Friday, December 31, 2010

Many Dead in Nigerian Bomb Blasts in Market Place, Army Barracks

Many dead in Nigeria market blast

State televison says at least 30 people killed in capital Abuja after explosion in busy market area near army barracks

Last Modified: 31 Dec 2010 20:41 GMT

The blast occurred at Mammy market close to the Sani Abacha army barrack

At least 30 people have been killed in an explosion at a market in Nigeria's capital Abuja, state television has reported.

The blast occurred at Mammy market on Friday close to the Sani Abacha army barracks, a busy area where people meet to eat and shop.

A witness said he was approaching the market to join New Year's Eve celebrations when he heard the explosion.

"People ran in different directions. There were scores of bodies - dead and wounded. They used army trucks to pack them away," Eric, who regularly uses the market, said.

Continued violence

Al Jazeera's Yvonne Ndege, reporting from Abuja, said the attack had struck people who had gathered for dinner and drinks to welcome the new year.

"When the explosion ripped through the market, as you can imagine, it sent people scattering," she said. "Now the question really is ... what could've motivated this attack, who could've been behind it".

The military have been "extremely guarded" in what information they have so far released about the attack.

Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian president, linked the attack to the bombings on December 24 in the central city of Jos, which sparked a week of violence.

At least 80 people were killed in ensuing violence between Christian and Muslim residents.

Friday's attack came as police detained 92 suspected members of the Islamic Boko Haram group.

While some point the finger at Boko Haram, others believe that the bombing may be connected to the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which claims to be fighting for a Nigeria to have a greater share of its oil wealth, Ndege said.

A police spokesman said on Friday that Boko Haram, which is thought to oppose Western education and culture, was behind the deaths of at least 16 people in three attacks this week in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.

Nigeria was also rocked by car bomb attacks in Abuja in October, for which responsibility was claimed by a group opposing the government in the oil-producing Niger Delta, where there has been a recent resurgence in violence.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Bomb explodes at army barracks in Nigeria

BASHIR ADIGUN, Associated Press, JON GAMBRELL, Associated Press

Published: 02:23 p.m., Friday, December 31, 2010

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — A bomb blast tore through a beer garden at a Nigerian army barracks where revelers had gathered to celebrate New Year's Eve, witnesses said, and state-run television reported Friday that 30 people died, though police immediately disputed that.

A local police spokesman said the blast occurred at about 7:30 p.m. Friday in Abuja, the capital of Africa's most populous nation.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion in this oil-rich nation where citizens remain uneasy after bombings at other locations had killed dozens of people several days earlier.

"It's unfortunate that some people planted (a) bomb where people are relaxing because of the new year," Air Marshal Oluseyi Petirin told journalists. "Nobody has been able to give accurate figures (of casualties), but we have rescued some people."

An anchor on the state-run Nigerian Television Authority gave a death toll of 30 to viewers Friday night. The channel did not give an estimate on the number of injured.

Local police spokesman Jimoh Moshood immediately disputed the figure, saying only four people had died and 13 were wounded. Death tolls remain contentious in Nigeria, as politicians often inflate or shrink tolls to suit their aspirations.

Witnesses said the market appeared full at the time of the blast. A local journalist at the scene told The Associated Press that soldiers carried injured people away, with one officer saying he feared there were fatalities.

In the minutes after the explosion, police and soldiers swarmed the area, blocking onlookers from entering the area. Later, an AP journalist saw police carrying out covered bodies and putting them in the back of police vehicles. Officers shouted at each other to keep the bodies covered and hidden from onlookers.

The base, called the Mogadishu Cantonment, includes an area of market stalls and beer parlors referred to locally as a "mammy market." There, civilians and soldiers regularly gather for drinks and its famous barbecued fish.

The blasts come days after a similar attack struck a nation that remains uneasily divided between Christians and Muslims. On Christmas Eve, three bombs exploded in the central Nigerian city of Jos, killing dozens of people. That area has seen more than 500 die in religious and ethnic violence this year alone.

Members of a radical Muslim sect attacked two churches in the northern city of Maiduguri the same night, killing at least six people.

The sect, known locally as Boko Haram, later claimed responsibility for both attacks in an Internet message. Police say they are still investigating those attacks.

Boko Haram means "Western education is sacrilege" in the local Hausa language. Its members re-emerged recently after starting a July 2009 riot that led to a security crackdown that left 700 people dead.

The Christmas Eve killings in Jos and Maiduguri add to the tally of thousands who already have died in Nigeria in the last decade over religious and political tension. The bombings also come as the nation prepares for what could be a tumultuous presidential election in April.

This isn't the first time Nigeria's typically quiet capital has seen violence this year. A dual car bombing killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens more during an Oct. 1 independence celebration in the capital. The main militant group in Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, claimed responsibility for the attack.

In a statement, a spokesman for President Goodluck Jonathan said whoever planted the bomb wanted "to turn the joys of fellow Nigerians to ashes."

"This is extreme evil. It is wicked. It defies all that we believe in and stand for as a nation," the statement from Ima Niboro read.

It added: "They must be made to pay. No one, and we repeat, no one, can make this nation ungovernable."

Nigeria, an OPEC-member nation, remains a vital supplier of easily refined crude oil to the U.S. Unrest in the West African nation has affected oil prices in the past. Beyond that, Western diplomats worry ethnic, religious and political violence could hobble the nation of 150 million people forever just as it adjusts to democracy after years of military dictatorships and coups.

Jon Gambrell reported from Lagos, Nigeria.

Read more:

Deadly Blast Outside Coptic Church in Alexandria, Egypt

Deadly blast outside Egypt church

At least ten people killed in an attack on a Christian church in Alexandria in northern Egypt

Last Modified: 01 Jan 2011 01:24 GMT

Coptic Christians burned a car during clashes with police and Muslims following the church bombing

At least 10 people have been killed and 24 injured in an attack on a Christian church in Alexandria in northern Egypt.

A car parked outside the church in the Sidi Bechr district detonated shortly after the Coptic Christian midnight mass on New Year's Day, according to witnesses and police sources.

Police said they did not know exactly what caused the explosion but are currently investigating the scene.

After the bombing, Christians pouring out of the church clashed with security forces who had arrived on the scene, as well as with Muslims who had gathered.

Some of those involved in the fighting were reportedly injured, and police used teargas to disperse the crowd.

The attack comes after Egypt's interior ministry promised it would increase security around Christian sites following threats on Egyptian Christians by Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin reported from Cairo.

The bombing also comes a year after another attack on Coptic Christians - a drive-by shooting in the town of Nag Hammadi that left six Christians and one Muslim dead.

Source: Al Jazeera

Sudan Recalls Darfur Negotiators

Sudan recalls Darfur negotiators

Government delegation withdraws from Qatar-sponsored talks with Darfur rebels but says it is committed to peace process

Last Modified: 30 Dec 2010 17:37 GMT

The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) leaders called al-Bashir's ultimatum a 'declaration of war'

Sudan's government has withdrawn from peace talks with Darfur rebels, but it insisted that it is still committed to the peace process.

Members of the government delegation announced the decision on Thursday at a summit in the Qatari capital, Doha.

"We have just informed our mediators that our delegation will be departing on Friday," Ghazi Salaheddine, the Sudanese government's special adviser on Darfur, told a news conference.

"The delegation will leave because it has nothing to do, but that does not mean we withdrew from the peace process, and the mediators have promised us a document" on a possible agreement in Darfur, he said.

Al Jazeera's Mohammed Adow, reporting from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, said the government has said it is still willing to consider any draft document that might come from the Qatar mediation team, even without its delegation being present in Doha.

"[But] at the moment it looks as if the government has withdrawn and says any more negotiations with the Darfur rebels will have to take place inside the region," he said.

"The government seems to have begun implementing its new peace plan for Darfur. Among other things, the plan calls for engaging with the local community. It deemphasises negotiations with the rebels, who the government blames for past failures.

"All this now has been rejected by the rebels and the stage seems to be set for an uptick in violence in the troubled region."

'Declaration of war'

Thursday's withdrawal came a day after Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, said he would recall the delegation from the talks, which have been ongoing for almost two years. He said the government would organise its own negotiations if no agreement was reached this week.

His comments prompted an angry response from one rebel group in the country's war-torn western region - the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) - which called the remarks "a declaration of war".

Ahmed Hussain Adam, a JEM spokesman, told Al Jazeera that al-Bashir wants only a military solution.

"Al-Bashir is carrying out a lot of military offensive action on the ground against our own people," Adam said.

"When he declared that he is abandoning the Doha process, it is clear that this was a declaration of war.

"So we don't have options other than to defend ourselves and defend our people on the ground. We don't believe that there will be a military solution to this, there is only a political solution to this problem Al-Bashir has to have the political will."

Deadly clashes

The Doha peace talks suffered a major blow earlier this week when Darfur rebels clashed with Sudanese government troops three days after announcing they had resumed ceasefire negotiations.

The Sudanese government said its forces killed 40 rebels in the fighting in northern Darfur and that two of its soldiers were also killed and 13 others injured.

Deadly violence in Darfur since December 10 has displaced around 32,000 people, according to UN estimates.

Darfur has been gripped by a civil war since 2003 that has killed 300,000 people and displaced another 2.7 million, according to UN figures. Khartoum says 10,000 people have died in the conflict.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

President Jonathan's Advisor on Niger Delta Resigns

Jonathan’s Advisor on Niger Delta Matters Resigns

Date: Friday, December 31, 2010
Petroleum Africa

Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan will have to look for a new presidential advisor on Niger Delta matters as his current advisor, Timi Alaibe, has resigned. Alaibe resigned from his position with the presidency to run for governor of Bayelsa State in the April elections.

According to a Reuters report President Jonathan has accepted Alaibe’s resignation, although it comes at a bad time for the Niger Delta as militant action has increased over the past month causing production to be shut-in at some oil facilities.

A joint military task force has had a number of successes against the militants in the Niger Delta over the past month, and have arrested a number of key leaders during its campaign in the swamps. While some success has been seen, the task force has been unable to stop the sabotage of pipelines with have been the cause of much of the shut in production.

U.S. Military Pentrates Africa With Language: Officer Uses French-Speaking Skills

Face of Defense: Officer Uses French-Speaking Skills in Africa

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Heather Stanton
Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa Public Affairs

CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti, Dec. 30, 2010 – An Air Force officer deployed here employs her ability to speak French to communicate with local Djiboutians and with other international partners throughout eastern Africa.

Capt. Sylvia Kim speaks fluent French, one of the official languages of Djibouti and a dominant language throughout the African continent. Realizing her skill could benefit Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, Kim volunteered for her current position as medical planner for the Joint Operations Directorate with CJTF-HOA.

"The knowledge of the language has been essential [while deployed to CJTF-HOA]," Kim said. "French and Arabic are the official languages in Djibouti, French being the operational language. It's been essential in communicating and networking with the local Djiboutians and the camp staff and also imperative with correspondence with the Djiboutian government."

Kim accomplishes much of the official correspondence translation for the task force commander as well as translating presentations.

Not only does Kim use her talent at work, she also shares her knowledge as a basic French language course instructor on Camp Lemonnier in her free time.

"Captain Kim is well organized, inspirational and a patient teacher," said Navy Lt. Kittima Boonsirisermsook, the camp dental officer and one of Captain Kim's French students. "Most of us [students] had hardly ever spoken a word of French before our first class. We were given a lot of class material, a lot of instruction, repetition and practice."

During the course, Kim talked of her time in France, which helped motivate the students, Boonsirisermsook said. She also encouraged the students to talk with Djiboutians on base to brighten their day and show interest in local culture.

A Los Angeles native, Kim began speaking French at a young age because it was a school requirement to learn a foreign language. But by choice, she continued to learn the language, eventually double-majoring in philosophy and French while at the University of California Los Angeles and spending her senior year of study abroad at the prestigious Sorbonne University in Paris.

Kim joined the Air Force in December 2005 after working eight years in the international affairs arena because of her love of travel and the numerous overseas opportunities the military offered.

"Apart from my year in France, I've worked in Hungary, Slovakia, Morocco and Yemen and language has been imperative in each foreign country and I'm happy to learn, share my knowledge, and build lasting partnerships and relationships," she said. "In my previous positions, I found that language was the key to furthering partnerships and getting somewhere with my official duties."

During her Air Force career, Kim has been stationed in the Washington, D.C., area at both Bolling and Andrews Air Force bases. She then spent a year at Osan Air Base, South Korea, and is currently home-stationed in Geilenkirchen, Germany.

While in Korea, Kim used another language skill set to do her job as the Tricare operations and patient administration flight commander.

"I probably spoke Korean 80 percent of my day building partnerships with Korean hospitals where we were sending our patients for higher echelons of care," Kim said.

Kim grew up in a Korean household where her parents did not speak English or French. However, she now considers her French-speaking abilities to be stronger than her Korean.

Kim also has taken basic language courses in Spanish, Mandarin, German and Arabic.

"It bothers me if I'm not able to communicate in the language of the country I am in," she said. "As soon as I arrived at Camp Lemonnier, our Egyptian liaison officer was offering a basic Arabic course and I enrolled in that right away."

When Kim completes her deployment to CJTF-HOA she will return to Germany. However, she dreams of future assignments.

"My dream is to move on to U.S. Africa Command and stay within this sphere of amazing work and amazing partnerships that we are creating throughout CJTF-HOA and the continent of Africa," she said.

CJTF-HOA Factsheet

U.S. Africa Command


Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa conducts operations in the East Africa region to build partner nation capacity in order to promote regional security and stability, prevent conflict, and protect US and coalition interests.


CJTF-HOA builds and strengthens partnerships to contribute to security and stability in East Africa. The task force’s efforts, as part of a comprehensive whole-of-government approach, are aimed at increasing our African partner nations’ capacity to maintain a stable environment, with an effective government that provides a degree of economic and social advancement to its citizens. An Africa that is stable, participates in free and fair markets, and contributes to global economic development is good for the United States as well as the rest of the world. Long term stability is a vital interest of all nations.


Through an indirect approach that focuses on populations, security capacity and basic human needs to counter violent extremism, CJTF-HOA operations build and call upon enduring regional partnerships to prevent conflict. The task force conducts civil-military operations, military-to-military engagements, key leader engagements, provides enabling support and uses outreach communications to support and enable security and stability.


CJTF-HOA was established at Camp Lejeune, N.C., on Oct. 19, 2002. In November 2002, service members embarked on a 28-day training cruise aboard USS MOUNT WHITNEY, and arrived in the Horn of Africa on Dec. 8, 2002. CJTF-HOA operated from the MOUNT WHITNEY until May 13, 2003, when the mission transitioned ashore to Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti City, Djibouti.

Since then, CJTF-HOA personnel have used civil military operations as the cornerstone to countering violent extremism and building partner nation and regional security capacity. Working closely with U.S. Government agencies, particularly U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, CJTF-HOA has supported development by building and renovating numerous schools, clinics and hospitals, conducting Medical Civil Action (MEDCAP) and Veterinary Civil Action (VETCAP) projects, and supporting water resource development and waste management.

Service members from each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, civilian employees and representatives of coalition and partner countries serve on behalf of CJTF-HOA. The task force, along with coalition and other US defense components, provide support to regional organizations to help foster cooperation, enhance collective peace-keeping, improve humanitarian assistance and support civil-military operations. The CJTF-HOA Areas of Responsibility (AOR) includes the countries of Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Seychelles. The CJTF-HOA area of interest (AOI) includes Yemen, Tanzania, Mauritius, Madagascar, Mozambique, Burundi, Rwanda, Comoros, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda.

Contact Information CJTF-HOA Public Affairs Office
Phone: Commercial: (+253) 359-523
DSN: (311) 824-2342

East African Community May Expand in 2011

East Africa: Country's Full Integration to the EAC Bloc to Be Discussed

By Frank Kanyesigye
31 December 2010

Kigali — The full integration of Rwanda and Burundi into the East African Community bloc like Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania is expected to be discussed early next year.

Speaking to The New Times yesterday Monique Mukaruliza, the Minister of EAC affairs said that Rwanda is not yet fully integrated in the regional bloc like in terms of hosting EAC organs and institutions, having equal number of staff in institutions of the bloc.

"We agreed to have a roadmap showing how Rwanda and Burundi will be fully integrated in the EAC bloc and is expected to be finalised end January next year," she said.

Mukaruliza added that the EAC Secretary General will circulate the roadmap to partner states by the end of January before presenting it to the next meeting of the Council of Ministers for discussions.

"We expect the roadmap to show how each partner state stands in terms of staffing, hosting EAC organs and institutions and also other benefits accruing from the integration," she explained.

"That is when we shall propose how the new entrants reach the level of the original partner states and agree when Rwanda and Burundi will be fully integrated."

She noted that other partner states host headquarters of a number of EAC institutions but Rwanda and Burundi have none.

Rwanda and Burundi assented to the EAC bloc in July 2007.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Scott Sisters' Prison Release Is Tied to Donation of Kidney

December 30, 2010

Sisters’ Prison Release Is Tied to Donation of Kidney

New York Times

Two Mississippi sisters serving double life sentences for their roles in an $11 armed robbery will be released, but only on the condition that the younger sibling donate her kidney to her sister, whose organs are failing, state officials said Thursday.

Gov. Haley Barbour signed orders suspending the prison terms of Jamie and Gladys Scott after a long campaign of online petitions, blogs, Facebook pages and Internet radio programs rallied support for the sisters’ release.

A Web site called Free the Scott Sisters recently described problems that Jamie Scott, 38, was having in receiving dialysis in sanitary conditions while at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, where she and her sister Gladys, 36, are being held. Jamie Scott, who has diabetes and high blood pressure, suffered kidney failure in January 2010. She receives dialysis at least three times a week.

Jamie Scott wrote a letter that was posted in January 2009 on a site called Strange Justice in which she sought public support to pressure Mississippi officials.

“We are compelled to plead and ask for a public outcry,” she wrote. “Attention needs to be given to public officials and a county that refuses to let justice be served. Our situation is complex, multidimensional and heart-wrenching. We will never cease speaking out against the disservice done to us. However, we have discovered our voice carries very little weight, especially now.”

As Jamie Scott’s health failed, more traditional advocates — including black churches, community leaders, newspapers and radio stations and the N.A.A.C.P. — joined in urging that the Scotts be released.

But Charles Mombo, editor of the Chocolate City blog, said Mississippi would probably not have agreed to release the women if not for Internet activism.

“Once something hits the social networks, it’s out there instantly,” Mr. Mombo said. “It’s much faster than going to church and hearing the pastor talk about it once a week.”

The Mississippi Corrections Department will not be responsible for the cost of Jamie Scott’s kidney transplant operation, though the sisters are probably eligible for Medicaid, officials said.

The idea for donating the kidney came from the sisters themselves, advocates for the women said. Suspending a prison sentence contingent on an organ donation is considered highly unusual, if not unprecedented, legal experts said.

The Scotts were arrested on Christmas Eve 1993 and convicted the next year of leading two men into an ambush during which the men were robbed of about $11, according to the trial transcript.

The sisters’ accomplices, three boys ages 14 to 18, have served their sentences and were released from custody for the crime years ago, Mississippi officials said. The sisters have denied playing any role in the crime.

Governor Barbour said his action, which has been under consideration for nearly a year, was motivated in part by Jamie Scott’s declining health and the cost of caring for her.

“Jamie Scott requires regular dialysis, and her sister has offered to donate one of her kidneys to her,” Mr. Barbour said in a statement. “The Mississippi Department of Corrections believes the sisters no longer pose a threat to society. Their incarceration is no longer necessary for public safety or rehabilitation, and Jamie Scott’s medical condition creates a substantial cost to the state of Mississippi.”

The sisters have asked that after their release they be permitted to move to Pensacola, Fla., to live with their mother and their children. Jamie Scott has three children; Gladys Scott has two.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Palestine News Update: Another Gaza War?; Racial Discrimination; Seeking International Recognition

Another Gaza war?

By Sherine Tadros in Middle East
December 26th, 2010
Al Jazeera

On Thursday, as I hurried into Gaza, that was the question everyone was asking – from news editors in Doha, to the guy who carries luggage through the Erez terminal, to the Hamas official who took my passport details.

If the donkeys in Gaza could talk this is what they would be asking: Is there going to be another war?

Maybe because I was there during the last assault people see me as a bad omen in Gaza ... but there is real cause for concern.

Last week the strip witnessed the most violent few days since the end of the war, with Israel killing several fighters and dozens of mortars and rockets being fired towards southern Israel [one lightly injured an Israeli teenage girl].

From discussions with Hamas and military wings in Gaza, the good news is, it doesn't look like another war will happen right now. The bad news: is it is likely to happen.

Make War not Love

For the past two years, since the war ended, there has been no effort to reconcile Israel and Hamas, not even whispers of talks (direct or indirect) between the two.

The unilateral ceasefire declared in 2009 seems to be holding only because neither Hamas nor Israel is ready for another round.

Instead, both have used this time to regroup, rearm and, particularly for Hamas, recover .... building an arsenal that will ensure the next war will be deadlier - for both sides - than the last.

Israel has learnt from it’s 2006 war with Hizbullah and fitted it’s Merkava tanks with defence systems that can neutralize advanced missiles. It says it is deploying these tanks on the Gaza border.

The Palestinian 'legitimacy war'

Civil movements have led to positive changes on a global level in the past, setting a precedent for the BDS movement

Richard Falk Last Modified: 24 Dec 2010 13:21 GMT

Palestinian authority figures and political parties have failed to break the stasis in the Palestinian struggle for legitimacy, only time will tell if the BDS movement will fair any better

There has long been advocacy of the idea that judges in national courts could help strengthen the implementation of global norms by extending the reach of national law, especially for serious crimes that cannot be otherwise prosecuted.

The authority to use national courts against piracy on the high seas was widely endorsed, and constitutes the jurisprudential basis for what has come to be known as 'universal jurisdiction,' that is, regardless of where a crime was committed or the national identity of the alleged perpetrator or victim, a national court has the authority to attach its law.

This reliance on universal jurisdiction received a strong shot in the arm as a result of the war crimes trials at the end of War War II against surviving German and Japanese political and military leaders, a legal framework institutionalised internationally in 2002 as a result of the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

Collective justice

The underlying rationale is that aggressive war, crimes against humanity, and severe violations of the law of war and international humanitarian law are crimes against the whole of humanity, and not just the victim state or people. Although the Nuremberg Judgment was flawed, 'victors’ justice,' it generated global norms in the form of the Nuremberg Principles that are considered by international law consensus to be universally binding.

These ideas underlie the recent prosecution of geopolitical pariahs such as Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic, and several African tyrannical figures. But when it comes to the lead political actors, as understood by the American-led hegemonic hierarchy, the leadership of the rest of the world enjoys impunity, in effect, an exemption from accountability to international criminal law.

It is a prime instance of double standards that pervades current world order, perhaps, most prominently illustrated in relation to the veto power given permanent members of the UN Security Council or the Nonproliferation Regime Governing Nuclear Weaponry. Double standards severs any link between law as administered by the state system on a world level and pretensions of global justice. The challenge for those seeking global justice based on international law that treats equals equally is to overcome in every substantive setting double standards and impunity.

The world of sovereign states and the United Nations have not been able to mount such a challenge. Into this vacuum has moved a surging global civil society movement that got its start in the global fight against colonialism, especially, the Vietnam War, and moved forward dramatically as a result of the Anti-Apartheid Campaign.

The power of solidarity

Various instruments have been relied upon, including boycott, divestment, and sanctions solidarity movements, informally constituted citizens’ war crimes tribunals (starting with the Russell Tribunal during the Vietnam War, and extended by the Permanent Peoples Tribunal in Rome, and in 2005 by the Iraq War Tribunal that held 20 sessions around the world, culminating in a final session in Istanbul), civil disobedience in various forms, especially refusals to serve in military operations that violate international law.

It was a coalition of civil society actors that created the political climate that somewhat surprisingly allowed the International Criminal Court to come into being in 2002, although unsurprisingly without the participants of the United States, Israel, and most of the senior members of the geopolitical first echelon.

It is against this background, that two contradictory developments are to be found that will be discussed in more detail in subsequent articles: the waging of an all out Legitimacy War against Israel on behalf of the Palestinian struggle for a just peace and a backlash campaign against what is called 'Lawfare' by Israeli hardliners. A Legitimacy War strategy seeks popular mobilization on the basis of nonviolent coercion to achieve political goals, relying on the relevance of international law and the accountability of those that act on behalf of states in the commission of crimes of state.

Legitimacy vs. Lawfare

The Goldstone Report illustrates this interface between a Legitimacy War and Lawfare, reinforcing Palestinian contentions of victimization as a result of Israel’s use of force as in the notorious Operation Cast Lead (2008-09) and driving Israel’s top leaders to venomous fury in their effort to discredit the distinguished jurist, Richard Goldstone, who headed the UN mission responsible for the report, and the findings so convincingly reached.

With Israeli impunity under growing threat there has been a special pressures placed on the United States to use its geopolitical muscle within the UN to maintain the mantle of impunity over the documented record of Israeli criminality, and to make sure that the UN remains a selective sanctuary for such outrageous grants of impunity. These issues of criminal accountability are on the front lines of the Legitimacy War, and provide the foundation for efforts throughout the world in relation to the growing BDS Campaign (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions).

The Lawfare counterattack at one level acknowledges the strength of civil society efforts, but it is also cynically and polemically undertaken to discredit reliance on international law by those who are victimized by abusive and oppressive uses of military and police power.

The Palestinians have been victimized in these respects for more than 62 years, and their efforts to end this intolerable set of realities by an innovative reliance on nonviolent resistance and self-defense deserves the support of persons of conscience throughout the world.

Whether this reliance on a Legitimacy War can finally achieve justice for the Palestinian people and peace for both peoples, only the future can tell, but there is no doubt that this struggle is the best contemporary instance of 'a just war'.
Richard Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has authored and edited numerous publications spanning a period of five decades, most recently editing the volume International Law and the Third World: Reshaping Justice (Routledge, 2008). He is currently serving his third year of a six year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera

Racial discrimination - a tool of occupation

By Nour Odeh in Middle East
December 20th, 2010.

Our destination was Jub Al-Dib in the Bethlehem area. We located it on the map but getting there by car was a different story.

That’s because the West Bank is very spread out, despite its small area. There are hundreds of sometimes tiny communities strewn across the hills and valleys. And going from Palestinian point A to Palestinian point B in the West Bank has nothing to do with directions, logic, or geography.

It is decided by a very intricate system of rules, restrictions, and checkpoints that Israel has designed to limit Palestinian movement. There are settler-only roads, "shared" roads, and then there are no roads at all … just rugged terrains.

So sometimes, to go southwest, Palestinians must first drive northeast, etc. …

Once we got to the general area, we had to be careful not to get on "Lieberman road"; a settler-only road that bypasses several Palestinian towns and villages in the area. It’s there to connect the illegal settlement of Nokedim to occupied East Jerusalem. The settlement is home to Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Foreign Minister - hence the name.

After over a dozen phone calls, we finally found the dirt road leading to Jub Al-Dib, population 150. No road here, just a bumpy lane up the hill.

Jub Al-Dib looks like a ghost town; no roads, no school but plenty of children, and run-down or abandoned homes.

In its latest report, Human Rights Watch says this village is living proof of a deliberate Israeli policy of racial discrimination against Palestinians that has had a devastating effect on this and other communities. The organization says Israel employs a two-tier system, which encourages and funds the building and infrastructure of Israeli settlements that enjoy all amenities while adjacent Palestinian communities are denied the right to any of those very services. So settlements grow, while these communities dwindle.

These Palestinian communities are under full Israeli control or Area C. Area C makes up over 60 per cent of the occupied West Bank with an estimated dwindling Palestinian population of 150,000.

Walking between the homes, I came across Amneh, planting a small plot of land encircled by a pile of rocks and twisted metal. This plot was Amneh’s home until four years ago when Israeli forces demolished it because construction is banned here. Now, the rubble is her make-shift fence and vegetables grow where she once slept.

Amneh doesn’t want to leave her village but many others have. Her brothers have all moved out, forced to find some space to accommodate their growing families. Human Rights Watch says this exodus is directly caused by the Israeli restrictions and it has displaced 31 per cent of area C’s population.

Amneh and her four children now live in an unfinished apartment in the middle of the village and she’s still afraid to get a demolition order. The only windows she put are in her children’s room; the rest of the house makes do with sheets.

There’s also no electricity, even though the electricity grids powering the nearest of three settlements around them is a mere 350 meters away. Israel also refused a donor-funded program to provide the residents with solar-powered lights.

Some residents have generators for occasional use. But mostly, families here live on kerosene lights. Studying has to be done before sundown and washing the laundry is an all-day affair. Winter is every mother’s nightmare here because after children walk 1.5 km to school in the mud and then back home, they return all muddied … No food can be stored too, so meat and perishable foods are occasional treats.

Going to the doctor is also an ordeal. An elderly woman called Eideh told me she feels like a prisoner. When she gets sick, the walk to the nearest road gets her even sicker. So she doesn’t leave Jub Al-Dib anymore.

Amneh is younger so she braves the hike out of the village to take her children to visit their cousins in nearby villages.

"I make sure to spend all day so the kids can have a good time. They get to watch TV and play," she told me.

This isolation and austere way of life is hard to imagine, much less cope with. But theirs is not a reality of choice; it is one forced on these communities. In the context of the Palestinian struggle for statehood, these villages are considered heroes of perseverance and defiance.

The Palestinian government has made them a priority; promising them aid and development projects despite the Israeli ban. But even after implementation, many of these projects are demolished by the Israeli army. An example is what has been dubbed "Freedom Road"; a short street connecting Qarawat Bani Hassan, another isolated village, to the main road. Israel has demolished "Freedom Road" two times already.

Less than a week ago, the Palestinian Authority prepared a road leading to Jub Al-Dib. It’s not paved. The children are not worrying about when it will be demolished or closed. For now, they enjoy it while they can…

"The world long ago discarded spurious arguments to justify treating one group of people differently from another merely because of their race, ethnicity, or national origin," said Human Rights Watch.

Israel now stands out as a sole violator of this universal principle.

Chairman Mao's Birthday Celebrated

Mao’s birthday celebrated

By Staff | December 28, 2010

Fight Back! News Service is circulating the following article from the New China News Agency on the celebrations marking the 117th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s birth.

Chinese mark 117th anniversary of Chairman Mao's birth

CHANGSHA, Dec. 26 (Xinhua) -- People across China marked the 117th anniversary of the birth of late leader Mao Zedong on Sunday with various activities in his hometown in central Hunan Province as well as in other parts of the nation.

In Mao's birthplace, Shaoshan village, villagers and visitors arrived in the early morning to observe a local tradition in celebration of Mao's birthday -- eating a bowl of noodles.

"Today is Chairman Mao's 117th anniversary and many tourists came from afar on this special day just to have a bowl of 'long-life noodles' to show their respect towards the chairman," said village official Mao Yushi.

Noodles are a traditional Chinese food to celebrate birthdays, as people believe long noodles stand for longevity.

The villagers and tourists then came to Mao Zedong Square where they paid tribute to the "Great Helmsman" by leaving behind bouquets at Mao's bronze statue and singing the famous tune "The East is Red", a song in tribute of Mao.

Meanwhile, nearly 10,000 citizens in Shaoshan - known as one of China's "red tourism" sites - marked the date with a 5,000-meter foot race that started from Mao's former residence and ended at the square in front of the Shaoshan Railway Station.

Shaoshan, now designated a landmark in China's modern history, receives millions of people from home and overseas every year.

On the same day, memorial activities were held in other cities around the nation.

In Changsha, the capital city of Hunan Province, tourists and citizens braved the early morning chill to travel to Juzizhou island in the middle of the Xiangjiang River to pay tribute to the late chairman.

Mao's poems were recited and songs and dances in tribute of Mao were performed on the island, where a 32-meter-high Mao statue was erected one year ago.

In Beijing, by mid-day more than 10,000 people had visited Mao's Mausoleum on Tian'anmen Square, including Mao's grandson Mao Xinyu, who presented a basket of flowers along with his family.

Similar activities were also held in provinces of Hebei, Gansu, Shanxi, Shandong and Henan to commemorate the founder of the New China, who was born on Dec. 26, 1893 and died on Sept. 9, 1976.

For those who were unable to come to Shaoshan or Beijing, they found alternative ways to express their respect of Mao.

Nearly 1,000 Internet users left messages and presented "cyber flowers" at the online memorial page of, a portal website of Shaoshan.

"You will always live in the heart of the people and we shall cherish the memory of you forever," one message reads.

More Than 300 Banks Fail in Last Four Years in the United States

Hard Call for FDIC: When to Shut Bank

Wall Street Journal

More than 300 U.S. banks and savings institutions failed in the past four years. But there are huge differences in how sick they were when regulators seized them.

About a dozen of the dead financial institutions had a tangible common equity ratio, a widely used measurement of a bank's cushion to absorb losses, of more than 8% when they failed, according to an analysis by Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. That isn't much worse than the median ratio of 9% among the 50 companies in the investment bank's regional-bank stock index.

In contrast, a total of 50 failed banks had negative capital by the time regulators swooped in, meaning their capital was depleted by losses. And those shutdowns came as long as two years after government officials issued their first warning about financial inadequacies, analysts at the KBW Inc. unit found.

Timur Braziler, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, says the differences are a sign that "bank regulators and state officials simply can't get to these banks fast enough," citing the 860 battered institutions on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s "problem list" as of Sept. 30. "There's just not enough manpower and coordination to catch all these failing institutions at once."

Killing a bank too soon could mean getting rid of a financial institution that might recover to make solid, profitable loans. Waiting until all of a bank's capital is gone deepens the losses suffered by the FDIC's deposit-insurance fund, putting additional strain on surviving banks that pay into the fund.

The demise of Imperial Savings & Loan in Martinsville, Va., is expected to cost the FDIC's insurance fund $3.5 million.

FDIC officials dispute any suggestion that the agency has been overwhelmed by the U.S. banking industry's crisis or inconsistent in how it handles failed financial institutions.

The FDIC's division of resolutions and receiverships, the mortuary for fatally stricken banks and thrifts, has 2,133 employees, up from 219 in 2007. That includes more than 50 veterans of the savings-and-loan crisis who came out of retirement to deal with a new crop of dead banks.

The decision about when to seize a battered bank is complicated by the hodgepodge of regulators that oversee the nation's 7,760 federally insured financial institutions. Some state officials aren't allowed by law to close a bank unless they can prove it has burned through all its capital. Federal officials have more leeway and can shut down a bank even if it isn't yet "critically undercapitalized," the lowest rung on the regulatory ladder.

"It is always difficult for regulators to decide when to close a bank," says Thomas Vartanian, a partner at law firm Dechert LLP and general counsel of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board during the Reagan administration. "Often, they are trying to strike a balance between giving failing banks every chance of survival by allowing them time to pursue potential suitors, and seizing them too late to minimize the cost to the FDIC."

James Wigand, a longtime FDIC official, says it is a "difficult judgment to make," though "for the most, part history will judge that the regulators got it right" during the banking industry's latest crisis. On Dec. 31, Mr. Wigand will become director of a new FDIC unit overseeing systemically important financial firms. The post was created as a result of the Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law.

Some of the banks classified by regulators as well-capitalized at the time of their failure were dragged down by a parent company that collapsed. Two of the nine banks owned by FBOP Corp., a bank-holding company in Oak Park, Ill., had a tangible common equity ratio of more than 10% when the bank-holding company was seized by regulators in October 2009. At other banks, losses ballooned shortly after regulators examined their financial statements and loan files, causing sudden death.

The Keefe, Bruyette & Woods analysis includes failures from February 2007 to July 2010. A total of 157 banks have been seized in 2010, up from 140 in 2009.

Imperial Savings & Loan Association, based in Martinsville, Va., failed in August, more than a year after losses left the tiny thrift with negative capital. The demise is expected to cost the FDIC's insurance fund $3.5 million.

William Cody Spencer founded Imperial in July 1929, using $300 of savings from fellow Baptist church members, running the minority-owned thrift from his home for 30 years. In 2008, the Office of Thrift Supervision issued a formal warning about Imperial's deteriorating financial condition.

Daniel Thibeault, co-founder of a student-loan business in Cambridge, Mass., says he made "six or seven submissions to the OTS" in an effort to buy Imperial before it was seized, offering to pour in $6 million in capital immediately and an additional $6 million within 18 months.

"Short of popping the champagne, we were 98% close to getting this deal," he says, complaining he "never got a straight answer" from the OTS about why he was spurned.

In a statement, the OTS says the "potential acquirers were unable to demonstrate the viability of their proposals by showing they possessed the expertise and the financial resources to operate a financial institution." The agency says it made "an extraordinary effort over several years by working aggressively with multiple groups of potential investors interested in acquiring Imperial."

Ronald Haley, president of River Community Bank, a unit of River Bancorp Inc., also of Martinsville, that bought Imperial after it failed, says "it was just too small to function in the banking world today."

U.S. Housing Recovery Stalls as Prices Fall

Housing Recovery Stalls

Fresh Fall in Home Prices Is Headwind for Economy; Other Signs Still Strong

Wall Street Journal

A new bout of declining home prices is threatening to hamper the U.S. recovery, just as consumers and the overall economy have been showing signs of healing.

WSJ's Mitra Kalita discussed October's U.S. housing price decline with Yale University economics professor Robert J. Shiller, who says the struggling housing market will likely continue to weigh on the overall economy.

Home prices across 20 major metropolitan areas fell 1.3% in October from September, the third straight month-over-month drop, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index released Tuesday. Many economists expect the declines to continue into at least next spring, erasing most of the gains made since prices bottomed out in early 2009.

The housing market, which appeared poised for a recovery earlier in the year, now could be heading for a second downward drift.

"This looks like a double-dip [in housing] is pretty much on the way, if not already here," said David Blitzer, chairman of the Standard & Poor's index committee. "Somebody who thought last year that it's going to be straight up from here was wrong."

Other news in recent weeks, however, has offered hope the economy is on the cusp of strong, sustainable growth. Retail sales returned to levels seen just before the recession started in 2007. Manufacturing continues to expand. U.S. exports are back to where they were just before the financial crisis.

Optimism among heads of small businesses and large corporations is also near pre-recession levels. And tax legislation that includes a one-year payroll-tax cut for most workers has boosted prospects.

Yet the twin forces of jobs and housing remain trouble spots. The labor market has added a million jobs in the past year, but that pace is far too slow to offset an unemployment rate that climbed to 9.8% last month.

Job worries are hampering consumer confidence despite strength in holiday sales and a rising stock market. The Conference Board, a business research group, said Tuesday that its confidence index fell to 52.5 from 54.3 in November, as consumers' views about job availability worsened.

The index, after rising through May as the economy showed early signs of improvement, now has retreated to its level of a year ago. The percentage of people planning to buy a home is also back to where it was a year ago, erasing improvement seen in early 2010.

U.S. Consumer-Confidence Index Slips

In the Case-Shiller data, all 20 cities in the index posted month-over-month declines in October.

As for year-over-year data, only four areas—Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.—showed prices higher than in October 2009. Six markets hit their lowest since prices started falling four years ago, dropping below their spring 2009 levels, when most regions saw prices bottom out. The six were Atlanta, Miami, Seattle, Tampa, Charlotte, N.C., and Portland, Ore.

Prices in several markets, including Las Vegas and Cleveland, are nearly down to 2000 levels.

The housing index was driven down by factors including the expiration of a federal tax credit for buyers who signed contracts by April 30, which caused demand to fall off.

Prices also were weighed down by a huge inventory of foreclosed homes, which tend to sell at sharply discounted prices.

In recent months, according to the National Association of Realtors, foreclosure and other distressed sales have represented more than 30% of home sales—and more than half in some states, such as Nevada.

Wells Fargo & Co. projects prices will drop 8% more by mid-2011, given high supply. "Demand is still dead in the water," said Wells economist Sam Bullard.

Prices also face other hurdles: slightly rising mortgage rates, and homeowners who owe more on their houses than they're worth, and thus may walk away as values dip further.

The owners under pressure include Tasha McLaughlin, a 33-year-old mother of two in Sacramento's South Natomas neighborhood. She and her husband, Steve, bought their two-bedroom house in 2004 for $256,000, intending to stay about five years. After 11 months of trying to sell it between 2006 and 2007, the family took it off the market.

"Everyone is saying we should foreclose or claim bankruptcy, but I have a moral issue with that," said Mrs. McLaughlin. "The more we try to pay the mortgage and pinch pennies, the more we get punished."

Now, with a similar home down the block listed for $80,000, the McLaughlins are accepting that they won't recoup their losses anytime soon. Their interest-only loan is set to increase their current $1,600 monthly payment to $2,200 in seven years. If they were to default on their mortgage and walk away, they calculate that in about the same time, seven years, their credit scores would be stable enough to allow them to buy again elsewhere.

"I am just going to swallow my pride and walk out. I have to," said Mrs. McLaughlin. "The market for homes is not going up."

Housing analysts agree that markets such as Sacramento, Las Vegas and parts of Arizona and Florida are at risk of more declines. "These places relied so heavily on mortgages and real estate for their economy that we're going to see a two-tiered recovery," said Chris Mayer, a professor of real estate at Columbia Business School. "Luxury spending is not going on across the country—it's happening among highly skilled consumers who live in the places that have seen some recovery."

Homes remain a key part of Americans' wealth. Households held $6.4 trillion of home equity at the end of the third quarter, alongside $12.2 trillion in stocks and mutual-fund shares, according to Federal Reserve data.

For every dollar decline in housing wealth, consumers reduce spending by about a nickel in the subsequent 18 months, Moody's chief economist Mark Zandi estimates. He cautioned that other factors, such as the stock market's strength and tax credits, could offset this effect.

"People feel poorer when their houses are going down in value," said Jack Fitzgerald, chief executive of Fitzgerald Auto Malls, which has a dozen locations along the East Coast. He is seeing many customers who could buy new cars choosing used cars instead, "spending as little as they can." While sales are improving, he expects them to grow only slowly, given all the consumer uncertainty.

Still, the overall economy's dependence on housing diminished greatly since the financial crisis, said Ivy Zelman, chief executive of Zelman & Associates, a housing-research firm. "Consumers have shown us they can still spend even if home prices go down," she said. But falling home values "put a lid on the recovery and the magnitude of it."

Write to Sudeep Reddy at

India Joins U.S. Effort to Stifle Iran Trade

India Joins U.S. Effort to Stifle Iran Trade

Wall Street Journal

India has tightened the web of sanctions around Iran by barring Indian companies from a range of deals transacted through a key trade-finance clearinghouse.

India is Iran's biggest trading partner in business done through the Asian Clearing Union, originally set up by the United Nations in 1974 to help facilitate trade in South Asia and headquartered in Tehran.

The same mechanism that has allowed the body to fill its original purpose of greasing the wheels of international trade—by letting central banks handle payments on behalf of their nations' companies—can also obscure which firms are doing business on both ends of a deal. That, the U.S. alleges, can mean firms are dealing through their central banks with blacklisted companies, such as firms owned by Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard.

The Reserve Bank of India instructed the country's lenders Monday to stop processing current-account transactions with Iran using the ACU. Last Friday, the central bank said Indian firms can't use the ACU mechanism when making payments for the import of oil or gas. While the earlier order didn't explicitly mention Iran, the Islamic republic is the only major crude exporter in the ACU.

Iran has ramped up its use of the clearinghouse by more than 50% this year compared to last year, after it advertised the clearinghouse to Iranian and Indian firms in early 2009 as a way to avoid having to use dollars for their transactions and thus "sidestep the U.S. banking system altogether."

The U.S. Treasury has regularly raised the issue with India for more than a year, according to officials briefed on the exchanges. Those conversations accelerated after President Barack Obama's visit to India in early November, when he endorsed India's bid to become a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council and join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the informal body that controls the trade in nuclear technologies.

The U.S. has been pushing allies to tighten the squeeze on Iran, whose nuclear program has aroused international fears. The U.N., the U.S. and the European Union began enacting new sanctions on Tehran in June. U.S. and European officials have said in recent weeks that they believe sanctions are exacting a growing toll on Iran.

The Iranian currency dropped nearly 10% in October, as Iranian traders scrambled to obtain dollars. Iran's largest shipping company defaulted on over $500 million in debt in recent months as international insurers have refused to underwrite their cargoes.

Still, the long-term impact of the latest step by India and other recent sanctions remains unclear.

Iran has offered no indication that it's willing to slow its nuclear program as a result of the sanctions. Some Middle East officials believe Tehran will find ways around the restrictions. Iran's abundant supplies of oil are a lure for traders around the region.

Major Indian energy companies, including Oil & Natural Gas Corp., have been exploring how to jointly develop energy resources with Iranian partners. India's Reliance Industries Ltd. was a major supplier of gasoline to Iran, which lacks sufficient refining capabilities, before the international sanctions caused the company to pull back last year.

U.S. officials have told New Delhi that Indian firms conducting transactions through the ACU run the risk of violating a law signed by Mr. Obama in July that bans international firms from doing business with 17 Iranian banks and much of Tehran's oil and gas sector, as well as the Revolutionary Guard. If Indian companies are found in violation, they could be banned from doing business in the U.S.

"This is a significant action" by India, said Stuart Levey, the Treasury Department's point man on Iran sanctions, in a statement to The Wall Street Journal Tuesday. He said the move will make clear to Indian companies that working through the ACU doesn't necessarily mean an Iranian counterpart has an international seal of approval. Attempts to contact ACU executives in Tehran were unsuccessful. Iran declined to comment through its mission at the U.N.

Statistics provided by the Clearing Union's website show that Iran's trade through the clearinghouse rose to $12.2 billion in the first 11 months of this year, from $7.8 billion in the same period in 2009. Of the more than $900 million owed Tehran through the monetary body during November, nearly $800 million comes from India, according to the ACU's website.

In January 2009, Iran's government advised local and Indian companies to use the ACU as a way of avoiding international sanctions and the U.S. banking system.

"Iranian exporters to India and Indian exporters to Iran no longer need to fret over the U.S. embargo on dollar transactions," read a January 2009 English-language report on Iran's state-owned Fars News Agency. "By resorting to the Asian Clearing Union mechanism for import-export transactions, exporters from the two countries can not only realize their receivables but also sidestep the U.S. banking system altogether."

The ACU is made up of Iran and eight South Asian nations including India. The transactions it handles are settled by the central banks of those nations. The ACU is run by a secretariat comprising officials from the nine member countries; the U.N. plays no formal role.

U.S. authorities can often track where money is going in Iran, in particular by monitoring the systems used by international banks. But if the central banks of India and Iran are standing in the middle of deals, it may be impossible to trace the money from start to finish, and that could enable blacklisted Iranian entities to do international trade, officials say.

In addition, the Asian Clearing Union transactions are often settled in the nations' local currencies, possibly providing Iranian firms a way around the U.S. Treasury Department's ban on certain Iranian entities conducting trade in U.S. dollars.

In making its announcement Monday, the Reserve Bank of India cited "the difficulties being experienced by importers/exporters" in transferring funds to and from Iran. It didn't say whether the decision was connected to concerns raised by the U.S. and other Western countries.

New Delhi is walking a difficult line in increasing pressure on Iran. India imports $11 billion of crude oil annually from Iran—about 14% of its total crude import bill, according to government statistics. Iran is India's largest crude oil supplier after Saudi Arabia.

India and Iran have worked together in the past two decades to check the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The two have also announced ambitious port and energy projects aimed at opening up Central Asian markets and bringing additional oil and gas to the subcontinent.

Write to Jay Solomon at and Subhadip Sircar at

Congress Passes Largest Military Budget Since World War II, Without Debate

Congress passes largest military budget since World War II, without debate

By Staff | December 26, 2010
Fightback News

On Dec. 22, the U.S. House and Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011. The bill authorizes $725 billion for next year’s Defense Department budget, including nearly $160 billion of what the Pentagon calls “overseas contingency operations” - Congress’s name for the U.S. wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

All 100 senators, every Republican and every Democrat, voted for the mammoth military spending bill. The House passed it by voice vote without debate or discussion. The $725 billion amount is likely to grow more through separate supplements for the Afghanistan occupation throughout the year. This is the largest military budget since 1945, the last year of World War II.

According to Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, “Add in what Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs and the Energy departments spend on defense and total U.S. military spending will reach $861 billion in fiscal 2011, exceeding that of all other nations combined.”

In addition to the Iraq and Afghanistan occupation funding, notable in the bill is $75 million for the armed forces in Yemen for counterinsurgency and $205 million more to fund Israel’s Iron Dome missile shield. The bill also bans the transfer of any prisoners out of the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for trial. During his election campaign in 2008, President Obama promised to close the notorious Guantanamo prison. Once elected, he signed an order to do so, but Guantanamo has still not been closed two years later.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Winne the Opera" to Hit South African Stage in 2011

"Winnie the Opera" to hit South African stage in 2011

Tue Dec 28, 2010 5:50pm GMT
JOHANNESBURG Dec 28 (Reuters Life!)

South African State Theatre will tackle the triumphant and troubled times of the former wife of post-apartheid President Nelson Mandela in a production called "Winnie the Opera."

The opera about Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, seen as the face of the African National Congress while her then husband was held for years as a political prisoner, will open next year in Pretoria, its producers said.

The opera focuses on when Madikizela-Mandela was summoned in 1997 before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a body charged with investigating wrongs committed during apartheid, to probe the murder of one of her supporters.

The opera of the woman often called "the mother of the nation" will be in English and Xhosa.

"She recalls the epic journey that has brought her to this point in history," the producers said on a website for the production.

Madikizela-Mandela was acquitted of the murder Stompie Seipei but convicted of aiding in the kidnapping of the teenager. Her prison sentence was reduced to a fine on appeal.

She is a member of the country's ruling African National Congress and a member of parliament. Nelson Mandela and Madikizela-Mandela separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996.

FBI Expands Probe Into Antiwar Activists

FBI Expands Probe into Antiwar Activists

The FBI’s probe into antiwar activists is growing. In September, FBI agents raided the homes and offices of activists in Chicago and Minneapolis. Subpoenas that were withdrawn have been reactivated, and a new subpoena was served to a Palestinian solidarity activist in Chicago. We speak with two of the people targeted and two former FBI agents.

Maureen Clare Murphy, Chicago journalist and Palestinian solidarity activist.
Tracy Molm, Minneapolis-based peace activist. FBI agents raided her home and seized belongings in September. Prosecutors have now reactivated her subpoena.
Coleen Rowley, former FBI special agent and whistleblower.
Mike German, National Security Policy Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. He was an FBI agent specializing in domestic counterterrorism from 1988 to 2004.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to the latest developments in the FBI’s widening targeting of antiwar and Palestinian solidarity activists. In late September, FBI agents raided the homes of activists in Minneapolis and Chicago. They seized phones, computers, documents and other personal belongings. Subpoenas to appear before a grand jury were served on 13 people but later withdrawn when the activists asserted their right to remain silent.

But earlier this month, subpoenas were reissued against three of those targeted in the raids. And just this week, a new subpoena was delivered to a Chicago-based activist and journalist involved in Palestinian solidarity work—at least the 23rd person subpoenaed since September.

AMY GOODMAN: All those subpoenaed have been involved with antiwar activism that’s critical of U.S. foreign policy. Details on the grand jury case remain scarce, but the subpoenas cited federal law prohibiting, quote, "providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations." In June, the Supreme Court rejected a free speech challenge to the material support law from humanitarian aid groups that said some of its provisions put them at risk of being prosecuted for talking to terrorist groups about nonviolent activities.

Maureen Clare Murphy is the Chicago journalist and Palestinian solidarity activist who was issued a subpoena this week. Maureen is also an editor at the website Electronic Intifada, though the site is not being targeted in the FBI probe. In a statement, the Electronic Intifada said, quote, "Although The Electronic Intifada itself has not been a target of any of the subpoenas, we consider the grand jury investigation and all of the subpoenas to be part of a broad attack on the anti-war and Palestine solidarity movements and a threat to all of our rights."

We’re also joined from Minneapolis by Tracy Molm. Her home was among those raided by FBI agents in September. Some of her belongings were seized. She’s one of three activists whose subpoenas were reactivated earlier this month.

And we’ll be speaking with two former FBI agents. Joining us from Washington, D.C., Mike German, National Security Policy Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, an FBI agent specializing in domestic counterterrorism from 1988 to 2004. And on the line from Iowa City, Coleen Rowley. She worked as an FBI special agent for almost 24 years. In 2002, she was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year after she blew the whistle on pre-9/11 intelligence failures.

Let’s go first, though, to Chicago, to Maureen Clare Murphy, who has just been issued this subpoena. Maureen, tell us what you know and what happened. How were you issued the subpoena?

MAUREEN CLARE MURPHY: So, I was in my home office on Tuesday morning when I got the knock on the door that more than 20 activists around the country have now gotten from the FBI. And so, they rang my buzzer, and when I answered, they identified themselves as the FBI, and they asked me if I would come and speak with them. And when I declined, they said they had a subpoena for me to appear before a grand jury here in Chicago on January 25th.

AMY GOODMAN: And what else does the subpoena say?

MAUREEN CLARE MURPHY: And as you mentioned, my subpoena is—I’m one of 23 who have now been subpoenaed, and the FBI also served subpoenas to three other activists in Chicago on Tuesday throughout the city.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And did they attempt to seize any of your possessions or records or computers?

MAUREEN CLARE MURPHY: No, they did not come into my home. And none of the activists who had been subpoenaed since the September 24th raids, as far as I know, have had their property seized or their houses raided. So, you know, I don’t think that they really need to come into my home and find out what I do, because I’ve always been working within the mass movement, you know, calling for the U.S. government to end U.S. aid to Israel.

And, you know, it’s kind of ironic that we are being subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury, when oftentimes we’re protesting outside of federal buildings, and we’re calling on our legislators and we’re being very vocal and public in our calls for a more just U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. So, I don’t think the government needs to subpoena us to find out what we believe in and what we do. And so, that’s why we think this is really about intimidating our movement and trying to silence our movement, because, you know, they know what we do, and we know what we do is just and peaceful. And what it’s really about is basically trying to silence our very strong and successful movement.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to turn right now to go back to two activists who we spoke to earlier this year. And as we cover this widening net that is ensnaring a number of people, we wanted to remind you of who these people are. Their homes were raided. They told their stories on Democracy Now! We spoke to Joe Iosbaker in Chicago and Jess Sundin in Minneapolis.

JESS SUNDIN: Friday morning, I awoke to a bang at the door, and by the time I was downstairs, there were six or seven federal agents already in my home, where my partner and my six-year-old daughter had already been awake. We were given the search warrant, and they went through the entire house. They spent probably about four hours going through all of our personal belongings, every book, paper, our clothes, and filled several boxes and crates with our computers, our phones, my passport. And when they were done, as I said, they had many crates full of my personal belongings, with which they left my house.

JOE IOSBAKER: It was a nationally coordinated assault on all of these homes. Seven a.m., the pound on the door. I was getting ready for work, came down the stairs, and there were, I think, in the area of 10 agents, you know, of the—they identified themselves as FBI, showed me the search warrant. And I turned to my wife and said, "Stephanie, it’s the Thought Police."

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Joe Iosbaker and Jess Sundin, who—Jess in Minneapolis. Like them, Tracy Molm’s home was raided by FBI agents in September, some of her belongings seized, one of three activists whose subpoenas now have been reactivated. Tell us what has happened now, Tracy.

TRACY MOLM: Right now, our individual lawyers are being called into meetings with the District Attorney, Fox, in Chicago. They’re essentially trying to scare us into talking, to naming names and giving them a case against the movement and against the people that we have worked with historically to fight for justice for the people of Palestine and the people of Colombia.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, we’re also joined on the phone by Coleen Rowley, a former FBI agent who was named by Time Magazine Woman of the Year for her exposure of the problems in intelligence by the FBI pre-9/11. Your reaction to these raids, especially since they all seem to be focused around people who are involved in Palestinian solidarity work and there’s certainly no indication that there’s any terrorist threat to the United States here from the Palestinian movement?

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, you know, after 9/11, we almost—there was a green light put on, and there was a very big blurring between protest, civil disobedience and terrorism. And you saw this in many ways. The door was open to basically targeting, without any level of factual justification, advocacy groups. And again, this began pretty quickly after 9/11.

It’s gotten to the point now, nine years later—and I wanted to mention the Washington Post is doing a pretty good job of exposing this, this top-secret America, this monitoring. Their most recent article in the Washington Post says there’s a hundred—the FBI has 164,000 suspicious activity reports. Again, these are things that just have no level of factual justification, that people call in, and the FBI is now keeping records on people. So, I think that, you know, this case will just be the start of targeting various groups like this.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to a clip of an interview we did recently when Bruce Nestor came into town, the former head of the National Lawyers Guild in Minneapolis. He’s representing those who have been summoned before the grand jury. Bruce Nestor talked about potential consequences the activists face for defying subpoenas.

BRUCE NESTOR: Three people are now being—looking at reappearing in front of the grand jury and likely being forced with the choice between talking about who they meet with, what the political beliefs of their friends and allies are, or perhaps risking contempt and sitting in jail for 18 months. These are people who are deeply rooted in the progressive community in Chicago and Minneapolis. These are grandmothers, they’re mothers, they’re union activists. They were some of the organizers of the largest antiwar march at the 2008 Republican National Convention.

And so—and they’re being prosecuted under this material support for terrorism law, a law that was really enhanced under the PATRIOT Act and that allows, in the government’s own words, for people to be prosecuted for their speech if they coordinate it with a designated foreign terrorist organization. What you run the risk of there is that even if you state your own independent views about U.S. foreign policy, but those views somehow reflect a group that the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization, you can be accused of coordinating your views and face, if not prosecution, at least investigation, search warrants, being summoned to a grand jury to talk about who your political allies and who your political friends are.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Bruce Nestor, who’s representing some of those being subpoenaed, former head of the Naitonal Lawyers Guild in the Twin Cities. Mike German is joining us from Washington, D.C., National Security Policy Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. He was an FBI agent specializing in domestic counterterrorism for many years. Mike, talk about your assessment of this widening dragnet and its consequences.

MIKE GERMAN: Well, I think part of the problem is sort of the scope of this investigation and the aggressive tactics that are being used, when there isn’t any public evidence to suggest these people pose a threat. In fact, the FBI spokesman said immediately after the raids that there wasn’t a threat to the community. So, it sort of leads to a question of why there is this nationwide, you know, early morning raids, as if these are Mafia groups, when, you know, it’s clear from the materials that are being seized, the materials that are being requested in the search warrant returns that are public, that a lot of this is associational information that’s being requested—address books, computer records, literature and advocacy materials, First Amendment sort of materials.

So, this creates a huge chill beyond these activists or their associates to the entire advocacy community, where, you know, again, these people, as already stated, have longstanding advocacy histories, you know, are organizers, know a lot of people in the community. So it creates a chill throughout, and it damages our democracy, because people start to be afraid of participating in the political process. And that really is a huge problem beyond the scope of just the individuals involved in this case. And, you know, the fact that the FBI is doing this and using terms like "terrorism" to describe these individuals creates a huge chilling effect that we really have to be concerned about.

AMY GOODMAN: Mike, I wanted to ask you—I don’t know if it’s exactly related, but new details on how the United States has assembled a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators. Another Washington Post exposé on this, the FBI operating a massive database known as Guardian with the names and personal information of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents who have never committed a crime but were reported to have acted suspiciously by a local police officer or a fellow citizen, the database containing over 160,000 suspicious activity files. Despite the sweeping size of the database, the Washington Post reports, the FBI says it’s resulted in only five arrests and no convictions. In addition, the Post reveals the FBI is storing 96 million fingerprints in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

And the Post also reports that local law enforcement agencies have begun using surveillance equipment designed for war zones. In Memphis, Tennessee, some police patrol cars now contain military-grade infrared cameras that can snap digital images of one license plate after another, while analyzing each almost instantly.

Mike German, you have worked in counterterrorism for years, before being at the ACLU, from 1988 to 2004. What’s going on here? What are the dangers with this?

MIKE GERMAN: Well, you know, you might remember a program called Total Information Awareness that was started right after 9/11, and the idea was, if we can just grab all the available data that’s out there, somehow we’ll be able to manage it in a way that we’ll know everything that’s happening. And while Congress killed that specific program, that idea never disappeared.

And the FBI appears to be at the center of one of these expansive collection programs called eGuardian, is the new one. Guardian is one that’s been around for a while. But now there’s a new one, eGuardian, that’s part of a nationwide suspicious activity reporting program that encourages state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as the general public, to report behaviors that they describe as inherently suspicious, and these include things like taking notes or drawing diagrams, taking measurements, taking photographs or video. So, of course, these are benign activities that have no inherent suspicion regarding them, so what we’re concerned with is what people will really be reporting is people that, because of their own personal bias, are already suspicious of. You know, it won’t be everybody who’s taking notes; it’s only going to be that person who wears religious garb that they are, you know, religiously biased against or, you know, a person of a specific race or nationality. So, what this allows, this sort of reduction in standards allows the collection of material against people who are not even suspected of being involved in wrongdoing. And that is really an open door to abuse.

And we have Freedom of Information Act requests outstanding for the eGuardian program. We’re interested in a lot of different new FBI programs. There’s a Domain Management program, which purports to allow the FBI to collect racial and ethnic demographic information and map our communities across the nation by race and ethnicity. So, again, this suspicion-less collection information is a huge and growing problem, and all of this data just is being warehoused, literally—I mean, that’s what they call it, the Investigative Data Warehouse—for any kind of abuse that might occur later. And, of course, you know, the ACLU has already documented these types of spying operations being directed against political advocacy in 33 states across the nation. In fact, when the latest Washington Post report came out, one of the intelligence collection operations it focused on was the Tennessee fusion centers. And one of our legal fellows became interested upon reading the article and went to the website, and sure enough, one of the suspicious activities reported on the website was an ACLU advocacy effort regarding the celebration of religious activities in public schools. So, clearly, they’re collecting information about political advocacy, and this is part of the larger problem across the country.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Mike, I’d like to ask you—this is not the first time in U.S. history that we’ve had these problems. I think back—you mentioned Total Information Awareness. But going back even further, several decades ago, the Church Commission uncovered all kinds of spying by the U.S. government on legal dissident groups in the United States. And, of course, back in the 1920s during the Palmer Raids, there was all kinds of government attempts to round up people who were involved in what is normally legal, but opposition, politics of one kind or another. How come there is so little outcry in the general population of these enormous attempts by the government to take away civil liberties and to spy on the citizens?

MIKE GERMAN: You know, you’re exactly right. There is, you know, a long history of abuse of secret domestic intelligence powers. And that’s why after the Church Committee uncovered those abuses in the 1970s, there were guidelines put in place, the Attorney General Guidelines, that required a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing before the FBI could start aggressive investigations. And those were the standards that I operated on, doing domestic terrorism investigations. And I found they were very helpful, that what it did is it helped me focus on people who were actually doing bad things, rather than people who were saying things that I didn’t like or didn’t agree with, and that that helped me use my resources in an efficient way to target the people who were doing bad things. And unfortunately, after 9/11, those standards have been diluted significantly to where now the FBI literally requires no factual predicate to start an investigation.

And as far as the public outrage, a huge part of the problem is, again, these activities are taking place in secret. So it’s hard to know how they’re impacting any particular group or individual. And that’s why we set up a website, the Spy Files website,, where we’re collecting a lot of this material. And, you know, it’s not just the FBI that’s spying now; it’s Department of Homeland Security, it’s the Department of Defense, it’s state and local law enforcement agencies that are involved in these activities. So, you know, this Washington Post story, I think, will be a big help to let people know that, you know, your innocence doesn’t protect you anymore, that they can literally start collecting information on anyone.

And, you know, we had a recent case in Maryland where the Maryland state police were spying on political activists. And one of the activists said something very interesting to me. She said, you know, "I was a Vietnam War protester. So when I became a war protester again with the recent conflicts, I kind of assumed that the government would be spying on me. But when I finally got those records back, what scared me more than anything was that much of the information was wrong. They had me at demonstrations I wasn’t at. They had me associated with groups I wasn’t associated with. And that scared me more, because now my doing everything right and not being involved in violence wasn’t going to protect me from their errors, and I could be associated with things that I wasn’t actually doing." And that’s really a big part of the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have 30 seconds, but I wanted to go back to Coleen Rowley, another former FBI agent, on a related issue, and it’s WikiLeaks. You have signed on, along with a number of other people, like Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff of the Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Dan Ellsberg and British intelligence employee Katharine Gun, to a letter that says WikiLeaks has teased the genie of transparency out of a very opaque bottle, and powerful forces in America who thrive on secrecy are trying desperately to stuff the genie back in. As we wrap up this discussion, let’s end up on WikiLeaks, Coleen.

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, I think there’s a big tie-in between transparency and knowing what your government is doing and what we just heard Mike German mention, which is these infiltrations without factual justification of advocacy groups. The Minneapolis case seems to have stemmed a lot from the lead up to the Republican National Convention and the protests, where they simply targeted protesters. And I think that if we had more transparency and we had ways of people telling the truth about what’s going on, we would not actually see the—I’m very afraid we’re doomed to repeat that terrible history of the COINTELPRO era and the House Un-American Activities.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to have to leave it there. Coleen Rowley and Mike German, both former FBI agents. Coleen Rowley, a whistleblower named Time Person of the Year in 2002, Mike German, now with the ACLU, thanks so much for being with us.