe. This is because the program will likely make any “real” lone wolf act truly as a loner.

If there is anyone out there with actual terrorist designs they are by now forewarned not to share their intentions with anyone for fear of potential informants. They will act alone. In such a way is the road to hell paved with (alleged) good intentions.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




Pitfalls Ahead in NATO’s Libya Victory

 Washington pundits from neoconservatives through progressives are celebrating the NATO-backed ouster of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi as a worthy use of the West’s military capabilities. But the Independent Institute’s Ivan Eland sees dangerous pitfalls ahead, both in Libya and elsewhere.

By Ivan Eland 

The conventional wisdom is that U.S.-led NATO vanquished the ruthless and despotic Muammar Gaddafi. And that is largely what happened.

Gaddafi had one of the worst human rights records on the planet, was autocratic, and was even downright bizarre at times. Moreover, although the U.S. pretended to play only a limited, background role in NATO’s effort in Libya, its initial suppression of Libyan air defenses and its surveillance and communication technology played a key role in bringing down the Gaddafi regime.

In fact, the Libyan conflict demonstrates that the U.S. is perfecting the technique of using ragtag local ground forces to fix enemy regime forces in place so that its air power can pummel them into sawdust.

Previously, the United States had demonstrated this capability using the Kosovo Liberation Army to wrest Kosovo from Serbia in 1999 and using the Northern Alliance to take over Afghanistan after 9/11.

The successful invasion of Iraq also was conducted using smaller quantities of forces on the ground, this time U.S. forces, in combination with the employment of massive U.S. air power. This model seems to promise winning brushfire wars without much cost in either blood or treasure (at least American).

Of course, the quagmires that Afghanistan and Iraq have become should indicate that, in many cases, this model is flawed. Taking over the country is one thing and ruling it is quite another.

As with those two conflicts, if guerrilla war, tribal civil war, or general chaos results in Libya, the world will look to NATO to solve the problem. Colin Powell’s “Pottery Barn Rule”, “if you break it, you’ve bought it”, is a truism in foreign policy circles but is nevertheless regularly ignored.

In Libya, another way to put it is: What has NATO won?

Progressive administration apologists, making a not-so-odd alliance with neoconservatives, have taken to the airwaves touting the many Libyan lives saved and the brutal dictator toppled.

Of course, the former was just theoretical, Gaddafi had made bombastic threats before that were never carried out, and was a fig leaf for the not-so-hidden real purpose all along: taking advantage of an internal Libyan uprising against Gaddafi to get rid of the tyrant while the getting was good.

Gaddafi was demonized by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s (even though Reagan started the long dustup by purposefully provoking Gaddafi in 1981 with U.S. naval power off the Libyan coast), much as Saddam Hussein was by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

Once such dictators have been upgraded into the “evil incarnate” caricature (the equally despotic Saudi regime has not transitioned into this category because it is the world’s most important oil producer), pressure builds among American officials, the media and the pundits for regime change.

Also, those progressive and neoconservative pundits have crowed about how cheap the Libyan intervention was in casualties and money. So far, compared to the quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan, I guess they have a point.

But as the famous baseball player and coach Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” And these brushfire conflicts never seem to be over.

Now that the U.S. and NATO have taken such a big stake in Libya’s outcome, money and even casualties could be required for any needed ground force to prevent chaos or civil war or just to keep the country stable.

Even if no ground force is needed, money will be needed to help rebuild the country and ensure its future stability.

With the U.S. in dire economic and fiscal straits, record federal budget deficits and more than $14 trillion in national debt, and two other costly wars still ongoing, America cannot even afford a cheap war. If you are broke, you shouldn’t just eat at TGI Friday’s instead of an expensive restaurant; you need to eat at home.

Worst of all, we don’t really know what will come next in Libya. In retrospect, Gaddafi may look much better if radical anti-U.S. Islamists eventually take over the country.

The U.S. has seemed to be so worried about this outcome in Syria that, up until recently, it was reluctant to call for the ouster of the equally brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The same worry should have applied to Libya.

The problem with wars, even ones with laudable goals, is that the unintended consequences are usually severe. Recalling that U.S. support of Islamist rebels in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union morphed into the worst foreign threat to American soil since the War of 1812 should have given the United States some pause in getting involved in the Libyan conflict. It didn’t.

Yet the Libyan conflict could produce equally nasty outcomes. Gaddafi was reported to have stockpiled 20,000 man-portable anti-aircraft weapons, which could be used by terrorists to shoot down commercial airliners. Many of these weapons have gone missing in Libya, with their wooden cases empty.

Andrew J. Shapiro, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, has said that these unsecured missiles in Libya are “one of the things that keep me up at night.”

The president of Chad and officials in Algeria, whose countries neighbor Libya, have said that some of those missiles have traveled over their borders to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which calls North Africa home.

Finally, during the years before his downfall, Gaddafi had settled his differences with the West, giving up his nuclear weapons program and paying victims of Libyan-sponsored terror attacks in the 1980s.

Like the lesson that nuclear aspirants (for example, Iran) learned from the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, countries on the outs with the U.S. without nuclear arms don’t get any respect from the American superpower, the toppling of a nuclear-disarmed Gaddafi gives them little incentive to give up such weapons programs and every incentive to accelerate them.

So perhaps the removal of Gaddafi in Libya is not as much of a triumph as it first appears.

Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland has spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. His books include The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.




Dubious Charges in Hariri Murder Case

The evidentiary standards used by international tribunals to charge people with crimes seem to depend on whether the West favors you or not. A new example is the Hariri case in which four Hezbollah members were indicted based on a bizarrely speculative cell-phone analysis, writes Gareth Porter for Inter Press Service.

By Gareth Porter

The indictment of four men linked to Hezbollah in the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri made public by the Special Tribunal on Lebanon Aug. 17 is questionable not because it is based on “circumstantial evidence,” but because that evidence is based on a flawed premise.

The evidence depends on a convoluted theory involving what the indictment calls “co-location” of personal mobile phones associated with five distinct networks said to be somehow connected with the plot to murder Hariri.

The indictment, originally filed June 10, says that, if there are “many instances” in which a phone is “active at the same location, on the same date, and within the same time frame as other phones,” but the phones do not contact each other, then it is “reasonable to conclude from these instances that one person is using multiple phones together.”

Based on that assumption the indictment asserts that “a person can ultimately be identified by co-location to be the user of a network phone.”

On that reasoning, one of the four accused, Salim Jamil Ayyash, is said to have participated in a “red” network of phones that was activated on Jan. 5, 2005, only contacted each other, and ceased operations two minutes before the blast that killed Hariri. The “red” network is presumed to have been used by those who carried out surveillance as well as prepared the logistics for the bombing.

But Ayyash is also linked by “co-location” to a “green” network that had been initiated in October 2004 and ceased to operate one hour before the attack, and a “blue” network that was active between September 2004 and September 2005.

The only basis for linking either of those two sets of mobile phones to the assassination appears to be the claim of frequent “co-location” of Ayyash’s personal cell phone with one of the phones in those networks and one red phone.

But the idea that “co-location” of phones is evidence of a single owner is a logical fallacy. It ignores the statistical reality that a multitude of mobile phones would have been frequently co-located with any given phone carrying out surveillance on Hariri in Beirut over an hour or more on the same day during the weeks before the assassination.

In the area of Beirut from the parliament to the St. George Hotel, known as Beirut Central District, where the “red” network is said to have been active in carrying out its surveillance of Hariri, there are 11 base stations for mobile phones, each of which had a range varying from 300 meters to 1,250 meters, according to Riad Bahsoun, a prominent expert on Lebanon’s telecom system.

Bahsoun estimates that, within the range of each of those cell towers, between 20,000 and 50,000 cell phones were operating during a typical working day.

Given that number of mobile phones operating within a relatively small area, a large number of phones would obviously have registered in the cell tower area and in the same general time frame – especially if defined as an hour or more, as appears to be the case – as at least one of the red network phones on many occasions.

The indictment does not state how many times one of Ayyash’s personal phones was allegedly “co-located” with a “red” network phone.

To prove that Ayyash was in charge of the team using the red phones, the indictment provides an extraordinarily detailed account of Ayyash’s alleged use of red, green and blue phones on seven days during the period between Jan. 11 and Feb. 14, the day of the assassination.

But according to that information, during the final nine days on which the red network was active in surveillance of Hariri, including the day of the bombing itself, Ayyash was in phone contact with the red and blue networks on only three days a pattern that appears inconsistent with the role of coordinating the entire plot attributed to him.

The most senior Hezbollah figure indicted, Mustafa Amine Badreddine, is accused of involvement only because he is said to have had 59 phone contacts with Ayyash during the Jan. 5 to Feb. 14 period.

But those phone contacts are attributed to the two Hezbollah figures solely on the basis of co-location of their personal mobile phones with two phones in the “green” network on an unspecified number of occasions not from direct evidence that they talked on those occasions.

Evidence from the U.N. commission investigating the Hariri assassination suggests that investigators did not stumble upon the alleged connections between the four Hezbollah figures and the different phone networks but used the link analysis software to find indirect links between phones identified as belonging to Hezbollah and the “red phones.”

In his third report, dated Sep. 26, 2006, then Commissioner Serge Brammertz said his team was using communications traffic analysis for “proactive and speculative” studies.

Brammertz referred in his next report in December 2006 to the pursuit of an “alternative hypothesis” that the motive for killing Hariri was a “combination of political and sectarian factors.” That language indicates that the “proactive and speculative” use of link analysis was to test the hypothesis that Shi’a Hezbollah was behind the bombing.

This is not the first time that communications link analysis has been used to link telephones associated with a specific group or entity to other phones presumed to be part of a major bombing plot.

In the investigation of the Buenos Aires terror bombing of a Jewish community centre in 1994, the Argentine intelligence service SIDE used analysis of phone records to link the Iranian cultural attaché, Mohsen Rabbani, to the bombing, according to the former head of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Office on Hezbollah, James Bernazzani.

Bernazzani, who was sent by the White House in early 1997 to assist SIDE in the bombing investigation, told this reporter in a November 2006 interview that SIDE had argued that a series of telephone calls made between July 1 and July 18, 1994, to a mobile phone in the Brazilian border city of Foz de Iguazu must have been made by the “operational group” for the bombing.

SIDE had further argued that a call allegedly made on a mobile phone belonging to Rabbani to the same number showed that he was linked the bombing plot.

Bernazzani called that use of link analysis by SIDE “speculative” the same word that Brammertz used to describe the U.N. investigation’s employment of the same tool.

Such speculative use of link analysis “can be very dangerous,” Bernazzani said. “Using that kind of analysis, you could link my telephone to [Osama] bin Laden’s.”

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.




NATO’s Orwellian Twist in Libya

NATO has transformed the United Nations’ mandate “to protect civilians” in Libya into an excuse to remove Muammar Gaddafi from power and kill his supporters, both military and civilian. This Orwellian cynicism now justifies the crushing of the town of Sirte, the last Gaddafi stronghold, writes ex-British Ambassador Craig Murray.

By Craig Murray

There is no cause to doubt that, for whatever reason, the support of the people of Sirte for Gaddafi is genuine. That this means they deserve to be pounded into submission is less obvious to me.

The disconnect between the UN mandate “to protect civilians” while facilitating negotiation, and NATO’s actual actions as the anti-Gaddafi forces’ air force and special forces, is startling.

There is something so shocking in the Orwellian doublespeak of NATO on this point that I am severely dismayed. I suffer from that old springing eternal of hope, and am therefore always in a state of disappointment.

I had hoped that the general population in Europe is so educated now that obvious outright lies would be rejected. I even hoped some journalists would seek to expose lies.

I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

The “rebels” are actively hitting Sirte with heavy artillery and Stalin’s organs; they are transporting tanks openly to attack Sirte. Yet any movement of tanks or artillery by the population of Sirte brings immediate death from NATO air strike.

What exactly is the reason that Sirte’s defenders are threatening civilians but the artillery of their attackers and the bombings themselves are not? Plainly this is nonsense.

People in foreign ministries, NATO, the BBC and other media are well aware that it is the starkest lie and propaganda, to say the assault on Sirte is protecting civilians. But does knowledge of the truth prevent them from peddling a lie? No.

It is worth reminding everyone something never mentioned, that UNSCR 1973 which established the no-fly zone and mandate to protect civilians had “the aim of facilitating dialogue to lead to the political reforms necessary to find a peaceful and sustainable solution.”

That is in Operative Para 2 of the Resolution.

Plainly the people of Sirte hold a different view than the “rebels” as to who should run the country. NATO has in effect declared being in Gaddafi’s political camp a capital offence.

There is no way the massive assault on Sirte is “facilitating dialogue.”  It is rather killing those who do not hold the NATO approved opinion. That is the actual truth. It is extremely plain.

I have no time for Gaddafi. I have actually met him, and he really is nuts, and dangerous. There were aspects of his rule in terms of social development which were good, but much more that was bad and tyrannical.

But if NATO is attacking him because he is a dictator, why is it not attacking Dubai, Bahrain, Syria, Burma, Zimbabwe or Uzbekistan, to name a random selection of badly governed countries?

“Liberal intervention” does not exist. What we have is the opposite; highly selective neo-imperial wars aimed at ensuring politically client control of key physical resources.

Wars kill people. Women and children are dying now in Libya, whatever the sanitized media tells you. The BBC has reported it will take a decade to repair Libya’s infrastructure from the damage of war. That in an underestimate. Iraq is still decades away from returning its utilities to their condition in 2000.

I strongly support the revolutions of the Arab Spring. But NATO intervention does not bring freedom, it brings destruction, degradation and permanent enslavement to the neo-colonial yoke.

From now on, Libyans like us will be toiling to enrich western bankers. That, apparently, is worth to NATO the reduction of Sirte to rubble.

Craig Murray is a former British ambassador and human rights advocate. (This story originally appeared at www.craigmurray.org.uk)




Rise of Another CIA Yes Man

Exclusive: The gross manipulation of CIA analysis under George W. Bush pushed a new generation of “yes men” into the agency’s top ranks. Now one of those aspiring bureaucrats will be Gen. David Petraeus’s right-hand man, writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern. (Also, at end of article, see special comments from several CIA insiders.)

By Ray McGovern

As Gen. David Petraeus prepares to take the helm at CIA in September, he can expect unswerving loyalty from his likely deputy, Michael Morell, who has been acting director since July when Leon Panetta left to become Secretary of Defense. 

Like many senior CIA officials in recent years, Morell’s record is checkered, at best. He held key jobs in intelligence analysis over the past decade as the CIA often served as a handmaiden to the war propagandists.

As for Michael Morell, as with many other successful CIA careerists, his strongest suit seemed to be pleasing his boss and not antagonizing the White House. If past is precedent, his loyalty will be to Petraeus, not necessarily to the truth. 

Forgive me if my thinking about loyalty to the facts seems “obsolete” or “quaint” or if it seems unfair to expect CIA analysts to put their careers on the line when politicians and ideologues are misleading the nation to war but those were the principles that analysts of my generation tried to uphold.

The recent tendency at CIA to give politicians what they want to hear rather than the hard truth is not healthy for the Republic that we were all sworn to serve.

And, if Petraeus’s own past is precedent, loyalty to the four-star general will not always be synonymous with loyalty to the truth.

Burnishing an Image 

However, you will get no indication of this troubling reality from the flattering, but thin, feature about Michael Morell, “Mr. Insider Will Guide Petraeus at the CIA,” by Siobhan Gorman in the Wall Street Journal on Aug. 26.

Gorman is normally a solid reporter; but either she did not perform due diligence and let herself be snookered, or her editors stepped in to ensure her story was consonant with the image Petraeus and the Establishment wish to create for Morell.

Before her “rare” interview with Morell, Gorman should have taken a close look at former CIA Director George Tenet’s memoir, At the Center of the Storm, to learn what Tenet says about Morell’s record during the last decade’s dark days of misleading and dishonest intelligence.

In Tenet’s personal account of the CIA’s failures around 9/11 and the Iraq War, Morell Tenet’s former executive assistant is generally treated kindly, but Tenet puts Morell at the center of two key fiascoes: he “coordinated the CIA review” of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s infamous Feb. 5, 2003 address to the United Nations and he served as the regular CIA briefer to President George W. Bush.

Putting Access Before Honesty

So, Morell was there as Bush blew off early CIA warnings about the possibility of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden being “determined to strike in the US” and while Bush and his neoconservative inner circle were concocting intelligence to justify invading Iraq.

Tenet credits Morell with suggesting to analysts that they prepare a report on the terrorist threat, which became the President’s Daily Brief that was handed to Bush on Aug. 6, 2001, at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Bush brushed aside the warning with a reported comment to the CIA briefer, “all right, you’ve covered your ass,” and went off fishing.

Though Tenet said Morell got along well with Bush, it appears the President didn’t pay much heed to any CIA information coming from Morell, at least not anything that went against what Bush wanted to hear nor did Morell seem to risk offending the President by pushing these contrary points.

After the Aug. 6 PDB was delivered, Tenet wrote that he needed to follow it up, and did so with a trip to Crawford 11 days later, when Tenet remembers Bush driving him around in a pickup truck as Tenet made “small talk about the flora and fauna.”

Morell also was the CIA briefer with Bush in Florida on the morning of 9/11 when news arrived about the attacks on New York City’s Twin Towers. Later, Bush told Morell “that if we [the CIA] learned anything definitive about the attack, he wanted to be the first to know,” Tenet wrote, adding:

“Wiry, youthful looking, and extremely bright, Mike speaks in staccato-like bursts that get to the bottom line very quickly. He and George Bush had hit it off almost immediately. In a crisis like this, Mike was the perfect guy for us to have by the commander-in-chief’s side.”

However, it appears Morell was not willing to risk his rapport with Bush by challenging the President’s desire to pivot from retaliatory strikes against Afghanistan to a full-scale invasion of Iraq based on false and misleading intelligence.

Tenet also described Morell’s role in organizing the review of the “intelligence” that went into Powell’s speech, which let slip the dogs of war by presenting a thoroughly deceptive account of the Iraqi threat, what Powell later called a “blot” on his record.

Though the CIA embraced many of Powell’s misleading assertions, Tenet recounted one exchange in which Morell stood up to John Hannah, an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, regarding Iraq’s alleged efforts to obtain yellowcake uranium from Niger.

“Hannah asked Mike Morell, who was coordinating the review of the speech for CIA, why the Niger uranium story wasn’t in the latest draft,” Tenet wrote. “‘Because we don’t believe it,’ Mike told him. ‘I thought you did,’ Hannah said. After much wrangling and precious time lost in explaining our doubts, Hannah understood why we believed it was inappropriate for Colin to use the Niger material in his speech.”

Despite that one pushback, the CIA analysts mostly bent to pressures coming from the White House for an alarmist treatment of allegations about the “weapons of mass destruction,” which turned out not to be in Iraq.

Of the CIA’s finished intelligence product, it was reportedly the PDB delivered by Morell that most exaggerated the danger.

Not Mistaken, Dishonest

It is sad to have to recall that this was not “erroneous,” but rather fraudulent intelligence.  Announcing on June 5, 2008, the bipartisan conclusions from a five-year study by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Jay Rockefeller described the intelligence conjured up to “justify” war on Iraq as “uncorroborated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

Rockefeller’s comments call to mind what Tenet told his British counterpart, Sir Richard Dearlove, on July 20, 2002, after former Prime Minister Tony Blair sent Dearlove to the CIA to get the latest scoop on how the U.S. planned to “justify” the attack on Iraq. 

According to the official British minutes of a cabinet-level planning session chaired by Blair on July 23, 2002, at 10 Downing Street, Tenet made clear to Dearlove that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” to bring “regime change” to Iraq.

Could it be that Tenet would let the British in on this dirty little secret and keep George W. Bush’s personal briefer, Michael Morell, in the dark? Seems unlikely.

But even if Morell were not fully informed about the high-level scheme for war, would he have been with his prized relationship with the President the most appropriate senior official to “coordinate the CIA review” of Powell’s speech?

The ‘Sinister Nexus’

In the Wall Street Journal feature, reporter Gorman was assured of something else about Morell’s role in preparing the intelligence on Iraq. According to Gorman, “His [Morell’s] team didn’t handle the analysis that erroneously concluded the Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction.” I guess that depends on your definition of “team.”

But what about alleged ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda, the second bogus issue used to “justify” attacking Iraq? There Morell seemed to be on better ground, telling Gorman that his “team” had concluded that there had been earlier contacts between Iraqi intelligence and al-Qaeda, but there were no links to al-Qaeda operations at the time.

Still, Morell didn’t seem to have pressed this point very hard while coordinating the CIA’s review of Powell’s UN speech. If Morell had, one has to wonder why Powell was fed, and swallowed, the line about a “sinister nexus between Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network?”

ABC’s Brian Ross shot down that canard just hours after Powell spoke. Citing a BBC report from London, Ross noted that British intelligence had concluded there was no evidence to support the theory that al-Qaeda and Iraq were working together.

Virtually all intelligence analysts with no axes to grind, after sifting through thousands of reports, had long since come to that same conclusion.

Did Secretary Powell have to learn about the Iraq/al-Qaeda disconnect from the BBC? Later, Powell was livid at having been led down the garden path by the likes of Tenet, Tenet’s pandering deputy John McLaughlin, and Morell, a Tenet protégé.

Tenet and McLaughlin were also co-liars-in-chief regarding those mobile biological weapons factories, a yarn spun by the infamous source called “Curveball.” In his memoir, Tenet doesn’t describe Morell’s role in promoting, or at least acquiescing in depicting, the charlatan “Curveball” as a reliable intelligence source for a key portion of Powell’s speech. 

And, if you think it’s unfair to expect CIA bureaucrats to risk their careers by challenging the political desires of the White  House, it’s worth noting the one major exception to the CIA’s sorry record during George W. Bush’s presidency and how honest CIA analysts helped prevent another unnecessary war.

After former chief of State Department intelligence Tom Fingar was put in charge of National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs), a thoroughly professional NIE in late 2007 concluded unanimously and “with high confidence” that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon in mid-2003.

President Bush’s own memoir leaves no doubt that this Estimate played a huge role in spiking White House plans for war on Iran. It’s a pity that the Estimate on Iran should be an exception to the rule.

Much to Be Humble About

Yet, in the Wall Street Journal feature, Michael Morell lectures Gorman on the basics and the limits of intelligence analysis. 

“We end up having bits of information that have a multitude of possible explanations,” said Morell. “You’ve got to be really humble about the business we’re in.”

Well, yes indeed. The WSJ also ran a sidebar with a list of the following CIA failures and Morell’s facile potions for cures:

–2001, Sept. 11 attacks: A failure of both intelligence collection and analysis. Lesson: A need to better penetrate U.S. adversaries.

–2003, Iraq weapons of mass destruction: Analysts erroneously concluded Iraq had WMDs. Lesson: Analysts must describe confidence levels in conclusions, consider alternate explanations.

–2009, Bombing of CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan: Doubts about the asset-turned-suicide-bomber didn’t get to the right people. Lesson: Share information with the people who most need it.

Is this Morell fellow on the ball, or what?

Let’s address these one by one:

–9/11 need not have happened if Tenet and his protégés simply shared the information needed by the FBI and others. See, for instance, Consortiumnews.com’s “Did Tenet Hide Key 9/11 Info?” Or, Tenet and Morell might have risked their cozy relationship with Bush by challenging his casual dismissal of the existing multiple warnings.

–The WMD not in Iraq? How about promoting and rewarding honest analysts; no “fixing” allowed. Face down White House pressure. We used to do it all the time. We used to have career protection for doing it. 

–On the tragedy at Khost? Well, how about some basic training in tradecraft, including rudimentary security precautions.

And speaking of rudimentary security precautions: Morell bragged to Gorman that he had recently flown to Kabul to brief Petraeus, carrying a blue briefing book emblazoned with the CIA seal and detailing the CIA’s every critical program, organization and operation.

“It was the most highly classified guide that I’ve ever seen in my life” was Petraeus’s wow-response.

The appropriate reaction, in my professional view, would have been to fire Morell on the spot for recklessness. He should know better. They down aircraft, blow up motorcades and shoot people in Afghanistan, you know. Is it really such a great idea to carry a briefing book with the CIA’s most sensitive secrets into that environment?

Moreover, bragging about this cavalier approach to protecting sensitive documents sends shivers down the backs of foreign intelligence officers, adding to their reluctance to share delicate information with us.

Loosening Leashes on Dogs of War

There is ironic serendipity in the fact that the WSJ feature on Morell appeared on Aug. 26, exactly nine years after the fraudulent speech given by Vice President Dick Cheney before the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Nashville.

And just four days before the nation’s bookstores host In My Time, Cheney’s apologia pro vita sua. (The advance promotion includes his personal warning that the book will have “heads exploding” all over Washington.)

There are huge lessons in what happened and what did not happen immediately after Cheney’s Aug. 26, 2002, thinly disguised call for an attack on Iraq, and how those who recognized the lies could not summon enough courage to try to stop the juggernaut toward war. 

The Fawning Corporate Media and the cowering careerists at CIA were among the main culprits. But there were others who, if they have a conscience and are honest with themselves, may still be finding it difficult to look in the mirror nine years later.

In his August 2002 speech, Cheney launched the virulent propaganda campaign for an aggressive war against Iraq, telling the audience in Nashville:

“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.”

This was no innocent mistake by the Vice President; it was a bald-faced lie, a falsehood that opened the gates to a hellish conflict that has ripped apart Iraq, bringing untold death and destruction.

Nine years later it is well worth recalling this lie on behalf of the 4,500 U.S. troops killed in Iraq, the many more wounded, the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, and the five million displaced from their homes. 

Let it be widely understood that on Aug. 26, 2002, Dick Cheney set the meretricious terms of reference for war.

 Hear No Evil, Speak No Truth

Sitting on the same stage that evening was former CENTCOM commander Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, who was being honored at the VFW convention. Zinni later said he was shocked to hear Cheney’s depiction of intelligence (Iraq has WMD and is amassing them to use against us) that did not square with what he knew.

Although Zinni had retired two years before, his role as consultant had enabled him to stay up to date on key intelligence findings.

“There was no solid proof that Saddam had WMD. … I heard a case being made to go to war,” Zinni told Meet the Press three and a half years later.

Zinni is normally a straight shooter with a good bit of courage. And so, the question lingers: why did he not go public when he first heard Cheney’s lie?

What seems operative here, I fear, is an all-too-familiar conundrum at senior levels where people have been conditioned not to rock the boat, not to risk their standing within the Washington Establishment.

Almost always, the results are bad. I would bet a tidy sum that Zinni regrets having let his reaction be shaped, as it apparently was, by a misguided kind of professional courtesy and/or slavish adherence to classification restrictions. 

After all, he was one of the very few credible senior officials who might have prevented a war of aggression, which the Nuremberg Tribunals after World War II branded the “supreme international crime.”

Zinni was not the only one taken aback by Cheney’s words. Then-CIA Director George Tenet said Cheney’s speech took him completely by surprise.

In his memoir, Tenet wrote, “I had the impression that the president wasn’t any more aware than we were of what his number-two was going to say to the VFW until he said it.” But like Br’er Fox, Tenet didn’t say nothing.

Tenet claims he didn’t even check it all out with either Cheney or Bush after Cheney’s speech. Yet, could Cheney’s twisting of the data not have been anticipated? Indeed, weren’t Tenet and his CIA in on the determination to make a case for war?

In a way, that conclusion is a no-brainer. As mentioned above, just five weeks before Cheney’s speech, Tenet himself had explained to his British counterpart that the President had decided to make war on Iraq for regime change and “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” 

Cheney simply was unveiling the war rationale to the public. Several weeks later, when Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Bob Graham insisted on a National Intelligence Estimate before any vote in Congress, Tenet told his folks to prepare one that dovetailed with Cheney’s unsupported rhetoric.

Sadly, my former colleagues did. And where was Michael Morell in this process? Clearly, he did nothing to destroy his career or put himself too much on the outs at the White House.

The Sales Job

When Bush’s senior advisers came back to town after Labor Day 2002, the next five weeks were devoted to selling the war, a major “new product” that, as then-White House chief of staff Andy Card explained, one shouldn’t introduce in the month of August.

Card, too, apparently had no idea that Cheney would jump the gun as “fixer-in-chief.” At that point, the Tenets, McLaughlins and Morells of this world fell right into line.

After assuring themselves that Tenet was a reliable salesman, Cheney and then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld allowed him to play a supporting role in advertising bogus claims about aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment and mobile trailers for manufacturing biological warfare agents.

The hyped and bogus intelligence succeeded in scaring Congress into voting for war on Oct. 10 and 11, 2002.

In my view, it strains credulity to think that Michael Morell was unaware of the fraudulent nature of this campaign. Yet, like all too many others, he mostly kept quiet, and he got promoted. That’s how it works in Washington these days.

This kind of malleability regarding twisting facts to support war has worked well for Petraeus, too. 

Today, there is little chance Petraeus can be unaware of Morell’s pedigree. Given Petraeus’s own experience in climbing the career ladder, the general may even harbor an admiration for Morell’s extraordinary willingness to please.

The two will make a fine pair for Official Washington, though not for those “quaint” folks who put a high premium on integrity.

As for Dick Cheney who was once given the well-deserved sobriquet “Vice President for Torture” in a Washington Post editorial, I just wish he would disappear so he would stop bringing out the worst in everyone.

I found my own feelings mirrored in a plaintive comment from a good friend who prays a lot. She said, “I keep praying for Dick Cheney, especially when he goes into the hospital.  But he always comes out again.”

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was a PDB briefer of Vice President George H.W. Bush and the Secretaries of State and Defense during President Ronald Reagan’s first term, and earlier in his career chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Note: I sent a draft of the above article to former colleagues, intelligence officers who served in CIA more recently than I and left after clocking many years at very senior levels. The comments I received from them turned out to be so germane and incisive that I include them below for those wanting a better feel for what really goes on.

The first is from a recently retired Senior Intelligence Service officer.

Ray:

You make a good case that Morell isn’t going to be the objective, unpoliticized deputy that Petraeus is going to need.  He may be what Petraeus wants, but not what he needs to do a good job.

You make the case that, like McLaughlin, he’s going to give the veneer of an analyst’s integrity to decision making without any of the burdens (integrity, nonpoliticization, tradecraft, etc.) that make the analyst imprimatur meaningful. Like McLaughlin, he seems eager to play handmaiden to a predetermined agenda.

In fact, the case you make, correctly, is that Morell is the quintessential intelligence community bureaucrat who has survived and prospered by subscribing to a particular worldview and steering clear of the alternatives declared off-limits by the U.S. right wing.

A couple of more specific comments:

–Your use of the word “loyalty”: Morell will be loyal to his boss i.e., he will not upset him the way McLaughlin was loyal to Tenet. That ignores, of course, that the deputy’s job is to protect his boss from himself and from his own biases.

McLaughlin’s “loyalty” to Tenet wound up screwing Tenet, and Morell’s “loyalty” to Petraeus is going to do the same. A man like Petraeus shows up with HUGE blind spots, and Morell rather than help him see into those blind spots almost certainly will reinforce them. 

Your use of the word “loyalty” conveys that it’s a virus that will harm Petraeus. And that’s what it is.

The “winds blowing from the White House” requires a little elaboration. Just as Panetta was captured, so has this White House been via the person of CIA veteran John Brennan on site. Brennan, of course, is the fellow who could not get confirmed as director because of his well known past history, so he’s running things from the White House.

The number of Obama flip-flops on intelligence issues has been stunning. The “winds,” you might say, have been blowing from CIA’s own Tenet protégé Brennan.

I personally would say Morell, like McLaughlin, knows and accepts that the operations people and their rightwing allies in the Admin, at the Pentagon, and in the Congress (and there are many!) set the direction the wind blows; Morell will always urge his boss to tack accordingly. 

In fact, the parallels with McLaughlin are strong, an analysis directorate fellow of modest capabilities, desperate for acceptance by the operations people and the rightwing downtown, jettisoning tradecraft and going with the flow.

The Gorman piece in the WSJ was disgraceful cooptation in action. The fact that she could list his many failures as “lessons learned” was amazing. It’s as if the rightwing were signaling to Petreaus not to judge Morell by his repeated failures and repeated inaction; judge him by our right-wing love for him. 

On the many failures, I don’t have first-hand knowledge of Morell’s role in the historic intelligence cook-job of WMD and the fateful State of the Union lies about yellow cake; all I know is that Alan Foley was the designated representative in that coordination. 

But your sourcing of Tenet on that is compelling, and I think your sanity-check on Morell’s performance is fair.

 –Words like “wow-response” are also fair, and effective. The “wow” factor is used to shock and awe people to squeeze them into the tiny space in which conformity is expected and challenges rejected. 

For me, particularly with a weak Administration with no policy bearings like this one, the problem is that operations are done for operations’ sake sans policy, sans review. 

I’m reading Joby Warrick’s book, and his worship of targeters is somewhat jarring when there’s no discussion of the number of innocent people killed and no discussion of why this is an “intelligence” vice military mission. We know why, but his readers don’t making such worship rather cynical.

You’re probably right that it “strains credulity” that Morell didn’t know how fraudulent the whole National Intelligence Estimate on WMD in Iraq was. I just don’t know, however, whether he was able intellectually to see what was going on. 

He was so close to power and so close to their mindset and so eager to stay in their good graces that he may have believed all the horse manure.

Wrapped up as he was, he may not have fully appreciated the thing was especially because key elements of the intelligence community funneling info to him were also true-believers, as were those in charge of community analysis. 

Who could ever have been giving Morell an alternative view? The most senior people were all true-believers. It was very much frowned upon to ask real questions.

So how could a man of Morell’s background and capabilities ask them? If you preferred not to say outright that Morell was guilty of fraud, you could be somewhat more charitable and put it this way: He was surrounded by true-believers and didn’t have the fortitude or candlepower, or even perceived space, to question the bogus intelligence he was involved in validating.

Not a good harbinger for the future.

The second comment (on the remarks above) is from Larry C Johnson, former CIA intelligence officer.

Your observations provide important context. The lies that paved the road to war in Iraq are being revived this week as part of the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. 

We have not learned a damned thing. Meanwhile, Iraq remains a deadly place for the various Iraq factions and our actions have completely disrupted the balance of power in the Middle East. Of course, neither the media nor the majority of the pundits want to focus on that.

And a brief but important point made by first commenter in reaction:

And cranking up for Iran?

Comment from Mary McCarthy, former Senior Intelligence Service officer and White House official.

You asked if I knew Morell and what he is like. I do; you nailed it.

The only moment of discomfort is when you use Tenet as a compass point for the actual truth. Because, of course, Tenet often has his own version of the facts.




New War Rationale: ‘Protect Civilians’

Exclusive: The United Nations Security Council authorized NATO’s air campaign in Libya “to protect civilians.” But that rationale has been stretched by President Barack Obama and other NATO leaders to justify a war for “regime change” that actually is putting civilian lives in danger, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The world has grown accustomed to the euphemism “collateral damage” to deaden human outrage over the killing of civilians. It is a phrase deployed when a big power or one of its friends gets a little trigger-happy while going after some “bad guy.”

Such civilian deaths are deemed regrettable, perhaps worthy of a half-hearted apology, but nothing that merits a special tribunal to prosecute the noble officials responsible for the “mistake.” Of course, the same international audience is supposed to get angry when some “rogue” state or group kills civilians in pursuit of its military goals. Then, a tribunal is called for.

But the war in Libya has brought into prominence a parallel euphemism that justifies not only accidental killings but the military conflicts that guarantee such deaths. The new rationale for war is “to protect civilians,” an Orwellian twist that NATO and the Obama administration adopted in March to justify an air-and-ground war to achieve regime change in Libya.

Naturally, the NATO powers repeatedly denied that “regime change” was their goal, although their war planes and intelligence agencies have coordinated military operations with Libyan rebels whose stated goal has been to eliminate longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, an objective that appears close to success.

NATO authorities have denied, too, that their missile strikes against Gaddafi’s compound were “assassination attempts,” although one attack did kill one of Gaddafi’s sons and three of his grandchildren. Yes, these victims were “collateral damage.”

But the key to the Libyan war was the United Nations Security Council’s passage of a resolution on March 17 authorizing a “no-fly zone” over Libya and permitting member states “to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian populated areas.”

Less noticed, the UN resolution also demanded “the immediate establishment of a ceasefire” and “the need to intensify efforts to find a solution to the crisis,” but those words of peace essentially became window-dressing for war.

Peace proposals from the African Union and offers from Gaddafi’s side for a ceasefire and even democratic elections were spurned out of hand by the NATO-backed rebels. AU officials were literally chased away when they arrived in Benghazi to seek negotiations.

In other words, NATO and its allied rebels never took seriously the parts of the UN mandate seeking “to protect civilians” by resolving the conflict through negotiations. Instead, the war was expanded westward toward Tripoli to achieve Gaddafi’s ouster, i.e. regime change.

The Security Council’s phrase “to protect civilians” was just the camel’s nose under the tent for war.

After the UN resolution was passed, NATO unleashed its planes to devastate Gaddafi’s defenses, incinerate his soldiers in the field and blast away parts of Libya’s capital city of Tripoli. NATO nations and Arab members of the coalition also dispatched military trainers to upgrade the rebels’ fighting capacity; supplied weapons to the insurgents; and provided crucial intelligence and command-and-control assistance.

Human Toll

Now that NATO’s rebels have entered Tripoli and driven Gaddafi from his seat of power though he and some of his loyalists fight on the world is finally getting a chance to see the human toll of this six-month conflict.

Atrocities are being exposed on both sides with reports of mass executions of captured soldiers. Many civilians, far from being “protected,” have ended up in hospital morgues.

Though the New York Times has staunchly backed the Libyan war and chided President Barack Obama for not providing more U.S. warplanes a Times article on Aug. 26 described the flood of dead and wounded arriving at Tripoli Central Hospital, whose “morgue was already overflowing with more than 115 bodies of fighters and civilians still unclaimed.”

The article continued: “Two doctors said the hospital had treated as many as 500 patients a day this week for gunshot wounds as the rebels struggled to overcome the Qaddafi loyalists who stubbornly continued to fight.

“Of the six days since the revolt reached Tripoli, the capital, Thursday may have been the bloodiest. Doctors and journalists reported evidence of fresh massacres by both sides around the city, while the battle to establish full control of Colonel Qaddafi’s breached compound, Bab al-Aziziya, raged on.

“In their drive to take command of Tripoli, the rebels concentrated their forces on a block-by-block battle for the streets of the Abu Salim neighborhood, a center of Colonel Qaddafi’s support. By late afternoon, the fighting had once again swamped Tripoli Central Hospital with wounded civilians and combatants.”

Besides the inherent dangers of a tribal-based society descending into bloody chaos as the world saw in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein there is the political challenge of achieving a meaningful peace when a foreign-connected military operation has removed a longtime dictator.

But perhaps the biggest risk is that American triumphalism will preclude the kinds of concessions that are necessary after violent passions have been whipped up on all sides.

Unlearned Lessons

The Obama administration insists that it has learned lessons from the Iraq War when President George W. Bush dispatched U.S. ground troops and then insisted on purging the Iraqi army and the government bureaucracy. Though Obama withheld U.S. ground troops from Libya, he has shown little sign that he has grasped other lessons from Iraq in 2003 or from Afghanistan in 1989.

Washington’s conventional wisdom on Iraq after the U.S. conquest and on Afghanistan after the Soviet Union withdrew its forces is that the United States needed detailed plans for rebuilding and reshaping those societies. That it needed to stay engaged in a much bigger way.

George W. Bush, who invaded Iraq under the false pretense that it possessed weapons of mass destruction and might share them with al-Qaeda terrorists, is faulted for not having anticipated the complex problems of occupying Iraq and not deploying enough resources to repair a shattered society.

Similarly, his father, George H.W. Bush, is criticized for supposedly walking away from Afghanistan once the Soviet troops left in February 1989.

What is missed in these critiques is that the greater problem was not U.S. follow-through but American hubris, a sense that a military victory precluded the need for negotiations with the apparently defeated enemy. Triumphalism trumped practicality.

After the U.S. conquest of Iraq in 2003, Bush’s proconsul Paul Bremer insisted on a sweeping “de-Baathification,” stripping the bureaucracy of officials who belonged to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. And, instead of negotiating with senior officers of the Iraqi Army, Bremer simply cashiered them and their men.

In Afghanistan, contrary to the myth that the United States simply quit Afghanistan once the Soviets left in 1989, the real history is that George H.W. Bush expanded the authorization for a continued U.S. covert war, using Afghan “self-determination” as the excuse for funneling hundreds of millions of more dollars to CIA-backed mujahedeen fighting the pro-Soviet regime that was hanging on in Kabul.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev sought negotiations on a ceasefire and the creation of an Afghan unity government, but George H.W. Bush and his inner circle, including senior national security aide Robert Gates, sensed total victory was at hand and rebuffed Gorbachev’s proposals.

U.S. triumphalism carried the day, with the expectation that the CIA’s mujahedeen would quickly oust the pro-Soviet Afghan President Najibullah. But Najibullah’s army proved more resilient than the CIA had expected, beating back offensive after offensive.

By the time, President George H.W. Bush realized that the rosy predictions from Gates and the CIA had been wrong, it was too late to get peace talks on track. Soviet President Gorbachev was fighting for his own government’s survival.

Rise of the Taliban

Najibullah’s government actually outlasted the Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991. He fell in 1992, bringing an end to his communist regime but not the war.

The capital of Kabul came under the control of a relatively moderate rebel force led by Ahmad Shah Massoud, an Islamist but not a fanatic. However, Massoud, a Tajik, was not favored by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which the CIA had used to funnel supplies to the mujahedeen but which backed more extreme Pashtun elements.

The various Afghan warlords battled for another four years as the ISI readied its own army of Islamic extremists drawn from Pashtun refugee camps inside Pakistan. With the ISI’s backing, this group, known as the Taliban, entered Afghanistan with the promise of restoring order.

The Taliban seized the capital of Kabul in September 1996, driving Massoud into a northward retreat. The ousted communist leader Najibullah, who had stayed in Kabul, sought shelter in the United Nations compound, but was captured. The Taliban tortured, castrated and killed him, his mutilated body hung from a light pole.

The triumphant Taliban imposed harsh Islamic law on Afghanistan. Their rule was especially devastating to women who had made gains toward equal rights under the communists, but were forced by the Taliban to live under highly restrictive rules, to cover themselves when in public, and to forgo schooling.

The Taliban also granted refuge to Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, who had fought with the Afghan mujahedeen against the Soviets in the 1980s. Bin Laden then used Afghanistan as the base of operations for his terrorist organization, al-Qaeda, setting the stage for the next Afghan War in 2001.

So, President Obama may be drawing the wrong lessons from the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan by misreading or misunderstanding the history.

Yes, Obama did keep U.S. ground forces out of Libya unlike George W. Bush’s conquest of Iraq. And Obama’s aides say they understand the need to stay engaged with Libya while it builds new institutions in a post-Gaddafi era.

But Obama appears to have fallen into the same trap that swallowed up the two President Bushes. Rather than negotiate for a compromise settlement that would include some concessions to the “bad guys” in this case, some accommodation with Gaddafi and his supporters Obama has pushed for total victory.

That, in turn, has increased the bloodshed and the bitterness, pitting not only loyalists against rebels, but Libyan tribe against Libyan tribe.

Though one can hope that Gaddafi and his troops surrender and accept their defeat, chances remain for a continuing bloodbath that will claim the lives of both young soldiers and many civilians.

In that case, NATO’s expansive interpretation of what it means “to protect civilians” may look even more hypocritical.

[For more on these topics, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a two-book set for the discount price of only $19. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book,Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.




Stretching Charges of Anti-Semitism

Hard-line Israeli defenders have tried to shut down protests over how the Palestinians have been treated by accusing critics of “anti-Semitism” and by labeling dissenting Jews as “self-hating.” These intimidating tactics are now common on U.S. college campuses, Lawrence Davidson writes.

By Lawrence Davidson

Can criticism of Israel, particularly a) criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people and b) criticism of the state ideology of Zionism that justifies that treatment, be labeled anti-Semitic?

This is not a hypothetical query. An affirmative answer to this question is being advocated by influential Zionist lobbies in the United States. The question is of particular importance on the nation’s college and university campuses.

In places like the University of California at Berkeley and Santa Cruz, and also at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Zionist students are now threatening to sue these institutions for failing to prevent an “atmosphere of anti-Semitic bigotry” allegedly created by the presence of pro-Palestinian student groups and faculty.
 
One might ask if it isn’t a stretch to assert that protesting Israeli and Zionist behavior is the same as anti-Semitism? Common sense certainly tells us this is so.

Unfortunately, we are not dealing with situations that are ruled by common sense. What we are facing here is the issue of ideologues bred to a specific perceptual paradigm and their insistence that others conform to it.
 
Here is an example: Take an American kid from a self-conscious Jewish home. This kid does not represent all American Jewish youth, but does typify say 20 percent of them. He or she is taught about the religion and also taught about recent history and the near annihilation of the Jews of Europe. He or she is sent to Hebrew school, and maybe a yeshiva school as well.

Most of our hypothetical student’s friends will be Jewish and of similar background. Between home, friends and school the student might well find himself or herself in something of a closed universe.

Throughout this educational process Judaism and its fate in the modern world is connected with Israel and its survival. The Arabs, and particularly the Palestinians, are transformed into latter-day Nazis. In addition, Israel’s state ideology of Zionism becomes assimilated into the credos of the religion. Soon our hypothetical student cannot tell the difference between the two.

Then, having come of age, our student goes off to college or university. Now he or she is no longer in a closed world. The result can be culture shock and an uncomfortable feeling that the student is on a campus where vocal and assertive debate about Israel and its behavior sounds like an attack on the Jewish religion.

Our student complains to the ZOA, Hillel, AIPAC or some similar organization and we are off down a road toward censorship and/or litigation.

Lawsuits are lodged (particularly if the ZOA is involved), donors swear that they will no longer support the institution, legislators bang on desks at the state capital, and boards of directors want to know what is going on and what the institution’s president is going to do about it?
 
Sweet Reason
 
There have been a number of efforts to try to use sweet reason to work out some of these problems before they get too explosive. For instance, in 2006, there was concern over the efforts of various pro-Palestinian campus groups to promote an academic boycott of Israel. Is this being anti-Semitic? Should campuses allow this to be advocated?

After all those who espouse academic boycott have a good deal of evidence of criminal activities on the part of the Israeli universities. At that time the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) sought to clarify the issues by arranging a roundtable discussion on academic boycott by those who stood pro and con.

This sounded like a good idea. But, no, the Zionist side did not like the list of discussants on the pro side and tried to censor the list. The AAUP resisted that move, so the Zionist side pressured the donors subsidizing the proposed roundtable to pull their support. The whole thing collapsed. It seemed the Zionists were not going to discuss the topic except on their own terms.
 
Just recently there has been similar attempt at sweet reason. A heated debate is now taking place over whether Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which bars federal funds from institutions that discriminate) can be applied to schools that allow criticism of Israel which the Zionists claim is anti-Semitic.

If so, those same Zionists, whose influence is strong in Congress, can use Title VI as a club to threaten colleges and universities with the loss of financial support unless they shut down the criticism. This, of course, equates to censorship and an attack on free speech.
 
Once more the AAUP, which opposes the use of Title VI in such situations, approached the American Zionists in an effort to find a compromise position. Professor Cary Nelson, head of the AAUP, managed to enter into negotiations with Kenneth Stern, the “anti-Semitism expert” of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

The two of them worked out a common position which, after consultation with others in each organization, was signed and released to the public. What did this document say? For our needs, here are its most important points:
 
1. Title VI is not an appropriate instrument to use when trying to “protect” Jewish students from “anti-Israel events, statements and speakers.” To use Title VI this way amounts to censorship.
 
2. Regarding how to know when activities are anti-Semitic, the document said, “Six years ago the European monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) created a working definition of anti-Semitism … while clearly stating that criticism of Israel in the main is not anti-Semitic, [it] gives some examples of when anti-Semitism may come into play, such as holding Jews collectively responsible for the acts of the Israeli state, comparing Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, or denying to Jews the right of self-determination (such as by claiming that Zionism is racism).

“In recent years the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights have embraced this definition too. It is entirely proper for university administrators, scholars and students to reference the working definition in identifying definite or possible instances of anti-Semitism on campus.”

3. So, censorship and Title VI should be avoided, but the “working definition” should be used to make judgments as to how best to “wrestle with ideas” while at the same time “combating bigotry.”
 
This letter was signed by both Cary Nelson as President of the AAUP and Kenneth Stern as the Director of the anti-Semitism and extremism sub-division of the American Jewish Committee. Released in early August, it took only a few days before it was repudiated by the AJC.

On Aug. 9, David Harris, AJC president, “apologized” for the joint declaration, said it was “ill advised” and blamed a breakdown in the AJC’s “system of checks and balances” for the slip-up. Kenneth Stern is now on an unscheduled sabbatical and cannot be reached for comment.
 
This is, of course, a replay of the 2006 situation and just goes to show that, it is the hard-right ideologues who are in charge on the Zionist side. These people have a worldview that allows for no compromise. Censorship is exactly what they want and Title VI is as good a weapon to wield as any.

What could Kenneth Stern possibly have been thinking? There is no room for sweet reason here.
 
AAUP’s Mistake
 
This is not the end of the story. There is something wrong with the fact that the AAUP was so quick to endorse the EUMC working definition of anti-Semitism (a definition, by the way, that Kenneth Stern had a hand in writing).

Consider these two statements from the above AAUP-AJC declaration each of which, according to the “working definition,” can be seen as anti-Semitic: 1) “holding Jews collectively responsible for the acts of the Israeli state” and 2) “denying to Jews the right of self-determination (such as by claiming that Zionism is racism).”

As we are about to see the first statement has hidden facets to it and the second defies historical reality.
 
Statement 1:
 
It is absolutely the case that the Jews should not be held collectively responsible for the actions of Israel. But it should be pointed out that it is just such collective responsibility that Zionists insist upon.

Zionist ideology demands that Israel be recognized as representing world Jewry. Zionists expect that, in return, all Jews will identify with and actively support Israel feel one with the “Jewish state.” They classify those Jews who do not recognize their collective responsibility to Israel as somehow deficient or perhaps “self-hating” Jews.

So let us get this straight, if holding Jews collectively responsible for the acts of Israel is anti-Semitic, what does that make the Zionists?
 
Statement 2:
 
a. That Jews have some sort of natural right to political self-determination is highly questionable. How about Protestants, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, ad infinitum? Just how far do we want to push this claim of political self-determination for religious faiths?

Oh, but the Zionists insist that Jews are not just adherents to a particular faith they are a “people.” Well, that is an opinion. It just doesn’t happen to be the opinion of millions of other Jews who see Judaism as a religion pure and simple. Of course, if the latter are vocal about this they run the risk of being labeled “self-hating.”
 
b. And who, except of course the Zionists, says that Zionism is a desirable vehicle for the expression of this alleged right of self-determination?

Let us face it. Israel and its Zionist ideology were born of the will of a small minority of Jews, almost exclusively from Central and Eastern Europe, most of whom were secularists, and almost all of whom carried within their heads the poisoned perceptions of European imperialist bigotry an outlook which still characterizes the state they set up.

That is why, in practice, Zionism has resulted in a prima facie racist environment in Israel. And now we are told that, according to the “working definition,” pointing out the link between Zionism and racism is an act of anti-Semitism!
 
Given this close reading of parts of the “working definition,” the AAUP really ought to rethink its apparent support of the document. It is a position that can only give impetus to the very censorship the AAUP dreads.
  
One has come to expect twisted logic from the Zionists. Actually, one can expect this sort of thinking from any band of ideologues. Their blinkered vision, incapable of seeing around the corners of their prejudices, guarantees that most of what comes out of their mouths and their pens is sophistry.
 
However, what is one to do when folks you count on as rational and careful thinkers, like the leadership of the AAUP, get caught short this way? What is one to do when flawed reasoning and spurious assumptions start to be translated into criteria for government administrative decisions?

What can you do when a fifth of the Congress decides to take a break and visit one of the most racist places on the planet and you risk being labeled an anti-Semite for decrying this fact?

Well, you have a good laugh, have a good cry, and then go post your assessment of the situation on your website. Then you get a bit drunk. Finally, you repeat ten times “I will never stay silent.”

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author ofForeign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




Orange Jumpsuits / Double Standards

Exclusive: The U.S. news media regularly rallies the American public to outrage when a U.S. adversary or some unpopular group is linked to a heinous crime. But a different standard applies to U.S. allies even when there is strong evidence of a similar offense, observes Robert Parry. 

By Robert Parry

In Great Britain, convicted looters are being dressed in orange jumpsuits and made to clean up areas damaged by recent riots. The law-and-order crowd on both sides of the Atlantic cheers this “riot payback scheme,” even when applied to offenders who only grabbed some bottled water or received a stolen pair of running shorts from a friend. 

After all, the phrase “zero tolerance” was made for moments when the poor and the powerless break the rules.

By contrast, these same British authorities will take no action against officials from the former government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, who joined with President George W. Bush’s team in making a bloody mess out of Iraq in clear violation of international law.

Indeed, if the architects of the Iraq War were put in orange jumpsuits and forced to fix the devastation of Iraq, one might see more justice in humiliating the British looters.

But it is impermissible to envision an orange-clad chain gang at work in Iraq consisting of Blair, Bush and their subordinates the likes of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, Jack Straw, Elliott Abrams and a host of neoconservatives, including many big-time media pundits. For such important people, different rules apply.

There also will be no special tribunal set up to deal with these former U.S./U.K. officials (and their allied propagandists) whose aggressive war in Iraq got hundreds of thousands killed. Such courts, it seems, are reserved for international law violators from weak states in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia.

At the Nuremberg Tribunal after World War II, jurists from the United States and Great Britain made the specific point that the rules being established, including prohibitions against “aggressive war,” were to be applied to the victors, not just the vanquished.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who represented the United States at Nuremberg, stated that holding Nazi leaders responsible was not just a case of victor’s revenge but a desire to establish a precedent against aggressive war in the future.

“Let me make clear,” Jackson said, “that while this law is first applied against German aggressors, the law includes, and if it is to serve a useful purpose, it must condemn aggression by any other nations, including those which sit here now in judgment.”

But it seems Justice Jackson had it wrong. Based on what has happened in the six-plus decades since Nuremberg, an objective observer would have to conclude that the punishment of the Nazis, including the death penalty for some, was indeed a case of victor’s revenge. When leaders of the former Allied powers engage in crimes like “aggressive war,” nothing happens to them.

Indeed, today’s tribunals, such as the International Criminal Court and special courts to handle acts of terrorism, target offenders from weak nations or from unpopular groups. These judicial bodies turn a blind eye to similar crimes committed by or protected by powerful governments.

Evil Libyans

So, while longtime Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and his inner circle seem destined for prosecution by the ICC if they’re not simply executed by NATO-backed rebels it’s unthinkable to suggest that Bush, Blair and their inner circles get dragged before the ICC for their role in precipitating the far greater slaughter in Iraq.

You see, while it’s a crime against humanity when Gaddafi kills insurrectionists in Libya, it is perfectly okay when U.S. and British authorities slaughter “militants” opposed to Western occupation of their countries, whether Iraq or Afghanistan. Any “collateral damage” from Gaddafi’s attacks is inexcusable, but “collateral damage” from U.S. missile strikes is shrugged off.

You have similar rules for terrorism. Acts of terrorism against the powerful or their friends must be punished, even if the evidence is thin to invisible and even if the wrong people get blamed. However, acts of terrorism by friends of the powerful require the sort of perfect evidence that doesn’t exist in the real world. Those terrorists rarely get nailed.

Take, for example, the case of right-wing Cubans Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch. They were clearly implicated as the masterminds of the in-flight bombing of a Cubana Airlines plane in 1976, killing 77 people.

However, under the protection of Miami’s politically powerful Cuban community and the Bush Family, the CIA-trained Posada and Bosch have been allowed to live out their golden years in freedom and comfort. For them, no evidence even contemporaneous U.S. intelligence reports and self-incriminating statements was enough to justify holding these defiant terrorists accountable.

Meanwhile, international tribunals have relied on the skimpiest circumstantial evidence to bring charges against Arabs who are viewed with disdain by Western governments and media. To this day, U.S. journalists ignore the implausibility of Libyan intelligence agent Ali al-Megrahi’s 2001 conviction by a Scottish court for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The special Scottish court convicted Megrahi in the deaths of the 270 people  while acquitting a second Libyan in what appeared to be more a political compromise than an act of justice. One judge told Dartmouth government professor Dirk Vandewalle about “enormous pressure put on the court to get a conviction.”

Following Megrahi’s dubious guilty verdict, Libya was coerced into accepting “responsibility” for the bombing to get punitive international sanctions lifted. Despite agreeing to pay reparations to the victims’ families, Libyan officials continued to deny having a role in the bombing.

Then, after the testimony of a key witness against Megrahi was discredited, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission agreed in 2007 to reconsider his conviction out of a strong concern that it was a miscarriage of justice. However, due to more political pressure, that review was proceeding slowly in 2009 when Scottish authorities agreed to release Megrahi on medical grounds.

Megrahi dropped his appeal in order to gain an early release in the face of a terminal cancer diagnosis, but that doesn’t mean he was guilty. He has continued to assert his innocence and an objective press corps would reflect the doubts regarding his conviction.

Instead, American journalists from all hues on the ideological spectrum routinely blame Gaddafi for the Lockerbie bombing and cite it as justification for NATO’s bombing campaign that has killed many young Libyan soldiers (and a number of civilians) while paving the way for anti-Gaddafi rebels to reach Tripoli.

Hariri Bombing

A similar lack of objectivity has applied to the work of a special United Nations tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Earlier this month, the tribunal unsealed an indictment accusing four members of Lebanon’s militant group Hezbollah of carrying out the bomb attack that killed Hariri and 21 others.

However, the prosecutors acknowledged that they had no smoking gun or even any direct evidence tying the accused to the crime. Instead, the indictment cited a complex analysis of cell-phone usage attributed to the defendants, though it wasn’t clear how the prosecutors linked the suspects to the various phones.

In many ways, the case had the look of “rounding up the usual suspects,” including Mustafa Amine Badreddine, whose slain brother-in-law Imad Moughnieh was linked to the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, an attack that the U.S. media frequently identifies as “terrorist” even though it followed the Reagan administration’s military intervention in the Lebanese civil war.

When the Hariri indictment was unsealed on Aug. 17, the U.S. media again was quick to treat the dubious allegations against the four defendants as credible, since Hezbollah is an unpopular group among U.S. and Israeli officials.

But Hezbollah leaders noted that the indictment lacked any hard evidence and that Israeli intelligence had penetrated Lebanon’s phone service, raising doubts about the reliability of the cell-phone records. (Two senior employees of one cell-phone company were arrested in 2010 for spying.)

Hezbollah denounced the charges as an American-Israeli scheme to discredit the organization and vowed to protect the defendants from arrest.

In the Western press coverage of the indictment, there also was little note that the tribunal’s earlier investigation had reached a very different conclusion, fingering Syrian intelligence for the Hariri killing. That preliminary finding in 2005 had received uncritical front-page treatment in the New York Times and other leading U.S. news outlets, since Syria was another bête noire.

Back then, Consortiumnews.com and Der Spiegel were two of the few news organizations that pointed to what seemed like a rush to judgment by the tribunal’s German investigator, Detlev Mehlis. Some of Mehlis’s witnesses appeared unreliable and promising leads had not been followed up.

When two of those key witnesses were discredited, Mehlis’s initial report was essentially withdrawn by the U.N. tribunal and he quit his post. But the fact that the case collapsed was largely ignored by the U.S. news media, which instead kept referring to Syria’s presumed guilt.

Now, Syria’s presumed guilt has simply been replaced by Hezbollah’s presumed guilt with little or no acknowledgement that a new batch of “usual suspects” has filled in for the old bunch.

Murder Mystery

The complex Hariri murder mystery began on Feb. 14, 2005, when an explosion destroyed a car carrying Hariri through the streets of Beirut. Twenty-one other people also died.

Because Syria was then on President George W. Bush’s hit list for “regime change” and Syria was considered a front-line enemy of Israel speculative evidence of Syrian guilt was an easy sell to the U.S. news media.

So, when Mehlis’s preliminary report was issued in fall 2005, there was little U.S. media skepticism about its assertions of guilt regarding Syrian leaders and their Lebanese allies.

“There is probable cause to believe that the decision to assassinate former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials and could not have been further organized without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services,” declared Mehlis’s report on Oct. 20, 2005.

Despite the curiously vague wording “probable cause to believe” the killing “could not have been taken without the approval” and “without the collusion” Bush immediately termed the findings “very disturbing” and called for the UN Security Council to take action against Syria.

The U.S. press joined the stampede in assuming Syrian guilt. On Oct. 25, 2005, a New York Times editorial said the UN investigation had been “tough and meticulous” in establishing “some deeply troubling facts” about Hariri’s murderers. The Times demanded punishment of top Syrian officials and their Lebanese allies.

But Mehlis’s investigative report was anything but “meticulous.” Indeed, it read more like a conspiracy theory than a dispassionate pursuit of the truth.

As a wealthy businessman with close ties to the Saudi monarchy, Hariri had many enemies who might have wanted him dead for his business or political dealings. The Syrians were not alone in having a motive to eliminate Hariri.

Indeed, after the assassination, a videotape was delivered to al-Jazeera television on which a Lebanese youth, Ahmad Abu Adass, claimed to have carried out the suicide bombing on behalf of Islamic militants angered by Hariri’s work for “the agent of the infidels” in Saudi Arabia.

However, Mehlis relied on two witnesses Zuhair Ibn Muhammad Said Saddik and Hussam Taher Hussam to dismiss the videotape as part of a disinformation campaign designed to deflect suspicion from Syria. (The new indictment also rejects Adass’s as the suicide bomber.)

Mehlis spun a narrative of a Syrian conspiracy to kill Hariri, implicating four pro-Syrian Lebanese security officials who were jailed on suspicion of involvement in Hariri’s murder. Everything was falling neatly into place.

As a new U.S. press hysteria built over another case of pure evil traced to the doorstep of an American adversary in the Muslim world, holes in the UN report were mostly ignored. At Consortiumnews.com, we produced one of the few critical examinations of what had the looks of a rush to judgment. [See “The Dangerously Incomplete Hariri Report.”]

 Crumbling Case

Much like the Bush administration’s Iraqi WMD claims which the Times also had touted uncritically Mehlis’s Hariri case against the Syrians soon began to crumble.

One witness, Saddik, was identified by the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel as a swindler who boasted about becoming “a millionaire” from his Hariri testimony. The other one, Hussam, recanted his testimony about Syrian involvement, saying he lied to the Mehlis investigation after being kidnapped, tortured and offered $1.3 million by Lebanese officials.

Mehlis soon stepped down, as even the New York Times acknowledged that the conflicting accusations had given the investigation the feel of “a fictional spy thriller.” [NYT, Dec. 7, 2005]

Mehlis’s replacement backed away from the Syrian accusations. Belgian investigator Serge Brammertz began entertaining other investigative leads, examining a variety of possible motives and a number of potential perpetrators.

“Given the many different positions occupied by Mr. Hariri, and his wide range of public and private-sector activities, the [UN] commission was investigating a number of different motives, including political motivations, personal vendettas, financial circumstances and extremist ideologies, or any combination of those motivations,” Brammertz’s own interim report said, according to a UN statement on June 14, 2006.

In other words, Brammertz had dumped Mehlis’s single-minded theory that had pinned the blame on senior Syrian security officials.

Still, the U.S. news media barely mentioned the shift in the UN probe. Virtually nothing appeared in the U.S. press that would alert the American people to the fact that the distinct impression they got in 2005 that the Syrian government had engineered a terrorist bombing in Beirut was now a whole lot fuzzier.

In 2009, the UN tribunal examining Hariri’s murder and other terrorist acts in Lebanon acknowledged that it lacked the evidence to indict the four Lebanese security officials who had been held without formal charges since 2005. Finally, Judge Daniel Fransen of the special international tribunal ordered the four imprisoned officials released.

In a similar situation say, one that involved a U.S. ally the release would have been viewed as proof of innocence. In this case, however, the New York Times refused to acknowledge the fact that Mehlis’s initial case against Syria had been weak. Instead, the Times blamed “the legal pitfalls of a divisive international trial.” [NYT, April 30, 2009]

It remained common practice for the New York Times and the rest of the mainstream U.S. news media to continue citing the Mehlis report and referring to “Syrian officials implicated in Mr. Hariri’s killing” without providing more context.

Keeping Up the Pressure  

That pattern continued in 2010 with a New York Times op-ed article, “A U.N. Betrayal in Beirut” by Michael Young, portraying Mehlis as a hero and his replacement, Brammertz, as an incompetent stooge serving a supposed UN cabal to protect Syria.

The online version of Young’s op-ed linked to a 2005 story that trumpeted Mehlis’s initial report, but cited no articles describing the subsequent collapse of Mehlis’s case. (In 2009, Brammertz was replaced by Canadian prosecutor Daniel Bellemare, who brought the current indictment.)

Even in the newly released indictment, there remain gaps around a central piece of evidence, the white Mitsubishi Canter Van that was identified as the vehicle carrying the bomb. According to Mehlis’s initial report, a Japanese forensic team matched 44 of 69 pieces of the van’s wreckage to Canter parts manufactured by Mitsubishi Fuso Corp. and even identified the specific vehicle.

So, the van’s chain of possession would seem to be a crucial lead in identifying the killers. But Mehlis issued his first report suggesting Syrian guilt before that trail had been followed.

At that point, Mehlis only stated that the Japanese forensic team had learned that the van had been reported stolen in Sagamihara City, Japan, on Oct. 12, 2004. A subsequent update to Mehlis’s report added some more intriguing clues about the van, tracking its arrival in the Middle East to port facilities in the United Arab Emirates.

The newly released indictment says the van then found its way into a car showroom in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli where it was purchased with cash by two unidentified men. The indictment asserts, again without any clear proof, that the buyers were collaborating with the four defendants.

While the evidence against the four Hezbollah members remains murky, what is clear is that Lebanon is regarded by the United States and its regional allies as an important battleground in their geopolitical struggle with Iran.

According to classified State Department cables released by WikiLeaks, Saudi Arabia even discussed a military intervention in Lebanon in 2008 under cover of UN peacekeepers.

On May 10, 2008, Saudi Foreign Prince Saud Al-Faisal told U.S. Ambassador David Satterfield that a joint U.S.-Saudi “security response” might be needed against Hezbollah to counter its “military challenge to the Government of Lebanon,” according to a U.S. embassy cable.

“Specifically, Saud argued for an ‘Arab force’ to create and maintain order in and around Beirut, which would be assisted in its efforts and come under the ‘cover’ of a deployment of UNIFIL troops from south Lebanon.

“The US and NATO would need to provide movement and logistic support, as well as ‘naval and air cover.’ Saud said that a Hizballah victory in Beirut would mean the end of the Siniora government and the ‘Iranian takeover’ of Lebanon.”

The cable indicates how high the stakes are in the Lebanese political struggles and how powerful the motivation is to use propaganda to discredit U.S. adversaries there.

Between those propaganda imperatives and the inherent double standards regarding how the U.S. news media addresses crimes by the United States and its allies versus those allegedly committed by U.S. adversaries, it shouldn’t be surprising that an objective observer might lose faith in what’s regularly presented to the American public.

The drumbeat is already building for new sanctions against Hezbollah to force it to turn over the four defendants to the special tribunal, much as Libya was pressured to surrender Megrahi to the special Scottish court which then succumbed to apparent political influence to convict him.

On Aug. 17, the Washington Post published an op-ed by David M. Crane and Carla Del Ponte (two prosecutors in cases involving human rights crimes in Sierre Leone, the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda) demanding strong support from the international community for the Hariri tribunal.

The pair cited a statement by the tribunal’s president, Italian jurist Antonio Cassese, declaring how important it is “to entrench the notion that democracy cannot survive without the rule of law, justice and respect for fundamental human rights.”

That standard apparently applies to weak countries and to movements considered unpopular in the West, but not to the United States, other big powers or CIA-connected terrorists who find safe haven in places like Miami.

It’s as if Washington’s enemies should expect to get fitted for orange jumpsuits, while it would be wrong to subject U.S. officials and their friends to such humiliations.

[For more on these topics, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a two-book set for the discount price of only $19. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book,Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.




Having a Voice in Global Debates

Just as more and more issues require a global response, political pressures in the United States are building against American participation in international bodies designed to address these concerns. R. Spencer Oliver, an American who is secretary general of one such organization, says U.S. representatives must be on hand to engage in the debate.

By R. Spencer Oliver

In a rare moment this summer, the seats of the United States delegation were empty when more than 220 parliamentarians from the world’s largest regional security organization gathered in Belgrade for the opening of their annual meeting.

The 17-seat U.S. delegation has the most votes in the 55-nation Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly, a body of which Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Maryland, is an elected vice president.

Unfortunately, with the House in session and the Senate working several days the week of July 4th, only two voting Americans were present  Cardin and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire for part of this summer’s meeting.

It was the poorest showing ever for the Americans in the Assembly’s 20-year history down from a high of 13 U.S. members present in two of the last three years.

Regardless of the worthy reasons precluding member attendance, the low turnout weakens the U.S. argument for greater participation from Russia and other post-Soviet countries in the OSCE. Russia sent nine delegates to the meeting.

Political debate is like sport you can’t win if you don’t show up and the low turnout from the Americans cost Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, R-Alabama, his vice-chairmanship of the Assembly’s human rights committee, a post from which he was an active contributor for the last two years.

Without Aderholt, Cardin is left as the sole American in the Assembly’s elected leadership, and his vice-presidential term expires next year.

At a time when the U.S. Congress and the European Union have moved to sanction nations for their violations of human rights, forums like the OSCE become all the more important. Bringing parliamentarians and diplomats together for five days of meetings, debates and votes can create new streams for dialogue where others may have dried up.

In fact, nowhere other than the OSCE can members interact with their elected counterparts from Russia, Central Asia, the Balkans and Western Europe.

Take the case of Belarus, where opposition figures have been repeatedly imprisoned for exercising freedoms of assembly and expression. The country became a priority topic accounting for at least three hours of discussion in Belgrade, and for much of it a member of the Belarusian parliament was present never hiding from the criticism, but instead sitting and speaking right next to the German MP demanding prisoners be released.

The U.S. delegation is known to welcome meetings of its own, often with people whom they do not see eye to eye. Their jam-packed schedules keep members of Congress busy from the moment of landing, always squeezing the most out of these diplomatic opportunities.

Here a bilateral meeting with the Russian delegation, there a visit with a head of state in this case Serbia’s Boris Tadic. The trips end up being as important for the lasting international relationships they forge as for the substantive ideas the members discuss when together.

Despite the small bench for the Americans this month, Cardin proved more than able to keep up the multi-tasking tradition at the Belgrade meeting. Juggling no less than four substantive issues in various committees, he made sure the delegation with no House members was still wholly invested in the multilateral process.

Cardin literally seemed to be everywhere successfully pushing an
amendment on extractive industry transparency, speaking about investigating organ trafficking, and promoting a colleague’s cyber security measure. He was equally active behind the scenes, where his lobbying contributed to the narrow defeat of a resolution that would have called for giving the Palestinian Authority partner status in the OSCE.

But as often as we saw Cardin speaking in Belgrade, fellow parliamentarians repeatedly were asking about his colleagues, especially Aderholt and Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, the Assembly’s special representative on human trafficking.

Smith’s Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Law, the world’s first major anti-trafficking measure, took off internationally thanks largely to his work at an Annual Session where he gave his colleagues copies of the bill. They went home, translated it, and made it law  beginning a global network that still works to combat modern-day slavery.

This type of robust activity is the hallmark of U.S. participation, but if
 it continues to fall to only one or two members to do all the heavy
lifting, it becomes harder to sustain and weakens the international forum at a time when legislators most need to benefit from each other’s experiences.

R. Spencer Oliver is secretary general of the Organization for Security and 
Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly.