Listen to the People

Joharah Baker

Everyone is glued to their television sets. The scenes from Egypt's Tahreer [Liberation] Square, from Alexandria and from Suez are mesmerizing, especially for us nostalgic Palestinians who know what it feels like to revolt against an oppressive regime.

At least we used to. The relative silence of the Palestinian street towards the historic events in the Arab world is perplexing, even to the most unfazed among us. While there is no doubt whatsoever that hearts and minds are in the right place, the question is why we are also not out on the streets in solidarity. The answer will vary, of course, depending on the respondent.

For young and zealous protesters in the West Bank eager to wear their hearts on their sleeves and show their solidarity with their Arab brethren, the finger of blame is squarely on the Palestinian Authority and its security forces. It is not as though our people have not felt the call of their fellow Arabs in Tunisia and Egypt and the pull of their cause against the oppressive regimes of their leaders. On the contrary, after the first week of protests in Tunisia, when it was clear the Arab world as we know it would be turned upside down, the Palestinians took to the streets. It was not long, however, before they were told to go home by the police and security forces who, no doubt, were acting on orders from above.

Now that Egyptians have regained hope that they too can be the catalyst for change in their own country, they have taken over the streets. Again, Palestinians felt the urge to join hands (metaphorically) with their Egyptian brethren and again, they were turned back at the door of the relevant ministries after requesting a permit to congregate. What will the Egyptians think of us?

Political Prisoner Ameer Makhoul Update

Stephen Lendman

A previous article discussed him in detail, accessed through this site.

Following former prime minister Ariel Sharon's dictum that, "This is our land, and we'll settle it and build on it in order to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state," Palestinians have been ruthlessly persecuted, imprisoned, or slaughtered in gross violation of international laws.

Ameer Makhoul is one of many thousands of victims, vilified for being Muslims in a Jewish state. An Israeli citizen, human rights activist, and head of the internationally recognized Ittijah NGO for Palestinian empowerment, he also chairs the Public Committee for the Defence of Political Prisoners within the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee in Israel. Besides championing human rights, he also supports the global BDS movement, what many believe is perhaps the most effective nonviolent tactic against Israeli lawlessness, and another reason for his targeting.

In May 2010, he was arrested on spurious charges of spying for Hezbollah, Israel's way to silence a respected Palestinian. At the time, attorney Hussein Abu Hasin said accusations were so vague and wide-ranging that emails, Internet chats or phone conversations with anyone about anything could be used as a pretext to prosecute for communicating with a "state enemy," whether or not true and regardless of the right to speak freely with anyone.

On May 6, his ordeal began when about 20 Israeli police and security forces arrested him at 3:10AM, ransacked his apartment, confiscated his computers, cell phones, various documents, maps, and other possessions. At the same time, his Haifa office was raided for other potentially "incriminating" evidence, a Shin Bet warrant saying only that "secret information" justified it for "security reasons," when, in fact, none whatsoever existed.

Makhoul was detained incommunicado at Petah Tikva for interrogation. Under an initial gag order, the Israeli media couldn't write or discuss anything about his case.

He endured 12 days of brutal interrogation, including torture and sleep deprivation. After three weeks, he was charged with espionage, helping an enemy (Hezbollah) in time of war, contact with a foreign agent, and other spurious charges, all of which he denied.

Cow Most Sacred

Andrew J. Bacevich

Why Military Spending Remains Untouchable

In defense circles, "cutting" the Pentagon budget has once again become a topic of conversation. Americans should not confuse that talk with reality. Any cuts exacted will at most reduce the rate of growth. The essential facts remain: U.S. military outlays today equal that of every other nation on the planet combined, a situation without precedent in modern history.

The Pentagon presently spends more in constant dollars than it did at any time during the Cold War — this despite the absence of anything remotely approximating what national security experts like to call a "peer competitor." Evil Empire? It exists only in the fevered imaginations of those who quiver at the prospect of China adding a rust-bucket Russian aircraft carrier to its fleet or who take seriously the ravings of radical Islamists promising from deep inside their caves to unite the Umma in a new caliphate.

What are Americans getting for their money? Sadly, not much. Despite extraordinary expenditures (not to mention exertions and sacrifices by U.S. forces), the return on investment is, to be generous, unimpressive. The chief lesson to emerge from the battlefields of the post-9/11 era is this: the Pentagon possesses next to no ability to translate "military supremacy" into meaningful victory.

Washington knows how to start wars and how to prolong them, but is clueless when it comes to ending them. Iraq, the latest addition to the roster of America’s forgotten wars, stands as exhibit A. Each bomb that blows up in Baghdad or some other Iraqi city, splattering blood all over the streets, testifies to the manifest absurdity of judging "the surge" as the epic feat of arms celebrated by the Petraeus lobby.

The problems are strategic as well as operational. Old Cold War-era expectations that projecting U.S. power will enhance American clout and standing no longer apply, especially in the Islamic world. There, American military activities are instead fostering instability and inciting anti-Americanism. For Exhibit B, see the deepening morass that Washington refers to as AfPak or the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater of operations.

Add to that the mountain of evidence showing that Pentagon, Inc. is a miserably managed enterprise: hide-bound, bloated, slow-moving, and prone to wasting resources on a prodigious scale — nowhere more so than in weapons procurement and the outsourcing of previously military functions to "contractors." When it comes to national security, effectiveness (what works) should rightly take precedence over efficiency (at what cost?) as the overriding measure of merit. Yet beyond a certain level, inefficiency undermines effectiveness, with the Pentagon stubbornly and habitually exceeding that level. By comparison, Detroit’s much-maligned Big Three offer models of well-run enterprises.

Revolutionary Change in Egypt: Internal or Made in USA?

Stephen Lendman

US imperial policy includes regime change, affecting foes as well as no longer useful friends. Past targets included former Philippines leader Ferdinand Marcos, Iran's Shah (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi), and Iraq's Saddam Hussein, among others. According to some reports, Mubarak is next - aging, damaged and expendable.

George Friedman runs Stratfor, a private global intelligence service. On January 29, he issued a special Egypt report, saying:

"On January 29, Egypt's internal security forces (including Central Security Forces anti-riot paramilitaries) were glaringly absent" after confronting protesters forcefully for several days. Army personnel replaced them. Demonstrators welcomed them. [...] "There is more (going on) than meets the eye." While media reports focus on reform, democracy and human rights, "revolutions, including this one, are made up of many more actors than (Facebook and Twitter) liberal voices...." Some are, in fact, suspect, using social network sites for other than purported reasons. [...] Like Iran's 1979 revolution, "the ideology and composition of protesters can wind up having very little to do with the" behind the scenes political forces gaining power. Egypt's military may be preparing to seize it. Former air force chief/civil aviation minister Ahmed Shafiq is new prime minister, tasked with forming a new government, and intelligence head Omar Suleiman is Egypt's first ever vice president under Mubarak, effectively second in command. [...] Moreover, Defense Minister Field Marshall Mohammed Hussein Tantawi "returned to Cairo after a week of intense discussions with senior US officials." He heads the Republican Guard, responsible for defending major government and strategic institutions, the symbols of entrenched power. Also back is Lt. General Sami Annan. Both men with others "are likely managing the political process behind the scenes."

As a result, expect more political changes, military commanders apparently willing to give Mubarak time to leave gracefully, but not much as unrest won't subside until he's gone.

Iran: An Acceleration of Executions

Human Rights Watch
Patrick Mac Manus Blog

The Iranian government’s high rate of executions and targeting of rights defenders, particularly lawyers, in 2010 and early 2011 highlights a deepening of the human rights crisis that gripped the country following the disputed June 2009 presidential election, Human Rights Watch said in issuing its World Report 2011 Iran chapter. According to Iranian media reports, authorities have executed at least 73 prisoners – an average of almost three prisoners per day – since January 1, 2011.

The 649-page report, the organization’s 21st annual review of human rights practices around the globe, summarizes major human rights issues in more than 90 countries worldwide. In Iran, since November 2009 authorities have executed at least 13 people on the vague charge of moharebeh, or “enmity against God,” following flawed trials in revolutionary courts. The government also harassed, arrested, detained, and convicted several lawyers in 2010 for their work defending the rights of others. At the same time, scores of civil society activists have spoken out against the government crackdown despite facing harsh consequences.

“The noose has tightened, in some cases literally, around the necks of activists in Iran,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s crackdown has gone beyond silencing post-election demonstrators and is now a broad-based campaign to neutralize Iran’s vibrant civil society and consolidate power.”

The executions and mounting pressures against lawyers took place amid a broad crackdown following the election, and resulted in the killing of dozens of demonstrators by security forces and the detention of thousands of political opposition members and civil society activists. In early 2010 security forces announced that they had arrested more than 6,000 people in the months following the June 12, 2009 election. Those arrested included demonstrators, lawyers, rights defenders, journalists, students, and opposition leaders, some of whom remain in prison without charge. Iran’s revolutionary courts have issued harsh sentences, in some cases based on forced confessions, against dozens convicted of various national security-related crimes.

WikiLeaks exposes US complicity in murder, torture, by Egyptian government

Tom Eley

"The cables demonstrate the courage of the Egyptian demonstrators in the face of the brutality of the Mubarak regime."

On Friday, WikiLeaks released dozens of diplomatic cables that together reveal the US has long been aware of the criminality of the Mubarak regime in Egypt and its savage abuses, including torture, random arrest, and extra-judicial killings. The documents also reveal that plans for the military-supervised transfer of power from Hosni Mubarak to his son, Gamal, were presented to Washington.

The document release, which coincided with mass demonstrations and clashes with police in Cairo, Suez, and other cities, will only serve to further discredit Mubarak, and is a major embarrassment to the Obama administration, whose leading representatives, including President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have continued to insist that the Mubarak regime is not a dictatorship, while hypocritically calling for “restraint.”

The documents, diplomatic cables from the US embassy in Cairo from 2009 and 2010, make clear that the Obama administration was well aware that the Mubarak regime held onto power by terrorizing the population. But Washington tacitly supported the dictatorship and its crimes because Egypt is considered the most important component to US strategy for a wide region encompassing the Middle East, the Maghreb, and the Horn of Africa.

Revolutionary Middle East Change

Stephen Lendman

Democratic Middle East birth pangs may have legs enough to spread regionally, including in Occupied Palestine.

Officially launched in Cairo in 1959, the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) offers hope, driven by a commitment for Palestinian liberation. With more than 100 chapters and over 100,000 members, it's organized rallies, political debates, cultural programs, and other initiatives to spread truths about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Perhaps inspired by events across the region, on January 27, its press release headlined, "Palestinian students claim right to participate in shaping our destiny," saying:

"....(I)n order to reassert our inalienable rights, (we) claim our right to democratically participate in the shaping of our destiny. We begin a national initiative to campaign for direct elections to the Palestinian National Council (the PLO's legislative body) on the clear understanding that only a reformed national representative institution, that includes all Palestinians, those struggling in the homeland and those struggling in exile, can create a representative Palestinian platform, and restore the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people."

If popular uprisings offer democratic hope in Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan, Yemen and Egypt, why not Palestine freed from occupation!

US commander in Afghanistan boasts of inflicting “enormous losses”

Peter Symonds

The US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, this week characterised the US surge as a success, but other military figures and officials were far more pessimistic about the military situation and the popular opposition generated by the carnage and destruction of the US-led war.

In a letter to his subordinates on Tuesday, Petraeus offered an upbeat assessment of the US-led occupation. Foreign troops and Afghan government forces, he wrote, had “inflicted enormous losses” on mid-level insurgents over the past year and had taken away “some of their most important safe havens”.

Petraeus claimed that the Taliban was on the defensive. “Now, in fact, the insurgents are increasingly responding to our operations rather than vice versa, and there are numerous reports of unprecedented discord among the member of the Quetta Shura, the Taliban senior leadership body,” he wrote.

The letter was pitched at justifying the Obama administration’s build-up of troops in Afghanistan last year, which has taken a terrible human toll—both of Afghans and foreign troops alike. Despite its claims to be winning “hearts and minds,” the American military’s murderous offensives—particularly in the southern province of Kandahar—have only intensified the intense public hostility to the neo-colonial occupation.

Middle East Intifadas

Stephen Lendman

Initially in Tunisia, popular revolt spread regionally across North Africa and the Middle East, erupting in Algeria, Jordan, Egypt and Yemen. On January 27, Al Jazeera reported revolutionary fervor in Egypt, saying:

"On Thursday, protesters hurled petrol bombs at a fire station in Suez, setting it ablaze. They tried but failed to (torch) a local Mubarak-controlled National Party office. Near Giza, on Cairo's outskirts, police attacked hundreds of protesters with tear gas, rubber bullets and batons. In Ismailia, the scene repeated, police using similar tactics to disperse crowds. Ahead of expected massive Friday protests, Cairo was uncharacteristically quiet."

On January 28, Al Jazeerah headlined, "Fresh protests erupt in Egypt," saying:

Following Friday prayers, "angry demonstrators demand(ed) an end to Hosni Mubarak's 30-year presidency....(d)etermined protesters," vowing to "carry on until their demands are met."

In Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Mansoura and Sharqiya, "protesters streamed out of mosques shortly after prayers," chanting anti-Mubarak slogans.

On Thursday night, former IAEA Director General and National Alliance for Change founder Mohamed ElBaradei returned home, saying he's ready to lead "transition" if asked. In a late 2010 Al Masry Al Youm interview, he expressed support for an opposition alliance saying:

"I hope in the next phase we will have a united opposition, the NAC, the Al-Wafd party, the (Muslim) Brotherhood, the Gabha (Democratic Front party) - we need everyone. And of course we need to link the young people with the labor unions and the elite with the young people."

On Friday, he reportedly was "prevented from moving freely by security forces." AP reported water cannons doused him, and supporters who tried shielding him were beaten.

So far, seven are reported dead. Well over 1,200 were arrested, yet protesters aren't deterred.

Tony Blair’s testimony before Iraq inquiry: One war criminal amongst many

Chris Marsden

(...The EU Presidency will be your Nuremberg!)

Former British prime minister Tony Blair’s second appearance last week before the Chilcot inquiry into the lessons of the Iraq war again branded him as a war criminal.

Blair was asked to return to the inquiry due to discrepancies between his earlier testimony, the documentary record, and other testimony such as that of his attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, as to when the prime minister had committed Britain to war, and what advice he had received as to its legality.

Previously, Blair had insisted that Resolution 1441, passed unanimously by the United Nations Security Council in November 2002, authorised military action and that he had received advice to this effect from Goldsmith. In fact, when sponsoring the resolution, US and British officials had stressed that the resolution contained no “hidden triggers” or “automaticity” with regards to the use of force against Iraq, which must be discussed by the Security Council.

Resolution 1441 was made the supposed “legal” basis for the invasion only after it became clear that a second UN resolution could not be obtained. On March 7, 2003, Goldsmith sent a memo to Blair in which he concluded that “a reasonable case can be made that resolution 1441 is capable in principle of reviving the authorisation [of the use of force] in Resolution 678 without a further resolution”.

Goldsmith’s testimony before the inquiry, headed by Sir John Chilcot, focused upon the events leading him to reverse his original advice in a January 30, 2003, memo to Blair, which argued that Resolution 1441 did not sanction the use of force and a further resolution would be required. He stated that during the intervening period, Blair had made clear to President George W. Bush his support for an illegal war with the aim of regime change.

Obama’s Chokehold on Left Antiwar Activists

John V. Walsh

An anti-Obama manifesto of sorts, in the form of a petition, was issued this week, signed by over 150 Left antiwar activists (1). As I read the first paragraph, eager to sign, my hopes were quickly dashed. It reads:

“We the undersigned share with nearly two-thirds of our fellow Americans the conviction that our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq should be ended and that overall military spending should be dramatically reduced. This has been our position for years and will continue to be, and we take it seriously.”

So far, so good, even admirable – although some of the signers backed Obama even as he promised more war in 2008. But perhaps disillusionment had finally taken hold. So what is to be done, according to the petitioners? That comes in the next sentence.

“We vow not to support President Barack Obama for renomination (emphasis, j.w.) for another term in office, and to actively seek to impede his war policies unless and until he reverses them.”

“Renomination”? Many of these very people were calling for George W. Bush’s impeachment for doing what Obama is doing now, although Obama is doing more of it, as the rest of the petition makes clear.

Interview with Hossam el-Hamalawy

Mark LeVine
Uprooted Palestinians

Professor Mark LeVine interviews journalist and blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy on the situation in Egypt. Hossam el-Hamalawy is an Egyptian journalist and blogger.

Mark LeVine: Why did it take a revolution in Tunisia to get Egyptians onto the streets in unprecedented numbers?

Hossam el-Hamalawy: In Egypt we say that Tunis was more or less a catalyst, not an instigator, because the objective conditions for an uprising existed in Egypt, and revolt has been in the air over the past few years. Indeed, we already managed to have 2 mini-intifadas or "mini Tunisias" in 2008. The first was the April 2008 uprising in Mahalla, followed by another one in Borollos, in the north of the country.

Revolutions don't happen out of the blue. It's not because of Tunisia yesterday that we have one in Egypt mechanically the next day. You can't isolate these protests from the last four years of labour strikes in Egypt, or from international events such as the al-Aqsa intifada and the US invasion of Iraq. The outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada was especially important because in the 1980s-90s, street activism had been effectively shut down by the government as part of the fight against Islamist insurgents. It only continued to exist inside university campuses or party headquarters. But when the 2000 intifada erupted and Al Jazeera started airing images of it, it inspired our youth to take to the streets, in the same way we've been inspired by Tunisia today.

Mark LeVine: How are the protests evolving?

Hossam el-Hamalawy: It's too early to say how they will go. It's a miracle how they continued past midnight yesterday in the face of fear and repression. But having said that, the situation has reached a level that everyone is fed up, seriously fed up. And even if security forces manage to put down protests today they will fail to put down the ones that happen next week, or next month or later this year. There is definitely a change in the level of courage of the people. The state was helped by the excuse of fighting terrorism in 1990s in order to fight all sorts of dissent in the country, which is a trick all governments use, including the US. But once formal opposition to a regime turns from guns to mass protests, it's very difficult to confront such dissent. You can plan to take out a group of terrorists fighting in the sugar cane fields, but what are you going to do with thousands of protesters on the streets? You can't kill them all. You can't even guarantee that troops will do it, will fire on the poor.

Bradley Manning's Torture Commonplace In U.S. Prisons

Sherwood Ross

The corrosive, solitary confinement being inflicted upon PFC Bradley Manning in the Quantico, Va., brig is no exceptional torture devised exclusively for him. Across the length and breadth of the Great American Prison State, the world's largest, with its 2.4-million captives stuffed into 5,000 overcrowded lock-ups, some 25,000 other inmates are suffering a like fate of sadistic isolation in so-called supermax prisons, where they are being systematically reduced to veritable human vegetables.

To destroy Manning as a human being, the Pentagon for the past seven months has barred him from exercising in his cell, and to inhibit his sleep denies him a pillow and sheet and allows him only a scratchy blanket, according to Heather Brooke of “Common Dreams” (January 26th.) He is awakened each day at five a.m. and may not sleep until 8 p.m. The lights of his cell are always on and he is harassed every five minutes by guards who ask him if he is okay and to which he must respond verbally. Stalin's goons called this sort of endless torture the “conveyor belt.”

Not surprisingly, Manning is attracting global attention to the Pentagon's sadism. If anyone did not believe the Pentagon's ruthless treatment of Iraqi prisoners when the Abu Ghraib torture photos were released, they believe it now that it is torturing one of its own. In this assault upon the body and mind of a 23-year-old American soldier, all of the Pentagon's arrogance and clumsiness is revealed to the world. Perhaps not even the French military---when its frame-up on treason charges of Jewish Colonel Alfred Dreyfus was exposed---attracted to itself the global searchlights of opprobrium now bathing the walls of a Marine Corps brig at Quantico.

The kind of isolation torture Manning is enduring in recent years has spread itself quietly throughout U.S. correctional facilities like a deadly gangrene. According to one reliable report, by 2003 between five and eight percent of the prison populations of Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, and Virginia were rotting in isolation. In some federal prisons the cells are referred to euphemistically as “Communications Management Units” and are, incidentally, “disproportionately inhabited by Muslim prisoners,” according to an American Civil Liberties Union(ACLU) law suit challenging them. In another suit, the ACLU has accused the Texas Youth Commission of "throwing children (girls) into cold, bare solitary confinement cells...” and told the TYC bluntly its “reliance on solitary confinement has to stop."

Chicago's Mayoral Race: Rahm Emanuel's Eligibility At Issue

Stephen Lendman

"It's not (a) slam dunk for either side. Smart money [has] picked Emanuel who'll likely be Chicago's next mayor, the office he's long sought."

On February 22, Chicago's mayoral primary will be held. If no candidate gets over 50% of the vote, an April 5 runoff will be held, the winner's term running from May 16, 2011 - May 18, 2015. Democrats dominate city politics. The last Republican mayor ("Big Bill" Thompson) left office in 1931. The Great Depression ended their rule when Anton Cermak took over, built a strong constituency among African Americans, and consigned Republicans to small pockets on the city's far northwest side and suburban areas post-war.

Richard J. Daley and his son Richard M. (current incumbent leaving office after six terms) ran Chicago like Republicans for over 43 of the last 55 years. If elected, so will Emanuel as a previous article explained, accessed through this link.

Stop US torture of Bradley Manning!

Patrick Martin

Thirty miles from downtown Washington DC, the US military is engaged in the torture of an American citizen. Army Private Bradley Manning, jailed on suspicion of leaking classified documents to the whistleblower web site WikiLeaks, is being held at the Quantico Marine Corps base under conditions that approximate those at Guantanamo Bay.

Manning has been in solitary confinement for more than seven months. He is confined to his cell 23 hours a day, allowed out for one hour of solitary exercise—he is not allowed to exercise in his cell, and guards intervene if he attempts to do so. His pillow and bedding are removed during the day to prevent him from sleeping, and under the “prevention of injury” [POI] regime imposed on him throughout his imprisonment, jailers look in on him every five minutes and require him to make an affirmative response that he is “OK.”

The 23-year-old soldier is allowed only one book or magazine at a time, and may use his prescription glasses only when he is actually reading. The rest of the time he goes without them, and is “effectively blind,” he told visitors.

In some ways, the conditions in which Manning is held are worse than those in Guantanamo, or in a maximum security US prison, because solitary confinement is used largely as a disciplinary measure, or to protect those who may be at risk from other prisoners. There is no legal precedent for the indefinite solitary confinement of a prisoner who is awaiting trial, has not been convicted of any offense, and has no history of violence.

On Monday, Amnesty International issued a statement criticizing the “inhumane treatment” of Manning. Reports of the abusive conditions in which he is held have now begun to appear in the US corporate media. ABC correspondent Jake Tapper asked White House press secretary Robert Gibbs Monday whether the conditions of Manning’s imprisonment were “appropriate.” Gibbs would only refer him to the authorities at Quantico.

NBC News reported the same day that US military officials were denying charges that Manning was being tortured or held in solitary confinement without due process—the first time that NBC or any other US television network has made reference to the controversy over Manning’s treatment in prison.

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