Monday, October 31, 2005

More re Syria

As I mentioned a couple of posts earlier, Syria is in the crosshairs of John Bolton, our newly appointed (not approved) Ambassador to the UN. (Remember that Bolton was not winning Congress's approval, so Bush simply appointed him as soon as Congress went on recess. So we know he has Bush's full support in these actions, but not that of one of the other branches of government.) Syria is strategically of value - there's the fear that Iraqis are flowing across Syrian borders.

In the last few days, the US, via a UN report by German prosecutor Detyev Mehlis, has accused Syria of being behind the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Is the report to be believed? Not to those who have taken the time to study it. See my earlier post for Bob Parry's reasons and one of mine. Der Spiegel, the "Time Magazine" of Germany (apologies to the Germans for the inadequate comparison), has revealed that Mehlis's key witness is a proven swindler. Yet, with this shaky evidence, the US worked with the UK and other countries to forge a guarantee of military action should the Syrians obstruct an inquiry. And who will be the judge of whether they are obstructing? John Bolton and his new friends. Not exactly people I'd trust to be an impartial judge and jury.

So Syria is trying to speak up, understandably. Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara gave Syria's official response to the UN on Halloween. The Associated Press made much of his "bizarre" comment in which he made a comment about 9/11 and the Madrid and London bombings. But when I looked up a report from Syria, the only one that runs an English version, al-Shara's remarks seem much less sensational. Which version is correct?

The Syrian Arab News Agency version:
Al- Shara pointed out that the strange thing is that the honorable Security Council , has supported the committee where it has gone , adding that if the presence of a military troops and security apparatuses in a certain country means that any criminal or terrorist act would never take place without the knowledge or approval of these troops and apparatuses, then the security apparatuses in the United States would have learnt of the Sept. 11th events , or the Spanish Security would have learnt about the train bombings in Madrid on April 11th 2004 , and the British Security might have been accused of the Metro bombings on July 7th 2005 , noting that such apparatuses had been expecting these bombings and had been trained to deal with them.

Al- Shara said that directing accusation depending on assumption of that kind which was adopted by the council decision is illogical because it means that the security apparatuses in all the countries of the world that have experienced terrorist and security events may be involved in these crimes and the first who will be happy with such conclusions are the terrorists themselves.
The AP report quoted al-Shara as saying something more direct:

He rejected the probe's findings that Hariri's Feb. 14 assassination could not have occurred without Syrian involvement.

He argued that such a conclusion would be tantamount to claiming that U.S., Spanish and British authorities knew ahead of time about the terrorist attacks that struck their soil on Sept. 11, 2001, March 11, 2004 and July 7 of this year.

Al-Sharaa then went even further.

``We know that such security organs, particularly the British, were fully aware that such attacks would take place and had prior training to face up to them,'' al-Sharaa said, jabbing his finger in the air toward Straw, with Rice and the other foreign ministers looking on. Once al-Sharaa finished, Straw took the floor to respond. Clearly indignant, he repeatedly looked over at al-Sharaa along the council's horseshoe-shaped table as he denounced his remarks.

``I was not going to respond until I heard the foreign minister of Syria make what I can only describe as the most grotesque and insensitive comparison,'' he said.
If al-Sharaa was suggesting that those three governments knew about the attacks, Straw said, ``I think you ought to say so, otherwise your comparison is entirely worthless.''

According to the report, al-Shara took the stand again and backed down slightly. Was he making a stab in the dark, or sending a warning shot across the bow? Does he know something interesting? Will time tell?

The Syrians also tried bringing a bunch of foreign journalists to the Iraqi border. Washington has claimed that Syrians are aiding the Iraqis, and that the border is a "favorite crossing point for foreign fighters on their way to join the insurgency next door." Syria argues it has added more men to guard the border, but that no border can be entirely secured.

I fear strongly that we are laying a pretext for military action in Syria, just as we did in Iraq - forcing the UN to agree to military action if Saddam thwarted investigators efforts. Surprised--or not--that Saddam was cooperating, the US decided to invade anyway, despite the strident opposition at the UN. This time, it appears the US is working harder to get the UN on its side first, propagandizing off of scant evidence. Sadly, the ruse appears to be working. Are the rest of the countries that naive? Or do they smell a whiff of oil heading their way if they agree to fight with us this time? And how many innocent Syrians will pay the price?

Syria crisis looming

The Globe and Mail today reports that the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution demanding Syria's full co-operation with a UN investigation into the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister Hariri. The threat of sanctions was dropped temporarily to get China and Russia on board. Surprisingly, these former and present communist regimes were the only ones pressing for the precept of "innocent until proven guilty." What's wrong with this picture?

The scary part?
[T]he resolution was adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which is militarily enforceable.

In other words, the march towards war with Syria continues apace, to the shame of the civilized world.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Syria: Falsely Accused as Pretext for War?

I talked to an intelligence analyst not long ago who told me to keep an eye on Syria. He said we couldn't get to Iran until we first secured Iraq, and the only way to do that would be to secure the borders, i.e. Syria, through which aid flows to insurgents in Iraq. (And I apologize for using the term "insurgents." I'm sure they'd describe themselves as "freedom fighters." Language carries amazing force, and is seldom neutral.)

Combine this with my long experience with government cover-ups, and you can imagine how skeptical I am of the UN Report, informally called the Mehlis report after lead Commissioner Detlev Mehlis, implicating the Syrian government in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. This seems to me to be the next "yellowcake," the next "sexed-up" intelligence leading us to yet another war.

Is my skepticism warranted? You bet, and I'll get to the specifics in a moment. Bear with me while I lay in some context.

When the Warren Commission was created to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, we were told it would conduct an honest, rigorous investigation, leave no stone unturned, and tell us the truth. But years later, we found that whenever the government found a curious stone, they didn't turn it. They avoided it, or buried it. The Warren Commission was one of the most dishonest exercises ever paid for by the American Taxpayers.

The propaganda promoting the Mehlis report reeks of the sell job done with the Warren Report, with the Starr Report, with the 9/11 Report, all of which had holes you could drive a truck through. The Mehlis report was read on the air by Al Jazeera over a period of four hours, and this was dutifully reported by the magazine set up to encourage the left to support the goals of the establishment - The New Republic. The "mainstream" media in America reported uncritically on the report initially. Now, the Syrians are making a stir, claiming the accusations are false, and politically motivated.

Are they?

If the report is a set up, then the report writer, Mehlis, must be in on it. Is there any evidence he would bend the truth to serve a political agenda? In fact, there is. Evidence, not proof, mind you. But curiously interesting evidence.

Remember when President Reagan ordered the bombing of the house of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi? The justification given was that there had been solid evidence that Colonel Qaddafi's security forces had been behind the April 1986 bombing of the German disco La Belle. But a German documentary that aired in August of 1998 concluded that the case against the main suspect was so weak as to make him appear a patsy. The Berlin judge found the case against the lead suspect, Yasser Chraidi, so weak that he threatened to throw the case out of court unless better evidence could be presented.

So who stepped up to the plate to ensure a conviction, in spite of the lack of evidence? You guessed it, or should have guessed it if you follow these patterns: Detlev Mehlis. Who was being protected? According to the German documentary, the CIA and the Mossad. Mehlis met with a CIA agent named Musbah Eter and promised him immunity if he would implicate Chraidi in the plot. Eter did, the plot was "sold" to the world, and Reagan sealed it with a bomb attack on Qaddafi's home.

But let's forget all that for a second. Just on its own merits, how does Mehlis's report hold up?

Not well, according to one of the only investigative reporters left in America, Robert Parry. Parry notes that the UN report identifies the vehicle containing the bomb as a white Mitsubishi Canter van that had been stolen on October 12, 2004. But the report is strangely silent as to the chain of possession of the van. Who stole it? How did it end up being used? Who was the bomber?

Parry also reported that the UN report relies on circumstantial evidence that is pretty flimsy--phone records that prove nothing, witnesses who contradict each other and therefore can't both be telling the truth, and a man who was apparently paid for his testimony.

So when we hear that the Syrians are protesting the report, we should, perhaps, pay attention. Because the last time we swallowed a story like this whole, over 2000 Americans and countless thousands of Iraqis paid a terrible price for our inattention.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Rosa Parks and Watergate II

A legend has left us. Rosa Parks has died at the age of 92. Her act of civil disobediance, refusing to move to the back of the bus, taught a lesson to us all. One person can make a huge difference. That one act helped galvanize the budding civil rights movement. Sometimes it only takes one.

Over the years, her act has been undermined by the myth that she was simply too tired and that she didn't mean to make a protest. The New York Times, thankfully, helps set this one straight:
Over the years myth tended to obscure the truth about Mrs. Parks. One legend had it that she was a cleaning woman with bad feet who was too tired to drag herself to the rear of the bus. Another had it that she was a "plant" by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The truth, as she later explained, was that she, like thousands of other blacks, was tired of being humiliated, of having to adapt to the byzantine rules, some codified as law and others passed on as tradition, that reinforced the position of blacks as something less than full human beings.

"She was fed up," said Elaine Steele, a longtime friend and executive director of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development. "She was in her 40's. She was not a child. There comes a point where you say, 'No, I'm a full citizen, too. This is not the way I should be treated.'"
Thank her. Thank all those who have stood up for injustice so that you can live free on this planet. Freedom is a word all too often used to promote war abroad. But real freedom begins at home, in how we treat each other.

Freedom also requires truthful information. How many of you had heard the "too tired to go to the back of the bus" story? I had. I believed it at one time. But fortunately, the truth is out there, and if we look for it we will usually find it. It gets harder in a case like the Kennedy assassination, where so much disinformation has been sown that finding the truth, and only the truth, seems almost impossible at this point. But the more we look, the closer we get.

In other news, I'm watching in awe as Watergate II unfolds in front of me. The parallels between Watergate and Plamegate are so interesting. Both the Nixon and Bush administratations clearly had an "enemies" list. Larry O'Brien, the head of the DNC and a key target of the Watergate bugging operation, earned a spot on the enemies list because he knew of the illlegal Howard Hughes bribe to Nixon via Bebe Rebozo. Joseph Wilson earned himself a spot on Bush's enemies list when he spoke up and said that the evidence showing Saddam Hussein purchasing Yellow cake was as phony as a three-dollar bill. (In the UK, when Dr. David Kelly accused Tony Blair's people of presenting "sexed up" intelligence, Kelly was found dead. Suicide, officially, but many believe it was murder.).

Both Nixon and Bush made an enemy of the CIA. In Nixon's time, the CIA hated Nixon for his attempts to circumvent the intelligence establishment, to make a new intelligence service answerable only to him. In Bush's time, the neocons pressured the CIA to fudge intelligence to make the case for war against Iraq. And when the lie was exposed, the neocons outed Valerie Plame, the wife of Joe Wilson, in a deliberate act of retribution. Never mind that the outing presented a tremendous blow to a series of CIA operations and fronts. Never mind that many people's lives were suddenly put at risk. And especially never mind the almost 2000 American soldiers and countless thousands of innocent Iraqis who paid the price of the war for oil and Middle East empire.

During Watergate, the CIA leaked stories to the press guaranteed to further harm Nixon in an attempt which was ultimately successful in removing him from office. Today, CIA operatives speak overtly from the pages of the Washington Post (Walter Pincus) and other places to ensure no angle is overlooked in the attempt to expose the cover-up. Capitol Blue reports,
As usual, it’s not the act itself but the cover up that brings someone down,” says retired political science professor George Harleigh, who worked in the Nixon administration. “It’s a sad lesson that those in power never learn.”

I am sorry Ms. Plame was outed. I thought that was a particularly heinous act of retribution. As someone who has and will continue to be a strong critic of the CIA, I also want to acknowledge that the Agency does do good work, along with the dastardly, and exposing an operative soley for political gain when the operative is not breaking the law or covering up the Kennedy assassination or participating in a crime, or doing some other act worthy of exposure, is not something I support.

In addition, I truly feared we were on a path to a nuclear confrontation under Bush's extreme actions. I hope that this distracts and fetters the administration so they can't roam around making even more enemies. We've accumulated quite enough. We sorely need someone to turn the Titanic around, someone who could present a more loving, amenable face to the world, when Bush leaves office (which I'm hoping will happen before the end of his term, followed quickly by Cheney, just as Nixon's Vice President Spiro Agnew was forced to step down.) Then maybe, just maybe, we can all breath a little, for a while. Until then, I am holding my breath. Patrick Fitzgerald's indictments must stick.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Hope vs. Despair

This has been a common theme for me of late. For every news story I read that gives me hope, another one causes me despair. I feel so horrible for the victims of the earthquake that ravaged Pakistan.

“Think bold, think big, think creatively,” he said. “I don’t know how you evacuate hundreds of thousands of people from the Himalayas, but the most effective military alliance in the world should know that.”
That's what Jan Egeland, the UN’s top relief official, said as pleaded for NATO to help the half a million survivors trapped in the Himalayas without aid.

What is wrong with us? We can find the time and money to build weapons and plan wars, but we have no plans for rescuing fellow human beings when monstrous tragedies strike. The US's fig leaf of FEMA was ripped away, showing a poorly run agency that was caught off guard as thousands of our fellow citizens were trapped in Louisiana and Mississippi by Hurricane Katrina. I suspect a similar tragedy unfolded after the Tsunami of last December, but we didn't hear about it or see it. Now, I'm reading about the tragedy in the wake of the terrible earthquake and wondering if maybe this is hell, right here, on this planet.
LATE at night, Zainab Sahib often wakes up in the dark, crying for her mother.

Zainab is 6. She was found in the rubble of her mud house after the Kashmir earthquake. Now she is safe in hospital, her left arm amputated, her head covered in bandages.

But she cries in vain. Her parents and siblings all died in the quake.
Maybe. But always, alongside the horror, is the beauty of nature, of man's creativity, of love. The happiest sites for me are people getting married - a day filled with so much love and hope; a museum, where art is as revered as a Madonna in a Catholic Church; a dolphin swimming off the coast, proof positive that we haven't yet polluted our planet beyond repair.

This week has brought many horrible and hopeful stories to light, and sometimes its the same story. Like the release today of the GAO's Report on Electronic Voting:

Electronic voting systems hold promise for improving the efficiency and accuracy of the election process by automating a manual process, providing flexibility for accommodating voters with special needs, and implementing controls to avoid errors by voters and election workers. However, in a series of recent reports, election officials, computer security experts, citizen advocacy groups, and others have raised significant concerns about the security and reliability of electronic voting systems, citing instances of weak security controls, system design flaws, inadequate system version control, inadequate security testing, incorrect system configuration, poor security management, and vague or incomplete standards, among other issues.
It's great to see the government finally say hey, these are real issues that need to be dealt with. That gave me hope. But reading further, it appeared that a lot of faith was being placed in--get this--voluntary guidelines the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) is producing. Even if they're good, what's the point if they're only voluntary? And beyond that, the final version of those recommendations isn't coming until December 2007, in other words, too late to have any effect on the next Presidential election. I mean, come on! We have to wait seven years after Florida to figure out how to run elections? As much as I want to say government can be a force for good, in this instance I think the EAC is a big waste of money if all that will come out of this in the end are voluntary guildelines.

Will you join me in writing your Representatives and Senators and asking that, now that the GAO has officially acknowledged there are serious issues, that we come up with a top down plan to guarantee that states and counties follow the guidelines we're paying big tax dollars to lay out?

Write your Representative at this link: Go to to find your Senators and contact them as well. This is ridiculous. We can do something about this. We can live in despair, or we can be the force that provides hope to others. Good luck to you.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Gary Webb's wife on the life and death of her husband

I don't have time to say what I'd like - but I wanted you to have access to this interesting article about Gary Webb.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Sunday Night Book Review: The Devil in the White City

I was inspired by the top ten list at Booman Tribune tonight to begin talking about some of the books that have greatly inspired, haunted, or informed me.

Books are amazing things. You open them, and suddenly you are transported through time and space, to places in the past or possible future, to fantasy places that never were or to dark events that need to be exposed. I've made a little "top 10" list of favorite non-fiction and fiction books to share, but rather than give it all at once, I'm going to dribble it out on Sunday nights. Or so I say at this time. Check back next week to see if I follow through!

To me, it's impossible to list the "ten best books" because there are so many I would rank equally with any that I mention. But as I glanced through my own library, I thought 1) I'd limit myself to books I own currently, and 2) I wouldn't waste time trying to pick the 'correct' order. What matters is that I share the books that have moved or amazed me in some way.

I want to start with one of my most recent reads, a wonderfully compelling story of glory and intrigue at the Chicago World's Fair at the end of the 19th century.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
By Erik Larson

I've long had a fascination with the World's Fair held in Chicago in 1893. Called the Columbian Exposition, because it honored the memory of that "discoverer" of America, Christopher Columbus, the fair turned the soot-blackened city of Chicago, a looked-down-upon middle American town into a glorious "City of Light."

The Devil in the title refers to the first serial murderer in America, commonly known as H. H. Holmes (an alias),who took up residence near the fair and used its myriad attactions to lure hapless young women into his hotel of death.

The narrative crisscrosses the efforts of a group of Chicago businessmen, led by architect Daniel H. Burnham, to build a fair that would top the incredible exposition Paris held when it debuted the Eiffel Tower just a few years earlier, and the progress of "Dr. H. H. Holmes," the alias of a man named Mudgett, as he wooed and then killed young women for his own purposes. The efforts to build the fair are as full of lightness and virtue as the story of Holmes is grisly and black. The contrast makes for a fascinating narrative, one that should be made into a film. This was the fair that gave us the first Ferris Wheel, constructed by George Ferris. The fair was attended by luminaries such as President Grover Cleveland, Mark Twain, Scott Joplin, Clarence Darrow, a Princeton professor named Woodrow Wilson, and Susan B. Anthony. Outside the fairgrounds, since he was not permitted inside, Buffalo Bill Cody set up his Wild West Show.

The author's writing is so compelling, the story so novelistic, that there is a note in the beginning ensuring the reader that this is a nonfiction book.

In this true account, as is often the case in projects of such magnitude, there are constant problems and disasters in the construction of the fair that require tenacious ingenuity to overcome. And when Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse beat out Thomas Edison and J. P. Morgan for the right to power the fair, Edison threatened the entire fair by refusing to allow Tesla and Westinghouse to use his patented light bulbs. So Westinghouse plowed his money into producing a new light bulb, to be used for the fair. There are many such episodes that will amaze and amuse, and author Larson helps you see it all going up around you.

And the story of the extremely charming but fatally dangerous H. H. Holmes as he woos women, tires of them, and then kills them and chemically dissolves their bodies so he can sell the skeletons to colleges to use in classrooms is grotesquely fascinating. How could he get away with it? As each victim nears I was practically shouting as I read, "Run away! Run away!" To no avail, of course. But when have you not known me to tilt at windmills?

Reading the story of the Exposition made me long for time travel so I could visit the fair myself, sit in the Court of Honor, and cry tears at the beauty of it, as so many of the fair's visitors did. I wanted to gasp, as other visitors did, at the sight of the first entirely electrically lit "city" in America, this marvelous white city standing in stark contrast to the sooty coal-powered structures at the distant edge of the White City. I glide in the electric gondolas that sailed from one end of the fairground to the other across a manmade lake bordering the very real Lake Michigan. I wanted to see Tesla's "Egg of Columbus" exhibit and watch him electrify himself for Fair guests to demonstrate that AC was not the fatal current Edison was busily painting it to be.

I worried as I read it whether the fair's backers would make back their huge investment, and worried that perhaps H. H. Holmes would get away with his crimes.

I dare you to pick this up, read two pages, and stop there. I dare you. You can't. It's just too fascinating. I read it all the way through in a few days, bought a second copy to pass around, and will undoubtedly read it again when I have forgotten enough of it to enjoy the myriad surprises again on my next pass.

So there you have it. The #1 book on my personal non-fiction list, at the moment. Subject to change at any time, of course.