Saturday, January 07, 2006

Venezuela to Expand Fuel Discounts to US

Venezuela to Expand Fuel Discounts to US
The Associated Press

Friday 06 January 206

Caracas, Venezuela - Venezuela said Friday it will expand a program to provide discounted home heating oil to low-income Americans, bringing savings to some Indian tribes in Maine.

Venezuelan-owned Citgo Petroleum Corp. has already begun selling cheaper fuel in some areas of Massachusetts and New York City as part of a plan by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to aid poor communities that he claims are neglected by Washington.

Chavez's opponents accuse him of using Venezuela's oil wealth to win friends while trying to one-up President Bush, a frequent focus of his verbal attacks. But Chavez's supporters defend the heating oil program as another example of a generous deed by a president leading a socialist revolution for the poor.

Bernardo Alvarez, Venezuela's ambassador to the US, said he will sign an agreement next week with the Penobscot, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians to provide the cheaper heating oil.

"The Penobscot Nation is very grateful," tribal chief James Sappier said by phone from the reservation near Bangor, Maine. "This is probably one of the greatest decisions for our tribe in years."

Many in the tribe of 2,261 people are facing tough times economically as jobs have moved out of the area, and the discounted fuel could save a family $1,000 or more this winter, he said.

Sappier said heating oil prices have been hovering around $2.40 a gallon in the area recently, and Venezuela estimates participants in will save at least 60 cents a gallon.

Alvarez said Venezuela also will extend the deal next week to some parts of Vermont and Rhode Island.

Alvarez was accompanied by a group of American activists on a tour of a state-funded cooperative in Caracas where the poor receive free health care and hundreds work in textile and shoemaking shops.

The visitors included singer Harry Belafonte, actor Danny Glover, Princeton University scholar Cornel West and farm worker advocate Dolores Huerta.

"It was impressive for everyone to see that progress is being made," said Tavis Smiley, who joined the group and hosts a talk show on PBS television.

Homeland Security opening private mail

Homeland Security opening private mail
Retired professor confused, angered when letter from abroad is opened
By Brock N. Meeks
Chief Washington correspondent
Updated: 5:55 p.m. ET Jan. 6, 2006

WASHINGTON - In the 50 years that Grant Goodman has known and corresponded with a colleague in the Philippines he never had any reason to suspect that their friendship was anything but spectacularly ordinary.

But now he believes that the relationship has somehow sparked the interest of the Department of Homeland Security and led the agency to place him under surveillance.

Last month Goodman, an 81-year-old retired University of Kansas history professor, received a letter from his friend in the Philippines that had been opened and resealed with a strip of dark green tape bearing the words “by Border Protection” and carrying the official Homeland Security seal.

“I had no idea (Homeland Security) would open personal letters,” Goodman told in a phone interview. “That’s why I alerted the media. I thought it should be known publicly that this is going on,” he said. Goodman originally showed the letter to his own local newspaper, the Kansas-based Lawrence Journal-World.

“I was shocked and there was a certain degree of disbelief in the beginning,” Goodman said when he noticed the letter had been tampered with, adding that he felt his privacy had been invaded. “I think I must be under some kind of surveillance.”

Goodman is no stranger to mail snooping; as an officer during World War II he was responsible for reading all outgoing mail of the men in his command and censoring any passages that might provide clues as to his unit’s position. “But we didn’t do it as clumsily as they’ve done it, I can tell you that,” Goodman noted, with no small amount of irony in his voice. “Isn’t it funny that this doesn’t appear to be any kind of surreptitious effort here,” he said.

The letter comes from a retired Filipino history professor; Goodman declined to identify her. And although the Philippines is on the U.S. government’s radar screen as a potential spawning ground for Muslim-related terrorism, Goodman said his friend is a devout Catholic and not given to supporting such causes.

A spokesman for the Customs and Border Protection division said he couldn’t speak directly to Goodman’s case but acknowledged that the agency can, will and does open mail coming to U.S. citizens that originates from a foreign country whenever it’s deemed necessary.

“All mail originating outside the United States Customs territory that is to be delivered inside the U.S. Customs territory is subject to Customs examination,” says the CBP Web site. That includes personal correspondence. “All mail means ‘all mail,’” said John Mohan, a CBP spokesman, emphasizing the point.

“This process isn’t something we’re trying to hide,” Mohan said, noting the wording on the agency’s Web site. “We’ve had this authority since before the Department of Homeland Security was created,” Mohan said.

However, Mohan declined to outline what criteria are used to determine when a piece of personal correspondence should be opened, but said, “obviously it’s a security-related criteria.”

Mohan also declined to say how often or in what volume CBP might be opening mail. “All I can really say is that Customs and Border Protection does undertake [opening mail] when it is determined to be necessary,” he said.
© 2006 MSNBC Interactive

© 2006


Olmert meets Perez to discuss continuing Sharon's polocies-
Last update - 13:25 07/01/2006
Olmert meets Peres to discuss continuing Sharon's policies
By Mazal Mualem, Haaretz Correspondent, and Haaretz Service

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with MK Shimon Peres on Friday morning to discuss the future of the Kadima party and the continuing of policies that Kadima's founder, Ariel Sharon, began.

Haaretz Writers: Perspectives on Sharon

The policies include "an unrelenting war on terror, as well as an unending effort in the direction of the peace process," he said. Peres said everyone sees Sharon as a key figure, not just because of what he has done, but because of the hope that he would have been able to continue along the same path.

Olmert wanted to assure Peres that he is a valued member of Kadima, even in a post-Sharon era. Olmert's move comes as an effort to block any attempt by Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz to return Peres to Labor.

Olmert, who in his capacity as acting premier has the authority to appoint ministers, was also expected to offer Peres a ministry to ensure he remains in Kadima. One possibility on the cards is naming Peres deputy prime minister, with responsibility for developing the Negev and the Galilee.

The meeting was interrupted by reports that Sharon was being rushed to the operating room for emergency surgery. Peres said he and Olmert had agreed to meet again next week, and said he saw similarities between himself and the acting prime minister.

"I got the impression that neither Ehud nor I have given up on the hope, the vision and the possibilities - without getting stuck in delusions," said Peres.

Olmert's associates said before the meeting that he viewed Friday's meeting with Peres as critical, as he understands that should Peres return to Labor, other Kadima members might follow suit and return to their former parties. "Olmert already spoke with Peres by telephone yesterday and stressed the importance of cooperation between them," one said Thursday.

Former Likud members in Kadima said that they had also been contacted by senior Likud officials urging them to return to Likud. But one of them, Tzachi Hanegbi, insisted that such urgings were pointless. "There is no way back - certainly not at this time," Hanegbi said.

All of Kadima's senior members lined up solidly behind Olmert on Thursday, and he in turn worked hard to ensure their continuing loyalty. He held a personal meeting with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, with whom his relations have been strained recently due to their competition over Kadima's number two slot, and Livni promised to help him stabilize both the party and the government. She also promised not to challenge him for the position of Kadima's prime ministerial candidate should Sharon not return.

Olmert also met Thursday with Kadima ministers Abraham Hirchson, Meir Sheetrit and Shaul Mofaz, all of whom pledged their support to him, saying they understood that a leadership battle would be disastrous for the party. Former Labor MKs Haim Ramon and Dalia Itzik echoed this message. "Olmert is doing his job faithfully, and we must not place obstacles in his path," Itzik said.

Sheetrit, who aroused his party's ire Thursday morning when he suggested that the faction meet within 48 hours to choose a new leader, later backtracked and joined the chorus of support for Olmert.

Sharon's advisors also promised Olmert their backing.

But despite this unified front, many questions remain about how Kadima will choose its Knesset slate and conduct its affairs. The party's by-laws authorize Sharon, and Sharon only, to make all party decisions, including drawing up Kadima's Knesset slate - something he had yet to do prior to his stroke. Moreover, the by-laws do not specify any party institution that is authorized to choose a replacement for Sharon.

However, they do define a party council, comprised of all party founders who are MKs or ministers, as its highest institution. This presumably means the 14 former Likud MKs who originally established Kadima, and they will presumably choose Sharon's successor. That person will then assume all of Sharon's powers, including the right to choose the party's Knesset slate.

The Quiet Death of Freedom

The Quiet Death of Freedom
By John Pilger
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Thursday 05 January 2006

On Christmas Eve, I dropped in on Brian Haw, whose hunched, pacing figure was just visible through the freezing fog. For four and a half years, Brian has camped in Parliament Square with a graphic display of photographs that show the terror and suffering imposed on Iraqi children by British policies.The effectiveness of his action was demonstrated last April when the Blair government banned any _expression of opposition within a kilometre of Parliament. The High Court subsequently ruled that, because his presence preceded the ban, Brian was an exception.

Day after day, night after night, season upon season, he remains a beacon, illuminating the great crime of Iraq and the cowardice of the House of Commons. As we talked, two women brought him a Christmas meal and mulled wine. They thanked him, shook his hand and hurried on. He had never seen them before. "That's typical of the public," he said. A man in a pin-striped suit and tie emerged from the fog, carrying a small wreath. "I intend to place this at the Cenotaph and read out the names of the dead in Iraq," he said to Brian, who cautioned him: "You'll spend the night in cells, mate." We watched him stride off and lay his wreath. His head bowed, he appeared to be whispering. Thirty years ago, I watched dissidents do something similar outside the walls of the Kremlin.

As night had covered him, he was lucky. On 7 December, Maya Evans, a vegan chef aged 25, was convicted of breaching the new Serious Organised Crime and Police Act by reading aloud at the Cenotaph the names of 97 British soldiers killed in Iraq. So serious was her crime that it required 14 policemen in two vans to arrest her. She was fined and given a criminal record for the rest of her life.

Freedom is dying.

Eighty-year-old John Catt served with the RAF in the Second World War. Last September, he was stopped by police in Brighton for wearing an "offensive" T-shirt, which suggested that Bush and Blair be tried for war crimes. He was arrested under the Terrorism Act and handcuffed, with his arms held behind his back. The official record of the arrest says the "purpose" of searching him was "terrorism" and the "grounds for intervention" were "carrying placard and T-shirt with anti-Blair info" [sic].

He is awaiting trial.

Such cases compare with others that remain secret and beyond any form of justice: those of the foreign nationals held at Belmarsh prison, who have never been charged, let alone put on trial. They are held "on suspicion." Some of the "evidence" against them, whatever it is, the Blair government has now admitted, could have been extracted under torture at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. They are political prisoners in all but name. They face the prospect of being spirited out of the country into the arms of a regime which may torture them to death. Their isolated families, including children, are quietly going mad.

And for what? From 11 September 2001 to 30 September 2005, a total of 895 people were arrested in Britain under the Terrorism Act. Only 23 have been convicted of offences covered by the Act. As for real terrorists, the identity of two of the 7 July bombers, including the suspected mastermind, was known to MI5 and nothing was done. And Blair wants to give them more power. Having helped to devastate Iraq, he is now killing freedom in his own country.

Consider parallel events in the United States. Last October, an American surgeon, loved by his patients, was punished with 22 years in prison for founding a charity, Help the Needy, which helped children in Iraq stricken by an economic and humanitarian blockade imposed by America and Britain. In raising money for infants dying from diarrhoea, Dr. Rafil Dhafir broke a siege which, according to Unicef, had caused the deaths of half a million under the age of five. The then-Attorney General of the United States, John Ashcroft, called Dr. Dhafir, a Muslim, a "terrorist," a description mocked by even the judge in his politically-motivated travesty of a trial.

The Dhafir case is not extraordinary. In the same month, three US Circuit Court judges ruled in favour of the Bush regime's "right" to imprison an American citizen "indefinitely" without charging him with a crime. This was the case of Joseph Padilla, a petty criminal who allegedly visited Pakistan before he was arrested at Chicago airport three and a half years ago. He was never charged, and no evidence has ever been presented against him. Now mired in legal complexity, the case puts George W. Bush above the law and outlaws the Bill of Rights. Indeed, on 14 November, the US Senate effectively voted to ban habeas corpus by passing an amendment that overturned a Supreme Court ruling allowing Guantánamo prisoners access to a federal court. Thus, the touchstone of America's most celebrated freedom was scrapped. Without habeas corpus, a government can simply lock away its opponents and implement a dictatorship.

A related, insidious tyranny is being imposed across the world. For all his troubles in Iraq, Bush has carried out the recommendations of a Messianic conspiracy theory called the "Project for a New American Century." Written by his ideological sponsors shortly before he came to power, it foresaw his administration as a military dictatorship behind a democratic façade: "the cavalry on a new American frontier," guided by a blend of paranoia and megalomania. More than 700 American bases are now placed strategically in compliant countries, notably at the gateways to the sources of fossil fuels and encircling the Middle East and Central Asia. "Pre-emptive" aggression is policy, including the use of nuclear weapons. The chemical warfare industry has been reinvigorated. Missile treaties have been torn up. Space has been militarised. Global warming has been embraced. The powers of the president have never been greater. The judicial system has been subverted, along with civil liberties. The former senior CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who once prepared the White House daily briefing, told me that the authors of the PNAC and those now occupying positions of executive power used to be known in Washington as "the crazies." He said, "We should now be very worried about fascism."

In his epic acceptance of the Nobel Prize in Literature on 7 December, Harold Pinter spoke of "a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed." He asked why "the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought" of Stalinist Russia was well known in the west while American state crimes were merely "superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged."

A silence has reigned. Across the world, the extinction and suffering of countless human beings can be attributed to rampant American power, "but you wouldn't know it," said Pinter. "It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest."

To its credit, the Guardian in London published every word of Pinter's warning. To its shame, though unsurprising, the state television broadcaster ignored it. All that Newsnight flatulence about the arts, all that recycled preening for the cameras at Booker prize-giving events, yet the BBC could not make room for Britain's greatest living dramatist, so honoured, to tell the truth.

For the BBC, it simply never happened, just as the killing of half a million children by America's medieval siege of Iraq during the 1990s never happened, just as the Dhafir and Padilla trials and the Senate vote, banning freedom, never happened. The political prisoners of Belmarsh barely exist; and a big, brave posse of Metropolitan police never swept away Maya Evans as she publicly grieved for British soldiers killed in the cause of nothing except rotten power.

Bereft of irony, but with a snigger, the BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce introduced, as news, a Christmas propaganda film about Bush's dogs. That happened. Now imagine Bruce reading the following: "Here is delayed news, just in. From 1945 to 2005, the United States attempted to overthrow 50 governments, many of them democracies, and to crush 30 popular movements fighting tyrannical regimes. In the process, 25 countries were bombed, causing the loss of several million lives and the despair of millions more." (Thanks to William Blum's Rogue State, Common Courage Press, 2005).

The icon of horror of Saddam Hussein's rule is a 1988 film of petrified bodies in the Kurdish town of Halabja, killed in a chemical weapons attack. The attack has been referred to a great deal by Bush and Blair and the film shown a great deal by the BBC. At the time, as I know from personal experience, the Foreign Office tried to cover up the crime at Halabja. The Americans tried to blame it on Iran. Today, in an age of images, there are no images of the chemical weapons attack on Fallujah in November 2004. This allowed the Americans to deny it until they were caught out recently by investigators using the internet. For the BBC, American atrocities simply do not happen.

In 1999, while filming in Washington and Iraq, I learned the true scale of bombing in what the Americans and British then called Iraq's "no fly zones." During the 18 months to 14 January 1999, US aircraft flew 24,000 combat missions over Iraq; almost every mission was bombing or strafing. "We're down to the last outhouse," a US official protested. "There are still some things left [to bomb], but not many." That was six years ago. In recent months, the air assault on Iraq has multiplied; the effect on the ground cannot be imagined. For the BBC it has not happened.

The black farce extends to those pseudo-humanitarians in the media and elsewhere who themselves have never seen the effects of cluster bombs and air-burst shells, yet continue to invoke the crimes of Saddam to justify the the nightmare in Iraq and to protect a quisling prime minister who has sold out his country and made the world more dangerous. Curiously, some of them insist on describing themselves as "liberals" and "left of centre," even "anti-fascists." They want some respectability, I suppose. This is understandable, given that the league table of carnage of Saddam Hussein was overtaken long ago by that of their hero in Downing Street, who will next support an attack on Iran.

This cannot change until we in the West look in the mirror and confront the true aims and narcissism of the power applied in our name, its extremes and terrorism. The traditional double-standard no longer works; there are now millions like Brian Haw, Maya Evans, John Catt and the man in the pin-striped suit, with his wreath. Looking in the mirror means understanding that a violent and undemocratic order is being imposed by those whose actions are little different from the actions of fascists. The difference used to be distance. Now they are bringing it home.

John Pilger's new book, Freedom Next Time, will be published in June by Bantam Press.


Chomsky: Beyond the Ballot§ion=opinion&col=

Beyond the ballot

6 January 2006

THE US President Bush called last month’s Iraqi elections a "major milestone in the march to democracy." They are indeed a milestone — just not the kind that Washington would welcome. Disregarding the standard declarations of benign intent on the part of leaders, let’s review the history. When Bush and Britain’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair, invaded Iraq, the pretext, insistently repeated, was a "single question": Will Iraq eliminate its weapons of mass destruction?

Within a few months this "single question" was answered the wrong way. Then, very quickly, the real reason for the invasion became Bush’s "messianic mission" to bring democracy to Iraq and the Middle East. Even apart from the timing, the democratisation bandwagon runs up against the fact that the United States has tried, in every possible way, to prevent elections in Iraq.

Last January’s elections came about because of mass nonviolent resistance, for which the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani became a symbol. (The violent insurgency is another creature altogether from this popular movement.) Few competent observers would disagree with the editors of the Financial Times, who wrote last March that "the reason (the elections) took place was the insistence of the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who vetoed three schemes by the US-led occupation authorities to shelve or dilute them."

Elections, if taken seriously, mean you pay some attention to the will of the population. The crucial question for an invading army is: "Do they want us to be here?"

There is no lack of information about the answer. One important source is a poll for the British Ministry of Defence this past August, carried out by Iraqi university researchers and leaked to the British Press. It found that 82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops and less than 1 per cent believe they are responsible for any improvement in security.

Analysts of the Brookings Institution in Washington report that in November, 80 per cent of Iraqis favoured "near-term US troop withdrawal." Other sources generally concur. So the coalition forces should withdraw, as the population wants them to, instead of trying desperately to set up a client regime with military forces that they can control. But Bush and Blair still refuse to set a timetable for withdrawal, limiting themselves to token withdrawals as their goals are achieved.

There’s a good reason why the United States cannot tolerate a sovereign, more or less democratic Iraq. The issue can scarcely be raised because it conflicts with firmly established doctrine: We’re supposed to believe that the United States would have invaded Iraq if it was an island in the Indian Ocean and its main export was pickles, not petroleum.

As is obvious to anyone not committed to the party line, taking control of Iraq will enormously strengthen US power over global energy resources, a crucial lever of world control. Suppose that Iraq were to become sovereign and democratic. Imagine the policies it would be likely to pursue. The Shia population in the South, where much of Iraq’s oil is, would have a predominant influence. They would prefer friendly relations with Shia Iran.

The relations are already close. The Badr brigade, the militia that mostly controls the south, was trained in Iran. The highly influential clerics also have long-standing relations with Iran, including Sistani, who grew up there. And the Shia-dominant interim government has already begun to establish economic and possibly military relations with Iran.

Furthermore, right across the border in Saudi Arabia is a substantial, bitter Shia population. Any move toward independence in Iraq is likely to increase efforts to gain a degree of autonomy and justice there, too. This also happens to be the region where most of Saudi Arabia’s oil is. The outcome could be a loose Shia alliance comprising Iraq, Iran and the major oil regions of Saudi Arabia, independent of Washington and controlling large portions of the world’s oil reserves. It’s not unlikely that an independent bloc of this kind might follow Iran’s lead in developing major energy projects jointly with China and India.

Iran may give up on Western Europe, assuming that it will be unwilling to act independently of the United States. China, however, can’t be intimidated. That’s why the United States is so frightened by China.

China is already establishing relations with Iran — and even with Saudi Arabia, both military and economic. There is an Asian energy security grid, based on China and Russia, but probably bringing in India, Korea and others. If Iran moves in that direction, it can become the lynchpin of that power grid.

Such developments, including a sovereign Iraq and possibly even major Saudi energy resources, would be the ultimate nightmare for Washington. Also, a labour movement is forming in Iraq, a very important one. Washington insists on keeping Saddam Hussein’s bitter anti-labour laws, but the labour movement continues its organising work despite them.

Their activists are being killed. Nobody knows by whom, maybe by insurgents, maybe by former Baathists, maybe by somebody else. But they’re persisting. They constitute one of the major democratising forces that have deep roots in Iraqi history, and that might revitalise, also much to the horror of the occupying forces. One critical question is how Westerners will react. Will we be on the side of the occupying forces trying to prevent democracy and sovereignty? Or will we be on the side of the Iraqi people?
Noam Chomsky, eminent intellectual and the author, most recently, of Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World, is a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass

Friday, January 06, 2006

News-planting firm has millions in contracts

News-planting firm has millions in contracts

By Gordon Lubold and William Matthews
Times staff writers

Just two years ago, the Lincoln Group was a small start-up communications firm with an idealistic vision and a handful of employees, many of them former service members.

Today, the company boasts 300 employees worldwide, is drawing $100-million contracts from the military and is at the center of a Washington mini-scandal as the firm that planted pro-American news articles in Iraqi newspapers on behalf of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Even though the placed stories were apparently factually correct, critics worried the contract amounted to a U.S. propaganda campaign that ran roughshod over the fledgling independence of Iraqi media.

Representatives from Lincoln Group, based in Washington, say they were only performing the duties as laid out in the contract and did nothing wrong. Defense officials, who seemed surprised by revelations of the existence of the contract, are investigating.

But Lincoln Group has its eye on bigger fish. The growing firm has a visionary streak that seeks to “spread peace through commerce” by building information and intelligence networks in emerging Third World countries as it expands its own market share, according to company representatives who spoke with Times reporters and editors Dec. 20.

Officials declined to talk in much detail about the nature of their work or with whom they are contracted. But Paige Craig, a 31-year-old former enlisted Marine who co-founded the company, said it is active in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates and is hoping to make inroads in Africa and Asia.

He said the firm’s goal is to promote commerce in hostile environments by “bridging the cultural divide” between those nations and Western governments and businesses.

Lincoln employs an eclectic mix of former military personnel — a former Special Forces medical sergeant works alongside a former New York University professor — as well as public relations specialists, television producers, business development consultants and research analysts. The company, whose founders pride themselves on being on the ground and in the field, have lost some 18 Iraqi employees since arriving on the international scene two years ago, Craig said.

The company’s vision is rooted in the notion that commerce can flourish if people and institutions have the right tools. In countries like Iraq, there is a hunger for information and entertainment content, said Craig, a bearded West Point dropout who joined the Corps to seek broader international experience.

In Pakistan, for example, Lincoln Group is looking at selling syndication rights to an American teen television program. If successful, young children in Pakistan — a key ally in the war on terrorism — would hear news and entertainment with an American bent.

The company earlier contracted with the Marine Corps to distribute plastic water bottles imprinted with a friendly message to thousands of Iraqis.

“A lot of the issues we face are due to ignorance and misperception,” said Craig, who left the Corps in 2000. “One belief we have … is that as the Middle East stabilizes and as the economy diversifies, you’ll see a huge demand for content.”

Lincoln is trying to help build that demand — and then meet it. Company officials consult with psychologists, psychiatrists, historians and other experts to determine the best ways to make favorable impressions on local populations.

For example, Craig said a U.S.-built school in Afghanistan was burned down because U.S. forces had excluded a local tribal leader from the process. Had U.S. personnel been aware of local customs and politics and brought the local chief into the project, the school might not have been destroyed, company officials said.

The private sector definitely has a role to play in efforts to gather and dispense information, said Eric Larson, a senior policy analyst at the Rand Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif. And private marketing and advertising firms tend to attract the kind of “creative types” who can think of ways to get an effective message through to native populations.

“The government and the military are limited,” both in manpower and other resources, to do this kind of thing, he said. “These are complementary skills that are out there in the private sector [and] could be helpful.”

Lincoln Group was one of three firms hired last summer by the Defense Department to work in Iraq to improve public opinion of the America and its military.

The arrangement became controversial last month when the Los Angeles Times and other news outlets reported that Lincoln received a contract worth up to $100 million to do work on behalf of Multi-National Forces Iraq, to include planting favorable stories produced by the U.S. military in Iraqi newspapers and on Iraqi radio.

The question of whether the military should have hired Lincoln to wage a public-relations offensive in Iraq has sparked a Pentagon inquiry and discussion of a congressional probe.

But Craig said the clamor over the contract has not hurt Lincoln Group’s business.

William Matthews is a writer for Defense News.

Fisk on Sharon

Ariel Sharon

Israel's Prime Minister was a ruthless military commander responsible for one of the most shocking war crimes of the 20th century, argues Robert Fisk. President George Bush acclaims Ariel Sharon as 'a man of peace', yet the blood that was shed at Sabra and Chatila remains a stain on the conscience of the Zionist nation. As Sharon lies stricken in his hospital bed, his political career over, how will history judge him?

By Robert Fisk

01/06/05 ""The Independent"" -- -- I shook hands with him once, a brisk, no-nonsense soldier's grip from Sharon as he finished a review of the vicious Phalangist militiamen who stood in the barracks square at Karantina in Beirut. Who would have thought, I asked myself then, that this same bunch of murderers - the men who butchered their way through the Palestinian Sabra and Chatila refugee camps only a few weeks earlier - had their origins in the Nazi Olympics of 1936. That's when old Pierre Gemayel - still alive and standing stiffly to attention for Sharon - watched the "order" of Nazi Germany and proposed to bring some of this "order" to Lebanon. That's what Gemayel told me himself. Did Sharon not understand this. Of course, he must have done.

Back on 18 September that same year, Loren Jenkins of The Washington Post and Karsten Tveit of Norwegian television and I had clambered over the piled corpses of Chatila - of raped and eviscerated women and their husbands and children and brothers - and Jenkins, knowing that the Isrealis had sat around the camps for two nights watching this filth, shrieked "Sharon!" in anger and rage. He was right. Sharon it was who sent the Phalange into the camps on the night of 16 September - to hunt for "terrorists", so he claimed at the time.

The subsequent Israeli Kahan commission of enquiry into this atrocity provided absolute proof that Israeli soldiers saw the massacre taking place. The evidence of a Lieutenant Avi Grabovsky was crucial. He was an Israeli deputy tank commander and reported what he saw to his higher command. "Don't interfere," the senior officer said. Ever afterwards, Israeli embassies around the world would claim that the commission held Sharon only indirectly responsible for the massacre. It was untrue. The last page of the official Israeli report held Sharon "personally responsible". It was years later that the Israeli-trained Phalangist commander, Elie Hobeika, now working for the Syrians, agreed to turn state's evidence against Sharon - now the Israeli Prime Minister - at a Brussels court. The day after the Israeli attorney general declared Sharon's defence a "state" matter, Hobeika was killed by a massive car bomb in east Beirut. Israel denied responsibility. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld traveled to Brussels and quietly threatened to withdraw Nato headquarters from Belgium if the country maintained its laws to punish war criminals from foreign nations. Within months, George W Bush had declared Sharon "a man of peace". It was all over.

In the end, Sharon got away with it, even when it was proved that he had, the night before the Phalangists attacked the civilians of the camp, publicly blamed the Palestinians for the murder of their leader, President-elect Bashir Gemayel. Sharon told these ruthless men that the Palestinians had killed their beloved "chief". Then he sent them in among the civilian sheep - and claimed later he could never have imagined what they would do in Chatila. Only years later was it proved that hundreds of Palestinians who survived the original massacre were interrogated by the Israelis and then handed back to the murderers to be slaughtered over the coming weeks.

So it is as a war criminal that Sharon will be known forever in the Arab world, through much of the Western world, in fact - save, of course, for the craven men in the White House and the State Department and the Blair Cabinet - as well as many leftist Israelis. Sabra and Chatila was a crime against humanity. Its dead counted more than half the fatalities of the World Trade Centre attacks of 2001. But the man who was responsible was a "man of peace". It was he who claimed that the preposterous Yasser Arafat was a Palestinian bin Laden. He it was who as Israeli foreign minister opposed Nato's war in Kosovo, inveighing against "Islamic terror" in Kosovo. "The moment that Israel expresses's likely to be the next victim. Imagine that one day Arabs in Galilee demand that the region in which they live be recognised as an autonomous area, connected to the Palestinian Authority..." Ah yes, Sharon as an ally of another war criminal, Slobodan Milosevic. There must be no Albanian state in Kosovo.

Ever since he was elected in 2001 - and especially since his withdrawal of settlements from the rubbish tip of Gaza last year, a step which would, according to his spokesman, turn any plans for a Palestinian state in the West Bank into "formaldehyde" - his supporters have tried to turn Sharon into a pragmatist, another Charles de Gaulle. His new party was supposed to be proof of this. But in reality, Sharon had more in common with the putchist generals of Algeria.

He voted against the peace treaty with Egypt in 1979. He voted against a withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 1985. He opposed Israel's participation in the Madrid peace conference in 1991. He opposed the Knesset plenum vote on the Oslo agreement in 1993. He abstained on a vote for peace with Jordan in 1994. He voted against the Hebron agreement in 1997. He condemned the manner of Israel's retreat from Lebanon in 2000. By 2002, he had built 34 new Jewish colonies on Palestinian land.

And he was a man of peace.

There was a story told to me by one of the men investigating Sharon's responsibility for the Sabra and Chatila massacre, and the story is that the then Israeli defence minister, before he sent his Phalangist allies into the camps, announced that it was Palestinian "terrorists" who had murdered their newly assassinated leader, President-elect Gemayel. Sharon was to say later that he never dreamed the Phalange would massacre the Palestinians.

But how could he say that if he claimed earlier that the Palestinians killed the leader of the Phalange? In reality, no Palestinians were involved in Gemayel's death. It might seem odd in this new war to be dwelling about that earlier atrocity. I am fascinated by the language. Murderers, terrorists. That's what Sharon said then, and it's what he says now. Did he really make that statement in 1982? I begin to work the phone from Jerusalem, calling up Associated Press bureaus that might still have their files from 19 years ago. He would have made that speech - if indeed he used those words - some time on 15 September 1982.

One Sunday afternoon, my phone rings in Jerusalem. It's from an Israeli I met in Jaffa Street after the Sbarro bombing. An American Jewish woman had been screaming abuse at me - foreign journalists are being insulted by both sides with ever more violent language - and this man suddenly intervenes to protect me. He's smiling and cheerful and we exchange phone numbers. Now on the phone, he says he's taking the El-Al night flight to New York with his wife. Would I like to drop by for tea?

He turns out to have a luxurious apartment next to the King David Hotel and I notice, when I read his name on the outside security buzzer, that he's a rabbi. He's angry because a neighbour has just let down a friend's car tyres in the underground parking lot and he's saying how he felt like smashing the windows of the neighbour's car. His wife, bringing me tea and feeding me cookies, says that her husband - again, he should remain anonymous - gets angry very quickly. There's a kind of gentleness about them both - how easy it is to spot couples who are still in love - that is appealing. But when the rabbi starts to talk about the Palestinians, his voice begins to echo through the apartment. He says several times that Sharon is a good friend of his, a fine man, who's been to visit him in his New York office.

What we should do is go into those vermin pits and take out the terrorists and murderers. Vermin pits, yes I said, vermin, animals. I tell you what we should do. If one stone is lobbed from a refugee camp, we should bring the bulldozers and tear down the first 20 houses close to the road. If there's another stone, another 20 ones. They'd soon learn not to throw stones. Look, I tell you this. Stones are lethal. If you throw a stone at me, I'll shoot you. I have the right to shoot you.

Now the rabbi is a generous man. He's been in Israel to donate a vastly important and, I have no doubt, vastly expensive medical centre to the country. He is well-read. And I liked the fact that - unlike too many Israelis and Palestinians who put on a "we-only-want-peace" routine to hide more savage thoughts - he at least spoke his mind. But this is getting out of hand.

Why should I throw a stone at the rabbi? He shouts again. "If you throw a stone at me, I will shoot you." But if you throw a stone at me, I say, I won't shoot you. Because I have the right not to shoot you. He frowns. "Then I'd say you're out of your mind."

I am driving home when it suddenly hits me. The Old and New Testaments have just collided. The rabbi's dad taught him about an eye for an eye - or 20 homes for a stone - whereas Bill Fisk taught me about turning the other cheek. Judaism is bumping against Christianity. So is it any surprise that Judaism and Islam are crashing into each other? For despite all the talk of Christians and Jews being "people of the Book", Muslims are beginning to express ever harsher views of Jews. The sickening Hamas references to Jews as "the sons of pigs and monkeys" are echoed by Israelis who talk of Palestinians as cockroaches or "vermin", who tell you - as the rabbi told me - that Islam is a warrior religion, a religion that does not value human life. And I recall several times a Jewish settler who told me back in 1993 - in Gaza, just before the Oslo accords were signed - that "we do not recognise their Koran as a valid document."

I call up Eva Stern in New York. Her talent for going through archives convinces me she can find out what Sharon said before the Sabra and Chatila massacre. I give her the date that is going through my head: 15 September 1982. She comes back on the line the same night. "Turn your fax on," Eva says. "You're going to want to read this." The paper starts to crinkle out of the machine. An AP report of 15 September 1982. "Defence Minister Ariel Sharon, in a statement, tied the killing [of the Phalangist leader Gemayel] to the PLO, saying: "It symbolises the terrorist murderousness of the PLO terrorist organisations and their supporters."

Then, a few hours later, Sharon sent the Phalange gunmen into the Palestinian camps. Reading that fax again and again, I feel a chill coming over me. There are Israelis today with as much rage towards the Palestinians as the Phalange 19 years ago. And these are the same words I am hearing today, from the same man, about the same people.

In September 2000, Ariel Sharon marched to the Muslim holy places - above the site of the Jewish Temple Mount - accompanied by about a thousand Israeli policemen. Within 24 hours, Israeli snipers opened fire with rifles on Palestinian protesters battling with police in the grounds of the seventh-century Dome of the Rock. At least four were killed and the head of the Israeli police, Yehuda Wilk, later confirmed that snipers had fired into the crowd when Palestinians "were felt to be endangering the lives of officers". Sixty-six Palestinians were wounded, most of them by rubber-coated steel bullets. The killings came almost exactly 10 years after armed Israeli police killed 19 Palestinian demonstrators and wounded another 140 in an incident at exactly the same spot, a slaughter that almost lost the United States its Arab support in the prelude to the 1991 Gulf War.

Sharon showed no remorse. "The state of Israel," he told CNN, "cannot afford that an Israeli citizen will not be able to visit part of his country, not to speak for the holiest for the Jewish people all around the world." He did not, however, explain why he should have chosen this moment - immediately after the collapse of the "peace process" - to undertake such a provocative act. Stone-throwing and shooting spread to the West Bank. Near Qalqiliya, a Palestinian policeman shot dead an Israeli soldier and wounded another - they were apparently part of a joint Israeli-Palestinian patrol originally set up under the terms of the Oslo agreement. "Everything was pre-planned," Sharon would claim five weeks later. "They took advantage of my visit to the Temple Mount. This was not the first time I've been there..."

Jerusalem is a city of illusions. Here Ariel Sharon promises his people "security" and brings them war. On the main road to Ma'ale Adumim, inside Israel's illegal "municipal boundaries", Israelis drive at over 100 mph. In the old city, Israeli troops and Palestinian civilians curse each other before the few astonished Christian tourists. Loving Jesus doesn't help to make sense of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Gideon Samet got it right in Ha'aretz. "Jerusalem looks like a Bosnia about to be born. Main thoroughfares inside the Green Line... have become mortally perilous... The capital's suburbs are exposed as Ramat Rachel was during the war of independence..." Samet is pushing it a bit. Life is more dangerous for Palestinians than for Israelis. Terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. "I suggest that we repeat to ourselves every day and throughout the day," Sharon tells us, "that there will be no negotiations with the Palestinians until there is a total cessation of terrorism, violence and incitement."

Gaza now is a miniature Beirut. Under Israeli siege, struck by F-16s and tank fire and gunboats, starved and often powerless - there are now six-hour electricity cuts every day in Gaza - it's as if Arafat and Sharon are replaying their bloody days in Lebanon. Sharon used to call Arafat a mass murderer back then. It's important not to become obsessed during wars. But Sharon's words were like an old, miserable film had seen before. Every morning in Jerusalem, I would pick up the Jerusalem Post. And there on the front page, as usual, will be another Sharon diatribe. PLO murderers. Palestinian Authority terror. Murderous terrorists.

Within hours of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States, Ariel Sharon turned Israel into America's ally in the "war on terror", immediately realigning Yasser Arafat as the Palestinian version of bin Laden and the Palestinian suicide bombers as blood brothers of the 19 Arabs - none of them Palestinian - who hijacked the four American airliners. In the new and vengeful spirit that President Bush encouraged among Americans, Israel's supporters in the United States now felt free to promote punishments for Israel's opponents that came close to the advocacy of war crimes. Nathan Lewin, a prominent Washington attorney and Jewish communal leader - and an often-mentioned candidate for a federal judgeship - called for the execution of family members of suicide bombers. "If executing some suicide bombers' families saves the lives of even an equal number of potential civilian victims, the exchange is, I believe, ethically permissible," he wrote in the journal Sh'ma.

When Sharon began his operation "Defensive Shield", the UN Security Council, with the active participation and support of the United States, demanded an immediate end to Israel's reoccupation of the West Bank. President George W Bush insisted that Sharon should follow the advice of "Israel's American friends" and - for Tony Blair was with Bush at the time - "Israel's British friends", and withdraw. "When I say withdraw, I mean it," Bush snapped three days later. But he meant nothing of the kind. Instead, he sent secretary of state Colin Powell off on an "urgent" mission of peace, a journey to Israel and the West Bank that would take an incredible eight days - just enough time, Bush presumably thought, to allow his "friend" Sharon to finish his latest bloody adventure in the West Bank. Supposedly unaware that Israel's chief of staff, Shoal Mofaz, had told Sharon that he needed at least eight weeks to "finish the job" of crushing the Palestinians, Powell wandered off around the Mediterranean, dawdling in Morocco, Spain, Egypt and Jordan before finally fetching up in Israel. If Washington firefighters took that long to reach a blaze, the American capital would long ago have turned to ashes. But of course, the purpose of Powell's idleness was to allow enough time for Jenin to be turned to ashes. Mission, I suppose, accomplished.

Sharon's ability to scorn the Americans was always humiliating for Washington. Before the massacres of 1982, Philip Habib was President Reagan's special representative, his envoy to Beirut increasingly horrified by the ferocity of Sharon's assault on the city. Not long before he died, I asked Habib why he didn't stop the bloodshed. "I could see it," he said. "I told the Israelis they were destroying the city, that they were firing non-stop. They just said they weren't. They said they werent doing that. I called Sharon on the phone. He said it wasnt true. That damned man said to me on the phone that what I saw happening wasn't happening. So I held the telephone out of the window so he could hear the explosions. Then he said to me: 'What kind of conversation is this where you hold a telephone out of a window?'"

Sharon's involvement in the 1982 Sabra and Chatila massacres continues to fester around the man who, according to Israel's 1993 Kahan commission report, bore "personal responsibility" for the Phalangist slaughter. So fearful were the Israeli authorities that their leaders would be charged with war crimes that they drew up a list of countries where they might have to stand trial - and which they should henceforth avoid - now that European nations were expanding their laws to include foreign nationals who had committed crimes abroad. Belgian judges were already considering a complaint by survivors of Sabra and Chatila - one of them a female rape victim - while a campaign had been mounted abroad against other Israeli figures associated with the atrocities. Eva Stern was one of those who tried to prevent Brigadier General Amos Yaron being appointed Israeli defence attach� in Washington because he had allowed the Lebanese Phalange militia to enter the camps on 16 September 1982, and knew - according to the Kahan commission report - that women and children were being murdered. He only ended the killings two days later. Canada declined to accept Yaron as defence attach�. Stern, who compiled a legal file on Yaron, later vainly campaigned with human rights groups to annul his appointment - by Prime Minister Ehud Barak - as director general of the Israeli defence ministry. The Belgian government changed their law - and dropped potential charges against Sharon - after a visit to Brussels by US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the man who famously referred on 6 August 2002 to Israelis' control over "the so-called occupied territory" which was "the result of a war, which they won".

Rumsfeld had threatened that NATO headquarters might be withdrawn from Belgian soil if the Belgians didn't drop the charges against Sharon.

Yet all the while, we were supposed to believe that it was the corrupt, Parkinson's-haunted Yasser Arafat who was to blame for the new war. He was chastised by George Bush while the Palestinian people continued to be bestialised by the Israeli leadership. Rafael Eytan, the former Israeli chief of staff, had referred to Palestinians as "cockroaches in a glass jar". Menachem Begin called them "two-legged beasts". The Shas party leader who suggested that God should send the Palestinian "ants" to hell, also called them "serpents".

In August 2000, Barak called them crocodiles. Israeli chief of staff Moshe Yalon described the Palestinians as a "cancerous manifestation" and equated the military action in the occupied territories with "chemotherapy". In March 2001, the Israeli tourism minister, Rehavem Zeevi, called Arafat a "scorpion". Sharon repeatedly called Arafat a "murderer" and compared him to bin Laden.

He contributed to the image of Palestinian inhumanity in an interview in 1995, when he stated that Fatah sometimes punished Palestinians by "chopping off limbs of seven- and eight-year-old children in front of their parents as a form of punishment". However brutal Fatah may be, there is no record of any such atrocity being committed by them. But if enough people can be persuaded to believe this nonsense, then the use of Israeli death squads against such Palestinians becomes natural rather than illegal.

Sharon was forever, like his Prime Minister Menachem Begin, evoking the Second World War in spurious parallels with the Arab-Israeli conflict. When in the late winter of 1988 the US State Department opened talks with the PLO in Tunis after Arafat renounced "terrorism", Sharon stated in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that this was worse than the British and French appeasement before the Second World War when "the world, to prevent war, sacrificed one of the democracies". Arafat was "like Hitler who wanted so much to negotiate with the Allies in the second half of the second world war...and the Allies said 'No'. They said there are enemies with whom you don't talk. They pushed him to the bunker in Berlin where he found his death, and Arafat is the same kind of enemy, that with whom you don't talk. He's got too much blood on his hands."

Thus within his lifetime Sharon was able to bestialise Yasser Arafat as both Hitler and bin Laden. The thrust of Sharon's argument in those days was that the creation of a Palestinian state would mean a war in which "the terrorists will be acting from behind a cordon of UN forces and observers". By the time he was on his apparent death bed yesterday that Palestinian "state", far from being protected by the UN, was non-existent, its territory still being carved up in the West Bank by growing Jewish settlements, road blocks and a concrete wall.

Largely forgotten amid Sharon's hatred for "terrorism" was his outspoken criticism of Nato's war against Serbia in 1999, when he was Israeli foreign minister. Eleven years earlier he had sympathised with the political objective of Slobodan Milosevic: to prevent the establishment of an Albanian state in Kosovo. This, he said, would lead to "Greater Albania" and provide a haven for - readers must here hold their breath - "Islamic terror". In a Belgrade newspaper interview, Sharon said that "we stand together with you against the Islamic terror". Once Nato's bombing of Serbia was under way, however, Sharon's real reason for supporting the Serbs became apparent. "It's wrong for Israel to provide legitimacy to this forceful sort of intervention which the Nato countries are deploying... in an attempt to impose a solution on regional disputes," he said. "The moment Israel expresses support for the sort of model of action we're seeing in Kosovo, it's likely to be the next victim. Imagine that one day Arabs in Galilee demand that the region in which they live be recognised as an autonomous area, connected to the Palestinian Authority..."

NATO's bombing, Sharon said, was "brutal interventionism". The Israeli journalist Uri Avnery, who seized on this extraordinary piece of duplicity, said that "Islamic terror" in Kosovo could only exist in "Sharon's racist imagination". Avnery was far bolder in translating what lay behind Sharon's antipathy towards Nato action than Sharon himself. "If the Americans and the Europeans interfere today in the matter of Kosovo, what is to prevent them from doing the same tomorrow in the matter of Palestine?

"Sharon has made it crystal-clear to the world that there is a similarity and perhaps even identity between Milosevic's attitude towards Kosovo and the attitude of Netanyahu and Sharon towards the Palestinians." Besides, for a man whose own "brutal interventionism" in Lebanon in 1982 led to a Middle East bloodbath of unprecedented proportions, Sharon's remarks were, to say the least, hypocritical.

As Sharon sent an armoured column to reinvade Nablus, still ignoring Bush's demand to withdraw his troops from the West Bank, Colin Powell turned on Arafat, warning him that it was his "last chance" to show his leadership. There was no mention of the illegal Jewish settlements. There was to be no "last chance" threat for Sharon. The Americans even allowed him to refuse a UN fact-finding team in the occupied territories. Sharon was meeting with President George W Bush in Washington when a suicide bomber killed at least 15 Israeli civilians in a Tel Aviv nightclub; he broke off his visit and returned at once to Israel. Prominent American Jewish leaders, including Elie Wiesel and Alan Dershowitz, immediately called upon the White House not to put pressure on Sharon to join new Middle East peace talks. "This is a tough time," Wiesel announced. "This is not a time to pressure Israel. Any prime minister would do what Sharon is doing. He is doing his best. They should trust him." Wiesel need hardly have worried.

Only a month earlier, the Americans rolled out their first S-70A-55 troopcarrying Black Hawk helicopter to be sold to the Israelis. Israel had purchased 24 of the new machines, costing $211m - most of which would be paid for by the United States - even though it had 24 earlier-model Black Hawks. The log book of the first of the new helicopters was ceremonially handed over to the director general of the Israeli defence ministry, the notorious Amos Yaron, by none other than Alexander Haig - the man who gave Begin the green light to invade Lebanon in 1982.

Perhaps the only man who now had the time to work out the logic of this appalling conflict was the Palestinian leader sitting now in his surrounded, broken, ill-lit and unhealthy office block in Ramallah. The one characteristic Arafat shared with Sharon - apart from old age and decrepitude - was his refusal to plan ahead. What he said, what he did, what he proposed, was decided only at the moment he was forced to act. This was partly his old guerrilla training, a characteristic shared by Saddam. If you don't know what you are going to do tomorrow, you can be sure that your enemies don't know either. Sharon took the same view.

The most terrible incident - praised by Sharon at the time as a "great success" - was the attack by Israel on Salah Shehada, a Hamas leader, which slaughtered nine children along with eight adults. Their names gave a frightful reality to this child carnage: 18-month-old Ayman Matar, three-year-old Mohamed Matar, five-year-old Diana Matar, four-year-old Sobhi Hweiti, six-year-old Mohamed Hweiti, 10-year-old Ala Matar, 15-year-old Iman Shehada, 17-year-old Maryam Matar. And Dina Matar. She was two months old. An Israeli air force pilot dropped a one-ton bomb on their homes from an American-made F-16 aircraft on 22 July 2002.

What war did Sharon think he was fighting? And what was he fighting for? Sharon regarded the attack as a victory against "terror". Al-Wazzir, now an economic analyst in Gaza, believed that people who did not believe themselves to be targets were now finding themselves under attack. "There's a network of Israeli army and air force intelligence and Mossad and Shin Bet that works together, feeding each other information. They can cross the lines between Area C and Area B in the occupied territories. Usually they carry out operations when IDF morale is low. When they killed my father, the IDF was in very low spirits because of the first intifada. So they go for a 'spectacular' to show what great 'warriors' they are. Now the IDF morale is low again because of the second intifada."

Palestinian security officers in Gaza were intrigued by the logic behind the Israeli killings. "Our guys meet their guys and we know their officers and operatives," one of the Palestinian officials tells me. "I tell you this frankly - they are as corrupt and indisciplined as we are. And as ruthless. After they targeted Mohamed Dahlan's convoy when he was coming back from security talks, Dahlan talked to foreign minister Peres. "Look what you guys are doing to us," Dahlan told Peres. "Don't you realise it was me who took Sharon's son to meet Arafat?" Al-Wazzir understands some of the death squad logic. "It has some effect because we are a paternalistic society. We believe in the idea of a father figure. But when they assassinated my dad, the intifada didn't stop. It was affected, but all the political objectives failed. Rather than demoralising the Palestinians, it fuelled the intifada. They say there's now a hundred Palestinians on the murder list. No, I don't think the Palestinians will adopt the same type of killings against Israeli intelligence.

"An army is an institution, a system; murdering an officer just results in him the great war for civilisation 573 being replaced..." The murder of political or military opponents was a practice the Israelis honed in Lebanon where Lebanese guerrilla leaders were regularly blown up by hidden bombs or shot in the back by Shin Bet execution squads, often - as in the case of an Amal leader in the village of Bidias - after interrogation. And all in the name of "security".

Throughout the latest bloodletting, the one distinctive feature of the conflict - the illegal and continuing colonisation of occupied Arab land - was yet again a taboo subject, to be ignored, or mentioned in passing only when Jewish settlers were killed. That this was the world's last colonial conflict, in which the colonisers were supported by the United States, was undiscussable, a prohibited subject, something quite outside the brutality between Palestinians and Israelis which was, so we had to remember, now part of America's "war on terror". This is what Sharon had dishonestly claimed since 11 September 2001. The truth, however, became clear in a revealing interview Sharon gave to a French magazine in December of that year, in which he recalled a telephone conversation with Jacques Chirac. Sharon said he told the French president that: "I was at that time reading a terrible book about the Algerian war. It's a book whose title reads in Hebrew: The Savage War of Peace. I know that President Chirac fought as an officer during this conflict and that he had himself been decorated for his courage. So, in a very friendly way, I told him: 'Mr. President, you have to understand us, here, it's as if we are in Algeria. We have no place to go. And besides, we have no intention of leaving.'"

Sana Sersawi speaks carefully, loudly but slowly, as she recalls the chaotic, dangerous, desperately tragic events that overwhelmed her almost exactly 19 years ago, on 18 September 1982. As one of the survivors prepared to testify against the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - who was then Israel's defence minister - she stops to search her memory when she confronts the most terrible moments of her life. "The Lebanese Forces militia had taken us from our homes and marched us up to the entrance to the camp where a large hole had been dug in the earth. The men were told to get into it. Then the militiamen shot a Palestinian. The women and children had climbed over bodies to reach this spot, but we were truly shocked by seeing this man killed in front of us and there was a roar of shouting and screams from the women. That's when we heard the Israelis on loudspeakers shouting, "Give us the men, give us the men." We thought: "Thank God, they will save us." It was to prove a cruelly false hope.

Mrs Sersawi, three months pregnant, saw her 30-year-old husband Hassan, and her Egyptian brother-in-law Faraj el-Sayed Ahmed standing in the crowd of men. "We were all told to walk up the road towards the Kuwaiti embassy, the women and children in front, the men behind. We had been separated. There were Phalangist militiamen and Israeli soldiers walking alongside us. I could still see Hassan and Faraj. It was like a parade. There were several hundred of us. When we got to the Cit� Sportive, the Israelis put us women in a big concrete room and the men were taken to another side of the stadium. There were a lot of men from the camp and I could no longer see my husband. The Israelis went round saying "Sit, sit." It was 11 o'clock. An hour later, we were told to leave. But we stood around outside amid the Israeli soldiers, waiting for our men."

Sana Sersawi waited in the bright, sweltering sun for Hassan and Faraj to emerge. "Some men came out, none of them younger than 40, and they told us to be patient, that hundreds of men were still inside. Then about four in the afternoon, an Israeli officer came out. He was wearing dark glasses and said in Arabic: "What are you all waiting for?" He said there was nobody left, that everyone had gone. There were Israeli trucks moving out with tarpaulin over them. We couldn't see inside. And there were Jeeps and tanks and a bulldozer making a lot of noise. We stayed there as it got dark and the Israelis appeared to be leaving and we were very nervous.

"But then when the Israelis had moved away, we went inside. And there was no one there. Nobody. I had been only three years married. I never saw my husband again."

The smashed Camille Chamoun Sports Stadium was a natural "holding centre" for prisoners. Only two miles from Beirut airport, it had been an ammunition dump for Yasser Arafat's PLO and repeatedly bombed by Israeli jets during the 1982 siege of Beirut so that its giant, smashed exterior looked like a nightmare denture. The Palestinians had earlier mined its cavernous interior, but its vast, underground storage space and athletics changing-rooms remained intact.

It was a familiar landmark to all of us who lived in Beirut. At mid-morning on 18 September 1982 - around the time Sana Sersawi says she was brought to the stadium - I saw hundreds of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners, perhaps well over 1,000 in all, sitting in its gloomy, cavernous interior, squatting in the dust, watched over by Israeli soldiers and plainclothes Shin Beth agents and a group of men who I suspected, correctly, were Lebanese collaborators. The men sat in silence, obviously in fear.

From time to time, I noted, a few were taken away. They were put into Israeli army trucks or jeeps or Phalangist vehicles - for further "interrogation". Nor did I doubt this. A few hundred metres away, up to 600 massacre victims of the Sabra and Chatila Palestinian refugee camps rotted in the sun, the stench of decomposition drifting over the prisoners and their captors alike. It was suffocatingly hot. Loren Jenkins of The Washington Post, Paul Eedle of Reuters and I had only got into the cells because the Israelis assumed - given our Western appearance - that we must have been members of Shin Beth. Many of the prisoners had their heads bowed.

Arab prisoners usually adopted this pose of humiliation. But Israel's militiamen had been withdrawn from the camps, their slaughter over, and at least the Israeli army was now in charge. So what did these men have to fear?

Looking back - and listening to Sana Sersawi today - I shudder now at our innocence. My notes of the time contain some ominous clues. We found a Lebanese employee of Reuters, Abdullah Mattar, among the prisoners and obtained his release, Paul leading him away with his arm around the man's shoulders. "They take us away, one by one, for interrogation," one of the prisoners muttered to me. "They are Haddad militiamen. Usually they bring the people back after interrogation, but not always. Sometimes the people do not return." Then an Israeli officer ordered me to leave. Why couldn't the prisoners talk to me? I asked. "They can talk if they want," he replied. "But they have nothing to say."

All the Israelis knew what had happened inside the camps. The smell of the corpses was now overpowering. Outside, a Phalangist Jeep with the words "Military Police" painted on it - if so exotic an institution could be associated with this gang of murderers - drove by. A few television crews had turned up. One filmed the Lebanese Christian militiamen outside the Cit� Sportive. He also filmed a woman pleading to an Israeli army colonel called "Yahya" for the release of her husband. The colonel has now been positively identified by The Independent. Today, he is a general in the Israeli army.

Along the main road opposite the stadium there was a line of Israeli Merkava tanks, their crews sitting on the turrets, smoking, watching the men being led from the stadium in ones or twos, some being set free, others being led away by Shin Beth men or by Lebanese men in drab khaki overalls. All these soldiers knew what had happened inside the camps. One, Lt Avi Grabovsky - he was later to testify to the Israeli Kahan commission - had even witnessed the murder of several civilians the previous day and had been told not to "interfere".

And in the days that followed, strange reports reached us. A girl had been dragged from a car in Damour by Phalangist militiamen and taken away, despite her appeals to a nearby Israeli soldier. Then the cleaning lady of a Lebanese woman who worked for a US television chain complained bitterly that Israelis had arrested her husband. He was never seen again.

There were other vague rumours of "disappeared" people. I wrote in my notes at the time that "even after Chatila, Israel's 'terrorist' enemies were being liquidated in West Beirut." But I had not directly associated this dark conviction with the Cit� Sportive. I had not even reflected on the fearful precedents of a sports stadium in time of war. Hadn't there been a sports stadium in Santiago a few years before, packed with prisoners after Pinochet's coup d'�tat, a stadium from which many prisoners never returned?

Among the testimonies gathered by lawyers seeking to indict Ariel Sharon for war crimes is that of Wadha al-Sabeq. On Friday 17 September 1982, she said, while the massacre was still - unknown to her - under way inside Sabra and Chatila, she was in her home with her family in Bir Hassan, just opposite the camps. "Neighbours came and said the Israelis wanted to stamp our ID cards, so we went downstairs and we saw both Israelis and Lebanese forces on the road. The men were separated from the women." This separation - with its awful shadow of similar separations at Srebrenica during the Bosnian war - was a common feature of these mass arrests. "We were told to go to the Cit� Sportive. The men stayed put." Among the men were Wadha's two sons, 19-year-old Mohamed and 16-year-old Ali and her brother Mohamed. "We went to the Cit� Sportive, as the Israelis told us," she says. "I never saw my sons or brother again."

The survivors tell distressingly similar stories. Bahija Zrein says she was ordered by an Israeli patrol to go to the Cit� Sportive and the men with her, including her 22-year-old brother, were taken away. Some militiamen - watched by the Israelis - loaded him into a car, blindfolded, she says.

"That's how he disappeared," she says in her official testimony, "and I have never seen him again since." It was only a few days afterwards that we journalists began to notice a discrepancy in the figures of dead. While up to 600 bodies had been found inside Sabra and Chatila, 1,800 civilians had been reported as "missing". We assumed - how easy assumptions are in war --that they had been killed in the three days between 16 September 1982 and the withdrawal of the Phalangist killers on 18 September, and that their corpses had been secretly buried outside the camp. Beneath the golf course, we suspected. The idea that many of these young people had been murdered outside the camps or after 18 September, that the killings were still going on while we walked through the camps, never occurred to us.

Why did we journalists at the time not think of this? The following year, the Israeli Kahan commission published its report, condemning Sharon but ending its own inquiry of the atrocity on 18 September, with just a one-line hint - unexplained - that several hundred people may have "disappeared around the same time". The commission interviewed no Palestinian survivors but it was allowed to become the narrative of history.

The idea that the Israelis went on handing over prisoners to their bloodthirsty militia allies never occurred to us. The Palestinians of Sabra and Chatila are now giving evidence that this is exactly what happened. One man, Abdel Nasser Alameh, believes his brother Ali was handed to the Phalange on the morning of 18 September. A Palestinian Christian woman called Milaneh Boutros has recorded how, in a truck-load of women and children, she was taken from the camps to the Christian town of Bikfaya, the home of the newly assassinated Christian President-elect Bashir Gemayel, where a grief-stricken Christian woman ordered the execution of a 13-year-old boy in the truck. He was shot. The truck must have passed at least four Israeli checkpoints on its way to Bikfaya. And heaven spare me, I had even met the woman who ordered the boy's execution.

Even before the slaughter inside the camps had ended, Shahira Abu Rudeina says she was taken to the Cit� Sportive where, in one of the underground "holding centres", she saw a retarded man, watched by Israeli soldiers, burying bodies in a pit. Her evidence might be rejected were it not for the fact that she also expressed her gratitude for an Israeli soldier - inside the Chatila camp, against all the evidence given by the Israelis - who prevented the murder of her daughters by the Phalange.

Long after the war, the ruins of the Cit� Sportive were torn down and a brand new marble stadium was built in its place, partly by the British. Pavarotti has sung there. But the testimony of what may lie beneath its foundations - and its frightful implications - will give Ariel Sharon further reason to fear an indictment.

I had been in the Sabra and Chatila camps when these crimes took place. I had returned to the camps, year after year, to try to discover what happened to the missing thousand men. Karsten Tveit of Norwegian television had been with me in 1982 and he had returned to Beirut many times with the same purpose. Lawyers weren't the only people investigating these crimes against humanity. In 2001, Tveit arrived in Lebanon with the original 1982 tapes of those women pleading for their menfolk at the gates of the Cit� Sportive. He visited the poky little video shops in the present-day camp and showed and reshowed the tapes until local Palestinians identified them; then Tveit set off to find the women - 19 years older now - who were on the tape, who had asked for their sons and brothers and fathers and husbands outside the Cit� Sportive. He traced them all. None had ever seen their loved ones again.

Extracted from The Great War For Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, by Robert Fisk.

IRS Tracked Taxpayers' Political Affiliation

IRS Tracked Taxpayers' Political Affiliation
By Les Blumenthal
The Tacoma News Tribune

Friday 06 January 2006

Washington - As it hunted down tax scofflaws, the Internal Revenue Service collected information on the political party affiliations of taxpayers in 20 states.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of an appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the IRS, said the practice was an "outrageous violation of the public trust" that could undermine the agency's credibility.

IRS officials acknowledged that party affiliation information was routinely collected by a vendor for several months. They told the vendor last month to screen the information out.

"The bottom line is that we have never used this information," said John Lipold, an IRS spokesman. "There are strict laws in place that forbid it."

Washington state residents do not express a party preference when they register to vote. Residents of 20 other states and the District of Columbia have to provide a party affiliation when registering. Voter registration information is publicly available.

Murray said she learned about the problem from the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, Colleen Kelly. The IRS is part of the Treasury Department.

"This agency should not have that type of information," Murray said in a telephone interview from Seattle. "No one should question whether they are being audited because of party affiliation."

Kelly said Thursday that several IRS employees had complained to the union about the practice. She said IRS officials weren't even aware of it until she wrote them in late December.

In a letter to Kelly, Deputy IRS Commissioner John Dalrymple said the party identification information was automatically collected through a "database platform" supplied by an outside contractor that targeted voter registration rolls among other things as it searched for people who aren't paying their taxes.

"This information is appropriately used to locate information on taxpayers whose accounts are delinquent," he said.

Murray and Kelly, however, remained skeptical. Kelly said the collection of such data was even more troubling because the IRS intends to start using private collection agencies later this year to go after back taxes.

"We think Congress should suspend IRS plans to use private collections agencies until these questions have been resolved," she said.

According to Murray's office, the 20 states in which the IRS collected party affiliation information were Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

Former Cybersecurity Czar Joins CIA - Security Feed - Blog - CSO Magazine

Former Cybersecurity Czar Joins CIA - Security Feed - Blog - CSO Magazine

Former Homeland Security cybersecurity chief Amit Yoran has been recruited by the CIA. On Tuesday, Menlo, Calif.-based In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital arm, hired Yoran to be its president and CEO, according to the group’s release.

Yoran succeeds Gilman Louie, who served as the In-Q-Tel’s chief executive since its launch in 1999. Louie will stay with the company to ensure a smooth transition before moving on to start his own venture capital firm.

In-Q-Tel was established as a way for the CIA to identify and invest in companies developing new technologies that could help protect the nation from terrorism and other threats.

Yoran graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and has a master’s degree from George Washington University. He has experience in both the public and private sectors. In 1998, Yoran founded RipTech, which he sold to Symantec in 2002. Early in his career, Yoran held a post within the Pentagon’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), and later was director of the National Cyber Security Division within DHS. In 2004, Yoran resigned from DHS.

'Amit’s lifetime experience---as an entrepreneur, a venture investor and leader in commercial companies and national security---makes him the perfect fit for our organization,' said Louie. 'His critical understanding of key technologies and security needs will position In-Q-Tel to continue to serve as a unique tool driving innovation across the broader Intelligence Community.'

By Al Sacco "

DNA could prove executed man innocent

DNA could prove executed man innocent
January 6, 2006 - 2:46PM

Virginia Governor Mark R Warner has ordered DNA evidence to be retested to determine if a man executed in 1992 was innocent.

If the testing shows Roger Keith Coleman did not rape and kill his sister-in-law in 1981, it will be the first time in the United States a person has been exonerated by scientific testing after his execution, according to death penalty opponents.

Warner said he ordered the tests because of technological advances that could provide a level of forensic certainty not available in the 1980s.

Coleman was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of 19-year-old Wanda McCoy, his wife's sister, who was found raped, stabbed and nearly beheaded in her home in the coal mining town of Grundy.

The case drew international attention as the well spoken Coleman pleaded his case on talk shows and in magazines and newspapers. Time magazine featured the coal miner on its cover. Pope John Paul II tried to block the execution.

The then Gov L Douglas Wilder's office was flooded with thousands of calls and letters of protest from around the world.

Coleman's attorneys argued he did not have time to commit the crime, that tests showed semen from two men was found inside McCoy and that another man bragged about murdering her.

Coleman was executed on May 20, 1992.


What about these nuclear weapons?


Israeli Nuclear Whistleblower Risks Jail to Talk Exclusively to AFP

By Christopher Bollyn

Mordechai Vanunu, Israel's most famous dissident free after 18 years
in prison, is ready to defy the severe restrictions imposed upon him
by the Israeli military and tell the western media everything he
knows about the Middle East's largest secret arsenal of weapons of
mass destruction. However, because the hidden stockpiles belong to
Israel, no American news outlet is interested in discussing this,
except American Free Press.

"I have sacrificed my freedom and risked my life in order to expose
the danger of nuclear weapons, which threaten this whole region,"
Vanunu said in an exclusive interview with American Free Press on
July 28.

Vanunu spent 18 years in an Israeli prison—11 and a half of them in
solitary confinement—for providing evidence of Israel's nuclear
arsenal to a British newspaper in 1986. "I acted on behalf of all
citizens and all of humanity," said Vanunu.

In October 1986, Vanunu, a nuclear technician who had worked at the
Dimona Nuclear Power Plant in the Negev Desert for 10 years,
traveled to London and gave photographic evidence to The Sunday
Times that Israel was secretly developing nuclear weapons. Two
months earlier he had converted to Christianity while traveling in

After having learned about the secret production of plutonium for
nuclear weapons at Dimona, in 1985 Vanunu believed it was his
responsibility to inform the citizens of the world that an arsenal
of nuclear weapons was being created in Israel.

Vanunu provided evidence and described how Israel had built an
arsenal of over 200 nuclear bombs and neutron bombs. Before The
Times's story was even published, however, Vanunu had been lured to
Rome and kidnapped by Israeli secret service agents. A secret trial
followed, and Vanunu was locked in a tiny, windowless cell for more
than a decade.

When Vanunu was released from an Israeli prison on April 21, the
Israeli military authorities imposed severe restrictions on his
freedom. He is banned from leaving the country, confined to an
assigned residence and denied the right to be in contact with
journalists or foreigners.

The human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) protested
the restrictions imposed on Vanunu saying on April 19: "Vanunu must
not be subject to arbitrary restrictions and violations of his
fundamental rights on the basis of pretexts or suspicions about what
he may do in the future."

The restrictions on Vanunu's movement, speech and association
violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
which Israel has ratified and is obliged to uphold, according to AI.

While Israeli officials contend the restrictions are to prevent
Vanunu from divulging information about Israel's nuclear arsenal, AI
sees it differently:

"Israel's determination to curtail Vanunu's freedom and contact with
the outside world seem to be intended to prevent him from revealing
details of his abduction by Israeli secret service agents 18 years
ago in Rome in what was clearly an unlawful act," AI said.

According to Jonathan Cook of The Guardian in Britain, Vanunu's
brother, Meir, who lives with him at St. George's, says there is
another motive for the restrictions and confinement of Israel's most
famous dissident: Vanunu's release brings attention to Israel's
nuclear arsenal at precisely the moment when the justification for
attacking Saddam Hussein's Iraq—his possession of weapons of mass
destruction—is shown to have been hollow.

"If Vanunu were free to talk, he might remind the world that the
greatest threat to Middle East peace comes not from Baghdad but from
Tel Aviv," Cook wrote. "That is a message neither America nor
Britain wants to hear right now."

The same controlled U.S. media networks that sent embedded reporters
into combat in Iraq and published false reports about that nation's
alleged weapons of mass destruction, are seemingly afraid to go to
St. George's Cathedral in East Jerusalem and interview Vanunu,
Israel's most famous dissident and peace activist, for fear of
crossing a line drawn by the Israeli military.

American Free Press, however, and the London-based Arabic language
newspaper Al Hayat have interviewed Vanunu recently from St.
George's, where he has sought asylum in the Anglican church compound
a short distance from the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem.


Comments made by Vanunu during an interview with Al Hayat's weekly
magazine Al Wassat, published on July 25, made headlines around the
world but were completely ignored in the United States, where they
could have caused immense political damage to Israel. As The
Jerusalem Post's article headline read, "Vanunu: Israel behind JFK

Russia's Pravda article of July 27 began: "Israel may be implicated
in the biggest crime of the past century, which took place in Dallas
in 1963."

Iran's Tehran Times, writing from Jerusalem, said: "In a startling
accusation, nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu has alleged that
Jerusalem was behind the assassination of U.S. President John F.
Kennedy, who was exerting pressure on the then Israeli head of state
to shed light on the Dimona nuclear plant."

Similar articles appeared in newspapers around the world, but in the
United States this explosive news was only reported by wire services
and in Jewish newspapers.

Vanunu's comments that there are "near-certain indications" that
Israel was involved in the assassination of President John F.
Kennedy support the thesis of Michael Collins Piper, presented in
his book Final Judgment, that Israeli agents played a key role in
the murder.

AFP asked Vanunu to explain his comments about Israeli involvement
in the murder of President Kennedy.

"My view is that Kennedy was assassinated because of his strong
opposition to [Israeli prime minister] Ben Gurion," Vanunu said.

At the time, Ben Gurion was working to create a nuclear arsenal for

The group that was involved with Ben Gurion in developing and
protecting Israel's nuclear arsenal "was behind the assassination of
Kennedy," Vanunu said.

As Piper documents in Final Judgment, Kennedy's resistance to Israel
becoming a nuclear-armed state led to increasing hostility between
the two leaders until Ben Gurion resigned in June 1963. Kennedy had
realized that the Israelis were producing illegal nuclear weapons
from the nuclear reactor given to Israel in 1959 under the "Atoms
for Peace" program.

In the Al Wassat interview, Vanunu said: "Israel possesses between
100 and 200 nuclear weapons, including a neutron bomb and hydrogen
bombs, which are tenfold in their effect. If an atomic bomb can kill
100,000 people then the hydrogen bomb can kill a million.

"We do not know which irresponsible Israeli prime minister will take
office and decide to use nuclear weapons in the struggle against
neighboring Arab countries," The Jerusalem Post reported Vanunu
having said. "What has already been exposed about the weapons Israel
is holding [is that they] can destroy the region and kill millions."


Vanunu also warned of the environmental dangers of nuclear leaks at
Israel's antiquated nuclear facility at Dimona. An earthquake or
nuclear accident at Dimona could result in the "leaking of nuclear
radiation, threatening millions of people in neighboring countries,"
Vanunu said.

Jordan, in particular, was mentioned as being in danger of nuclear
contamination. "Dimona's chimneys do not operate unless the winds
blow in the direction of Jordan," Vanunu said.

A Jordanian government spokesman, Asma Khader, responded promptly to
Vanunu's claim, saying, "The kingdom is free of radiation."

Vanunu also criticized the recent visit to Israel of Mohamed El
Baradei, head of the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA).

"I am very disappointed by Mr. El Baradei because I expected him to
go and inspect the Dimona reactor," Vanunu said. "The job of Mr.
Baradei is to go and see if what I said . . . if it's true."

Vanunu stressed to AFP his strong desire to speak with the media
despite the restrictions, and provide them with information and his
views on the need for peace—and a nuclear-free Middle East.

Asked if the U.S. media was interested in meeting him, Vanunu
said "not one" American or British newspaper or television network
had visited him at St. George's since his release from prison.

"Why are they in silence?" Vanunu asked AFP about the U.S.
media. "Why is the press not coming to see me? The media should
bring my case to the people and the politicians. This case must be

Linda Rothstein, editor of the Chicago-based Bulletin of Atomic
Scientists, however, showed little interest in Vanunu's story,
saying that Vanunu has his supporters and that the Bulletin is not
an advocacy group.

Likewise, Kay Seok of Human Rights Watch said that there was nothing
they could do. "Nobody at HRW is working on Israel right now," she


Vanunu desperately wants to leave Israel, where he is viewed as a
traitor, and seek political asylum in the United States. Nick and
Mary Eoloff of St. Paul, Minnesota, have formally adopted Vanunu and
are ready to provide him sanctuary.

Mrs. Eoloff told AFP that Vanunu's life is in danger in Israel.

"I want to go abroad and start my life as a free man," Vanunu said
after Israel's high court upheld the military's restrictions on his
movement and freedom. "If Israel is a democracy, it should allow me
to do it."

Asked if he had been tortured during his 18 years in prison, Vanunu
said, "Of course."

He said he had been subjected to "mental and psychological torture"
that was "cruel and barbaric."

Because he had converted to Christianity he had received worse
treatment than Jewish prisoners, he said. Vanunu said he had been
treated like a Palestinian and that his captors had tried
to "destroy" him.

"I am a symbol of the will of freedom," he said. "You cannot break
the human spirit."

Asked about his supporters in the United States, Vanunu said: "I
need their support to get me out. Americans should raise their
voices with their congressmen and ask them in a loud voice to visit
me and bring attention to my case.

"My country is not Israel," Vanunu said. "I want to be free and to
leave Israel."

"Israel does not respect my basic human rights," Vanunu said. "I am
denied the freedom of movement and freedom of speech—like all
Palestinians. I want peace and freedom from all nuclear weapons in
the Middle East."

Fwd: Ariel Sharon dies

Ariel Sharon dies
Friday, January 6, 2006
JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the most powerful Israeli leader in 50 years, has died, Middle East Newsline reported. He was 77.

Sharon was declared dead by physicians at Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital before 1 p.m. Israeli time [6 a.m. EST]. Authorities have already been notified of the death, and a government announcement was expected to be issued over the next hour.

However wire reports said Sharon underwent emergency surgery to stem fresh bleeding in his brain. Reuters reported that after the nearly five-hour procedure, Sharon was taken for a computerized scan of his brain to determine its success. A spokesman for Jerusalem's Hadassah hospital said an update on his condition would be released after the scan, according to the Reuters report.

The prime minister was felled by a massive stroke on late Jan. 4. A nine-hour operation failed to repair what physicians and officials termed was widespread damage to his brain and other vital organs.

A computed tomography scan taken on Friday morning showed little to no brain activity in Sharon. At that point, Sharon's son, Omri, called aides and senior officials to the hospital to prepare for an announcement of the prime minister's death.

Sharon was expected to be succeeded by Vice Premier Ehud Olmert, who is also the nation's finance minister. On Friday, Olmert met Sharon's political ally, former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, in an attempt to form a working relationship ahead of parliamentary elections on March 28.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Losing Their Minds

Losing Their Minds
By Mark Benjamin

Wednesday 04 January 2005

More US soldiers than ever are sustaining serious brain injuries in Iraq. But a significant number of them are being misdiagnosed, forced to wait for treatment or even being called liars by the Army.

After fighting in heavy combat during the initial invasion of Iraq, Spc. James Wilson reenlisted for a second tour of duty. Now 24 years old, he loved the life of a soldier.

In the fall of 2004, his 1st Calvary Division was mostly fighting in Sadr City, a volatile sector of Baghdad. On Sept. 6, Wilson was manning a .50-caliber machine gun atop a Humvee when a bomb or bombs went off directly under the vehicle, rocking his head forward and slamming it into the machine gun. A fellow soldier told Wilson that his Kevlar helmet had been split open by the impact. The heat from one blast felt like "a hair dryer" on his skin, multiplied "times 20," Wilson later wrote in his diary. To the best of his recollection, the force of the blast also knocked the gun from its mount, smashing it into his leg.

Although battered in the attack, Wilson didn't appear badly hurt - on the outside, at least. But in the days that followed, the young soldier from Albany, Ga., says he often felt "really dizzy, lightheaded and dazed." Two weeks after the battle, Army medics felt Wilson was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and evacuated him out of Iraq for medical evaluation. Wilson was first flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where wounded troops are stabilized, and then sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., in October 2004.

After arriving at Walter Reed, Wilson repeatedly told doctors that he had experienced a hard blow to the head during combat in Iraq. He suffered from symptoms strongly associated with a traumatic brain injury, which occurs when the brain is rocked violently inside the skull, tearing nerve fibers: seizures, short-term memory loss, severe headaches with eye pain, and dizzy spells that have made him vomit. During a visit to the Pentagon around Christmas 2004, Wilson got so dizzy he vomited "all over" the carpet while meeting Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in his office.

Despite Wilson's description of his injury and his symptoms, Walter Reed officials repeatedly questioned his mental state and the authenticity of his combat story. In a June 2005 memorandum from an Army Physical Evaluation Board, some Walter Reed doctors stated that Wilson exhibited "conversion disorder with symptoms of traumatic brain injury." Conversion disorder holds that symptoms such as seizures arise from a psychological conflict rather than a physical disorder. Col. James F. Babbitt, president of the Physical Evaluation Board, accused Wilson of being a liar. "I believe that the preponderance of the evidence available to the Board supports an alternative diagnosis … one of malingering," Babbitt wrote in that memo.

Wilson and his wife, Heidi, who has been staying with him at the hospital, vigorously fought the psychological diagnosis and furiously sought medical treatment. The malingering charge was especially painful. "I want my dignity, pride and respect back," Wilson says. After serving his country, being accused of misleading doctors, he says, "is the worst thing in the world."

Today, Wilson is thin and has a shaved head. He often clenches his eyes shut, as if to squeeze at the pain in his skull, or search out an elusive word or memory. Whenever a dim detail of his combat duty bubbles up in his mind, he types it into his diary. He holds his hands awkwardly, with his thumbs folded over his palms. His speech is at times slow and slurred. "I have been dealing with this all year because no one would help me," he says.

On Dec. 19, 2005, more than a year after he was admitted, Walter Reed finally sent Wilson to a neurological center to be treated for traumatic brain injury. Neuropsychological testing done at Walter Reed on Oct. 11, 2005, led officials to conclude that "there was no indication of malingering." According to a neurosurgeon with extensive experience treating combat head injuries, an October 2004 MRI of Wilson, combined with a description of his symptoms, showed that he should have been treated for a traumatic brain injury right then. Medical experts say the failure to treat a brain-injury victim promptly could hinder recovery.

Spc. Wilson is not alone among Iraq veterans who have been misdiagnosed or waited for treatment for traumatic brain injury. Other soldiers interviewed at Walter Reed with apparent brain injuries say they too have been deeply frustrated by delays in getting adequately diagnosed and treated. The soldiers say doctors have caused them anguish by suggesting that their problems might stem from other causes, including mental illness or hereditary disease. According to interviews with military doctors and medical records obtained by Salon, brain-injury cases are overloading Walter Reed. As a result, a significant number of brain-injury patients are falling through the cracks from a lack of resources, know-how, and even blatant neglect.

Exactly how many brain-injured patients are being missed, going without care, or left waiting, as opposed to those who get prompt, top-shelf treatment, is difficult to say. Walter Reed officials and doctors say the Army is getting better at treating brain-injured patients but admit cases like Wilson's are a significant problem.

A November 2003 report from the Army News Service states that because brain injuries aren't always obvious, they "may be neglected, or even pushed aside as merely psychological." Patients with traumatic brain injuries "are suffering as much, but may not get the same support as someone who has an observable injury like a bullet wound or a broken leg," says Dr. Louis French, a neuropsychologist at Walter Reed, in the article.

One thing is certain: Due to today's military technology and insurgent tactics in the Iraq war, more U.S. soldiers than ever before are sustaining and surviving serious head injuries. In fact, traumatic brain injuries are a major problem among soldiers arriving at Walter Reed. According to the hospital's brain injury center, 31 percent of battle-injured soldiers admitted between January 2003 and April 2005 - 433 patients - had traumatic brain injuries. Half of those had what the hospital calls a "moderate, severe or penetrating brain injury."

In past wars, brain-trauma rates among combat casualties hovered around 20 percent, according to the Army. The rate of brain injuries among troops wounded in Iraq has shot much higher because the bomb, rather than the bullet, is the weapon of choice for insurgents. In addition, today's better body armor and helmets save soldiers' lives in explosions that would have otherwise killed them.

Through a spokesperson, Walter Reed and other Army officials, including Col. Babbitt, who accused Wilson of malingering, declined to be interviewed. "We cannot discuss specific cases with anyone except the Soldier due to the Privacy Act and HIPPA, [the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act], nor could we address the case or responsibilities of the president of the [Physical Evaluation Board] without violating some portion of HIPPA," wrote Lt. Col. Kevin V. Arata, an Army public affairs officer, in an e-mail. "Therefore, I cannot arrange an interview."

But according to a written statement that hospital officials provided to Salon, Walter Reed does have a plan to identify and treat brain-trauma patients. The military has a network of eight brain-injury rehabilitation programs under the rubric of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.

The program was created in 1992 to prevent brain-injured soldiers from being misdiagnosed as mentally ill, or missing treatment completely. Some brain injury patients get treatment from neurologists or neurosurgeons; others get treatment from physical, occupational and speech-language therapists. The hospital says it screens for brain trauma all patients who arrive at the hospital who were injured in blasts, vehicle wrecks or falls, or who have obvious, penetrating head wounds.

There are many success stories, says John DaVanzo, clinical director at Virginia Neurocare, a rehabilitation center in Charlottesville, Va., where Wilson is receiving treatment. "Yes, there are soldiers being missed," DaVanzo admits, but many others with brain injuries, who would've been overlooked in past wars, are being identified and treated. Still, working in partnership with Walter Reed, DaVanzo has seen the strain on the system during the Iraq war. "There is a massive influx of injured soldiers," he says. "People are overworked."

Walter Reed hospital is renowned for state-of-the-art technology and certain kinds of care. One Walter Reed physician tells Salon that the care for amputees at the hospital is "amazing," and praises the work of colleagues, adding that the nurses "work their butts off." However, the physician is worried that a distressing number of patients at the hospital with brain injuries aren't getting adequate screening and care, and says many doctors at the hospital know little about brain injuries and are prone to making a wrong diagnosis.

"A lot of things are missed because the doctors are swamped," the physician says. Many military doctors are away serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, and some patients are forced to wait too long for surgeries they need. "We're overwhelmed in terms of resources," the physician says. (Salon agreed to withhold the identity of the physician, who was not authorized to speak to the media, and feared retribution from the hospital.)

The delay in proper diagnosis and treatment for Wilson and others with apparent brain injuries is particularly troubling because patients tend to benefit from a prompt response. An April 13, 2005, article about brain trauma from the Department of Defense's own press service says that "if the injury is detected and treated early, most victims can recover full brain function, or at least return to relatively normal lives."

Traumatic brain injury can come from a car wreck, or when the sudden pressure from shock waves from an explosion collide with the fluid-filled cavity around the brain. Diagnosis can be tricky because the memory loss, personality change or depression that can accompany traumatic brain injury can also mimic other combat injuries connected with mental health, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

But Dr. Gene Bolles, a former chief of neurosurgery at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, says it is plain wrong to place the burden of proof on wounded soldiers. Soldiers coming out of combat who say they've suffered a head blow and who show symptoms of traumatic brain injury should be treated for it, says Bolles. "You do what you can for them," he says flatly. "You believe them."

Bolles reviewed a summary of Wilson's October 2004 MRI from Walter Reed. He says it showed "evidence of loss of blood supply" to the brain and was "compatible with a head injury." Alongside Wilson's story and symptoms, he says, "This sounds like typical head injury syndrome to me; you can make that diagnosis."

He notes that the "shearing effect" on nerve tissue that comes with a serious head blow can be invisible to MRIs and CAT scans and that "there are no definitive tests that prove this syndrome." But soldiers even remotely suspected of having a brain injury, he says, should be treated aggressively for it, rather than with skepticism.

Bolles, who now practices at Denver Health Medical Center in Boulder, Colo., treated U.S. soldiers evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan for two years at Landstuhl. While many soldiers get good treatment, in other cases "the system is kind of like you have to prove yourself with an injury before anyone believes you," he says. "I wish we would accept the word of a patient if a patient says, 'This is what I'm feeling,' rather than trying to prove somebody is malingering." It is better to treat soldiers for what they say is wrong with them, he says, even if that means a few cheaters get through the system.

Annette McLeod says her husband, Spc. Wendell McLeod Jr., was belatedly diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. McLeod landed at Walter Reed in August after being hit by a truck in Iraq but was not diagnosed with a brain injury until December. "If you come in and are missing a limb, they know how to handle you," says Annette McLeod. "Anybody with injuries you can't see is shoved to the side."

McLeod says that to her knowledge her husband, Wendell, was not initially screened for brain injury, even though he'd been hit by a truck. But his behavior was so erratic and his memory was so horrible, she says, that she badgered doctors until they ran some tests that identified his problem. "I knew there was something wrong because of the changes in him," she says. "He kept saying, 'I can't remember. I can't remember.' This is a man who used to remember everything."

McLeod, 40, arrived at Walter Reed last August with a fractured vertebra, a chipped vertebra, four herniated discs in his back, and a shoulder injury. He also began suffering from bizarre mood swings. "I can't hardly remember anything," he says. Annette, who is staying with him at Walter Reed, took McLeod to the supermarket recently. "He walked down the aisle three times and could not remember what I asked him to get," she says. She makes her husband sit in the back seat of the car because ever since his accident he wildly grabs at the steering wheel.

McLeod was tested for traumatic brain injury in September but did not hear anything about the results until he was diagnosed in the first week of December. In the meantime, McLeod was told by officials that he might have been born with his brain problem. "They tried to say it was inherited," McLeod says. Annette says they were also told it could be psychological. The misdiagnosis and delays have been excruciating, she says angrily, with a lot of "just waiting around and waiting around and waiting around."

Sgt. Steve Cobb, age 46, tells a similar story. Injured in an armored personnel carrier accident in Iraq in 2004 while serving with the West Virginia National Guard, a head blow left him with short-term memory loss, hearing loss and the loss of peripheral vision in his left eye. He slurs his words and is so dizzy that he walks with a cane. Medics in Iraq first missed his brain problem completely and gave him aspirin. He served another eight months after the accident.

Cobb arrived at Walter Reed last May. In July, he was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, but did not start getting therapy until September. He says that he, too, was told by hospital officials that he may have been born with his problem. "They said it was hereditary," Cobb says with disgust.

His memory is so bad that his wife, Natalie, is afraid he can't take care of himself. She has left her 13- and 19-year-old kids at home with family in West Virginia to be with her husband at Walter Reed. "We heard it was brain disease. We heard it was hereditary," she says over dinner one evening at a restaurant near the hospital. "I feel that they are letting the traumatic brain-injury patients slide through the cracks."

The stress of being misdiagnosed can further harm soldiers, says Bolles, the neurosurgeon, especially if patients get stuck in a pattern where doctors are denying that their injuries exist. "That in and of itself becomes a disability to these people if they get angry and frustrated," Bolles says. "That alone makes it worth treating these people early."

Wilson came back from Iraq a totally different man, according to his wife Heidi. In a photo of the couple from before his injury, the two are sitting on the edge of a fountain. Wilson stares squarely at the camera with a deft, slight smile. Heidi, in a white dress, sits in his lap, holding a bouquet.

Wilson's injury has left him so sensitive to light that his room at Malogne House, a residential facility behind the main hospital at Walter Reed, looks cavelike, lighted only by two dim bulbs. Looking at bright light, Wilson says, "is like welding without your mask on." Sometimes even the dim bulbs are too much. "It kills him," Heidi says one evening in the room. "He puts little blankets over them." Heidi says her husband's brow turns a deep red during his worst headaches, which he says feels like his eyes are being sucked back into his skull. "I just want to take a drill and drill into my head," he says.

Sometimes Wilson remembers events from long ago, but not what happened five minutes ago. He still writes bits in his diary, attempting to piece his memory back together. He used to enjoy cooking Cajun food but now that's gone. "Everything tastes like rubber," he says. "I look at stuff I want to taste. I feel like I remember what it tastes like, but I can't." When Heidi is away for a few days, his memory loss and olfactory problems collide, though he tries to keep a sense of humor about it. "If she is away, I may not take a bath for six days, until she gets back," he says. Heidi nods vigorously. "I'll get his bath ready and say, 'Time to get in the tub,'" she says.

But when the conversation returns to Wilson's treatment, their smiles quickly fade. It's hard for them to believe, after two hard tours of duty, that this is the kind of treatment he has received. "I just want to be taken care of," he says. "I just want healthcare."