YellowTimes.org

Nazeeh and the Olive Grove

Perhaps you need to be an Israeli in order to fully appreciate the improbability of the following situation: A group of Israelis, Palestinians and international peace activists living together in an olive grove deep inside Palestinian territory. Palestinians and Israelis search together for firewood at night, preparing information boards during the day, or washing dishes -- pouring a very careful trickle from a battered old cola bottle because running water is unavailable. They sit quietly next to each other on the short guarding shifts -- fearing, not each other -- but a possible raid by the Israeli army.

Any Israeli who could imagine such a situation would shudder with a reflex vision of some murderous scenario. Being in the middle of "Intifadah-land" in the middle of the night? Surrounded by Palestinians with no soldier in sight to protect you? Even the most diligent researcher could not come up with a handful of Israelis who would be willing to put their lives in such jeopardy.

Two months ago, even those who were on that hill could not fully believe they were actually there. As often happens, the camp started as something quite different. Three months ago, Nazeeh, a farmer from the Palestinian village of Mas'ha, received a confiscation order issued by the Israeli authorities. According to the order, 95 percent of his land was to be confiscated in order to build the separation fence. The separation fence is marketed to the Israeli public as a reasonable security measure meant to separate Palestinians from Israelis; in reality, the only separation it offers is between Palestinians and their land.

As it is, Mas'ha, like all other Palestinian villages, is already separated from normal life by mounds of earth and rock that prevent any vehicle from entering or leaving the village. The ways in which Palestinians manage to survive under these inhuman conditions are worthy of many separate stories. A father of seven, Nazeeh realized immediately that losing his land will mean a death sentence for him and his family. With no land, no way to leave the village, or make a living in it, how could he feed his family?

As people who live in free states, living where we choose, moving freely from place to place, it is incredibly difficult for us to imagine the terrible feeling of impotence, frustration and loss, of being absolutely powerless in the face of a force who can play with your life at will, who actually wants you gone. With these heavy feelings and thoughts, Nazeeh looked at his poor options: The legal way was there, but he knew very well what little chance there was for a Palestinian appealing for Israeli justice. Besides, who could afford the attempt?

A demonstration? What's the point? It would be scattered immediately by volleys of rubber bullets in the best case -- live ammunition in the worst -- and all those who participated would pay dearly. Appeal to media attention? No one is interested in the story of another miserable Palestinian. Nazeeh, a man who is used to working 16 hours a day, whose feet are as hard as wood from walking barefoot in his olive grove since the age of 5, could not contain his sorrow, frustration and anger.

He set out for his grove, to be with his olive trees for as long as he could. He told his wife: "Don't wait for me. I have days, perhaps weeks, 'till the bulldozers erase my olive trees. I want to spend this time in the grove." He took some water, a small bag of coffee and sugar, and two boxes of cheap, homemade cigarettes, and left for the grove.

Gradually, the story of Nazeeh started going around in the village, and then seeped out, through the roadblocks, to international peace activists in a nearby village -- and from there to Israeli peace activists.

Slowly at first, people started coming, at first just to visit, and then to stay. Within a few days, a little tent was erected in the grove. Very soon, the tent turned to a protest tent against the occupation. People created information boards with photos and maps. Media representatives started coming. Nazeeh's tent became a story.

Until now, two months later, Nazeeh has not left the grove for more than a few hours. Some 500 Israelis and international peace activists have spent time there for a night or more -- nights that will no doubt change their views forever.

Oren Medicks works with Gush Shalom, an organization that is part of the Israeli peace movement.

War and Colombia

The United States' other war in Colombia -- not the other "war on terror" but the "war on drugs" -- is quickly becoming embarrassing for Washington. Of course, because Colombia's not exactly on the tip of everyone's tongue and the fact that there's a war underway in Iraq, most Americans remain largely ignorant of its details.

It's useful to first put Washington's relationship with Colombia in perspective before attempting to understand what's happening in the jungles there today. Colombia is one of the darlings of Washington; the South American country is the third largest recipient of U.S. aid, which stands at $1.7 billion over the last three years with another three-quarters of a billion dollars scheduled for 2003. About 75 percent of this goes to Colombia's military and police forces.

Bogotá, in turn, uses much of this to fight the "drug war," of which Washington is an integral part -- specifically in the illicit crops aerial eradication program, which is guided by the Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS) of the U.S. embassy in the Columbian capital. The U.S. also supplies spray aircraft, chemicals, pilots, and even support helicopters for the spray runs.

Recently, a series of plane crashes has called into question the extent of U.S. presence in Colombia. The first took place February 13, when a small U.S. government-owned Cessna crashed in an area controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Of the five passengers on board, three Americans survived and the fourth American and a Colombian military officer were supposedly killed by the FARC following the crash. The three survivors are still missing and are now hostages/prisoners of war in the custody of the FARC.

Then, on March 26, another U.S. Cessna crashed killing all three Americans on board, while on a mission to find the three missing Americans from the previous crash.

The Washington Post reported on March 27: "The three member crew that crashed Tuesday were part of the six-week search effort that has involved thousands of Colombian troops, U.S.-donated UH-60 Black Hawk and UH-1H Huey II helicopters, and American signals intelligence. The Pentagon is offering $300,000 and a U.S. visa in return for information leading to the rescue of the three Americans."

The third incident occurred Monday, April 7 when a U.S. T-65 aircraft was lost in Narino province, killing one American.

These bizarre events prompt a deeper look into happenings not only in Colombia but in much of Latin America as well.

The possible extent of U.S. involvement in the region was hinted at by then Acting Commander in Chief of the Southern Command Major General Gary D. Speer in statements he made one year ago when he addressed the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Foreign Operations on April 10: "The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army of Colombia (ELN) and the United Self Defense Group of Colombia (AUC) are all on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The FARC has been implicated in kidnappings and attacks against United States citizens and interests, including the murder of three U.S. citizens in 1998.

According to the Department of State's most recent human rights report, 44 percent of all terrorist acts against the U.S. interests throughout the world occurred in Colombia and most were committed by the FARC. The recent bombing outside the U.S Embassy in Peru preceding President Bush's visit is indicative that other domestic terrorist groups pose threats to the United States elsewhere in the hemisphere. These include but are not limited to the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), and Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) in Peru and the Jama'at al Muslimeen (JAM) in Trinidad and Tobago."

The seriousness with which Washington is likely to approach policy in the region is surely fueled by the fact that "44 percent of all terrorist acts against the U.S. interests throughout the world occurred in Colombia." Colombia is both part of the "war on terror" and the "war on drugs," is one of Latin America's leading oil producers with large amounts of foreign investment, and its location close by in the Western Hemisphere all make it worthy of large amounts of U.S. aid.

With the deployment of additional U.S. military personnel twice this year in response to various crises, Colombia is a fourth front in the broader post-9/11 doctrine of global preemptive policing loosely known as the "war on terror." Now the mere presence of a "terrorist organization" can cause an "emergency" deployment of troops or hardware to anywhere in the world.

However, Colombia differs from other conflicts because of the pervasive presence of the "war on drugs," which takes the form of a massive spraying campaign against coca and poppy crops led by the U.S. as part of "Plan Colombia." Over the years of spraying, as one might expect, this has led to considerable controversy as the region is repeatedly saturated by chemical showers that permeate the environment and drift on to unintended crops; farmers have taken BBC reporters into regions where crops have been destroyed and other areas deforested due to errant spraying. The U.S. State Department maintains that the chemicals used in the defoliant solution are of extremely low toxicities; but readily attainable, prominent studies question the veracity of such claims, including ones by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Though in another light, Colombia certainly resembles the Middle East and Afghanistan with its protracted civil war and multitude of guerrilla, government, and paramilitary forces.

The odd string of crashes over the last several weeks and the simultaneous increase in U.S. forces throughout Colombia serve as a reminder that this is a country of great concern to the United States and, perhaps, one where deeper military involvement may be inevitable, especially given the newfound policy of global preemptive policing.

Matthew Riemer has written for years about a myriad of topics, such as: philosophy, religion, psychology, culture, and politics. He studied Russian language and culture for five years and traveled in the former Soviet Union in 1990. Matthew is the Director of Operations at YellowTimes.org.

The Nuclear Bomb Hoax

On Feb. 14, 2003, Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), submitted, in accordance with U.N. Resolution 1441, his second report to the Security Council on Iraq's nuclear non-capability.

Much to the chagrin of President Bush and Colin Powell, the nuclear inspection chief's findings not only cleared the smoke from the imagined "smoking gun," but also dissipated the smog of misinformation with which the U.S. government, hungry for war, has surrounded this issue. The matters raised by ElBaradei merit further comment.

The inspectors, the IAEA head reported, collected hundreds of soil, air and water samples, and installed and reinstalled dozens of radioactivity detectors -- including gamma-ray surveillance instruments both airborne and ground based -- during 177 inspections and visits to 120 nuclear related locations in the past nine weeks.

What is not generally known is that when Hans Blix, a month ago, challenged Bush and Blair to put up or shut up, in effect challenging them to produce their "sensitive" intelligence on suspected sites in order to allow the inspectors to verify the vociferous claims of the likes of White House spokesman Ari Fleischer's "we know they have it," a list of 25 sites was quietly provided.

The inspectors visited each one of these sites and found nothing. The total sum of all these samples, detectors and visits, as far as the nuclear weapon program is concerned, was nil.

Powell's insinuations about Iraq's imagined nuclear capabilities (fissile ore importation, secret laser enrichment techniques, nefarious aluminum tubes, etc.) now echo with a hollow ring. One wonders of what sort of scientific information he availed himself, if any, before presenting such flimsy allegations as evidence. Perhaps he confined himself to advice from "consultants" in ivory think tanks such as the Nuclear Control Institute.

One might humbly ask what is stopping his "scientists" and consultants now from "advising" their government regarding the remote likelihood that ongoing work related to research and development of a nuclear weapon program would not leave a trace, even in minute amounts, of certain half-life isotopes that would surely be susceptible to detection by the latest highly-touted, ultra sensitive instruments employed by the IAEA inspectors?

In succinct terms, should not the "no finding" be a finding in itself, especially in a place where something was specifically alleged to be a major finding?

Having raised the false specter of an Iraqi mushroom cloud for a decade, Powell's scientists should consider it a matter of conscience to enlighten their government with their expertise in these matters.

The aluminum tubes fanfare so brazenly trumpeted by Powell is reduced to whether the reverse-engineering attempt by Iraqi military engineers amounted to anything more than extra precaution on the part of the engineers. They were most probably demanding definite tolerances in order to ensure the success of their attempt to manufacture locally the combustion chamber for a solid propellant rocket. Powell's only claim to annoyance is that they were more expensive than American aluminum tubes used for this purpose.

The fact is that aluminum tubes have been used to build tens of thousands of rockets. The hypothesis is that the tubes might be diverted for centrifuges. The "coating" applied to the tubes found in Iraq confirms the reason for why they were purchased.

It was also amusing to realize, while I watched the generous outpouring from U.S. "scientists" of detailed technical information in support of Powell's fallacious claim, that they were, in fact, explaining to Iraqi ears actually how to convert these aluminum tubes to centrifugal isotope enrichment cylinders! I can only hope that the "scientists" will not want to be paid for their generous technical advice from the Oil for Food program revenue.

ElBaradei confirmed in his report that it was "intelligence" information that led UNMOVIC to the invasion of the private home of Faleh Hamza -- the supposedly "secret" keeper of the laser enrichment technique -- and the consequent confiscation of 2000 pages of personal documents. Powell had pursued this case in a pathetic attempt to provide "evidence" for the third enrichment process. One wonders what kind of arm-twisting was applied to UNMOVIC to carry out this James Bond style fiasco, since the IAEA itself was already fully aware of the insignificance to the Iraqi nuclear program of Faleh Hamza's work on laser enrichment.

We, the Iraqi nuclear team, declared as much in our final report to the IAEA in 1997, pointing clearly to the demise in 1988 of Faleh Hamza's line of research. ElBaradei confirmed that fact the day after Blix brought it up in his first report to the Security Council two weeks ago. He pointed to the personal nature of the seized papers and even chided Blix for referring to it.

One would wonder whether this rejuvenated "intelligence" might not have been the stale information provided by CIA mouthpiece Khidhir Hamza, perhaps in an attempt to stay on their payroll.

In an interview with Hamza published in the Washington Post on Feb. 6, 2003, Powell, in his report to the Security Council two weeks ago, referred to information gleaned from "another defector in 1995." "He was referring to me," Hamza boasts.

If Khidhir Hamza has indeed managed, through his connections with Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld, to bypass the entire intelligence community, which disposed of him years ago, if his information is false or silly, if he was not there when Iraq began its serious weaponization program, if he has no new sources, if his testaments are filled with personal diatribes against Iraq, why would the Secretary of Defense turn to him for information?

The U.S. could save billions in the intelligence budget if they would just use what they do find and discard what they know is false!

At the end of his report, ElBaradei unequivocally stated that the Iraqi nuclear weapon program was "neutralized" and that there is "no evidence" of its rejuvenation. Being part of the U.N. system, he felt the need to add a few politically correct question marks concerning "speed," "assurance" and "patterns" of intentions and actions.

Certain European countries are rightly asking how long Bush and Powell can blow into a balloon full of holes. One might also reasonably ask about Bush and Powell's "speed," "assurances" and "patterns" in the misinformation game.

Powell is certainly not new to it.

In "The Scourging of Iraq," Geoff Simons writes: "Washington lied persistently and comprehensively to gain the required international support [for the Gulf war]. For example, the U.S. claimed to have satellite pictures showing a massive Iraqi military build-up on the Saudi/ Iraqi border. When sample photographs were later obtained from Soyuz Karta by an enterprising journalist, no such evidence was discernible."

Simons makes reference to an article by Maggie O'Kane, published in the Guardian Weekend, 16 December 1995, which revealed that the enterprising journalist was Jean Heller of the St. Petersburg Times in Florida.

Eventually, the U.S. commander -- none other than Colin Powell himself -- admitted that there had been no massing of Iraqi troops. But by then, the so-called evidence had served its purpose.

Yet Powell claimed on Feb.14, 2003 in the Toronto Star, while still blistering under Blix's and ElBaradei's reports, that "force should always be a last resort -- I have preached this for most of my professional life as a soldier and as a diplomat."

Perhaps this time history should not be allowed to repeat itself.

Imad Khadduri has a MSc in Physics from the University of Michigan (United States) and a PhD in Nuclear Reactor Technology from the University of Birmingham (United Kingdom). Khadduri worked with the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission from 1968 until 1998. He was able to leave Iraq in late 1998 with his family. He now teaches and works as a network administrator in Toronto, Canada. He has been interviewed by the Toronto Star, Reuters, and various other news agencies in regards to his knowledge of the Iraqi nuclear program. This article was originally printed in YellowTimes.org. Imad Khadduri encourages your comments: imad.khadduri@rogers.com



An Active Marine Speaks Out

In the late 1700s, a clarion call went out in the British Colonies of the New World. Brave sons responded and waged war upon their masters to shake off the yoke of colonial rule and change the face of the world. In 1812, that same colonial master failed to properly respect her upstart bastard offspring, and the United States again gave up many of its youngest and bravest in a war that is primarily remembered today for inspiring the American national anthem.

In 1861, the founding principles of this great experimental union were threatened and one of the most truly binding facets of both the North and the South was the eagerness with which their native sons responded to fight for their land, for their liberty, and for their determined beliefs.

They were both convinced that the governments in which name they were fighting had called upon them with integrity and were waging war for the noblest of causes. The ensuing Civil War left no winners; only survivors remained.

These survivors picked up the fragments of cannon shrapnel and entrails on the battlefields and reconstructed the South. Steel tempered became steel strengthened.

Several small wars followed, but it was not until our policy of isolationism was overcome by the horror of World War I that again American sons and daughters were asked to go forth en masse into the Old World by their leaders and wage war for noble causes.

Without question, this generation also responded and fought in the bloody war to end all wars. A peace brought on by horror lasts only so long as those who can vividly recall the violence that actually occurred, and so a short 20 years later, we found ourselves on the brink again.

Europe was thrown into chaos by political and social intolerance, wearing the names of Nazism and Fascism. Again, an American generation was called by their leaders and ennobled with the power of righteousness and the desire to liberate the free world from a tyrannical shadow.

Following this, we once again found ourselves embroiled in a conflict in Korea, where the policy of containment was put to a successful martial test.

Today, American sons and daughters are again called upon by our "elected leaders" to wage war in the Middle East. Yet at this time, we still have not learned the lesson of the Vietnam War, in which the same caliber of indefatigable American men and women answered their nation's call to wage war on communism only to have their great capabilities wasted by a government that failed to develop a successful policy. They failed even to develop a policy of any kind other than to feed more and more of our nation's youth to the jungle out of some misguided fear that the spread of communism to Vietnam would somehow threaten our own way of life.

The lesson that Americans have failed to learn is this: Simply stamping our flag upon the face of a cause does not give it intrinsic value or righteousness.

Through the trials of our early conflicts, we fought with the strength of a young child determined to live. Our abilities were being tested by the world at large and we needed to prove ourselves to be more than the upstart child. We did this well and shrouded ourselves in the nimbus of our newfound independence, fighting always in its name and rightfully so. We preserved our Union and then went on to fight in the world at large, with the flag of freedom always unfurling in our wake.

Our soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen distinguished themselves in the fields of Europe fighting with the will of the entire free world alongside the British, French, Russians and others to stop the tide of malevolent regimes from overtaking them.

In Vietnam, we fought for ... what? We fought to fight back what we painted as the "evil" wave of communism, a wave that crashed and receded now some twelve years past. To this day still, our Vietnam veterans maintain a fierce pride of their time in-country, as they should.

They answered their country's call as all young men and women of the U. S. should be proud to do. But that pride is accompanied with a great confusion and bitterness over the period served. All of our veterans want to maintain their pride of service, but something tells them that our war in Vietnam, while waged by the same honor bound and brave soldiers as our prior conflicts, was waged not in the name of righteousness but in fear and in confusion and amidst one of the greatest public debates of history.

Today, we speak of war in Iraq. In whose name is this war waged? In whose flag can Bush's cabinet wrap themselves?

This war is not waged to abet the war on terrorism; Iraq's government is secular and while Saddam welcomes any blow to the United States, he has professed no major interest in supporting Al Qaeda's jihad.

It is not waged to stop the tide of a malevolent regime; Saddam has shown no interest in expanding his territory, and his government is, in fact, hard pressed to hold on to the territory that it does control.

Saddam Hussein is not fit to preside over a populace. The citizens of Iraq will be much better off without him or his sons sitting atop their nation's regime. But why do we wish to bomb these people into further submission for the crimes of their president?

Will they see American and British soldiers as riding into their country on white horses shaking off Saddam's regime, or will they look around seeing only fragments of once-great Mesopotamia left and wonder what there is for them to go on with?

Of course, the West will involve itself in the reconstruction and aid in the adoption of a democratic regime, but will we honestly be able to keep our over-burgeoning thirst for oil from taking control of us? Will we be able to support a regime that is favorable to the Iraqi citizens in place of one that gives us a reduced price per barrel?

We have no leg to stand on any more, considering that Saddam has now capitulated and agreed to allow inspectors into Iraq unconditionally. We held some moral high ground while he refused to allow these inspectors in, but we are quickly losing that high ground.

Most of the high ground that we gained after the Gulf War was lost in our supporting of UN-imposed sanctions that did little to hurt Saddam's regime. These sanctions actually injure the citizens of Iraq more than anything and they allow Saddam's propaganda machine to paint the Western World in a negative light to these citizens. But still our leaders wrap the Iraqi invasion plans in a red, white and blue dossier and expect it to have righteousness simply because it was designed by those who stand behind that flag.

True patriotism is not standing behind that flag; true patriotism is standing in front of it, bleeding in front of it, and breathing your last breath in service to it, just to keep it from being sullied by those who would take it away and hijack our values from us.

Our elders failed to properly indoctrinate our children with the lessons of Vietnam, and again we find the American government covering itself in the Stars and Stripes and attempting to dupe the American public into following into a war that should properly be presented within a barrel of oil.

Another lesson taught in every conflict and still unlearned is that the decision to go to war should be one that is despaired over. It should be one that is met only with the firmest resolve and that is often signed in tears.

Bloodshed is not something to approach lightly. Freedom is not gained easily and the American way will never be cheap, but a war declaration should never be signed in red, white and blue ink and binding one in our flag does not give it the quality of correctness; it only fades the colors of that flag. I hope that the majority of the American public realizes this, in spite of what is fed to us from the mass media.

Colin Dorrity is a Non-Commissioned Officer serving proudly on active duty in the United States Marine Corps. He is currently stationed in the Middle East and looks forward to returning home in 2003.

Protesters Call Cheney to Task

San Francisco -- It is a beautiful early morning and protesters are just beginning to assemble behind the barricades, across the street from the venerable Fairmont Hotel. Inside, preparations are under way for the arrival of the Vice-President of the United States, who will be the guest speaker at the Commonwealth Club of California. Outside, demonstrators are beginning to drift in front of the security forces of SFPD, and the cameras of CNN.

As the hour nears eight o'clock, the demonstrators grow rapidly in number and the police take up pre-arranged positions. The routine on both sides follows pre-determined paths of peaceful public demonstrations against the establishment. This happens whenever the leadership of the few, the Bush administration, find themselves vulnerable in the presence of those of us they claim to represent. Unless our national leaders are speaking to kindergarten students, or military gatherings they seem not to welcome the crowds that attend their appearance. That is definitely true on this occasion.

There are perhaps two hundred people now, and the block-long street in front of the hotel has been sealed off. The crowd begins to chant: "He's in bed with Corporate Crime -- Cheney should be doing time!" The cavalry arrives, six cops on horseback saunter their beautiful animals back and forth in front of the barricades. Their riot helmets rest quietly on the pommels of their saddles, but the body language of the officers is hostile. A paddy wagon stops in the middle of the street and plastic handcuffs are distributed to about thirty cops. The chanting continues: "Cover-up is Corporate Crime -- Cheney should be doing Time!"

Now the barricade, which was taking up about half a lane of the two-way street, is forcibly moved back to the curb. The plastic handcuffs -- a legacy created by Ed Meese for demonstrations of another kind -- are used to secure the barricades to street signs that line the crowded sidewalk. The crowd continues to cram itself into an ever-smaller space, and this intensifies the chanting. "Let's clean up the corporate slime -- Cheney should be doing Time!"

Enter the San Francisco Mime Troupe, with the entire cast of their current production, "Mr. Smith Goes to Obscuristan," starring none other than "Dick" Cheney. The star of their production, a man with an amazingly similar appearance to Cheney begins to make his jovial way through the tightly packed crowd. He gently waves in imitation of the very powerful while he says to one and all; "So nice to see all the little people here." It is a moment that one might find at Carnival and the crowd loves it.

The Cavalry is restless and finally they position themselves at either end of the street. The horses answer nature's call in front of the barricades -- adding a not-so-aromatic scent to the festive nature of the moment. On the California Street side of the demonstration a bizarre group of protesters now appear, surrounded by police. They are wearing all white, carrying black campaign placards that say Bush - Cheney. The signs, white letters on gloss black have a full color American flag beside the names. There are about half-a-dozen of these people led by a rather excited man with a bullhorn. To counter the larger crowd they begin to chant: Cheney! Cheney! Cheney! To this the crowd responds by inserting one word -- for the sound one makes when using a straw too fervently -- between each pronouncement of the vice-president's name.

Still photographers began to mingle with police, using telephoto lenses. Their faces are more like those of clandestine agents than professional photographers. But cameras are everywhere and most people pay little attention to them. There is a man just in front with a shirt that says: "Invisibile no more" in fire yellow on light purple -- that seems to capture the mood rather well.

The police try to create more space on the sidewalk between the administration's supporters of the guest, and the rest of us. Finally, the barricades are moved back to where they were in the street, leaving more room for the demonstrators, but encompassing rather large quantities of horse droppings for us to deal with. Spirits were still high and growing. Now there were about 400 people amassed in front of the hotel.

Here the Mime Troup was permitted to make a mock arrival 'at the hotel' across the street. Several startled guests who were trying to leave the building thought for a minute that they might be caught up in a situation. But instead everyone seemed to enjoy the humor of the moment.

As the next hour nears, the now nearly 500 people intensify their cry in unison: "He's in bed with Corporate Crime! --Cheney should be doing Time!" And a few more of us begin to drift away, back to our computers and back to the working half-life of this world.

In George Orwell's classic novel 1984, the "Ministry of Truth" declares: "War is Peace -- Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength." To these hallmarks of double-speak, the Bush administration has now added some obscenities of their own: "Promises are Prosperity -- Bankruptcy is Wealth and of course, Lies are Truth!

This morning's New York Times quoted Cheney as saying to the Commonwealth Club: "When there is corporate fraud, the American people can be certain that the government will fully investigate, arrest and prosecute those responsible."

Cheney is someone who has used his positions over the years to extreme personal advantage, both for himself and for awhile, for the "growth" of Halliburton as well. However those profits appear to have been more than simple exaggeration. His activities would seem to merit a full investigation, not only by the SEC, but also by a Special Prosecutor at the very least. Given this cloud of doubt that surrounds our second highest office-holder in the land, he should have choked on his own words to the members of the Commonwealth Club of California. Maybe he actually believes that "Lies are Truth."

He was once interrupted in the collegial setting of his speech. It seems that five people who disagreed with him, had actually acquired tickets to the lecture, and began to shout: "Corporate Criminal!" as they were being escorted from the room.

When will the gulf between reality and the declared goals of those who are supposed to lead this country come together? The public wanted answers to the accounting scandals, what we got was the PATRIOT act. When we pressed for prosecution of corporate crime, we got Homeland Security, something that was first dreamed up by Newt Gingrich of "Contract on America" fame. When the markets kept falling, and the public's concerns about the possibility of losing jobs, losing their future well being, and possibly their life-savings to 401K fraud: Bush and Co. began to push hard for simultaneously re-organizing the entire federal government while starting a new war with Iraq. And all of this on the eve of coming elections. Someone is not listening.

People are actually beginning to wonder what has this "War on Terror" accomplished? We still don't know about either Osama or Omar, and we have yet to find the author of the Anthrax letters. We've dropped a lot of bombs, held a lot of press conferences, and trashed the Bill of Rights, while preparing to make further incursions into the body of the Constitution itself. This campaign is under the leadership of a man who lost his last bid for public office to a dead man. The top-cop in America, who seems not to have even read existing law, now is the final authority on who's a threat and who's a patriot in these troubled times.

America needs answers to those things that most concern its working citizens. It seems that the wealthy have paid their way to incredible financial rewards, even if many of those "profits" turn out to be ill-gotten gains. It's the needs of the other four-fifths of us that are being ignored. And eventually -- unless this disparity between classes of income is addressed -- this wonderful experiment in representative democracy will lose its value. Of course, as in Orwell's novel, Big Brother might get away with this charade -- if and only if -- we continue to fail to pay attention to the events that surround us everyday.

For my part, I think "Cheney should be doing time!"

Jim Kirwan encourages your comments at Wildfire9of9@yahoo.com.

The Ugly Truth About Suicide Bombers

The appearance in court on May 15 of four Arab-Israeli women accused of helping Palestinian militants carry out attacks in the Jewish state raises a disturbing question because it has received so little public attention.

To be sure, Israeli security officials have spoken of the "increased involvement" of Arab-Israelis in the Palestinian uprising, but given their penchant for heavily publicizing such matters via a pliant media, one has to wonder why they have been so relatively reticent to go after this one with the usual enthusiasm.

Israel's Arab community has ample reason to hold divided loyalties. Ethnic Palestinians whose homes were either in the areas granted to the Jewish state by the UN's 1947 partition plan or on territory captured in the war that followed the Jewish state's creation in 1948, their citizenship carries many asterisks.

Despite making up approximately one sixth of the population, Arab-Israelis are prohibited from serving in the military and other security bodies, which in turn denies them eligibility to hold many civil service positions. Their human rights have been routinely violated under official policies and court decisions that allow investigators to hold them for long periods of time without laying charges and to use torture as a means of interrogation.

Their neighborhoods receive far less financial support from the state than do Jewish areas, with the result that their schools, roads, sewer systems and other indicators of infrastructure development are decades behind those of their neighbors. Even their allotment of water - whether for household consumption or irrigation - is a small fraction of that provided to Jews.

Given the quasi-apartheid treatment afforded to Israel's Arab citizens, is it reasonable to assume that significant numbers of them are sufficiently disillusioned to help their Palestinian brethren carry out attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians? According to some of the people with whom I spoke, it would be unrealistic to have any doubts about the matter.

Suicide bombings have brought the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to a standstill by sparking a chicken-and-egg argument over how they can be stopped and who has the responsibility to do so.

Those who largely back Ariel Sharon's hard-line policies insist that the Palestinian Authority is to blame for continuing attacks on Israeli civilians - either because Yasser Arafat has failed to unleash his security apparatus against militant groups or because he has actually masterminded their activities.

Those who generally sympathize with Arafat point out that the Palestinian Authority's capabilities in this regard - as in many others - have been badly degraded by a year and half of conflict with one of the world's most powerful militaries: many security officers have been assassinated, and even if they could round up militants, dozens of buildings that might have been used to incarcerate them have been destroyed. Apart from undermining Arafat's ability to maintain law and order, Israel's consistent reliance on military force serves to provide a steady supply of the anger and despair that contribute so mightily to militancy.

Making Israelis and their government understand this is no easy matter. Alex Fishman, a relatively moderate commentator for the right-wing Maariv newspaper, concluded after the suicide bombings on May 19 that the "military achievements" of the Israeli offensive in the West Bank "are evaporating." In fact, unless a diplomatic breakthrough is achieved in the near future, the conseqences of that bloody rampage have only just begun to make themselves felt, and Israeli civilians will pay most of the toll with their lives.

In any event, the pro-Palestinian argument goes, terrorism is simply the response to continuing occupation: end that and you end suicide bombings.

There are certain elements of truth on both sides of this debate, but neither of them has fully addressed a key question: How is it that scores of suicide bombers have carried explosives from the Occupied Territories into Israel proper without getting caught?

Dozens of gunmen, after all, have been captured or killed by Israeli soldiers while trying to infiltrate, so why have there been so few reports of would-be bombers suffering the same fate? The reason that neither side has asked such questions is that the answers would be exceedingly inconvenient to both.

It would be ludicrous to suggest that suicide bombers are so much better at sneaking into Israel that their success rate is many times that of gunmen. After all, while a large percentage of the gunmen have received considerable training, suicide bombers are viewed as expendable because they lack the skills required to engage in conventional guerrilla-style operations, which include infiltration techniques. One must therefore assume that in fact many have been caught and/or killed but were still without their deadly implements and so, were not counted as suicide bombers.

Herein lies the problem, for the foregoing conclusion relies on their ability to obtain explosives once they are already inside Israel, a reality that undermines the positions of both sides. For the pro-Arab camp, it means that Palestinian militant groups are most likely being helped by Arab-Israelis on a vast scale, weakening its contention that lifting the occupation will turn their West Bank and Gaza Strip cousins into peace-loving acceptors of Israel's right to exist within secure borders.

For the pro-Israeli side, it means that the modern, efficient Jewish state is itself incapable of accomplishing what it has demanded of the ramshackle Palestinian Authority. It is therefore easy to see why neither side wants to discuss the issue beyond what is absolutely necessary.

As might be expected from people anxious to maintain a veil of secrecy around their methods, calls to a few Hamas and Islamic Jihad men were met with terse refusals to comment beyond the predictable platitudes about Arab solidarity and the right to resist occupation. But one of them, whom I'll call Mahmoud, provided a few hints - indirect ones, of course, but clear indications that I was not far off the mark. After he insisted that "I cannot speak to you," and that "it would be better if you stopped asking other people (too)," I pressed him by asking whether he really thought that talking to me would actually reveal anything of which the Jewish state's vaunted security services were not already acutely aware. Did he think they were stupid?

"No. Absolutely not. [But discussing this] can only hurt the resistance ... even if it is true or not true."

My antenna went up. What if I promised that he could look over what I wrote to make sure he had not inadvertently betrayed some crucial secret? I could hear the gears turning in Mahmoud's head, but then he made his decision: "No. That is all." The conversation ended, but the implications were clear.

A member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Arafat's mainstream Fatah faction, was slightly less secretive but equally unwilling to get into details. "Karim" readily acknowledged that his secular group had benefited from assistance by Arab-Israelis and added a personal assumption that the same was true of Islamic groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

It was when I sought to flesh out the level of involvement that he became more circumspect. He refused, for example, to offer an estimate as to what percentage of Brigades operations might have Arab-Israeli help. He also refused to be specific about anything having to do with what kind of assistance was being rendered.

According to Israeli security sources, some of the help has come in the form of providing explosives, but logistical support has also been made available by providing transportation, guides, lookouts, stolen and phony identity cards, etc. Karim did not deny that any of these were being provided, but nor was he willing to talk about the subject.

One Israeli military officer was unusually forthcoming, however, even if he refused to have his name used in print. As a major whose responsibilities include staffing at some checkpoints in the West Bank, the man I'll call "Abe" is well-placed to gauge the likelihood that Palestinian suicide bombers are frequently getting past his troops and only then picking up the explosives they use to such devastating effect in public places.

Asked if he thought Arab-Israelis might be helping groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad on a large scale, Abe dispensed with any and all formalities: "Of course," he replied, adding that it was "impossible" that they were not and even suggesting that Israeli Jews might also be participating ("there are people who will do anything for the right price").

"There is no other way to explain how it is that the terrorists are not caught before the act with the [explosive] belts on," Abe argued. "They've been waltzing through our checkpoints because they don't have to carry the evidence with them. They get it from their friends here. Probably, almost all of them, and everything - dynamite, plastique, nails - you name it. And nobody wants to admit it because that way we look incompetent."

Seeing as how these "friends" live in Israel and hold Israeli citizenship, I then asked, is it not the Jewish state's responsibility to crack down on them?

This presented a particularly ticklish problem that prompted Abe to first repeat his insistence that his name not be used and then to plunge into a rambling soliloquy:

Does everyone in Tzahal [the army] have to be against suicide bombings? I mean, it is not in everyone's interests that they should end. It's not my fault, and I don't know anyone who has done anything to help the terrorists, but is what you don't do not as important as what you do? What if an officer suspects an attack will happen but refrains from sharing it [with his colleagues] so it can be stopped? Why would he do that? Maybe because he thinks that every dead child makes it easier for Israel, for Sharon, to get his way. That can mean [short-term goals like] retaliation or it can mean [long-term ones like] hanging on to land that the rest of the world expects us to evacuate.

Had he ever suspected a fellow officer of harboring such feelings and/or acting on them?

"It would be unspeakable. But it's easy to disguise as something else. You can say you're worried about the welfare of the men in your command."

So had he seen it happen?

"It's hard to say with a certainty. I hope not."

But has he had what he felt were well-founded suspicions?

"Sure. Yes."

Had he ever reported his suspicions to someone higher up in the chain of command?

"You don't know much about Tzahal do you? [Officers] don't make accusations you can't prove, even when it's a minor thing. Something like this? Your career would end if you couldn't prove it. And this would be the biggest scandal. Who knows? Maybe your life."

The next Israeli who agreed to discuss the issue was a former agent with Shin Bet, the Jewish state's internal security service. Now a private consultant who helps arrange protection for visiting businessmen, he maintains regular contacts with his former colleagues.

Did "Avi" think Arab-Israelis were providing assistance to Palestinian suicide bombers on a regular basis?

"No doubt it happens. Maybe not all the time, but why not? It's their relatives, and relatives help each other."

Was the Israeli military aware of how widespread such help was?

"That is another question."

Obviously, but what was the answer?

"Probably they know. But this is not something they air too much in public."

Why would that be?

"I don't know. I don't work for the government anymore."

Could it be because some quarters actually want the suicide bombings to continue?

At this point Avi abandoned the carefully measured tone of an intelligence professional, dismissing my suggestion as "unimaginable" and likening it to "the fabrication" that Zionist organizations passed up opportunities to evacuate Jews from Europe and save them from the Holocaust because they would only accept emigration to Mandate Palestine.

When informed that a serving military officer had not been quite so ready to rule it out, though, Avi became considerably less combative, allowing that it was indeed "possible" that certain elements in the army and/or the security services might be "capable to see this as a lesser evil" than making a peace that calls for the return of occupied land.

All of this does much to explain why Israel's government has not sought to make a major issue out of its own Arab citizens' apparent willingness to help Palestinian militants. It would badly undermine the Jewish state's contention that Arafat has the ability to end all attacks on Israelis. And as mentioned earlier, the Palestinians themselves are loath to discuss matters that might affect future operations. It has never seemed more appropriate to note that "the first casualty of war is truth."

Perhaps if the Israelis and the Palestinians can stop lying to one another (and to themselves) over this issue, they might be able to more realistically address some of the larger matters that keep them from making peace.

Marc Sirois is the managing editor of The Daily Star, an English-language newspaper in Beirut. He lives in Lebanon. He encourages your comments at marcsirois@hotmail.com

The Ugly Truth

The appearance in court on May 15 of four Arab-Israeli women accused of helping Palestinian militants carry out attacks in the Jewish state raises a disturbing question because it has received so little public attention. To be sure, Israeli security officials have spoken of the "increased involvement" of Arab-Israelis in the Palestinian uprising, but given their penchant for heavily publicizing such matters via a pliant media, one has to wonder why they have been so relatively reticent to go after this one with the usual enthusiasm.

Israel's Arab community has ample reason to hold divided loyalties. Ethnic Palestinians whose homes were either in the areas granted to the Jewish state by the UN's 1947 partition plan or on territory captured in the war that followed the Jewish state's creation in 1948, their citizenship carries many asterisks.

Despite making up approximately one sixth of the population, Arab-Israelis are prohibited from serving in the military and other security bodies, which in turn denies them eligibility to hold many civil service positions. Their human rights have been routinely violated under official policies and court decisions that allow investigators to hold them for long periods of time without laying charges and to use torture as a means of interrogation.

Their neighborhoods receive far less financial support from the state than do Jewish areas, with the result that their schools, roads, sewer systems and other indicators of infrastructure development are decades behind those of their neighbors. Even their allotment of water - whether for household consumption or irrigation - is a small fraction of that provided to Jews.

Given the quasi-apartheid treatment afforded to Israel's Arab citizens, is it reasonable to assume that significant numbers of them are sufficiently disillusioned to help their Palestinian brethren carry out attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians? According to some of the people with whom I spoke, it would be unrealistic to have any doubts about the matter.

Suicide bombings have brought the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to a standstill by sparking a chicken-and-egg argument over how they can be stopped and who has the responsibility to do so.

Those who largely back Ariel Sharon's hard-line policies insist that the Palestinian Authority is to blame for continuing attacks on Israeli civilians - either because Yasser Arafat has failed to unleash his security apparatus against militant groups or because he has actually masterminded their activities.

Those who generally sympathize with Arafat point out that the Palestinian Authority's capabilities in this regard - as in many others - have been badly degraded by a year and half of conflict with one of the world's most powerful militaries: many security officers have been assassinated, and even if they could round up militants, dozens of buildings that might have been used to incarcerate them have been destroyed. Apart from undermining Arafat's ability to maintain law and order, Israel's consistent reliance on military force serves to provide a steady supply of the anger and despair that contribute so mightily to militancy.

Making Israelis and their government understand this is no easy matter. Alex Fishman, a relatively moderate commentator for the right-wing Maariv newspaper, concluded after the suicide bombings on May 19 that the "military achievements" of the Israeli offensive in the West Bank "are evaporating." In fact, unless a diplomatic breakthrough is achieved in the near future, the conseqences of that bloody rampage have only just begun to make themselves felt, and Israeli civilians will pay most of the toll with their lives.

In any event, the pro-Palestinian argument goes, terrorism is simply the response to continuing occupation: end that and you end suicide bombings.

There are certain elements of truth on both sides of this debate, but neither of them has fully addressed a key question: How is it that scores of suicide bombers have carried explosives from the Occupied Territories into Israel proper without getting caught?

Dozens of gunmen, after all, have been captured or killed by Israeli soldiers while trying to infiltrate, so why have there been so few reports of would-be bombers suffering the same fate? The reason that neither side has asked such questions is that the answers would be exceedingly inconvenient to both.

It would be ludicrous to suggest that suicide bombers are so much better at sneaking into Israel that their success rate is many times that of gunmen. After all, while a large percentage of the gunmen have received considerable training, suicide bombers are viewed as expendable because they lack the skills required to engage in conventional guerrilla-style operations, which include infiltration techniques. One must therefore assume that in fact many have been caught and/or killed but were still without their deadly implements and so, were not counted as suicide bombers.

Herein lies the problem, for the foregoing conclusion relies on their ability to obtain explosives once they are already inside Israel, a reality that undermines the positions of both sides. For the pro-Arab camp, it means that Palestinian militant groups are most likely being helped by Arab-Israelis on a vast scale, weakening its contention that lifting the occupation will turn their West Bank and Gaza Strip cousins into peace-loving acceptors of Israel's right to exist within secure borders.

For the pro-Israeli side, it means that the modern, efficient Jewish state is itself incapable of accomplishing what it has demanded of the ramshackle Palestinian Authority. It is therefore easy to see why neither side wants to discuss the issue beyond what is absolutely necessary.

As might be expected from people anxious to maintain a veil of secrecy around their methods, calls to a few Hamas and Islamic Jihad men were met with terse refusals to comment beyond the predictable platitudes about Arab solidarity and the right to resist occupation. But one of them, whom I'll call Mahmoud, provided a few hints - indirect ones, of course, but clear indications that I was not far off the mark. After he insisted that "I cannot speak to you," and that "it would be better if you stopped asking other people (too)," I pressed him by asking whether he really thought that talking to me would actually reveal anything of which the Jewish state's vaunted security services were not already acutely aware. Did he think they were stupid?

"No. Absolutely not. [But discussing this] can only hurt the resistance ... even if it is true or not true."

My antennae went up. What if I promised that he could look over what I wrote to make sure he had not inadvertently betrayed some crucial secret? I could hear the gears turning in Mahmoud's head, but then he made his decision: "No. That is all." The conversation ended, but the implications were clear.

A member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Arafat's mainstream Fatah faction, was slightly less secretive but equally unwilling to get into details. "Karim" readily acknowledged that his secular group had benefited from assistance by Arab-Israelis and added a personal assumption that the same was true of Islamic groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

It was when I sought to flesh out the level of involvement that he became more circumspect. He refused, for example, to offer an estimate as to what percentage of Brigades operations might have Arab-Israeli help. He also refused to be specific about anything having to do with what kind of assistance was being rendered.

According to Israeli security sources, some of the help has come in the form of providing explosives, but logistical support has also been made available by providing transportation, guides, lookouts, stolen and phony identity cards, etc. Karim did not deny that any of these were being provided, but nor was he willing to talk about the subject.

One Israeli military officer was unusually forthcoming, however, even if he refused to have his name used in print. As a major whose responsibilities include staffing at some checkpoints in the West Bank, the man I'll call "Abe" is well-placed to gauge the likelihood that Palestinian suicide bombers are frequently getting past his troops and only then picking up the explosives they use to such devastating effect in public places.

Asked if he thought Arab-Israelis might be helping groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad on a large scale, Abe dispensed with any and all formalities: "Of course," he replied, adding that it was "impossible" that they were not and even suggesting that Israeli Jews might also be participating ("there are people who will do anything for the right price").

"There is no other way to explain how it is that the terrorists are not caught before the act with the [explosive] belts on," Abe argued. "They've been waltzing through our checkpoints because they don't have to carry the evidence with them. They get it from their friends here. Probably, almost all of them, and everything - dynamite, plastique, nails - you name it. And nobody wants to admit it because that way we look incompetent."

Seeing as how these "friends" live in Israel and hold Israeli citizenship, I then asked, is it not the Jewish state's responsibility to crack down on them?

This presented a particularly ticklish problem that prompted Abe to first repeat his insistence that his name not be used and then to plunge into a rambling soliloquy:

Does everyone in Tzahal [the army] have to be against suicide bombings? I mean, it is not in everyone's interests that they should end. It's not my fault, and I don't know anyone who has done anything to help the terrorists, but is what you don't do not as important as what you do? What if an officer suspects an attack will happen but refrains from sharing it [with his colleagues] so it can be stopped? Why would he do that? Maybe because he thinks that every dead child makes it easier for Israel, for Sharon, to get his way. That can mean [short-term goals like] retaliation or it can mean [long-term ones like] hanging on to land that the rest of the world expects us to evacuate.

Had he ever suspected a fellow officer of harboring such feelings and/or acting on them?

"It would be unspeakable. But it's easy to disguise as something else. You can say you're worried about the welfare of the men in your command."

So had he seen it happen?

"It's hard to say with a certainty. I hope not."

But has he had what he felt were well-founded suspicions?

"Sure. Yes."

Had he ever reported his suspicions to someone higher up in the chain of command?

"You don't know much about Tzahal do you? [Officers] don't make accusations you can't prove, even when it's a minor thing. Something like this? Your career would end if you couldn't prove it. And this would be the biggest scandal. Who knows? Maybe your life."

The next Israeli who agreed to discuss the issue was a former agent with Shin Bet, the Jewish state's internal security service. Now a private consultant who helps arrange protection for visiting businessmen, he maintains regular contacts with his former colleagues.

Did "Avi" think Arab-Israelis were providing assistance to Palestinian suicide bombers on a regular basis?

"No doubt it happens. Maybe not all the time, but why not? It's their relatives, and relatives help each other."

Was the Israeli military aware of how widespread such help was?

"That is another question."

Obviously, but what was the answer?

"Probably they know. But this is not something they air too much in public."

Why would that be?

"I don't know. I don't work for the government anymore."

Could it be because some quarters actually want the suicide bombings to continue?

At this point Avi abandoned the carefully measured tone of an intelligence professional, dismissing my suggestion as "unimaginable" and likening it to "the fabrication" that Zionist organizations passed up opportunities to evacuate Jews from Europe and save them from the Holocaust because they would only accept emigration to Mandate Palestine.

When informed that a serving military officer had not been quite so ready to rule it out, though, Avi became considerably less combative, allowing that it was indeed "possible" that certain elements in the army and/or the security services might be "capable to see this as a lesser evil" than making a peace that calls for the return of occupied land.

All of this does much to explain why Israel's government has not sought to make a major issue out of its own Arab citizens' apparent willingness to help Palestinian militants. It would badly undermine the Jewish state's contention that Arafat has the ability to end all attacks on Israelis. And as mentioned earlier, the Palestinians themselves are loath to discuss matters that might affect future operations. It has never seemed more appropriate to note that "the first casualty of war is truth."

Perhaps if the Israelis and the Palestinians can stop lying to one another (and to themselves) over this issue, they might be able to more realistically address some of the larger matters that keep them from making peace.

Marc Sirois is the managing editor of The Daily Star, an English-language newspaper in Beirut. He lives in Lebanon. He can be reached at marcsirois@hotmail.com.

Welcome to the Information War

The question on the mind of every responsible journalist as of late (indeed, on the mind of every responsible individual, period) is: Has the media officially become the public relations arm of the United States government? And: Have we lost freedom of the press?

Why does our daily news come from some Pentagon briefing room or from some White House spokesperson - fully spun, packaged and pre-interpreted? And more importantly, why does no one care, either professional journalists or average citizens, or worse yet, even notice?

Has it been going on too long? Have Americans become incredibly gullible and apathetic, paralyzed by luxury and convenience to the point of self-destruction? Have we lost the capacity for individual thought accompanied by the awe we feel towards "experts," who treat us like children incapable of analysis? Have we grown to distrust ourselves and lost confidence in our own intellectual capacity? These are all reasons.

When the "war on terrorism" began in early October, the U.S. government severely restricted journalists from entering Afghanistan to cover first-hand the events taking place there in the field. Instead they opted for frequent, well-organized press conferences, only to be attended by journalists of choice, where people like General Tommy Franks, Rear Admiral John Stufflebeam, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made sure that the reporters got it right.

This was euphemized as being a service to the press, a manifestation of an informationally advanced and enlightened world, or, the next generation in war reporting. No more reporters nervously whispering into their dicta-phones about the horrors of war, or its thrills, while being led around on the front lines.

The apparent reason for this tyrannical information control is really that of public opinion control. Information that makes the U.S. look bad or reveals mistakes (civilian deaths, bombing of Red Cross facilities, oratory blunders, conflicting reports, etc.), whether by the president himself or that of a lone bombing mission, is transformed so as not to resemble its former self or is, quite simply, omitted.

Information that makes the U.S. look good (supports their efforts) is magnified and overemphasized. Statistical information is etched in stone and written in blood if released by the Pentagon, but not "independently verified" if released by a non-Pentagon source and hence thrown out as hysterical anti-American propaganda contrived by people who hate freedom.

Whatever happened to on-the-spot reporting and investigative journalism whose primary aims were to serve the public interest by providing "the story"? Whatever happened to tough questions? Now all we have are staged Q&A sessions designed to provide zero information about anything actually relevant. More ass kissing goes on than questioning.

A reporter might even get thrown out of a press conference or fired for asking "inappropriate" questions - as happened to a reporter who happened to ask George H.W. Bush a tough question several years back.

One only has to turn to their daily newspaper to see the painful truth. A recent article in the Boston Globe (2/20/02) highlights this ever-popular phenomenon quite well. In an article entitled "A tattered al-Qaeda seen with new tentacles" by Anthony Shadid, almost all of the fifteen paragraphs are direct quotes from, or paraphrases of, some government official, usually "speaking on condition of anonymity."

In fact, only three paragraphs aren't directly attributed to government sources and only once is an actual, traceable, human being named with regard to this information - Peter Chalk, terrorism analyst, in paragraph fifteen. In addition, the article contains the sketchiest of information, bordering on being comical at points, and completely fails to convey any kind of new, interesting, or valuable information to a knowledgeable reader beyond the speculation of anonymous "officials."

In the first paragraph we're told: "Al-Qaeda…will probably fracture into far-flung networks that operate on their own and blend into murky underworlds that make them more difficult to track…" Obviously, al-Qaeda is now fractured (or could become fractured) following the massive bombardment of Afghanistan.

"[F]ar flung networks" is resoundingly vague. "[M]urky underworlds" is straight out of a bad Hollywood script. (Where exactly are the non-murky underworlds?) And we can assume that al-Qaeda is "difficult to track" based upon the success of September 11 and that they will become "more difficult to track" since they are now the focus of the world's most extensive man hunt ever by the United States. One might imagine they'd lay low for a while. To top it all off, this non-insightful vagueness is preceded by "probably," as if to emphasize the statement's complete meaninglessness.

We then learn in paragraph two that: "…they [al-Qaeda] will still pose a danger, a U.S. defense official said on condition of anonymity." Wow! This person really goes out on a limb here. I hope they don't get fired for that comment. It was probably a good idea that they kept their identity a secret. Scandalous!

In paragraph three, more cute obscurities: " 'It's going to be more of a franchise-type thing.' "

Paragraph four reads, "Already, there are signs that networks are still viable…and possess the logical know-how for attacks, the official added." Why wouldn't networks still be viable - that would imply that they were completely destroyed or destroyed to the point of being inoperative or no longer dangerous? Not all "cells" were in Afghanistan anyway. And why would these long-time, extensively trained groups fueled by religious and nationalist zealotry no longer "possess the logical know-how for attacks" just because some of their members were killed or captured in Afghanistan and a few other places? Maybe they've forgotten what a bomb is or how to use it?

In the next paragraph, though the source is an Arabic-language news agency, the information is still hilariously simple. We read: "…groups within the al-Qaeda network…are trying to reconstitute themselves after the Afghanistan campaign." That's funny, I thought al-Qaeda was just going to give up, roll over and die. Have they suddenly stopped hating America? Again, individuals risking it all with their bold predictions.

The article concludes with more speculation: "The trails [al-Qaeda's] may prove more difficult for law enforcement to track, as well, he said - a point echoed by other analysts." So we have anonymous analysts echoing another anonymous analyst about the fact that a "terrorist mastermind" and his "cells," who have eluded police, military, and intelligence agencies from multiple countries for decades, while pulling off intricate terrorist attacks all over the planet, are difficult to track and may become even more difficult to track. I thought they were easy to track. I thought that's why the U.S. government and its various intelligence agencies thwarted the September 11 attacks so easily. What's worse is that this is the second time in the article this empty and obvious statement is made.

Upon finishing the article one realizes that the entire text was a string of completely obvious and meaningless statements, attributed almost exclusively to anonymous government officials and analysts that make no attempt whatsoever to actually relay valuable information concerning a certain subject. There' no real flow or chronology to the article, as it seems more accurately like a collection of "safe" generalizations about al-Qaeda and the likelihood of their continued existence.

In another Globe article, from March 4th, entitled "Six Nations join U.S. in fierce offensive," fourteen out of the nineteen paragraphs are quotes or paraphrased quotes from military officials. In this case several of the sources are Afghan - albeit friendly forces fighting alongside coalition troops. This article also affords us the luxury of actually citing individuals or agencies attributed to the various information. (This I thought was standard procedure in journalism.)

Among "U.S. and Afghan officials," "U.S. Central Command," "officials," "Afghan officials," and "Afghan commanders" we actually hear from real people in the form of Central Command spokesman Major Ralph Mills, Abdul Matin (an Afghan commander), Wazir Khan (spokesman for an Afghan commander), and Raza Khan (an Afghan fighter). So this article is a little better. Less direct quoting from Pentagon sources along with greater diversity of sources.

At this point it must be emphasized that these two examples are on the highly inexcusable end of the scale of bad journalism (in terms of percentage of paragraphs that are direct quotes and identification of sources). However, they do represent trends in the corporate media with regard to war reporting. This said, most articles do approach these bleak statistics - reflecting the media's servitude to government. If one begins studying the news with this amount of scrutiny, similar statistics will be found almost across the board, whether it be in the Globe, the New York Times, or the Washington Post.

This kind of reporting raises many obvious concerns: who are our sources and what is their relationship to the reported event (Will they benefit from what is/isn't included? Are they financially affected by what's reported?); how many different sources are used or called upon to create both a thorough and objective report (Are all sides being represented?); does the diversity of sources reflect the availability of sources or simply what the reporter has chosen to include or omit; how speculative is the article (one need not turn to national news agencies for vague and obvious predictions); and is the information being provided, and subsequently reported, actually information, in the sense of new, detailed or semi-detailed data, that could not be accessed elsewhere being presented for the first time?

Said questions when combined with the above analysis should be cause for alarm considering that the very agency who is so often the source of our information is potentially a conglomerate of professional liars. Please consider the following information as provided by the New York Times ("Pentagon Readies Efforts To Sway Sentiment Abroad" 2/19/02):

The Pentagon is developing plans to provide news items, possibly even false ones, to foreign media organizations as part of a new effort to influence public sentiment and policy makers in both friendly and unfriendly countries, military officials said.

The plans, which have not received final approval from the Bush administration, have stirred opposition among some Pentagon officials who say they might undermine the credibility of information that is openly distributed by the Defense Department’s public affairs officers.

The military has long engaged in information warfare against hostile nations - for instance, by dropping leaflets and broadcasting messages into Afghanistan when it was still under Taliban rule.

But it recently created the Office of Strategic Influence, which is proposing to broaden that mission into allied nations in the Middle East, Asia and even Western Europe.

This indicates that the Pentagon is in the process of creating the so-called Office of Strategic Influence (OSI), whose job it will be to, as the headline puts it, "sway sentiment abroad" through an information campaign possibly including false news (disinformation), otherwise known as lies. This campaign would not only be carried out in enemy countries, but also in friendly ones. Perhaps even as friendly as Western Europe. The article goes on to say that,

Little information is available about the Office of Strategic Influence, and even many senior Pentagon officials and Congressional military aides say they know almost nothing about its purpose and plans. Its multimillion dollar budget, drawn from a $10 billion emergency supplement to the Pentagon budget authorized by Congress in October, has not been disclosed.

One of the office's proposals calls for planting news items with foreign media organizations through outside concerns that might not have obvious ties to the Pentagon, officials familiar with the proposals said."

While it’s not surprising to read that "little information is available about the [OSI]," it's somewhat comforting to know that even "senior Pentagon officials…know almost nothing…" considering that the taxpayers know nothing. Or is it? Maybe that's a sign as to its super secrecy? Or are they lying? Or what the hell is really going on? One would not necessarily expect Joe American to know the details about the OSI, but one would surely expect top military people to know.

The article concludes on this note: "O.S.I. still thinks the way to go is start [sic] a Defense Department Voice of America," a senior military official said. "When I get their briefings, it's scary."

Luckily, amidst a wave of criticism from all angles the Pentagon decided to scrap the idea, evidently to remain credible. But what's to say the plan has been scrapped at all? What if that's just the first piece of disinformation?

What's "scary" about this near unbelievable report is the fact that the government agency that has complete control over all information as relevant to any aspect of the war, as well as being the only source of such information for the domestic corporate press, was/is attempting to create an office whose main purpose will be to convince foreigners that America's way is the right way (even at times when it's obviously the wrong way) through extensive propaganda and disinformation.

Many obvious and legitimate questions instantly arise. Although the report only mentions foreign sentiment, surely domestic sentiment is just as important for the continued support of U.S. imperialist efforts? (Though thankfully the American press and public still have enough decency left to make the idea of publicly announcing the intent to "sway domestic sentiment" wholly unacceptable.) Has the Pentagon lied in the past? Will they lie in the future and to what extent?

Moreover, if the Administration's efforts are noble, righteous and just why the need for disinformation - especially in Western Europe? Wouldn't disinformation "planted" abroad eventually make it back home by slowly seeping in unmonitored via the congested information-rich Internet? Is there really a difference between information that's planted abroad and of that planted at home? How could the press or the citizenry distinguish between information and disinformation? Would reporters ask before a press conference what kind it was going to be? When does fact end and fiction begin? What's real anymore in today's age of the information war?

To highlight one of the above questions - if the war on terrorism is just, naturally flowing from all moral, ethical, and humanitarian touchstones, then why the need for an elaborate $10 billion office of lies and propaganda to convince people of this?

The answer, obviously, is that it's not just and that there's plenty of evidence out there that suggests this; since responsible human beings may feel compelled to report and explore this, the Pentagon feels the need to crush those efforts. Therefore, as time has gone on and the U.S. comes under considerable domestic and foreign criticism for its handling of the war, the Pentagon feels the need to influence people with lies because the truth is no longer strong enough. The complicity of the press is all but outrageous with regard to such a threat to the very foundation of journalism and objective reporting.

Isn't this actually what the Enron debacle is about? They manipulated a situation to the benefit of themselves and to the detriment of others. They fabricated and/or omitted accounting information relative to the company's financial strength (which needs to be portrayed accurately to inform investors and Wall Street) to create an environment in which individuals (investors and employees) would gobble up the company's stocks and employees would feel comfortable with having their retirement plans' well-being shackled to the success or failure of the company itself.

Since the factual information regarding the financial strength of the company was such that investors would be cautious and employees would be concerned about depending so much on Enron stock for their 401(k)s the company simply planted disinformation to sway sentiment in their favor. It's ironic and fairly telling that the techniques recently espoused by the Pentagon have already seen extensive use by Enron.

Wouldn't it be great if you or I could apply that same logic to our own lives? Imagine if because we did poorly in college or because we lacked certain job experience that disinformation could be planted on our resume to strategically influence our potential employer? Wouldn't it be great if we could plant disinformation on our credit report so as to sway banking sentiment to give us that big loan that we don't really deserve?

When we get pulled over for speeding we could tell the police officer that our mother is dying at a nearby hospital and maybe we wouldn't get a ticket. What if anytime we couldn't get what we wanted we simply lied so that we could - just like governments and businesses do? Well, most likely, as well as becoming rather despicable human beings, we'd also be arrested and then thrown in jail by a fairly incredulous judge who may even ask how we thought we'd get away with such nonsense, all this lying and all.

So to summarize - instead of having a governmental system displaying clear divisions between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches with a corresponding and effective checks and balances tool, we now have a system featuring blurry distinctions between the governmental branch (perpetuator of war), the media branch (supporter of war), and the big business branch (profiteer of war), accompanied by zero checks and balances. In addition to the fact that this "government" operates in what might as well be complete secrecy, they've now publicly admitted that they're willing to lie to the world to achieve their primary goal of keeping the war machine rolling.

Matthew Riemer studied Russian language and culture for five years and traveled in the former Soviet Union in 1990. In addition to being a columnist for YellowTimes.org, he's also maintains RottenInDenmark. He encourages your comments: mriemer@YellowTimes.org.

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