Bill Totten's Weblog

Thursday, August 31, 2006

After the storm

by Gary Younge

The Guardian (August 29 2006)

The sight of American politicians descending on New Orleans for the anniversary of Katrina is a curious one. You would have thought they would all have wanted to stay away, as most of them have all year. For Katrina signalled the failure of America's entire political class and the dysfunction of its political culture. The political class would not adequately protect people before the storm nor adequately support them afterwards. The political culture failed to even push to create a viable alternative to the political class but instead lost interest once the cameras went away.

The principal problem in the political class was, without doubt, George Bush. His callous indifference in this moment of crisis is now legendary and he is still paying for it. His approval ratings for handling the crisis have even fallen from this time last year when shots of the poor and the black stranded on screen flooded the airwaves.

Katrina has become a signifier for an administration that was callous and out of touch led by an MBA president who was clearly not taking care of business. When New Orleans had been flooded during hurricane Betsy in 1965 Lyndon Johnson came to town, shone his flashlight in the face of a survivor and said: "This is your president". Bush was too scared to set foot in New Orleans in that first week at all.

But if the storm highlighted Bush's failings it also blew the lid on the deep-seated flaws in American society, like racism and poverty that preceded Bush's presidency. Katrina provided a rare opportunity to talk about race and class in America. The fact that Bush did not seize it is predictable; the fact that the Democrats would not is criminal. Even as their electoral base in Louisiana was dispersed and displaced they provided many criticisms but not one substantial alternative to the administration's agenda.

For those who were left to fend for themselves were those who need government most - the old, the poor, the sick. Even in a majority black city African Americans were overrepresented among them. Yet there was little in the way of government to start with and those who ran it from the New Orleans City Hall right up to the White House did not really believe in it anyway. What New Orleans needed was more government that was democratic, transparent and responsive. What they got was less of everything.

Within two weeks of the storm touching shore right wing Heritage Foundation had produced a list of 32 "pro-market ideas for responding to Hurricane Katrina and high gas prices", with the help of more than 100 republican legislators. Between them Bush, Congress and local legislatures ensured that the city was transformed from one of the nation's most culturally rich landscapes into an economically lawless area that simply favoured the rich.

Over the past year its public schools have been changed to charter schools, much of the public housing that is left has been changed to 'mixed-income' communities and its one public hospital remains closed. So one year on Bush is wounded yet, in the absence of any real political opposition, the system that made New Orleans possible not only remains, but is reinforced.

Bill Totten

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

No Quick Fix

Re-engineering the atmosphere could be as dangerous as climate change

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (August 29 2006)

Challenging a Nobel laureate over a matter of science is not something you do lightly. I have hesitated and backed off, read and re-read his paper, but now I believe I can state with confidence that Paul Crutzen, winner of the 1995 prize for chemistry, has overlooked a critical scientific issue.

Crutzen is, as you would expect, a brilliant man. He was one of the atmospheric chemists who worked out how high-level ozone is formed and destroyed. He knows more than almost anyone about the impacts of pollutants in the atmosphere. This is what makes his omission so odd.

At the beginning of August, he published an essay in the journal Climatic Change. He argues that the world's response to climate change has so far been "grossly disappointing". Stabilising carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, he asserts, requires a global reduction in emissions of between sixty and eighty per cent. But at the moment "this looks like a pious wish". So, he proposes, we must start considering the alternatives, by which he means re-engineering the atmosphere in order to cool the earth {1}.

He suggests we use either giant guns or balloons to inject sulphur into the stratosphere, ten kilometres or more above the surface of the earth. Sulphur dioxide at that height turns into tiny particles - or aerosols - of sulphate. These reflect sunlight back into space, counteracting the warming caused by manmade climate change.

One of the crueller paradoxes of climate change is that it is being accelerated by reducing certain kinds of pollution. Filthy factories cause acid rain and ill health, but they also help to shield us from the sun, by filling the air with particles. As we have started to clean some of them up, we have exposed ourselves to more solar radiation. One model suggests that a complete removal of these pollutants from the atmosphere could increase the world's temperature by 0.8 degrees {2}. The virtue of Paul Crutzen's scheme is that sulphate particles released so far above the surface of the earth stay airborne for much longer than they do at lower altitudes. In order to compensate for a doubling of carbon dioxide concentrations (which could happen this century), he calculates that we would need to fire some five million tonnes of sulphur into the stratosphere every year. This corresponds to roughly ten per cent of the sulphate currently entering the atmosphere.

Crutzen recognises that there are problems. The sulphate particles would slightly reduce the thickness of the ozone layer. They would cause some whitening of the sky. Most dangerously, his scheme could be used by governments to help justify their failure to cut carbon emissions: if the atmosphere could one day be fixed by some heavy artillery and a few technicians, why bother to impose unpopular policies?

His paper has already caused plenty of controversy. Other scientists have pointed out that even if rising carbon dioxide levels did not cause global warming, they would still be an ecological disaster {3}. For example, one study shows that as the gas dissolves in seawater, by 2050 the oceans could become too acid for shells to form, obliterating much of the plankton on which the marine ecosystem depends {4}. In Crutzen's scheme, the carbon dioxide levels are not diminished. It would also be necessary to keep firing sulphur into the sky for hundreds of years {5}. The scheme would be extremely expensive, so it is hard to imagine that governments would sustain it through all the economic and political crises likely to take place in that time. But what I find puzzling is this: that by far the most damaging impact of sulphate pollution hasn't even been mentioned - by him or, as far as I can discover, any of his critics.

In 2002, the Journal of Climate published an astonishing proposition: that the great droughts which had devastated the Sahel region of Africa had been caused in part by sulphate pollution in Europe and North America. Our smoke, the paper suggested, was partly responsible for the famines which killed hundreds of thousands of people in the 1970s and 1980s {6}.

By reducing the size of the droplets in clouds, thereby making them more reflective, the sulphate particles lowered the temperature of the sea's surface in the northern hemisphere. The result was to shift the Intertropical Convergence Zone southwards. This zone is an area close to the equator in which moist air rises and condenses into rain. The Sahel, which covers countries such as Ethiopia, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Senegal, is at the northern limits of the zone. As the rain belt was pushed south, those countries dried up. As a result of the clean air acts, between 1970 and 1996 sulphur emissions in the US fell by 39% {7}. This appears to have helped the North Atlantic to warm, allowing the rains to return to the Sahel in the 1990s.

Since then, several studies - published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Geophysical Research Letters and the Journal of Geophysical Research - have confirmed these findings {8, 9, 10}. They show that the forty per cent reduction in rainfall in the Sahel - which has "few if any parallels in the 20th century record anywhere on Earth" - is explicable only when natural variations are assisted by sulphate aerosols. We killed those people.

I cannot say whether or not Crutzen's scheme would have a similar outcome. It is true that he proposes to use less sulphur than the industrialised nations pumped into the atmosphere, but does this matter if the reflective effect is just as great? Another paper I have read lists seven indirect impacts of aerosols on the climate system {11}. Which, if any, will be dominant? What will their effects on rainfall be? Crutzen suggests that in order to keep the particles airborne for as long as possible they should be released "near the tropical upward branch of the stratospheric circulation system" {12}. Does this mean that they will not be evenly distributed around the world? If so, will they shift weather systems around as our uneven patterns of pollution have done? I don't know the answers, but I am staggered by the fact that the questions are not even being asked.

I am not suggesting that they have been deliberately overlooked. It seems more likely that they have been forgotten for a familiar reason: that this disaster took place in Africa. Would we have neglected them if the famines had happened in Europe? The story of industrialisation is like The Picture of Dorian Gray (Modern Library, 1998). While the rich nations have enjoyed perennial youth, the cost of their debaucheries - slavery, theft, colonialism, sulphur pollution, climate change - is visited on another continent, where the forgotten picture becomes ever uglier.

The only responsible way to tackle climate change is to reduce the amount of climate-changing gases we emit. To make this possible, we must suppress the political and economic costs of the necessary cut. I think I have shown how this can be done - you will have to judge for yourself when my book is published. But what is surely clear is that there is no uncomplicated short cut. By re-engineering the planet's systems we could risk invoking as great a catastrophe as the one we are trying to prevent.

George Monbiot's book Heat: How to stop the planet burning is published by Penguin on September 28th.


1. P J Crutzen, August 2006. Albedo Enhancement By Stratospheric Sulfur Injections: A Contribution To Resolve A Policy Dilemma? Climatic Change. DOI:10.1007/s10584-006-9101-y.

2. G P Brasseur and E Roeckner, 2005. 'Impact of improved air quality on the future evolution of climate', Geophysical Research Letters 32. DOI:10.1029/2005GL023902, cited by P J Critzen, ibid.

3. Eg L Bengtsson, August 2006. Geo-Engineering To Confine Climate Change: Is It At All Feasible? Climatic Change. DOI: 10.1007/s10584-006-9133-3

4. The Royal Society, June 2005. Ocean acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Policy document 12/05. (1).pdf

5. M C MacCracken, August 2006. Geoengineering: Worthy Of Cautious Evaluation? Climatic Change. DOI: 10.1007/s10584-006-9130-6

6. L D Rotstayn and U Lohmann, 1st August 2002. Tropical Rainfall Trends and the Indirect Aerosol Effect. Journal of Climate, vol 15, pages 2103-2116.

7. ibid.

8. I M Held, T L Delworth, J Lu, K L Findell, and T R Knutson, 13th December 2005. Simulation of Sahel drought in the 20th and 21st centuries. PNAS, vol 102, no 50, pages 17891-17896. DOI:10.1073/pnas.0509057102

9. Eg M Biasutti and A Giannini, 8th June 2006. Robust Sahel drying in response to late 20th century forcings. Geophysical Research Letters, vol 33, no 11. DOI: 10.1029/2006GL026067.

10. J E Kristjansson et al, 23rd December 2005. Response of the climate system to aerosol direct and indirect forcing: Role of cloud feedbacks. Journal of Geophysical Research - Atmospheres, vol 110, no D24.

11. U Lohmann and J Feichter, 3rd March 2005. Global indirect aerosol effects: a review. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, vol 5, pp 715-737.

12. P J Crutzen, ibid.

Copyright (c) 2006

Bill Totten

Monday, August 28, 2006

Wal-Mart may be just too American to succeed globally

Outside its homeland, the company formula mirrors that of US foreign policy: brash, bold and increasingly unpopular

by Richard Adams

Guardian (UK) Comment (August 24 2006)

When Thomas Friedman - the American journalist who has become globalisation's loudest cheerleader - wanted to illustrate the powerful forces at work in the world economy, he got on a flight for Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters of the glory that is Wal-Mart.

In his hagiographic bestseller, The World Is Flat (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), Friedman records his awe while standing in the middle of Wal-Mart's operation centre in Bentonville, watching the movement of goods to and fro at the heart of the world's largest retailer - a company that last year recorded more than $300 billion in sales from 6,600 stores in fifteen countries, including the Asda chain in Britain.

"Call it 'the Wal-Mart Symphony' in multiple movements - with no finale", Friedman wrote in his trademark breathless prose. "It just plays over and over 24/7/365: delivery, sorting, packing distribution, buying, manufacturing, reordering, delivery, sorting, packing ..".

Friedman was so impressed that he named Wal-Mart as one of the biggest forces driving globalisation, saying: "It's role as one of the ten forces that flattened the world is undeniable".

As it happens, recent history has not been kind to Thomas Friedman. As the leading foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, he was an influential voice in the ear of east-coast liberals, supporting the neoconservative arguments in favour of the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussain.

Recently, as Iraq's descent into bloody civil war has made a mockery of cruise-missile liberals, he has had the sense to recant. But Friedman's pin-ups for globalisation haven't fared so well either. The computer manufacturer Dell, lauded to the skies in The World Is Flat, found that its laptops included a built-in cigarette-lighter feature, when their batteries began bursting into flames.

Now it is Wal-Mart's turn to suffer the curse of Friedman. Since his book was published it seems that little has gone right for the champion of globalisation with the motto "Always low prices".

In recent months the giant retailer - at the start of this year the world's second largest corporation by revenue after oil baron Exxon Mobil - has suffered a string of defeats. Some have been self-inflicted, but others are a sign that Wal-Mart's attempts to export its formula of massive purchasing power and cheap imports from China, combined with stringent cost-cutting and aggressive anti-unionism, are beginning to fail.

The first sign that Friedman's steamroller of globalisation was stalling came in May, when the company announced it was pulling out of South Korea. South Korea was one of the first countries Wal-Mart moved into outside North America. But its all-American model of piling very high and selling very cheap never appealed to consumers there. "It failed to read what South Korean housewives want when they go shopping", a local analyst told the New York Times.

Last month, the company announced it was also withdrawing from Germany and selling its 85 stores there, despite pouring in hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to compete with local chains such as Aldi. German customers were turned off by the enforced friendliness of its employees, while the employees objected to US imports such as chanting at morning staff meetings: "Who's number one? The customer."

In the UK, Wal-Mart has also run into trouble with its Asda subsidiary, which it bought in 1999 and now has more than 300 stores and 160,000 employees. Last month the threat of a strike by the GMB union led the company to make unusually significant concessions, agreeing to allow the union access to Asda depots and to participate in a process leading to collective bargaining. Not long afterwards it was revealed by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions that Wal-Mart had allowed nineteen unions to be set up in its stores there.

The Asda and China results mark a clear victory for organised labour against the giant of globalisation. Previously Wal-Mart's determination to run union-free shops was such that when workers at a branch in the Canadian city of Jonquiere - a bastion of the fierce Quebec labour movement - took measures to unionise, the company permanently closed the store. Wal-Mart claims it shut because of poor turnover, but the closure sent a clear message that Wal-Mart could press the nuclear button.

The softening line comes as Wal-Mart's bottom line has suffered. Last week the company announced its first decline in net profits for ten years, thanks to weak sales in the US and UK and the cost of cutting its losses in Germany. The faltering sales in the US come as shoppers, hit by higher petrol prices, appear less willing to drive long distances to one of Wal-Mart's monster outlets.

Opponents are showing their displeasure by other means than voting with their feet. A movie-length documentary, Wal-Mart: the High Cost of Low Price, highlighted the company's less savoury practices. Now a Democratic party senator, Byron Dorgan - who would be a contender for the presidential nomination if he were from a larger state than North Dakota - has taken aim at Wal-Mart and its allies in a new book, Take This Job And Ship It (Thomas Dunne Books, 2006), arguing that its mega-stores destroy communities. Earlier this month the former Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry pointed out that five of the ten richest people in America were from the family of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, yet the company still fails to provide proper healthcare for its workers.

Faced with attacks from moderate politicians such as Dorgan and Kerry, and state and city-level attempts to force the likes of Wal-Mart to adhere to basic levels of pay and health insurance, as well as local hostility to new stores opening, the company's share price continues to suffer. Naturally, the company has been fighting back, from a war-room in its Bentonville headquarters that Friedman certainly never visited.

The fightback includes the establishment of a lobbying group called Working Families for Wal-Mart, spending millions of dollars in donations to politicians, and sending "voter guides" to its staff.

Despite its recent setbacks, Wal-Mart is not about to give up. Its international expansion will continue - at the end of last year it invested in Brazil, Japan and central America. And it remains hugely powerful in the US, where polls show that of those who shop at least once a week in the company's outlets, 78% voted for George Bush in 2004. But outside America, Wal-Mart's formula may be mirroring US foreign policy: brash, bold and unpopular. Unfortunately for Thomas Friedman, the rest of the world may not want to be flattened.,,1856901,00.html

Bill Totten

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Real men in government use their position to sell weapons

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (August 24 2006)

It's described by a senior official at the Ministry of Defence as "a dead duck ... expensive and obsolete". {1} The editor of World Defence Systems calls it "ten years out of date". {2} A former defence minister remarked that it is "essentially flawed and out of date" {3}. So how on earth did BAE Systems manage to sell 72 Eurofighters to Saudi Arabia on Friday?

One answer is that it had some eminent salesman. On July 2nd 2005, Tony Blair secretly landed in Riyadh to persuade the Saudi princes that this flying scrapheap was the must-have accessory every fashionable young despot would be buying {4}. Three weeks later the defence secretary John Reid turned up to deploy his subtle charms {5}. Somehow the deal survived, and last week his successor, Des Browne, signed the agreement. All of which raises a second question. Why are government ministers, even Blair himself, prepared to reduce themselves to hawkers on behalf of our arms merchants?

Readers of this column will know that British governments are not averse to helping big business, even when this conflicts with their stated policies. But the support they offer the defence industry goes far beyond the assistance they provide to anyone else.

Take the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO), for example. This is a government agency founded forty years ago to smooth out foreign deals for British arms companies. From its inception, this smoothing involved baksheesh. It was established as a channel for "financial aids and incentives" to corrupt officials in foreign governments {6}.

In 2003, after bribery of this kind became illegal in the United Kingdom, the Guardian found an internal DESO document explaining its guidelines for arms sales. "In certain parts of the world", it said, "it has become commonplace for special commissions to be required. This is a matter for DESO, to whom all requests for special commission should be referred. If DESO confirm that such payments can be made, contracts staff may need to provide the means for payment" {7}. A "special commission" is civil service code for a bribe. The document suggests, in other words, that the British government is overseeing the payment of bribes to foreign officials.

BAE's previous deals with Saudi Arabia are surrounded by allegations of corruption. It is alleged to have run a GBP 60 million "slush fund" to oil the Al Yamamah contracts brokered by Margaret Thatcher. The fund is said to have been used to provide cash, cars, yachts, hotel rooms and prostitutes to Saudi officials {8}. One of the alleged beneficiaries was Prince Turki bin Nasser, the Saudi minister for arms procurement {9}. The Serious Fraud Office was bounced by the Guardian's revelations into opening an investigation. But among the conditions the Saudi government laid down for the new deal is that the investigation is dropped {10}. Let's see what happens.

With this exception, the big arms companies appear to have been granted immunity from inquiry or prosecution. Letters from the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, Sir Kevin Tebbit, show that he prevented the ministry's fraud squad from investigating the allegations against BAE; that he failed to tell his minister about the investigation by the Serious Fraud Office; and that he tipped off the chairman of BAE about the contents of a confidential letter the fraud office had sent him {11}. When the US government told him that BAE had allegedly engaged in corrupt practice in the Czech Republic, Sir Kevin failed to inform the police {12}.

For fourteen years, the government has suppressed a report by the National Audit Office into the Al Yamamah deals. Earlier this summer the auditor general refused even to hand it over to the Serious Fraud Office {13}. A parliamentary committee on arms exports published a report this month which expresses its repeated frustration over the government's reluctance to assist its inquiries {14}.

It also shows that Mark Thomas, the stand-up comedian, has done more to expose illegal arms deals than the Ministry of Defence, the Export Control Organisation and HM Revenue and Customs put together, simply by searching the internet and the trade press and attending the arms fairs the British government hosts. In response, the government has investigated not the companies, but the comedian. A confidential email from a civil servant suggested that the trade minister, Richard Caborn, was seeking to gather "background/dirt on him in order to rubbish him". {15} Caborn claims he was misrepresented.

The only arms dealers to have been prosecuted since 2000 are five very small fish. All of them escaped with a small fine or a suspended sentence, including a man who made repeated attempts to export military parts to Iran {16}. Compare this to the treatment of those who upset the arms industry. Nine anti-war campaigners in Derry who occupied the offices of the arms company Raytheon have just been charged with aggravated burglary and unlawful assembly {17}. If convicted, they could be imprisoned for years.

Every government policy designed to protect our national interests or promote world peace is torn up at the arms companies' request. They are not supposed to sell to dodgy regimes or countries in the midst of conflict. So let them first export their arms to the Channel Islands, from which they can be re-sold {18}. Weapons may not be exported to any country unless it shows "respect for human rights" {19}. So get the foreign office to note "a small but significant improvement" in the Saudi government's performance and use that as your excuse {20}.

Should we be surprised to find, as the Times revealed yesterday, that Israeli soldiers have found night-vision equipment made by a British company in Hizbullah bunkers? {21} Should we be surprised to discover that despite a government commitment to sell Israel "no weapons, equipment or components which could be deployed aggressively in the Occupied Territories" {22}, British companies have been supplying parts for its Apache helicopters and F-16 bombers? {23} The government seems to see the escalating dangers in the Middle East as nothing but an opportunity for business.

Perhaps most damning is this. Blair claims that Britain's security comes first. Yet one of the means by which his government managed to secure this deal was to speed it up. How? The Sunday Times reports that "the first 24 planes for the Saudis will be those at present allotted to the Royal Air Force, with the RAF postponing its deliveries until later in the production run". {24} In other words, the Saudis' perceived need for fighter planes takes precedence over our own.

So why does Her Majesty's Government behave like a subsidiary of BAE? A report by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) shows that 39% of all the senior public servants who go to work for the private sector are employees of the ministry of defence, moving into arms firms. In return, scores of arms dealers are seconded to the ministry {25}. The man who runs DESO, for example, previously worked for BAE, selling arms in the Middle East {26}.

CAAT lists the government committees stuffed with arms executives, the donations, the lobbyists, the Labour peers taking the corporate shilling, and I am sure all this plays an important role. But it seems to me that there is also something else at work. There appears to be a sense among some of those at the core of government that peace, human rights and democracy are for wimps, while the serious business, for real players, is war and the means by which it is enacted.


1. No author, 9th November 2003. RAF's new Eurofighter force to be slashed by a third in defence cuts. The Daily Telegraph.

2. ibid.

3. Alan Clark MP, 9th July 1997. In the House of Commons. Hansard Column 855.

4. David Leigh and Ewen MacAskill, 27th September 2005. Blair in secret Saudi mission. The Guardian.

5. ibid.

6. Rob Evans, Ian Traynor, Luke Harding and Rory Carroll, 13th June 2003. Web of state corruption dates back 40 years. The Guardian.

7. You can find this document at the bottom of this page:,,976559,00.html

See: DESO overview (page 2).

8. David Leigh and Rob Evans, 11th September 2003. BAE accused of arms deal slush fund. The Guardian.

9. David Leigh and Rob Evans, 6th October 2004. BAE denies GBP 60 million Saudi slush fund. The Guardian; Conal Walsh, 7th November 2004. BAE flies into storm over Saudi 'slush fund'.
The Observer

10. David Leigh and Ewen MacAskill, 27th September 2005, ibid.

11. David Leigh and Rob Evans, 13th October 2003. MoD chief in fraud cover-up row. The Guardian.

12. Rob Evans, Ian Traynor, Luke Harding and Rory Carroll, 12th June 2003. Politicians' claims put BAE in firing line. The Guardian; Rob Evans and Ian Traynor, 12th June 2003. US accuses British over arms deal bribery bid. The Guardian.

13. David Leigh and Rob Evans, 25th July 2006. Parliamentary auditor hampers police inquiry into arms deal. The Guardian.

14. House of Commons Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees, 3rd August 2006. Strategic Export Controls: Annual Report for 2004, Quarterly Reports for 2005, Licensing Policy and Parliamentary Scrutiny.

15. Rob Evans and David Hencke, 8th January 2001. Whitehall tried to smear comedian. The Guardian.

16. House of Commons Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees, ibid.

17. Simon Basketter, 12th August 2006. Derry anti-war protesters, including Eamonn McCann, arrested after Raytheon occupation. Socialist Worker.

18. House of Commons Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees, ibid.

19. Criterion 2 of the EU Code on Arms Exports.

20. Foreign and Commonwealth Ofiice, 2005. Human Rights Annual Report. Cited by the House of Commons Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees, ibid.

21. Bob Graham, Michael Evans and Richard Beeston, 21st August 2006. British kit found in Hezbollah bunkers. The Times.

22. House of Commons Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees, ibid.

23. Benjamin Joffe-Walt, 29th July 2006. Made in the UK, bringing devastation to Lebanon - the British parts in Israel's deadly attack helicopters. The Guardian.

24. Dominic O'Connell, 20th August 2006. BAE cashes in on GBP 40bn Arab jet deal. The Sunday Times.

25. Campaign Against the Arms Trade, February 2005. Who Calls the Shots? How government-corporate collusion drives exports.

26. ibid; Rob Evans, Ian Traynor, Luke Harding and Rory Carroll, 13th June 2003, ibid.

Copyright (c) 2006

Bill Totten

When we need to be frightened,

... and when we do not

Ministers must not be allowed to scare us into accepting new terror laws

New Statesman Leader (August 28 2006)

Britain is experiencing probably the most sustained period of severe threat since the Second World War. With the disruption of the liquid bomb plot, we narrowly escaped mass murder on an unimaginable scale and the security services are currently investigating no fewer than 24 more plots, potentially involving more than a thousand extremists. There is a threat to every individual in every section of British society. The threat is here, it is deadly and it is enduring.

This - every word of it - is the message of our government, and it is hard to see how it could be more alarming. The security threat level may have shifted down from critical to severe, but we are still warned that bloodshed and destruction on a scale to rival or even exceed the attacks on the World Trade Center remain more than possible, even likely. There can be no doubt about it: ministers and senior police officers want to frighten us, and they keep saying they are frightened themselves. But we have to ask, what can all this fear achieve?

It can do good. We can be roused to vigilance, to an awareness of the unattended package, the suspicious car, the peculiar comings and goings in the house down the road. We can be patient when we are delayed by extra security. And we can be less shocked and more competent if and when the blow falls. But the fear message also carries risks: the widely reported cases of Muslims unjustifiably removed from planes are unpleasant enough in themselves, but there is a danger that they are just the visible symptoms of something wider. Experience tells us that abuse and violence towards Muslims increases at these times, so we must remember to balance the need for alertness with the need for tolerance and civilised behaviour.

In general, the government has reason to be content with the effects of its message. The public has accepted that it must be careful, has accepted the inconveniences and no doubt is being careful. But there is a line to be drawn here, and it is as well to draw it now. The government's next step, and this is no secret, will be to exploit this mood of fear as a pretext for another attack on our rights and liberties. The hints and briefings leave no room for doubt. Ninety-day detention before charge is back on the agenda, as is the threat to suspend parts of the Human Rights Act. Ministers also want to shackle the judiciary so that it cannot obstruct them, and they want to extend the power of house arrest without trial and make deportations easier. They may even try again to make torture-based evidence admissible in British courts.

It may come in days or it may not see daylight for two or three months, but this Labour government, with four anti-terror acts already under its belt, is hell-bent on a fifth. It must be resisted. We have rejected such measures before and they have not suddenly become acceptable. The government must not be allowed to scare us into accepting them.

Are we, as ministers assert, more exposed to terror attack because the government is currently denied these powers? The question is a false one. Better to ask: Do we believe this government knows how to make us safer from terrorism? If giving home secretaries more powers could do the trick we would already have terror on the run, but that is not the case. Nor is money an issue, as John Reid says we are now spending well over GBP 2 billion a year on security, and everything MI5 wants, it gets. Nor, for that matter, does the government have a foreign policy capable of any form of success against terrorism; on the contrary, we are throwing petrol on the flames, fighting a never-ending "war" in alliance with a man who invites terrorists to "bring it on".

The terror threat is here and overcoming it will not be easy, but too many of this government's policies are the wrong ones. Powers of the kind it seeks belong under the sort of heavy-handed, undemocratic regime that Labour governments, Labour members and most British people historically abhor. And exploiting a mood of fear to justify them is also a tactic of such regimes.

In a speech a month ago in America, Tony Blair declared: "This war can't be won in a conventional way. It can only be won by showing that our values are stronger, better and more just, more fair than the alternative." We believe in those words; we only wish that he did.

Rose oil, yoghurt and flowers in even numbers

Romanians and Bulgarians are in the news, and indeed, some of them may soon be on our doorstep, but what do we know about them and their countries? For many of us the answer will be "not much", and most of what we are now being told is not designed to flatter. As an antidote, therefore, the New Statesman offers you ten reasons to feel positive about our next EU partners.

Bulgaria is the country of yoghurt, the food of centenarians, and, as the world's biggest producer of rose oil, it contributes greatly to the fragrance of nations. Many Bulgarians (something to note) shake their heads for "yes" and nod them to indicate "no". They are also a people who show proper respect for journalists, having built a shrine to the Times correspondent James Bourchier (1850-1920). And though Bulgaria was allied to Germany in the Second World War, its people refused to co-operate with the Final Solution and the 50,000-strong Jewish minority was saved.

Romania, like England, was visited in the distant past by the Romans and the Saxons. Its people are known for their hospitality, as they believe guests bring good fortune, but guests must remember to bring flowers in odd numbers - even numbers are for the dead. Bucharest (which means "village of joy") is home to one of Europe's most innovative film industries. And unusually, Romania allows the female half of its population a public holiday on International Women's Day (8 March).

Copyright (c) New Statesman 1913 - 2006

Bill Totten

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Watch Out For The Terrorist Boogeyman

by Charley Reese

King Features Syndicate (August 23 2006)

If President Bush is really religious, then I imagine he fell on his knees recently and thanked God that British intelligence uncovered the plot to blow up eight or nine airliners over the Atlantic.

This excellent work by the British and Pakistani security forces has enabled Bush to switch the emphasis from the Iraq War, which has earned him unpopularity, to his ambiguous war on terror, where he retains some credibility.

The Republican campaign theme is already clear: Vote for a Democrat and you will encourage the terrorists. Vote for a Democrat and the big, bad terrorists will get you. The Republicans have kept us safe. And, for the duration of the campaign, the GOP will no longer talk about the Iraq War being the central front in the war on terrorism. In fact, Republicans won't talk about Iraq at all if they can avoid it.

Since my contempt for most American politicians is bipartisan, I have no desire to defend Democrats. The Republican campaign, however, is mendacious and dishonest. It wasn't Democrats who pulled our dogs off the hunt for Osama bin Laden and sent them to Iraq. This was probably the greatest single blunder in Mr Bush's war on terrorism. And it was not Democrats who gave medals to the two lunkheads, George Tenet and Paul Wolfowitz, who provided the disinformation that got us into the war in Iraq.

It was, however, Democrats who insisted on a homeland security department, which Bush initially opposed. No Democrat has ever opposed tapping the phones or intercepting the international calls of people involved in terrorism. All they have asked is that the president obey the law and obtain a warrant. Democrats are just as willing to fight terrorism as Republicans, and just as eager to please Israel. In almost all respects, there are no real differences.

Long before George Wallace said there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between the two parties, Huey P Long, Louisiana's original kingfish, made the same point in a more humorous manner. This month, by the way, is Long's birthday (August 30 1893). You might want to toast the former governor and US senator from Louisiana with a sip of bourbon. He was such a powerful force in the state that some old-timers still hate him and some still love him. If you are at all interested in politics, you should read his autobiography, Every Man a King. It was written in 1933, but Da Capo Press published a new edition in 1996. It is still relevant and a great read.

American politics has always been a rough-and-tumble game, usually with more lies than truth, and often involving slander, libel, bribery, stolen elections and occasionally even murder. Long was assassinated. Andy Jackson's opponents in the presidential election arranged for the nation's deadliest duelist to insult Jackson's beloved wife, knowing Jackson would challenge the man. They expected Jackson to be killed. The man they had chosen had already killed 26 men in duels. Old Hickory, however, was hard to kill. He took a bullet in the chest, but stayed on his feet and shot dead his opponent. Later he told his doctor, who had expressed amazement that he had remained on his feet, "I'd have stayed on my feet long enough to kill that (expletive) even if he had shot me in the brain".

Today's politicians, living in these hypersensitive, oh-so-politically correct times, are sissies compared with those of the 19th and even early 20th centuries. The contemporary politician's lies and insults have a feminine quality, as if politicians are a bunch of embittered women exchanging catty remarks at a bridge party.

Oh, well, Sir John Glubb - or Glubb Pasha, as he was called by the Arab Legion - said in a monograph that a sure sign of the decline of empire is the rise of feminism. Bossy women and effeminate men are, he thought, ill-suited for the stern duties of an empire. We may be becoming as a nation what my Southern ancestors said of New England - a land of long-haired men and short-haired women.

Copyright (c) 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

Bill Totten

Friday, August 25, 2006

Groundhog Day

The UK Terror Plot: Could This Case Blow Up?

by James K Galbraith

The Nation (August 18 2006)

James K Galbraith flew from Manchester to Boston on August 10, enduring eleven hours without a book.

Let's see ... It's August. Bush is in Crawford on a "working vacation". His polls are in the tank. Congress is in revolt. The economy is going soft. The next elections don't look good. Cheney is off in Wyoming, or wherever he goes. It's 2001. No, it's 2006.

In The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (International Publishers, 1963), Marx reports that "Hegel writes somewhere" that the great events of history tend to occur twice, first as tragedy and then as farce.

On September 11, nineteen hijackers commandeered four airplanes and succeeded in killing some 3,000 people. On August 10, we are told, British authorities upended a suicide-murder plot aimed at destroying twelve airplanes, killing everyone on board including the bombers, possibly with more fatalities than on 9/11. As a senior British police official put it, "This was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale".

From all official statements so far, we are led to believe that August 10 was a highly developed, far-advanced conspiracy, under surveillance for some time, which could have been put into action within just a few days. And perhaps 8/10 really was the biggest thing since 9/11. But then again, perhaps it wasn't. We don't know yet. And it's not too early to ask the questions on which final judgment must depend.

Well, then. Here is a checklist of some things we should shortly be hearing about. Bombs. Chemicals. Detonators. Labs. A testing ground. Airline tickets. Passports. Witnesses. Suspicious neighbors. Suspicious parents. Suspicious friends. Threats. Confessions. Let me spell this out: By definition, you cannot bomb an aircraft unless you have a bomb. In this case, we are told that there were no bombs; rather, the conspirators planned to bring on board the makings of a bomb: chemicals and a detonator. These would be mixed on board.

Exactly what the chemicals were remains unclear. Nitroglycerin has been suggested, but it's too likely to go off on the way to the airport. TATP, made of acetone and peroxide, has been suggested, but there are two problems. One is that the peroxide required is highly concentrated - it's not the three percent solution from the drugstore. The other is that acetone is highly volatile. As anyone who flies knows, you can't open a bottle of nail polish remover on an airplane without everyone within twenty feet knowing at once. It's possible to imagine one truly dedicated and competent bomber pulling this off. But it is impossible to imagine twenty-four untrained people between the ages of seventeen and 35 all getting away with the same trick at once.

So, there must have been training. That means there must be a lab, or labs. There must have been trial bombs. There must be various bits and pieces of equipment used to mix the chemicals and set them off. There must be a manual. There must be a testing ground. And each one of the young men under arrest must have been to these places. Interestingly, it must have all happened, too, without a serious accident, injury or death among the conspirators. If so, they are a lot more competent than the Weather Underground ever was, in my day.

Arrests were made at night, catching the culprits at home. Houses have been raided, and are being searched. So far as we know at this point, no bombs have been found. No chemicals. No equipment. No labs. No testing ground. Maybe this will come out later, but it hasn't so far, even though the authorities seem anxious to tell just about everything they know.

Now, in order to get on an airplane, even the most devout suicide terrorist needs a ticket, and these generally must be purchased with money. Apparently, not one ticket had been purchased by the detainees. One little-known feature of airline security (in the United States, anyway) is that people traveling on one-way tickets bought at the last minute get special scrutiny at the gate. Those tickets are also (a lot) more expensive. If you want to pass unnoticed, you will buy your ticket round-trip, in advance, and also save money like everyone else. Actually, if you didn't know this already, you're not fit to be let out of the house.

Further, to get on an international flight from Britain to the United States, in these days of the modern nation-state, you need something else. It's a document called a passport. Apparently, some of the detainees don't have them. Someone lacking a passport can, I think, safely be excluded from the ranks of potential suicide bombers of UK-to-US flights. They could, of course, have a counterfeit or be operating in a support role - but so far we are not being told of any counterfeit documents or any support operation. And to pass security you would use a different person to carry each chemical you needed. For twelve flights, that's twenty-four people.

As for the suspicious parents, friends and neighbors - it's technically possible that the bombers' security was so excellent that none existed. It's just that, in dealing with young people swept up in a fervor of religious hatred, the odds are extremely low. Of all the Islamic groups, Hezbollah in Lebanon is the only one that maintains effective military security, which it does by isolating its fighters as completely as possible from the civilian population. But these young men were picked up at home; they were well-known and yet apparently suspected by no one at all.

As to threats: A joke going around the Manchester Airport on August 10 was that at least the IRA would remember to call. What's the point of a suicide bombing if no one knows what it's for? The downing of twelve airplanes would be horrific to those on them (including me, as it happened), but it wouldn't put a dent in Western capitalism. It would have to be part of a much larger, ongoing, unstoppable campaign. Otherwise, why bother? A once-off attack shows the weakness, not the capacity, of the plotters, and in the end it strengthens not them but the governments they attack. After 9/11, terrorists should know this.

Finally, confessions. Twenty-four suspects have been arrested, according to some reports. Nineteen have been named. Happily, the detainees were taken alive. Unlike the man arrested in Pakistan, we may presume (I trust) that they are not being tortured. Therefore, they will have a chance to make an uncoerced statement of their intentions in open court. By then the authorities will have found the labs, testing grounds, airline tickets and passports. Credible witnesses too will have emerged. By then the young zealots will have no expectation of acquittal or mercy, and nothing to lose. We may therefore confidently expect them to face the judges and declare exactly what their motives and intentions were. If they do that, I'll eat my hat.

In short: Could this case blow up? Could it turn out to have been an overreaction, a mistake - or even a hoax? Yes, it could, and it wouldn't be the first one, either. I'm not saying it will, necessarily. I'm not accusing the British authorities of bad faith. I'm not suggesting the plot was faked - at least, not by them. But dodgy informants and jumpy politicians are an explosive mixture, easily detonated under pressure. Everyone knows that.


James K Galbraith teaches at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin. His next book is Unbearable Cost: Bush, Greenspan and the Economics of Empire (Palgrave-MacMillan).

Bill Totten

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Plot This

Americans Shrug at Phony Binary Explosives Threat

by Ted Rall (August 22 2006)

Attention, citizens of the national community: stay tuned for a HomeSec alert! A fiendish plot has been uncovered! Terrorists loyal to the sinister forces of Eastasia have been apprehended! It is another glorious victory for the homeland! All hail Oceania!

It was hard not to suffer a 1984 flashback on August 10th, when UK authorities and their rhetorical American partners claimed to have rounded up more than two dozen British Muslims accused of - or so they claimed - participation in an elaborate plot to commit "mass murder on an unimaginable scale". According to Britain's national Crown Prosecution Service the suspects planned "to smuggle the component parts of improvised explosive devices onto aircraft and assemble and detonate them on board" as many as ten passenger jets bound for the United States from England.

The airline industry, long teetering on the edge of financial catastrophe, could easily be shoved headlong into oblivion as the result of harsh new security restrictions. Travelers are being asked to arrive at the airport three hours before their scheduled departure times because of longer lines at shortstaffed security checkpoints. All liquids and gels - staple components of cosmetics, toothpaste, medicine and other toiletries - have been banned from carry-on baggage, adding at least another hour to the trips of carry-on-only passengers who previously never had to wait for their belongings to disgorge upon the baggage carousel.

Industry analysts say travelers aren't afraid of being blown up by terrorists. They're right. Hundreds of millions of people fly each year; very few end up shredded among the wreckage of an office tower. But passengers are afraid. They fear that the government's draconian security measures will make them miss their flights. That real and wholly justifiable fear has already cut ticket sales by as much as twenty percent.

A mere two days after British officials announced that they had foiled the dastardly Islamofascists terror plot, and the Bush Administration crowed that this news somehow proved that they had once again kept us safe, Americans weren't fazed in the least. People polled by Newsweek said, 54 to 26 percent, they still didn't want to give up their carry-on bags. As the Republican Party continued its suicidal stay-the-course mantra into the November midterm elections, the sound of a Great National Shrug greeted the latest triumphalist shrieks from America's telescreens.

Could it be, despite our leaders' long-established record of always telling us the truth no matter what, that we can't be sure there was a plot at all? Or that, if there was a plot, it wasn't viable - certainly not nearly enough to justify the risk to the airline industry or hassling hundreds of millions of travelers?

According to the respected and irreverent British technology publication The Register, the plot - if it existed - was a joke. Smuggling the component parts of triacetone triperoxide (TATP) - the liquid explosive we've been told was the object of the wannabe jihadis' vengeance fantasies - and successfully mixing them into a brew powerful enough to bring down a plane would require skills far beyond the capabilities of, well, anyone.

"First", wrote The Register, "you've got to get adequately concentrated hydrogen peroxide. This is hard to come by, so a large quantity of the three per cent solution sold in pharmacies might have to be concentrated by boiling off the water ... Take your hydrogen peroxide, acetone, and sulfuric acid, measure them very carefully, and put them into drink bottles for convenient smuggling onto a plane. It's all right to mix the peroxide and acetone in one container, so long as it remains cool. Don't forget to bring several frozen gel-packs (preferably in a Styrofoam chiller deceptively marked "perishable foods"), a thermometer, a large beaker, a stirring rod, and a medicine dropper. You're going to need them.

"It's best to fly first class and order champagne. The bucket full of ice water, which the airline ought to supply, might possibly be adequate ... Once the plane is over the ocean, very discreetly bring all of your gear into the toilet. You might need to make several trips to avoid drawing attention. Once your kit is in place, put a beaker containing the peroxide/acetone mixture into the ice water bath (champagne bucket), and start adding the acid, drop by drop, while stirring constantly. Watch the reaction temperature carefully. The mixture will heat, and if it gets too hot, you'll end up with a weak explosive. In fact, if it gets really hot, you'll get a premature explosion possibly sufficient to kill you, but probably no one else.

"After a few hours - assuming, by some miracle, that the fumes haven't overcome you or alerted passengers or the flight crew to your activities - you'll have a quantity of TATP with which to carry out your mission. Now all you need to do is dry it for an hour or two."

The conclusion is clear: "Certainly, if we can imagine a group of jihadists smuggling the necessary chemicals and equipment on board, and cooking up TATP in the lavatory, then we've passed from the realm of action blockbusters to that of situation comedy".

The "plot", or at least the prosecution thereof, is already unraveling. Two "terrorists" have been released. Of the remaining 23, only eleven have been charged. Of those charged, only eight face charges related to the "plot".

Ted Rall is the author of the new book Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East? (Nantier Beall Minoustchine Publishing, 2006), an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America's next big foreign policy challenge.

Copyright (c) Ted Rall

Bill Totten

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

God Mode

by Luke Mitchell

Harper's Magazine Notebook (August 2006)

He has chosen death:
Refusing to eat or drink, that he may bring
Disgrace upon me; for there is a custom,
An old amd foolish custom, that if a man
Be wronged, or think that he is wronged, and starve
Upon another's threshold till he die,
The common people, for all time to come,
Will raise a heavy cry against that threshold,
Even though it be the King's.

- W B Yeats

Last August, seventy-six foreign nationals held at the US Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, began what was likely the largest hunger strike ever to take place at an American-run prison. By September, when the protest reached its peak, more than a quarter of the prison's nearly 500 inmates were refusing to eat. Pentagon officials were dismissive of the strikes, which they called "voluntary fasts". Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld even compared the process of starvation, in which the body, deprived of nutrition, eats its own organs, to going "on a diet". But given the means by which the strike would be controlled, such nonchalance made a certain sense. Rather than let the men die, our government simply tied them to chairs and made them eat.

There was no special art to it. Military guards bound the men to the chairs by their ankles, waists, wrists, shoulders, and heads, and military nurses forced flexible plastic tubes through their nostrils, down their throats, and into their stomachs. In went the food. Nor was the feeding necessarily sadistic. Lawyers for the prisoners say that the doctors sometimes used excessively thick tubes that caused internal bleeding and that they deliberately overfed the prisoners, causing them to vomit and to defecate in their clothing and on their chairs; but Pentagon officials deny these charges, and outside physicians who have witnessed the feedings support the official accounts. No, what was peculiar about the force-feeding was that the Pentagon seemed so perfectly convinced it had done something that was, for once, beyond criticism.

When the first known instance of Guantanamo-sanctioned force-feeding took place, in 2002, a Guantanamo spokesman named James Bell explained that Naval doctors would put a feeding tube into any prisoners who threatened to succeed at dying, "Regardless of whether they were involved in killing thousands of innocent people in the World Trade Center attacks or not", Bell said, "we have a responsibility to maintain their health and welfare, and that certainly includes taking actions to preserve their lives". Four years later, Dr William Winkenwerder Jr, who is the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs and the chief architect of the Guantanamo force-feed policy, told the New York Times that force-feeding was both ethical and necessary. "There is a moral question", he said, "Do you allow a person to commit suicide? Or do you take steps to protect their health and preserve their life?" Winkenwerder added that he and his colleagues at the Pentagon had considered this question carefully and concluded that preventing suicide was ethical. "The objective in any circumstance", he said, "is to protect and sustain a person's life".

Most Pentagon officials, of course, are focused on objectives other than protecting and sustaining the lives of foreign nationals. But I was more bothered by Winkenwerder's claim that he had decided upon the policy only after deliberately contemplating its ethical implications. The United States has force-fed many people - American slaves who hoped to escape servitude, American women who sought the right to vote - but the practice has been little utilized in modern times, primarily because most people find it repugnant. At a 1975 conference in Tokyo, members of the World Medical Association crafted an unambiguous ban on force-feeding, which was later endorsed by the American Medical Association. In 2000 a US District Court judge found that a federal prisoner could not be force-fed, despite the fact that Federal Bureau of Prison guidelines allowed for it. ("I just don't think the government has put forward any kind of compelling interest that would allow me to override a person's last, ultimate means of protesting government", the judge wrote.) And when county prison officials in Bangor, Maine, did manage to obtain a court order last October to force-feed a suicidal burglar on a hunger strike, the doctors at the Eastern Maine Medical Center refused to perform the procedure. Jill McDonald, a spokesman for the hospital, told the Bangor Daily News that the hospital could not operate without a patient's consent, "We are not parties to court orders", McDonald said. "We are under a different set of obligations".

Had Winkenwerder really engaged in a long dialogue with doctors and other specialists only to conclude, contrary to thirty years of established medical guidance, that binding people to chairs and forcing food down their throats was his only ethical option as a medical professional? I called the public affairs number at the Pentagon on the off chance that he would agree to an interview and, somewhat to my surprise, was told that he would.

Winkenwerder was reasonably affable on the telephone but also clearly aware that what he said could have political implications. He was a health-insurance executive in Massachusetts before he took responsibility for the medical policies of the United States military; in the picture next to his online biography, he wears a two-tone broker shirt and a pocket square. Two publicists listened in on our conversation.

Winkenwerder said that a physician's obligations are complex. He cited the World Medical Association's 1991 Malta Declaration, a follow-on to the Tokyo Declaration that more specifically addresses hunger-strike issues. The preamble notes that doctors treating hunger strikers are faced with a conflict between "a moral obligation on every human being to respect the sanctity of life" and "the duty of the doctor to respect the autonomy which the patient has over his person". Winkenwerder read a passage aloud to me in order to underscore the ambiguity inherent to that conflict:

"This conflict is apparent where a hunger striker who has issued clear instructions not to be resuscitated lapses into a coma and is about to die. Moral obligation urges the doctor to resuscitate the patient even though it is against the patient's wishes. On the other hand, duty urges the doctor to respect the autonomy of the patient."

"So that's the moral question", he said. "That's the moral issue". And he was right, of course. Autonomy is the central question. The Malta Declaration, a notably sensible and humane document, despite its having been written by a committee, is quite clear about this. It turned out, though, that Winkenwerder had not read me the entire passage:

"However, the doctor should clearly state to the patient whether or not he is able to accept the patient's decision to refuse treatment or, in case of coma, artificial feeding, thereby risking death. If the doctor cannot accept the patient's decision to refuse such aid, the patient would then be entitled to be attended by another physician."

In short, the doctor should be allowed to practice medicine by the light of his or her own conscience, and the patient should have access to a doctor who can accept his or her decision to refuse artificial feeding. Had Winkenwerder really thought this through? Was he trying to trick me somehow? An AMA official later told me she had heard of four Guantanamo doctors who apparently did not think it was ethical to participate in involuntary feeding and so didn't. The doctors were not punished, but nor could hunger strikers choose to be "treated" by them.

Winkenwerder, though, was driving at a larger point. "So with the Malta Declaration", he continued:

"When the hunger striker has become confused and is therefore unable to make an unimpaired decision or has lapsed into a coma, the doctor shall be free to make the decision for his patient as to further treatment which he considers to be in the best interest of that patient ..."

My own confusion deepened. The Pentagon was putting tubes into men so healthy they had to be bound to special chairs, and Winkenwerder was talking about the ethics of feeding people in comas. I asked him if "unable to make an unimpaired decision" or "lapsed into a coma" really were the relevant criteria for force-feeding the hunger strikers at Guantanamo.

"That's their criteria", Winkenwerder said, acknowledging my confusion. "And here's the distinction with ours. And this is not as wild a difference as some have made it out to be. And I'd ask you to think about this yourself." What came next genuinely surprised me. "We would prefer not to have people lapse into coma or to be near death when we make that decision", Winkenwerder said, meaning the decision to force-feed. "In other words, if we're there to protect and sustain someone's life, why would we actually go to the point of putting that person's life at risk before we act? So I think we're operating on a very similar set of ethical reasoning, but it's applied at an earlier stage."

That is, Winkenwerder and his doctors were forcing perfectly healthy prisoners to eat even before they were at risk of starving. Absurd as it sounds, he was describing, with medical precision, the Bush doctrine of "forward deterrence", in which potential enemies are confronted on their own territory before they become an actual threat. He was describing the same policy that was driving the entire war on terror.

I asked Winkenwerder if his preemptive force-feeding policy was the same as forward deterrence. The analogy was obvious to me, but he seemed offended by the question.

"Our intentions are good", he said a moment later, not quite plaintively. "We are seeking to preserve life".

There is a certain kind of video game, called a first-person shooter, in which you run through a maze and fire at whatever comes your way. These games are challenging because ammunition is limited, because every living thing is trying to kill you, and because (as a result) you can't stop thinking, even for a minute. The first-person shooter exists in a nightmarish Hobbesian state of nature. In a computer game, though, the state of nature is eternally malleable. You can use cheat codes to remove gravity, add extra "lives", increase the amount of gore, and so on. The most powerful cheat is called god mode. In god mode, you never run out of ammunition and nothing can ever kill you. You are free to turn your mind off for a moment and enjoy the synthetic beauty of the game.

I mention this as a contemporary example of a longstanding opposition in the American psyche between liberty and death. In the old American religion we were supposed to be able to choose between one and the other. The basic premise, according to Patrick Henry, the state of New Hampshire, and countless Mel Gibson movies, was that the absence of liberty actually required death. The new American religion, however, insists that we choose life.

"Life" in America is not a simple matter of cell division, though. It is an issue. When we think about life, we think about abortion or the recent trials of Terry Schiavo. We think about the sanctity of life. Indeed, our president celebrated the first anniversary of his inauguration by establishing a holiday called National Sanctity of Human Life Day, which, were it not for his involvement in what has come to be called the "culture of life", might seem an odd move by a man who has launched two wars and vociferously supported the death penalty.

It is easy to understand "culture of life" to mean "culture in which abortion is outlawed", and in fact the phrase was invented by Pope John Paul II for a 1995 encyclical, Evangelium vitae, which addresses abortion in some depth. But the pope was at least as concerned with matters of power and control - and therefore of liberty - as he was with death, itself. Suicide, for example, was not to be rejected because of the anguish it caused the survivors or because it was a needless squandering of a precious gift. It was to be rejected because this act of defiance was often committed specifically in the name of freedom. To John Paul's way of thinking, that desire for freedom was the very essence of the sin. "In its deepest reality", the pope wrote, "suicide represents a rejection of God's absolute sovereignty over life and death".

In this light, Winkenwerder's notion of protecting "life" begins to make sense. Consider the major national security initiatives of the last few decades, and especially the last few years: the doctrines of "overwhelming force" and "shock and awe", in which massive technological superiority diminishes the chance of actual battlefield injury or death (on the part of our own forces); "missile defense", which theoretically, if not actually, renders impotent all nuclear weapons but our own; unmanned Predator drones, whose focused air strikes put no American life in jeopardy; motion-detecting fortifications along our southern border to ward off threats both economic and martial; surveillance of our every utterance by computers carefully programmed to detect the words most preferred by our enemies; and, of course, force-feeding, in which we preempt even the prick to our conscience that is the essence of a principled suicide. Consider that the man in charge of medical ethics for the most powerful killing machine in history spent most, of his professional career in the insurance trade, a business based on the premise that if we just spend enough money, we can reduce the level of risk in our lives to zero.

We, as a nation, seem to be seeking a technological circumstance that allows the United States not just to dominate but to dominate so absolutely and effortlessly that we need not even think about our enemies, much less fear them - something that allows us to turn off our minds and enjoy the synthetic beauty of the game. The phrase the Pentagon uses is "Full-spectrum Dominance". I call it god mode.

You have to understand", Winkenwerder said. "Our policy is not to prevent people from hunger striking. Our policy is to sustain life, is to prevent people from dying as a result of hunger striking."

The doctor was becoming increasingly exasperated. It seemed to me that allowing people to hunger strike and preventing them from dying as a result were mutually contradictory aims. After all, ifa hunger strike is the final attempt by the powerless to assert their autonomy - "a person's last, ultimate means of protesting" - then force-feeding is the ultimate rejection of that autonomy. In that it reduces its subject to a state of total submission, powerless even within the bounds of his or her own flesh, force-feeding is no less violent an act than is rape.

But Winkenwerder was sincere in his defense, if somewhat inconsistent, and the longer I spoke to him the more I came to realize that it was this very inconsistency that allowed him to be sincere. He spoke repeatedly of the complexity of the debate - "There are many issues in the world of medicine, in the world of health care", he said, "about which good people with good intentions can have differing opinions" - and he seemed genuinely to believe that it was important to justify his policies in terms of ethics rather than in terms of discipline or punishment.

"You know", he said, "there are other parallels in medical practice. I can certainly recall earlier in my career attending to young women who were anorexics, who literally wouldn't eat. And I think if we had stood by and respected their autonomy they would have died."

I was taken aback by the comparison. I asked if he meant to compare his prisoners to anorexic girls. He said, "No, no, no. I'm not. And don't say that, because I didn't do that. I'm just giving you an example of the fact that there are other situations in which people take actions that place their life or their health in serious jeopardy and medical professionals take actions to prevent them from harming themselves." I tried to draw a distinction between mental pathology and political speech. I mentioned the case of Bobby Sands, the Irish Republican Army member who died after a sixty-six-day hunger strike in 1981. "Well, I don't know what was going on with Bobby Sands", Winkenwerder said. "I haven't studied that case".

Winkenwerder never did make clear to me what was so complex about the decision to force a man to eat. Maybe he couldn't. Or maybe he conceived of that complexity as a final form of defense, an imaginary "safe place" of the sort that psychiatrists advise their patients to escape to in times of crisis. A few weeks after I spoke to him, though, an anonymous official did explain to the Toronto Star that the death of a Guantanamo prisoner would be disastrous for the administration. "The worst case would be to have someone go from zero to hero", the official said. "We don't want a Bobby Sands".

At Guantanamo, the preemptive force-feeding continues, but, like shock and awe and missile defense and every other doomed attempt to remove fear and ambiguity from our fallen world, it has failed to achieve its end. In June, as we all know, three prisoners in that facility, all of whom had failed in their attempt to starve, managed instead to hang themselves with their own bed sheets. The test of god mode in America today is whether that fact, which men like Winkenwerder no doubt will call "complex", is simple enough to prick your conscience.

Luke Mitchell is a Senior Editor of Harper's Magazine.

Bill Totten

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Anti-Empire Report

Some things you need to know before the world ends

by William Blum (August 18 2006)

Saved again, thank the Lord, saved again

"Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear - kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor - with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real." - General Douglas MacArthur, 1957 {1}

So now we've (choke) just been (gasp) saved from the simultaneous blowing up of ten airplanes headed toward the United States from the UK. Wow, thank you Brits, thank you Homeland Security. Well done, lads. And thanks for preventing the destruction of the Sears Tower in Chicago, saving lower Manhattan from a terrorist-unleashed flood, smashing the frightful Canadian "terror plot" with seventeen arrested, ditto the three Toledo terrorists, and squashing the Los Angeles al Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked airliner into a skyscraper.

The Los Angeles plot of 2002 was proudly announced by George W early this year. It has since been totally discredited. Declared one senior counterterrorism official: "There was no definitive plot. It never materialized or got past the thought stage." {2}

And the scare about ricin in the UK, which our own Mr Cheney used as part of the buildup for the invasion of Iraq, telling an audience on January 10 2003: "The gravity of the threat we face was underscored in recent days when British police arrested ... suspected terrorists in London and discovered a small quantity of ricin, one of the world's deadliest poisons".

It turned out there was not only no plot, there was no ricin. The Brits discovered almost immediately that the substance wasn't ricin but kept that secret for more than two years. {3}

From what is typical in terrorist scares, it is likely that the individuals arrested in the UK August 10 are guilty of what George Orwell, in 1984, called "thoughtcrimes". That is to say, they haven't actually DONE anything. At most, they've THOUGHT about doing something the government would label "terrorism". Perhaps not even very serious thoughts, perhaps just venting their anger at the exceptionally violent role played by the UK and the US in the Mideast and thinking out loud how nice it would be to throw some of that violence back in the face of Blair and Bush. And then, the fatal moment for them that ruins their lives forever ... their angry words are heard by the wrong person, who reports them to the authorities. (In the Manhattan flood case the formidable, dangerous "terrorists" made mention on an Internet chat room about blowing something up.) {4}

Soon a government agent provocateur appears, infiltrates the group, and then actually encourages the individuals to think and talk further about terrorist acts, to develop real plans instead of youthful fantasizing, and even provides the individuals with some of the actual means for carrying out these terrorist acts, like explosive material and technical know-how, money and transportation, whatever is needed to advance the plot. It's known as "entrapment", and it's supposed to be illegal, it's supposed to be a powerful defense for the accused, but the authorities get away with it all the time; and the accused get put away for very long stretches. And because of the role played by the agent provocateur, we may never know whether any of the accused, on their own, would have gone much further, if at all, like actually making a bomb, or, in the present case, even making transatlantic flight reservations since many of the accused reportedly did not even have passports. Government infiltrating and monitoring is one thing; encouragement, pushing the plot forward, and scaring the public to make political capital from it is quite something else.

Prosecutors have said that the seven men in Miami charged with conspiring to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago and FBI buildings in other cities had sworn allegiance to al-Qaeda. This came after meeting with a confidential government informant who was posing as a representative of the terrorist group. Did they swear or hold such allegiance, one must wonder, before meeting with the informant? "In essence", reported The Independent of London, "the entire case rests upon conversations between Narseal Batiste, the apparent ringleader of the group, with the informant, who was posing as a member of al-Qaeda but in fact belonged to the [FBI] South Florida Terrorist Task Force". Batiste told the informant that "he was organizing a mission to build an 'Islamic army' in order to wage jihad". He provided a list of things he needed: boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios, vehicles, binoculars, bullet proof vests, firearms, and $50,000 in cash. Oddly enough, one thing that was not asked for was any kind of explosives material. After sweeps of various locations in Miami, government agents found no explosives or weapons. "This group was more aspirational than operational", said the FBI's deputy director, while one FBI agent described them as "social misfits". And, added the New York Times, investigators openly acknowledged that the suspects "had only the most preliminary discussions about an attack". Yet Cheney later hailed the arrests at a political fundraiser, calling the group a "very real threat". {5}

Perhaps as great a threat as the suspects in the plot to unleash a catastrophic flood in lower Manhattan by destroying a huge underground wall that holds back the Hudson River. That was the story first released by the authorities; after a while it was replaced by the claim that the suspects were actually plotting something aimed at the subway tunnels that run under the river. {6}

Which is more reliable, one must wonder, information on Internet chat rooms or WMD tips provided by CIA Iraqi informers? Or information obtained, as in the current case in the UK, from Pakistani interrogators of the suspects, none of the interrogators being known to be ardent supporters of Amnesty International.

And the three men arrested in Toledo, Ohio in February were accused of - are you ready? - plotting to recruit and train terrorists to attack US and allied troops overseas. For saving us from this horror we have a paid FBI witness to thank. He had been an informer with the FBI for four years, and most likely was paid for each new lead he brought in. {7}

There must be millions of people in the United States and elsewhere who have thoughts about "terrorist acts". I might well be one of them when I read about a gathering of Bush, Cheney, and assorted neocons that's going to take place. Given the daily horror of Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Palestine in recent times, little of which would occur if not for the government of the United States of America and its allies, the numbers of people having such thoughts must be rapidly multiplying. If I had been at an American or British airport as the latest scare story unfolded, waiting in an interminable line, having my flight canceled, or being told I can't have any carry-on luggage, I may have found it irresistible at some point to declare loudly to my fellow suffering passengers: "Y'know, folks, this security crap is only gonna get worse and worse as long as the United States and Britain continue to invade, bomb, overthrow, occupy, and torture the world!"

How long before I was pulled out of line and thrown into some kind of custody?

If MacArthur were alive today would he dare to publicly express the thoughts of his cited above?

Policy makers and security experts, reports the Associated Press, say that "Law enforcers are now willing to act swiftly against al-Qaeda sympathizers, even if it means grabbing wannabe terrorists whose plots may be only pipe dreams". {8}

Commonly, the "terrorists" are watched for many months, then the police pounce on them at a politically opportune time. The reasons in the current case may stem from some aspect of the Blair and Bush administrations being under attack from all sides, including the defeat of super war-supporter Senator Joseph Lieberman (just 36 hours before the British announcement), and the upcoming November elections, when the Republicans will be running on the War on Terrorism issue. "Weeks before September 11th, this is going to play big", said a White House official, adding that "some Democratic candidates won't 'look as appealing' under the circumstances". {9}

Referring to the alleged UK terrorism plot, the New York Times reported that: "The White House and the Republican Party had pounced on that news, along with the defeat of Senator Joseph I Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary by an antiwar candidate, Ned Lamont, to paint the Democrats as weak on national security. Mr Cheney had gone so far as to imply that the defeat of Mr Lieberman, a strong backer of the war, would embolden 'Al Qaeda types'." {10}

Vote Republican or the terrorists win!

The announcement of this particular terrorist threat may also be explained by this news item:

"Much of the televised discussion yesterday concerned the investigative tools available in Britain that US officials credit with allowing authorities to get ahead of the plot before it proved catastrophic. [Homeland Security Secretary Michael] Chertoff said the ability to monitor monetary transactions and communications and to arrest suspects for a period of 28 days on an emergency basis made a significant difference in the case." {11}

We should be hearing further from the administration about these things.

The American Empire for Dummies
(an excerpt from an unwritten book)

1. The United States is determined to dominate the world, not to mention outer space. This is not a left-wing cliche, the empire's leading lights trumpet Washington's desire, means, and intention for domination, while assuring the world of the noble purposes behind this crusade. Since the demise of the Soviet Union, these declarations have been regularly put forth in policy papers emanating from the White House, the Pentagon, and think tanks closely associated with the national security establishment. They make it perfectly clear that any potential rival to the world's only superpower must be, and will be, seriously challenged. Here is the first of these warnings, from 1992: "We must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role". {12}

2. World domination includes dominating the Middle East; one might say particularly the Middle East. (See chapter 3, "Oil", and chapter 6, "Israel". Please note that there is no chapter on "Democracy and Freedom".)

3. In recent times only Iraq, Syria and Iran have stood in the way of US Middle East domination ("remaking the Middle East" is the usual euphemism). Iraq is now a basket case.

The basketizing of Syria awaits only a quasi-plausible excuse, which it was hoped Israel would provide by provoking a hostile Syrian reaction in the recent Israeli-Lebanon war.

The US-Israeli assault on Lebanon was aimed at basketizing Hezbollah so that it couldn't come to the aid of Iran by attacking Israel during the basketizing of Iran; the latter may begin with sanctions, approved by a pliant Security Council. This was one of the key ways the basketizing of Iraq began. Do not believe the canard that France is hostile to US foreign policy. Time and again, both in and out of the Security Council, France has raised a little objection to this point or that point of Washington's policy because it needs to pretend and feel that it's still a great power and has a significant role to play in world affairs, but in the end it smooths the way for the empire.

And Germany against the US war in Iraq? Hardly. Germany has helped the American war effort in half a dozen important ways, including on the ground in Iraq, even while German politicians ran on an anti-Iraq War platform.

Carlos Romulo, former president of the UN General Assembly: "If there is a problem between a weak nation and another weak nation and the UN takes action, the problem disappears. If there is a problem between a strong nation and a weak nation and the UN takes action, the weak nation disappears. If there is a problem between a strong nation and a strong nation and the UN takes action, the UN disappears."

4. World domination also includes Central Asia and its massive oil and gas reserves. Afghanistan with its pipelines and US military bases is vital to this undertaking. Through one war or another in recent years, the United States has managed to establish military bases and facilities throughout the region, including in Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia, vital to protecting the pipelines to the eastern Mediterranean; one of the pipelines will extend to Israel, which, along with Turkey, is expected to play a role in the protection of the area.

The Cuban punching bag ad infinitum

I could scarcely contain my surprise. A National Public Radio (NPR) newscaster was speaking, August 1, with an NPR correspondent who had just left a White House press conference and was reporting that the president, in response to a question, had stated that the United States had nothing whatsoever to do with Israeli policies in Lebanon and Gaza. The newscaster, Alex Chadwick, then asked the reporter: "How do you know what to believe from the White House?"

Was this a sign of the long-awaited breath of skepticism blowing in the mainstream media? No, it wasn't. I made the story up. What really happened was that the correspondent reported that the Cuban government had announced that Fidel Castro was going to have an operation and that his brother, Raul Castro, would be replacing him temporarily. Chadwick then asked: "How do you know what to believe in Cuba?" {13}

This also really happened: Jay Leno on his August 7 program: "There's news of a major medical crisis from Cuba concerning Fidel Castro. It looks like he's getting better."

Think of a US president battling a serious ailment and a broadcaster on Cuban TV making such a remark.

Can anyone find a message hidden here?

The following quotations all come from the same article in the Washington Post of August 4 by Ann Scott Tyson concerning the Iraqi town of Hit:

"Residents are quick to argue that the American presence incites those attacks, and they blame the US military rather than insurgents for turning their town into a combat zone. The Americans should pull out, they say, and let them solve their own problems."

"We want the same thing. I want to go home to my wife", said an American soldier.

"Another US officer put it more bluntly: 'Nobody wants us here, so why are we here? That's the big question.'"

"If we leave, all the attacks would stop, because we'd be gone".

"The problem is with the Americans. They only bring problems", said watermelon vendor Sefuab
Ganiydum, 35. "Closing the bridge, the curfew, the hospital. It's better for US forces to leave the city."

"What did we do to have all this suffering?" asked Ramsey Abdullah Hindi, sixty, sitting outside a tea shop. Ignoring US troops within earshot, he said Iraqis were justified to attack them. "They have a right to fight against the Americans because of their religion and the bad treatment. We will stand until the last", he said somberly.

"City officials, too, are adamant that US troops leave Hit".

"I'm the guy doing the good stuff and I get shot at all the time! Nobody is pro-American in this city. They either tolerate us or all-out hate us", said a US Marine major.

"If we do leave, the city will be a lot better and they'll build it a lot better".

This just in: Dubya has just read this article and says the hidden message is that the United States is bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq.


1. Vorin Whan, editor, A Soldier Speaks: Public Papers and Speeches of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur (1965)

2. The Daily News (New York), February 10 2006

3. Washington Post, April 14 2005; United Press International, April 18 2005

4. Time, July 7 2006, article by Joshua Marshall; Associated Press, July 14 2006

5. Sears case: Knight Ridder Newspapers, June 23 2006; The Independent (London), June 25 2006; St Petersburg Times (Florida), June 24 2006; New York Times, August 13 2006

6. Associated Press, July 14 2006

7. Associated Press, April 18 2006

8. Associated Press, July 8 2006

9. Agence France Presse, August 11 2006

10. New York Times, August 17 2006, page 23

11. Washington Post, August 14 2006, page 9

12. "Defense Planning Guidance for the Fiscal Years 1994-1999", as quoted in New York Times,
March 8 1992, page 14, emphasis added

13. NPR, Day to Day, August 1 2006, 12:08 pm

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William Blum is the author of:-

Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2
(Common Courage Press, 1995)

Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower (Zed Books, 2002)

West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir (Soft Skull Press, 2002)

Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire
(Common Courage Press, 2004)

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