Taunting Iran: A Delicate Balance

Last week, the US government and the media warned of a dangerous incident in the Persian Gulf. The accounts dramatized a serious threat posed by Iranian speedboats to three U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz.

The Pentagon released a video of the Hormuz confrontation, parroted here by CNN. Their version of the incident contained an Iranian officer saying, “I am coming for you…you will explode after a few minutes.

However, new information has shown that the incident did not involve such a threat. From Gareth Porter:

The new information that appears to contradict the original version of the incident includes the revelation that U.S. officials spliced the audio recording of an alleged Iranian threat onto to a videotape of the incident. That suggests that the threatening message may not have come in immediately after the initial warning to Iranian boats from a U.S. warship, as appears to do on the video.

Also unraveling the story is testimony from a former U.S. naval officer that non-official chatter is common on the channel used to communicate with the Iranian boats and testimony from the commander of the U.S. 5th fleet that the commanding officers of the U.S. warships involved in the incident never felt the need to warn the Iranians of a possible use of force against them.

Further undermining the U.S. version of the incident is a video released by Iran Thursday showing an Iranian naval officer on a small boat hailing one of three ships.

Here is a video of the Iranian version of the incident.

Despite the substance of the video, the administration still used the incident to warn of an Iranian threat. Bush said there would be ‘serious consequences‘ if Iran attacked US ships and maintained that Iran is a ‘threat to world peace‘. The president has now embarked on a tour of the Middle East, which is sure to be hailed as evidence of his strong commitment to peace (despite the historical record). In reality, the trip is nothing more than a PR stunt which will attempt to warn other Arabs of a dangerous Iran. “Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere,” Bush said Sunday, “So the United States is strengthening our longstanding security commitments with our friends in the Gulf, and rallying friends around the world to confront this danger before it’s too late.”

An event like the Strait of Hormuz incident brings to mind another misunderstood event, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which led to the massive build-up of American armed forces in Vietnam. The Tonkin incident (though it never occurred) resulted in a joint resolution of Congress that granted President Johnson the authority to conduct military operations in SE Asia without a declaration of war. Ten years, 2 million Vietnamese and 58,000 American deaths later, where is an apology or an admission of error?

Our country must be overly questioning and critical when a supposed ‘dangerous incident’ occurs. We cannot afford to be duped yet again into another costly war.

Check here for more info on the Hormuz incident.

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Mid-week Roundup 12/12

Losing our minds over Illegal Immigration

NAFTA has the power to trump state laws!

The Historical Truth of Our Relations with Iran

Report shows Bush manipulated climate science, suppressed scientists.

Nigeria battles Pfizer in court for conducting an illegal, unauthorized drug trial on Nigerian children.

Bad News for Prescription Drugs: pharmaceutical sales reps may be given licenses.

Murdoch Ready to Makeover the Wall Street Journal

Did you know Venezuela is a Constiutional Democracy?

Taiwan and mainland China: conflicting amnesiacs

New Orleans Homes to be Demolished (with video)

Why Won’t the Candidates talk about Americans’ Economic Pain?

Nuclear Disarmament and Peace on Earth…what’s that?

A Decent Article by Sean Penn calling on Americans to do what’s right

Meet a Millionaire with a Lower Tax Rate than You! (with video)

Blackwater Worldwide

Blackwater Logo

The private security firm Blackwater is attempting to reconstruct its image, re-branding themselves Blackwater Worldwide this October. The US State Department’s largest security contractor had its operating license revoked by the Iraqi government this September after its involvement in the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians. Yet they continue to operate there and are expanding operations even further. I’ll leave it to Jeremy Scahill to fill you in on the details:

Blackwater Bu$ine$$ (from The Nation)

Gunning down seventeen Iraqi civilians in an incident the military has labeled “criminal.” Multiple Congressional investigations. A federal grand jury. Allegations of illegal arms smuggling. Wrongful death lawsuits brought by families of dead employees and US soldiers. A federal lawsuit alleging war crimes. Charges of steroid use by trigger-happy mercenaries. Allegations of “significant tax evasion.” The US-installed government in Iraq labeling its forces “murderers.” With a new scandal breaking practically every day, one would think Blackwater security would be on the ropes, facing a corporate meltdown or even a total wipeout. But it seems that business for the company has never been better, as it continues to pull in major federal contracts. And its public demeanor grows bolder and cockier by the day.

Rather than hiding out and hoping for the scandals to fade, the Bush Administration’s preferred mercenary company has launched a major rebranding campaign, changing its name to Blackwater Worldwide and softening its logo: once a bear paw in the site of a sniper scope, it’s now a bear claw wrapped in two half ovals–sort of like the outline of a globe with a United Nations feel. Its website boasts of a corporate vision “guided by integrity, innovation, and a desire for a safer world.” Blackwater mercenaries are now referred to as “global stabilization professionals.” Blackwater’s 38-year-old owner, Erik Prince, was No. 11 in Details magazine’s “Power 50,” the men “who control your viewing patterns, your buying habits, your anxieties, your lust…. the people who have taken over the space in your head.”

In one of the company’s most bizarre recent actions, on December 1 Blackwater paratroopers staged a dramatic aerial landing, complete with Blackwater flags and parachutes–not in Baghdad or Kabul but in San Diego at Qualcomm Stadium during the halftime show at the San Diego State/BYU football game. The location was interesting, given that Blackwater is fighting fierce local opposition to its attempt to open a new camp–Blackwater West–on 824 acres in the small rural community of Potrero, just outside San Diego. Blackwater’s parachute squad plans to land at the Armed Forces Bowl in Texas this month and the Virginia Gold Cup in May. The company recently sponsored a NASCAR racer, and it has teamed up with gun manufacturer Sig Sauer to create a Blackwater Special Edition full-sized 9-millimeter pistol with the company logo on the grip. It comes with a Limited Lifetime Warranty. For $18, parents can purchase infant onesies with the company logo.

In recent weeks, Blackwater has indicated it might quit Iraq. “We see the security market diminishing,” Prince told the Wall Street Journal in October. Yet on December 3 Blackwater posted job listings for “security specialists” and snipers as a result of its State Department diplomatic security “contract expansion.” While its name may be mud in the human rights world, Blackwater has not only made big money in Iraq (about $1 billion in State Department contracts); it has secured a reputation as a company that keeps US officials alive by any means necessary. The dirty open secret in Washington is that Blackwater has done its job in Iraq, even if it has done so by valuing the lives of Iraqis much lower than those of US VIPs. That badass image will serve it well as it expands globally.

Prince promises that Blackwater “is going to be more of a full spectrum” operation. Amid the cornucopia of scandals, Blackwater is bidding for a share of a five-year, $15 billion contract with the Pentagon to “fight terrorists with drug-trade ties.” Perhaps the firm will join the mercenary giant DynCorp in Colombia or Bolivia or be sent into Mexico on a “training” mission. This “war on drugs” contract would put Blackwater in the arena with the godfathers of the war business, including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.

In addition to its robust business in law enforcement, military and homeland security training, Blackwater is branching out. Here are some of its current projects and initiatives:

§ Blackwater affiliate Greystone Ltd., registered offshore in Barbados, is an old-fashioned mercenary operation offering “personnel from the best militaries throughout the world” for hire by governments and private organizations. It also boasts of a “multi-national peacekeeping program,” with forces “specializing in crowd control and less than lethal techniques and military personnel for the less stable areas of operation.”

§ Prince’s Total Intelligence Solutions, headed by three CIA veterans (among them Blackwater’s number two, Cofer Black), puts CIA-type services on the open market for hire by corporations or governments.

§ Blackwater is launching an armored vehicle called the Grizzly, which the company characterizes as the most versatile in history. Blackwater intends to modify it to be legal for use on US highways.

§ Blackwater’s aviation division has some forty aircraft, including turboprop planes that can be used for unorthodox landings. It has ordered a Super Tucano paramilitary plane from Brazil, which can be used in counterinsurgency operations. In August the aviation division won a $92 million contract with the Pentagon to operate flights in Central Asia.

§ It recently flight-tested the unmanned Polar 400 airship, which may be marketed to the Department of Homeland Security for use in monitoring the US-Mexico border and to “military, law enforcement, and non-government customers.”

§ A fast-growing maritime division has a new, 184-foot vessel that has been fitted for potential paramilitary use.

Meanwhile, Blackwater is deep in the camp of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Cofer Black is Romney’s senior adviser on counterterrorism. At the recent CNN/YouTube debate, when Romney refused to call waterboarding torture, he said, “I’m not going to specify the specific means of what is and what is not torture so that the people that we capture will know what things we’re able to do and what things we’re not able to do. And I get that advice from Cofer Black, who is a person who was responsible for counterterrorism in the CIA for some thirty-five years.” That was an exaggeration of Black’s career at the CIA (he was there twenty-eight years and head of counterterrorism for only three), but a Romney presidency could make Blackwater’s business under Bush look like a church bake sale.

In short, Blackwater is moving ahead at full steam. Individual scandals clearly aren’t enough to slow it down. The company’s critics in the Democratic-controlled Congress must confront the root of the problem: the government is in the midst of its most radical privatization in history, and companies like Blackwater are becoming ever more deeply embedded in the war apparatus. Until this system is brought down, the world’s the limit for Blackwater Worldwide–and as its rebranding campaign shows, Blackwater knows it.

The Wolf Returns…

Wolfowitz

The disgraced ex-president of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz, has managed to find new work in familiar surroundings. Wolfowitz, known as one of the primary architects of Bush’s Iraq policy, was forced to resign as president of the World Bank after approving an illegal high-paying promotion for his girlfriend Shaha Riza.

Despite the disgraced departure, Wolfowitz was quickly welcomed back as a ‘visiting scholar’ to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank that has placed many of its members in the current administration. So he didn’t have to wait long before landing a post back in the Bush administration, serving under Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. The ‘Wolf’ had formerly served as Deputy Secretary of Defense under Bush II and under every president from Nixon to Bush I.

A bit of background on Wolfowitz:

  • He famously served as Reagan’s Ambassador to Indonesia, strongly supporting the brutal dictator Suharto, one of the worst mass murderers of the last century.
  • He also served as the State Department official responsible for Asian affairs under Reagan. He oversaw support for the murderous dictators Marcos of the Philippines and Chun of South Korea.
  • He is a long-time advocate of preemptive military policy. He is the guy that publicly claimed in 2003 that Iraq “can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.”
  • When Turkey sided with 95% of its population by choosing not to allow U.S. troops use their country as a base for the war against Iraq, Wolfowitz berated the Turkish military for permitting this to happen. He said, “Look, you have power, you can force the civilian government to do what we want them to do. The idea that they should listen to 95% of the population is outrageous.” He demanded that Turkey apologize to the United States and say that it understands its job to help the United States.

Despite his long-standing opposition to democracy, isn’t it nice to see the Wolf returning to the pack?
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Mid-week Roundup 12/5

Here are some headlines rounded up from this week:

Is “Save Darfur” a PR Scam?

Drug giant Pfizer will boost outsourcing to Asia; also their Celebrex expert testifies in court without a license.

Private Contractors look to profit from domestic spying.

Hillary is quite tied up with Big Oil and defense contractors.

Guiliani’s ties to a terror shiek

Virginia primaries will demand oath of loyalty from Republican voters.

Bush Justice Department is okay with kidnapping.

100 Students walk out on former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Guantanamo heading to the Supreme Court.

The human costs of the Iraq Occupation.

Join the military, go to college… The Pentagon’s education recruitment pitch is a scam?

Iraq Vet is punished for seeking help.

US War Vets to speak publicly about war crimes this March.

Bush and Maliki agree to long-term US troop presence in Iraq.

Also, John Pilger has a new book called ‘Freedom Next Time,’ and here is a speech he gave in Chicago concerning media journalism…if you have 45 minutes to spare.

Iran NIE Report

If you haven’t heard, a National Intelligence Report on Iran was made public that has failed to find any evidence of an ongoing nuclear weapons program there. It says that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program back in 2003.

In a recent press conference, President Bush said that he only learned of the report a week ago.

But Seymour Hersh wrote about the suppression of this report by Dick Cheney over a year ago, which he discussed on CNN recently.

Some have suggested there’s already evidence that Bush has known about this intelligence for months, as he has changed his language in referring to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Update: In fact, there is evidence that Bush knew ahead of time and continued to warn of Iran’s nuclear threat.

Continue reading

Extraordinary Rendition

Extraordinary rendition describes the kidnapping and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one state to another. The term has become prevalent in the Bush administration’s prosecution of the “war on terror.”

Amy Goodman reports one of the many examples of this practice with the story of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen:

The U.S. government also engages in “extraordinary rendition.” This Orwellian phrase describes how foreigners are grabbed off the street or from their home and secretly delivered to some other place, outside the U.S. (in Arar’s case, Syria), where illegal and brutal interrogations can take place beyond the reach of Congress and the courts.

Arar’s Kafaesque nightmare began Sept. 26, 2002. He was returning to Canada from a family vacation, with a plane change at New York’s JFK Airport. There he was pulled aside, searched, questioned and imprisoned. Two weeks later, U.S. authorities sent Arar to Syria.

Arar spent the next 10 months enduring brutal beatings and psychological torture, kept in a cell the size of a grave. Arar was accused of being connected to al-Qaeda, and of having been to a training camp in Afghanistan. Neither was true, but after weeks of beatings, he admitted to everything. Worse than the beatings, Arar said on “Democracy Now!,” was how he suffered while isolated in the dank, windowless cell:

“The psychological torture that I endured during this 10-month period in the underground cell is really beyond human imagination. I was ready to confess to anything. I would just write anything so that they could only take me from that place and put me in a place where it is fit for a human being.”

As inexplicably as Arar was kidnapped to Syria, he was released home to Canada, a broken man. Canada just finished a thorough inquiry that completely exonerated him and supported his request for financial damages. Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Bush ally, has asked Bush to “come clean” on the Arar case.

Leahy is demanding action: “The Bush administration has yet to renounce the practice of sending detainees to countries that torture prisoners, and it has yet to offer even the hint of an apology to Mr. Arar for what he endured with our government’s complicity.”

Leahy also pressed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the issue back in January.

Maher Arar’s case is not an isolated incident. The procedure of extraordinary rendition, though not exclusive to the Bush administration, has become quite prevalent in the ‘war on terror’. Other cases include:

  • Abu Omar: kidnapped in Italy in 2003, rendered to Egypt for interrogation, held for four years before being released
  • Khaled Masri: detained in Macedonia in 2003, drugged and rendered to an American-run prison in Afghanistan for interrogation, held for five months, then released on a road in Albania, where he made his way home to Germany
  • Mamdouh Habib: detained in Pakistan in 2001, transferred to Egypt, then Afghanistan, tortured, transferred to Guantanamo and released without charge 3.5 years later
  • Muhammed al-Zery: arrested in Sweden in 2001, flown on American jet to Egypt, tortured and beaten, imprisoned for two years, then released without charge

In the case of Abu Omar, an Italian court has issued an arrest warrant for twenty-two CIA agents suspected of the kidnapping. Hopefully that will help to remind US authorities that these practices are in violation of international law.