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A World Bank arbitration panel has ruled in favour of Canadian mining company Pacific Rim in determining that a controversial lawsuit, which the corporation filed against the government of El Salvador after the latter indefinitely suspended the exploitation of a gold mine close to the nation’s capital, may proceed. Preliminary Objections to Pacific Rim’s case had been filed by the Salvadorian government in January, alleging that the lawsuit was erroneous and without legal foundation.

El Salvador’s president, Mauricio Funes, had halted exploration at the El Dorado mine site, located around 40 miles from San Salvador, citing the potential for environmental and social damage. In June, Funes had affirmed that, “El Salvador and my government are not going to support, nor authorise, any mining exploration or exploitation which puts the country’s health at risk and which further deteriorates our environment”[1], however the panel’s ruling puts this position in serious jeopardy.

The case, brought by Pacific Rim subsidy Pac Rim Cayman, has been shrouded in controversy since it was filed in April of 2009, with the government of El Salvador maintaining from the outset that there is no legal basis for arbitration on behalf of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the World Bank’s dispute resolution panel. Upon filing the case, Pacific Rim announced that it would be seeking, “award of damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars from the government for its multiple breaches of international and Salvadoran law”[2], and the figure currently being demanded by the Canadian company is $77 million. An estimated 30% of El Salvador’s 6 million people live below the poverty line, and the country’s illiteracy rate currently stands at around 20%.[3]

Pacific Rim has pursued its claim under the terms of the 2005 Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), to which the United States, the Dominican Republic and five Central American nations, including El Salvador, are signatories. The company’s Pac Rim Cayman subsidiary had been registered in the Cayman Islands, but relocated to the U.S. state of Nevada in 2007 – some three years after a rift had begun to emerge between Pacific Rim and the government of El Salvador.  CAFTA has no jurisdiction in either Canada, where Pacific Rim is registered, or in the Cayman Islands, but Pac Rim Cayman’s registration in Nevada has allowed it to use the terms of the free trade agreement to bring legal proceedings against El Salvador.

The Salvadorian government presented ICSID with a six-page document outlining what it describes as flagrant violations of World Bank policy last week, after the panel had determined that the case would be allowed to proceed in spite of vociferous objections. The government also charges that Pacific Rim is acting in violation of the 1996 El Salvador Mines Law, which stipulates certain prerequisites for the granting of mining concessions in the country.[4]

Pacific Rim’s President and CEO, Tom Shrake, said that the company was “very pleased” with ICSID’s decision to allow the case to proceed. “This is a positive and crucial step in the CAFTA process for Pac Rim. We are, however, reticent to celebrate as we believe a more productive outcome is possible for both the Salvadoran people and foreign investors. With this phase of the arbitration now completed, we hope to resume a mutually beneficial dialogue with the Government of El Salvador to resolve the impasse on the El Dorado project”, he added.[5]

The Salvadorian National Committee against Mining (Mesa Nacional frente a la Minería), however, decried the ICSID ruling, saying that it sets a “terrible precedent” in terms of national sovereignty and the right of a country “to reject projects that are environmentally or socially unfeasible”.[6] The committee has called on Funes’ government to join forces with groups opposed to the World Bank’s ruling, with activist Manuel Fuentes saying that by allying with such organisations the government can “strengthen its defensive strategy”.

Furthermore, there have been calls from activists in El Salvador for the government to pass legislation prohibiting outright the mining of metals in the country, to withdraw from the Central American Free Trade Agreement with immediate effect, and to rule out the possibility of signing bilateral trade accords with Canada.

Neoliberal ‘free trade’ agreements such as CAFTA and its counterpart NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement, which encompasses Canada, Mexico and the United States – have come under intensifying scrutiny in recent years, as many have pointed out that they actively erode national sovereignty and pit member states’ economies against one another in what has been dubbed the “race to the bottom” by some economists.

Republican Congressman Ron Paul remarked of CAFTA in 2005 that, “It is absurd to believe that CAFTA and other trade agreements do not diminish American sovereignty.  When we grant quasi-governmental international bodies the power to make decisions about American trade rules, we lose sovereignty plain and simple… Like the UN, NAFTA, and the WTO, it represents another stone in the foundation of a global government system.  Most Americans already understand they are governed by largely unaccountable forces in Washington, yet now they face having their domestic laws influenced by bureaucrats in Brussels, Zurich, or Mexico City.”[7]

Former World Bank Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz has also voiced opposition to NAFTA and CAFTA, observing that these agreements have had a detrimental effect on domestic agriculture in signatory states, whose markets have been flooded with cheap produce imported from the United States. In many cases, heavy subsidies offered to U.S. farmers by the federal government mean that U.S.-grown crops are able to undercut domestic produce with disastrous results for those who depend on farming to make a living. The result has been increasing rural poverty in countries such as Mexico, simultaneously fuelling migration from the countryside to the city and immigration from Latin America into the United States.

Speaking about the effects of the NAFTA agreement on Mexico, Stiglitz observes that, “NAFTA, ten years later, did not, I think, produce the benefits that Mexico had hoped for. A fairer agreement could have, but that’s not what they got. One of the key aspects of this was agriculture. The price of corn fell by half. The poorest people in Mexico are corn farmers. So you increased the poverty among the poorest groups in the country. It helps their urban workers, who buy food, but it hurts the some of the poorest. So you have seen this change in the pattern of inequality within Mexico.”[8]

In 1993, then-Vice President-elect Al Gore took part in a televised debate with independent presidential candidate Ross Perot, a passionate opponent of NAFTA, on a special edition of Larry King Live on CNN. It was during this debate that Gore uttered the now infamous line, “this is a good deal for our country”[9].

A 2003 report into the effect of NAFTA on the U.S. economy, however, contradicts Mr. Gore in the strongest possible terms. Robert E. Scott’s report, The high price of ‘free’ trade, notes that in the first ten years following the 1993 inception of NAFTA, over 870,000 jobs were lost from the United States, mostly “high-wage positions in manufacturing industries”[10]. In addition, NAFTA “contributed to rising income inequality, suppressed real wages for production workers, weakened workers’ collective bargaining powers and ability to organize unions, and reduced fringe benefits”.

Scott’s damning report observes that, “no protections were contained in the core of the agreement to maintain labor or environmental standards”, and that NAFTA, “tilted the economic playing field in favor of investors, and against workers and the environment, resulting in a hemispheric “race to the bottom” in wages and environmental quality”.

The report goes on to state that advocates of NAFTA, such as Al Gore and former President George W. Bush, “misrepresent the real effects of trade on the U.S. economy: trade both creates and destroys jobs. Increases in U.S. exports tend to create jobs in this country, but increases in imports tend to reduce jobs because the imports displace goods that otherwise would have been made in the United States by domestic workers.”

The result of nearly two decades of unchecked neoliberal economic policy has been a sharp decline in real wages and living standards in the United States, spurred on by the near-total obliteration of the country’s manufacturing sector as companies seek to maximise profit margins by moving their factories south of the border where land and labour are considerably cheaper. With support for such policies unsurprisingly strong among Washington D.C.’s political elite, this trend shows no sign of relenting in the foreseeable future.


[1] Pacific Rim expresa su satisfacción por victoria en tribunal internacional, http://noticias.terra.es/2010/economia/0804/actualidad/pacific-rim-expresa-su-satisfaccion-por-victoria-en-tribunal-internacional.aspx

[2] Arbitration panel favors Canada miner in dispute with El Salvador, http://www.laprensasa.com/2.0/3/309/796002/America-in-English/Arbitration-panel-favors-Canada-miner-in-dispute-with-El-Salvador.html

[3] The CIA World Factbook – El Salvador, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/es.html

[4] El Salvador busca frenar demanda de Pacific Rim, http://www.elsalvador.com/mwedh/nota/nota_completa.asp?idCat=6374&idArt=5040098

[5] Pac Rim Cayman LLC – ICSID Tribunal Rejects Government of El Salvador’s Preliminary Objection, http://www.allbusiness.com/legal/trial-procedure-decisions-rulings/14892156-1.html

[6] Ambientalistas consideran un “precedente nefasto” la decisión contra El Salvador, http://es.noticias.yahoo.com/9/20100811/tsc-ambientalistas-consideran-un-precede-23e7ce8.html

[7] CAFTA: More Bureaucracy, Less Free Trade, http://www.house.gov/paul/tst/tst2005/tst060605.htm

[8] Fair Trade for All: How Trade Can Promote Development, http://www.cceia.org/resources/transcripts/5339.html

[9] NAFTA: Ross Perot and Al Gore Debate 1993, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhwhMXOxHTg

[10] The high price of ‘free’ trade – NAFTA’s failure has cost the United States jobs across the nation, http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/briefingpapers_bp147/

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A report published by the charity Physicians for Human Rights has documented illegal medical experimentation carried out on prisoners detained on suspicion of involvement in terrorism whilst being held in CIA custody[1]. The report, entitled Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence of Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program, outlines numerous instances of illegal testing carried out on prisoners in violation of both medical ethics and international treaties.

Among the experiments performed were tests to analyse how detainees would cope with subjection to prolonged periods of sleep deprivation, and experiments which involved adding a saline solution to the water used to simulate drowning during waterboarding sessions in order to prevent complications related to dilution of the blood.

Members of Physicians for Human Rights spent two years carefully analysing declassified but redacted documents pertaining to the treatment of detainees suspected of terrorism who were taken into custody following the attacks of September 11th 2001. The group has called for a congressional investigation into the allegations contained in its report, and has called on the White House to investigate.

According to the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based non-governmental organisation, such experiments – illegal under the Nuremburg Code and Geneva Conventions – were carried out with complicity on the part of CIA-appointed doctors, psychologists and other medical staff. PHR accuses the US government of having used such professionals to shield itself from criminal liability and charges that the physicians involved were complicit in “the routine practice of torture”. Page 9 of the 30 page report states that the experiments undertaken, “had no direct clinical health care application, nor [were they] in the detainee’s personal interest nor part of their medical management”.

The report observes that the illegal experimentation carried out, “appears to have been used primarily to enable the Bush administration to assess the legality of the tactics, and to inform medical monitoring policy and procedure for future application of the techniques”. Page 10 informs that, “US government lawyers used… observational data collected by health professionals… to inform legal evaluations regarding the risk of inflicting certain levels of harm on the detainee, and to shape policy that would guide further application of the technique on other detainees”.

The report reveals that medical professionals under the authority of the US government observed and analysed the effects of sleep deprivation on more than a dozen prisoners in 48, 96 and 180-hour increments. Scott A. Allen, MD, a PHR medical advisor and lead medical author of the report remarked that, “Any health professional [that] violates their ethical codes by employing their professional expertise to calibrate and study the infliction of harm disgraces the health profession and makes a mockery of the practice of medicine”. He stated that any medical practitioner who participated in “unethical human subject research… should be held to account”[2].

Frank Donaghue, Physicians for Human Rights’ Chief Executive Officer, affirmed that it appears that the CIA violated, “accepted legal and ethical standards put in place since the Second World War”, which are designed to protect detainees from inhumane experimentation. Donaghue described the abuses detailed in the group’s report as “gross violations of human rights law” and “a grave affront to America’s core values”[3].

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano responded to the allegations on behalf of the agency, stating that PHR’s report is “just wrong”, and that the CIA did not carry out “human subject research on any detainee or group of detainees”[4].

President Barack Obama officially outlawed the practice of waterboarding not long after taking office, but has controversially preserved an undefined number of “black sites” or clandestine prisons situated in countries whose governments collaborate with the United States, and has preserved the practice of rendition whereby those suspected of broadly defined terror offences can be taken to such sites and “interrogated” with no judicial oversight.

Upon releasing four top secret Bush-era memos, which permitted the CIA to use torture against terror suspects, in April of 2009, President Obama guaranteed immunity to those who had been responsible either for encouraging and authorising such acts or for directly carrying them out. Obama called it a time for “reflection, not retribution”[5], and to date not a single member of the Bush administration has been prosecuted despite overwhelming documented evidence that torture was routinely used against people who had not been charged with any crime.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the administration of George W. Bush in 2002 had authorised the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”, including but not limited to: waterboarding, subjecting detainees to extremes of temperature, forced nudity and forcing detainees to maintain stress positions. Such techniques were allowed providing medical staff present ensured prisoners did not endure “severe physical and mental pain”. This arbitrary proviso was widely derided at the time, with critics maintaining that this essentially gave US interrogators, who in many cases were devoid of experience and even basic training, a free hand to administer any type of punishment they saw fit with little interference from the upper echelons of government.

Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero, commented that, “President Obama’s assertion that there should not be prosecutions of government officials who may have committed crimes before a thorough investigation has been carried out is simply untenable”, with the ACLU characterising the legal basis for torture as “spurious”.

One memo declassified by the Obama administration, dated 1 August 2002, lists permissible techniques, which include: attention grasp, walling (pushing the detainee into a wall), facial hold, facial slap, cramped confinement, sleep deprivation, food deprivation, wall standing, placing a detainee with a fear of insects in a confined box containing insects, and waterboarding.

A secret 2004 US army investigation into allegations of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib military prison in Baghdad, Iraq, uncovered evidence of sustained and repeated mistreatment of prisoners held in US custody. The report revealed a damning catalogue of inhumane behaviour which included the following abuses[6]:

  • Sodomising a male detainee with a chemical light and possibly a broomstick
  • Threatening detainees with a charged 9mm pistol
  • A male military police guard having sex with a female detainee
  • Using military working dogs, without muzzles, to intimidate and frighten detainees; in at least one case biting a detainee and causing severe injury
  • Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid onto detainees
  • Beating detainees with a broom handle and chair
  • Pouring cold water on naked detainees
  • Punching, slapping & kicking detainees
  • Allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall of his cell
  • Threatening male detainees with rape
  • Jumping on detainees’ naked feet
  • Videotaping and photographing naked male and female detainees
  • Forcibly arranging detainees in numerous sexually explicit positions in order to photograph them
  • Forcing detainees to strip naked and depriving them of clothing for days at a time
  • Forcing naked male detainees to wear women’s underwear
  • Forcing groups of naked male detainees to masturbate themselves while being photographed & videotaped
  • Arranging naked male detainees in a pile and jumping on them
  • Positioning a naked male detainee on an MRE box with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes and penis and electrically shocking him
  • Placing a dog chain around a naked male detainee and having a female soldier pose for a photo
  • Taking photographs of dead Iraqi detainees

The report´s author, Major General Antonio Taguba, later confirmed that photographic evidence from Abu Ghraib which the Obama administration declined to release depicts “sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube”. Taguba described the photographs as providing categoric evidence of “torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.” “The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it”, he added[7].

Senior figures in the Bush administration came in for heavy criticism as it emerged that abuses amounting to torture were widespread both in Iraq and at US-controlled detention facilities in other countries. US Justice Department official John Yoo drew consternation from anti-torture advocates when he endorsed the sexual torture of terror suspects’ children in front of their parents as an acceptable method of extracting a confession[8].

Douglass Cassel, professor at Notre Dame Law School, quizzed Yoo in December of 2005 about an August 2002 memo he had authored, asking, “If the president deems that he’s got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person’s child, there is no law that can stop him?” “No treaty”, replied Yoo, who in addition to writing many of the memos which cemented the practice of “enhanced interrogation” as accepted policy also wrote extensively in favour of domestic surveillance and wiretapping of citizens of the United States without warrants. Cassel pressed the South Korea-born attorney further, “Also no law by Congress. That is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo.” “I think it depends on why the President feels he needs to do that,” was Yoo’s now infamous response.

Tom Kavanagh


[1] Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence of Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program, http://phrtorturepapers.org/?dl_id=9

[2] Evidence Indicates that the Bush Administration Conducted Experiments and Research on Detainees to Design Torture Techniques and Create Legal Cover, http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/news-2010-06-07.html

[3] Evidence Indicates that the Bush Administration Conducted Experiments and Research on Detainees to Design Torture Techniques and Create Legal Cover, http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/news-2010-06-07.html

[4] Physicians group accuses CIA of testing torture techniques on detainees, http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-torture-20100608,0,1471800.story

[5] Obama releases Bush torture memos – Insects, sleep deprivation and waterboarding among approved techniques by the Bush administration, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/16/torture-memos-bush-administration

[6] Article 15-6 Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade, http://www.npr.org/iraq/2004/prison_abuse_report.pdf

[7] Abu Ghraib abuse photos ‘show rape’, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/5395830/Abu-Ghraib-abuse-photos-show-rape.html

[8] Meek, mild and menacing, http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/blumenthal/2006/01/12/alito_bush/

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee in Washington D.C. on Tuesday evening that the call from the international community for Israel to temporarily freeze settlement construction in territory it has been illegally occupying since 1967 was an “illogical and unreasonable demand”.[1] Netanyahu’s comments came after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had called on the Zionist state to make “difficult but necessary choices”, a reference to Israeli plans to construct around 1,600 new homes in illegally occupied East Jerusalem which were announced during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s recent visit to the country.

Clinton used her appearance at AIPAC to underscore her “rock solid” dedication to “Israel’s security”, saying that this is “more than a policy position for me. It is a personal commitment that will never waver”. She went on to say, however, that Israel’s continuing settlement expansion “undermines mutual trust” between the two nations.[2] Such tame chastisement came less than 24 hours after Netanyahu had told his cabinet that, “As far as we are concerned, building in Jerusalem is like building in Tel Aviv”.

According to international law, however, there is a clear distinction. Israel has resisted repeated United Nations Security Council resolutions to withdraw from all territory it occupied in 1967, and has continuously expanded illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which have more than doubled in size since the failed Oslo peace accords of 1993. The total number of inhabitants of Jewish-only settlements in illegally occupied territory currently stands at over 650,000.

Despite the fact that the construction of settlements in territory acquired by war is roundly condemned by the international community and the practice is forbidden by international law, the BBC insists on including the concession that “Israel disputes this” whenever settlements’ legal status is mentioned, further clouding the issue and giving the illusion of legitimate contention where there is none.

Aside from their outright illegality, settlements are routinely constructed in strategic areas which give their inhabitants preferential access to scarce supplies of water and arable land to the detriment of the impoverished Palestinian communities who live on their margins. A network of roads and highways administered by Israel cuts through the West Bank, in many cases isolating Palestinian villages from one another and making travel between towns just a few miles apart unfeasible.

Settlements in East Jerusalem have been constructed so as to “ring-fence” the portion of the city under illegitimate occupation, with Israel claiming the whole of Jerusalem as its “eternal and indivisible” capital. The location of such settlements makes any transfer of sovereignty over East Jerusalem to a Palestinian government under a future peace deal practically impossible should the current inhabitants be allowed to remain where they are. The dominant forces within the international community have steadfastly refused to take collective action against Israel’s repeated and flagrant violations of internationally accepted practice in refusing to withdraw from territory it acquired following the 1967 war, and have thus undermined any genuine prospect of peace between the two sides.

British arms sales to Israel skyrocketed under Tony Blair’s stewardship and currently stand at their highest ever level. The prospect of a potential future Conservative government bringing pressure to bear on the Zionist state looks remote to say the least: a Channel 4 programme entitled Dispatches: Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby, screened in late 2009, found that roughly 80% of Tory MPs are members of Conservative Friends for Israel. The United States currently sends Israel, a nation with a population of just over 7 million, around US$3 billion in foreign aid annually, more than to any other single country and more than to every country in Sub-Saharan Africa combined.

Speaking at AIPAC on Tuesday, Netanyahu said that illegal settlements in East Jerusalem were an “inextricable” part of Israel and would remain so under any subsequent peace deal. Incredibly, he went on to state that their construction, “in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.”[3] President Barack Obama appeared to agree with Netanyahu’s position in September of 2009, when he dropped an official demand for Israel to cease illegal settlement construction.[4] Even more bizarrely, this humiliating capitulation was reported by CNN as if it were a major step in bringing the two sides together.

Quite how Obama and the United States manage to retain any credibility whatsoever as neutral peace brokers in this conflict is a testament to the power of the mainstream media upon which the majority of Americans and Britons rely for information about world affairs. Obama, who had won glowing praise from the Israeli press for a now infamous performance at AIPAC prior to his victory at the polls in late 2008, effectively extinguished any faint hopes of positive action from Washington on the matter when he appointed former IDF volunteer Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff shortly after being elected. Emanuel is widely acknowledged to be one of the most potent figures in Obama’s administration, and it is against this backdrop that any call by the United States’ government for peace talks to resume can be discarded as fading rhetoric.

Clinton at AIPAC: Iran threatened once again

Speaking on behalf of the planet’s foremost nuclear power, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the latest contribution to the burgeoning collection of threats targeted at Iran by political figures from the United States and Israel, calling for “sanctions that bite” against the Persian nation and stating that the United States is “determined to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons”. Clinton was greeted by applause from the 7,500-strong audience, comprised of members of arguably Washington’s most powerful political lobby representing the interests of a foreign nation, no less than 25 times during Monday’s speech. She called Iran’s mythical quest to procure nuclear weaponry “unacceptable to the United States, unacceptable to Israel and unacceptable to the region and the international community”.

Russia and China have hitherto resisted proceeding with sanctions against Iran, while the U.S. began a programme of sanctions during the presidency of Secretary Clinton’s husband Bill which were dutifully extended by President Obama shortly after the latter took office early in 2009.

The double standard underpinning the frequently recited mantra that Iran is not entitled to obtain nuclear armaments and should be considered a pariah if it wishes to do so is palpable: not only does the U.S. have the world’s most formidable nuclear arsenal; it stands apart from the other members of the coveted nuclear club, having used such weapons to devastating effect against the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

In addition, Israel is believed to have several hundred nuclear warheads and senior Israeli politicians have been repeatedly threatening military action against Iran in recent years. Israel allowed “cursory inspections” of its nuclear facilities once a year between 1962 and 1969, going to great lengths to conceal underground areas of its sites which contained incriminating evidence of the country’s clandestine nuclear weapons programme.[5]

When covertly taken photographs and information regarding Israel’s secret nuclear weapons facilities were released to The Sunday Times in October 1986, Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu was kidnapped in Rome before being flown to Israel where he served years in prison, spending longer in solitary confinement than any known prisoner in modern history. Iran, meanwhile, denies categorically that it is seeking to enrich uranium for the purpose of weapon development and maintains that its intentions are purely peaceful.

Tom Kavanagh


[1] Benjamin Netanyahu says Mid-East talks face new delay, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8583589.stm

[2] Hillary Clinton warns Israel faces ‘difficult’ choices, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8579766.stm

[3] Netanyahu reaffirms ‘right to build’ in Jerusalem, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8582190.stm

[4] Obama drops demand that Israel freeze settlements, http://edition.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/09/22/us.mideast/index.html

[5] Israel’s Nuclear Weapons, http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/cpc-pubs/farr.htm

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The Venezuelan government announced on Saturday that Manuel Zelaya, the Honduran President overthrown in a bloodless military coup last June, will serve as the political leader of the Petrocaribe alliance. Petrocaribe was created by the government of Hugo Chávez in 2005 and allows participating countries, including some of the poorest nations in the Americas, to finance shipments of Venezuelan oil over a period of 17 to 25 years at an interest rate of 1%, paying a small fraction up front[1]. Member states can also finance part of their petroleum imports with export commodities such as rice and bananas, which are sent to Venezuela in part-exchange for market-rate oil.

Zelaya’s appointment was announced by the Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nicolás Maduro, during a conference of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Maduro stated that the decision to appoint Zelaya demonstrates the Venezuelan government’s commitment to “continue supporting the restoration of democracy in Honduras”[2]. Following June’s coup, President Chávez of Venezuela was one of the international community’s most vocal supporters of Zelaya, demanding his immediate reinstatement as an interim government under Roberto Micheletti took control of the poverty-stricken Central American nation.

In elections held in November of last year, Porfirio Lobo was elected Honduran President, with many nations, including Venezuela, refusing to recognise Lobo’s victory, taking place as it did in the shadow of last summer’s coup d’état. Venezuela has indefinitely suspended oil exports to Honduras, but has stated that Caracas would restore relations with Tegucigalpa if the new government permitted Zelaya to return to the political scene in the country[3].

Zelaya, a wealthy landowner in his own right, had begun to institute significant changes which sought to alleviate the plight of the millions of Hondurans living in abject poverty. These included a 60% increase in the minimum wage which provoked criticism and anger on the part of multinational companies operating in the country, who had hitherto benefitted from unchecked access to the labour of the roughly 60% of Honduras’ 8 million inhabitants who live below the poverty line.

U.S. banana-giant Chiquita, formerly The United Fruit Company, which was instrumental in pushing through the CIA-led overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 in response to his drastic land reform policies, was among the more vocal critics of Zelaya’s minimum wage increase, and maintains substantial holdings in Honduras[4].

Honduras is the poorest nation on the mainland of the American continent, with an estimated 75% of the country’s rural population living in poverty[5], and is characterised by “an extraordinarily unequal distribution of income and high un- and underemployment”[6]. President Lobo, educated at the University of Miami, was quick to exonerate those members of the Honduran military who took part in the coup which toppled Manuel Zelaya, confirming that they would not face prosecution for their part in the overthrow and promising to put Honduras “on the path to democracy”, in February of this year[7].

During his inauguration in January, Lobo publicly thanked U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the backing he had received from the government of Barack Obama following his victory at the polls in November 2009, while Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela were among a group of several Latin American nations who boycotted Lobo’s swearing-in and refuse to recognise the Honduran government, considering it illegitimate[8].

The Obama administration is extremely unpopular in much of Latin America, with widespread anger at the decision to place U.S. troops on the ground at several military bases in Venezuela’s neighbour Colombia as part of the United States’ “war on drugs”. Obama’s decision to extend crippling sanctions against Cuba, in spite of having made noises to the effect that relations could thaw between Washington and Havana during his campaign, has also done little to alter the image of his administration in a region which has seen countless U.S. and U.S.-backed military interventions in preceding decades which have left deep physical and emotional scars which endure to the present day.

Honduras had been receiving oil shipments from Venezuela under a Petrocaribe agreement until dispatches were suspended following last June’s coup. Zelaya said of his new role as political head of Petrocaribe, “I am going to accept this nomination and this appointment from President Chávez with a view to strengthening the democratic processes in this continent”. Commenting on the role Chávez played in supporting the ousted President following the coup, Zelaya remarked, “it’s false that Hugo Chávez came looking for me, I went looking for him in order to help Latin America”.

Interviewed after the conclusion of three hours of talks with Zelaya held at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Chávez affirmed that Porfirio Lobo’s electoral victory in Honduras “was no defeat” and that Zelaya is still the “legitimate President of Honduras”.

Tom Kavanagh


[1] Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. – Petrocaribe, http://www.pdvsa.com/index.php?tpl=interface.sp/design/readmenuprinc.tpl.html&newsid_temas=48

[2] Designan a Zelaya como nuevo presidente del Consejo Político de Petrocaribe, http://www.telesurtv.net/noticias/secciones/nota/67940-NN/designan-a-zelaya-como-nuevo-presidente-del-consejo-politico-de-petrocaribe/

[3] Chávez contrata al ex presidente hondureño Zelaya para dirigir Petrocaribe, http://www.cnnmexico.com/mundo/2010/03/06/chavez-contrata-al-ex-presidente-hondureno-zelaya-para-dirigir-petrocaribe

[4] Chiquita in Latin America, http://www.counterpunch.org/kozloff07172009.html

[5] Honduras, http://www.ifad.org/media/success/honduras_2.htm

[6] CIA – The World Factbook – Honduras, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ho.html

[7] Presidente de Honduras exonera militar que executou golpe, http://noticias.uol.com.br/ultimas-noticias/afp/2010/02/25/presidente-de-honduras-exonera-militar-que-executou-golpe.jhtm

[8] Lobo Assumes Presidency as U.S., Latin America Split, http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-01-27/lobo-set-for-presidency-as-u-s-latin-america-split-update1-.html

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai has unilaterally taken over the country’s Electoral Complaints Commission, declaring himself the right to appoint all five panel members.  The move comes four months after the commission ordered a rerun of last August’s presidential election in the wake of widespread electoral fraud, with estimates that Karzai had received around one million unsubstantiated votes in order to claim victory against rival Abdullah Abdullah.[i]

This run-off, however, did not materialise, with Abdullah Abdullah withdrawing days before the vote, leading to the second round of voting being abruptly cancelled. Abdullah stated that his “demands for a fraud-free election had not been met”, and that a repeat of the August debacle “might not restore the faith of the people in (the) democratic process.”[ii] The August elections had been marked by voter intimidation and ballot stuffing in Karzai’s favour on the part of election monitors. The governor and other election officials in the northern state of Balkh, for example, noted “voter coercion” and intimidation, “particularly” on the part of election monitors.[iii]

Ballot-stuffing was also a common complaint, with both Karzai and Abdullah facing accusations over huge voting irregularities. The BBC uncovered election cards being sold openly in some cities, and candidates offering thousands of dollars worth of bribes in exchange for votes. The Bareez tribe in the southern city of Kandahar alleged that nearly 30,000 votes had been switched from Abdullah to Karzai, with the president’s brother Ahmed Wali maintaining that the claim was “baseless”.[iv] Ahmed Wali Karzai is himself a controversial figure who does little to bolster the reputation of his brother’s regime internationally, with voluminous evidence linking him to the heroin trade in the war-torn nation.[v]

Prior to Hamid Karzai’s overhaul, the ECC had been dominated by the United Nations, with three of its panel being directly appointed by the UN. Western diplomats were quick to register their outrage at the Afghan President’s decision. The head of the United Nations in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, reportedly struck a deal in private with the Afghan head of state prior to the announcement that the President would determine the five-strong commission, to the effect that at least two foreigners would be part of the panel. This would still leave Karzai-appointees in a dominant position, holding the remaining three out of five seats. The President already controls Afghanistan’s Independent Elections Commission, which was considered to have favoured the incumbent during the August election and was accordingly criticised by Abdullah Abdullah.

Karzai’s announcement comes during a parliamentary recess, with the Afghan parliament not due to reconvene until Saturday 27 February. Abdullah Abdullah was critical of the move to seize power of the ECC, calling it a “step backwards”, and affirming that Karzai’s actions “could seriously jeopardise the efforts being made on the military front”. President Obama announced the deployment of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan in December of 2009[vi], following the deployment of an extra 17,000 troops in February of last year.[vii]

This significant increase in foreign troops comes at a time when confidence in Afghanistan’s fledgling government is dwindling, with the Karzai regime perceived by many both in and outside of the devastated nation to be riddled with corruption and showing no sign of improvement. Consequently, public opinion in the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries which have troops stationed in Afghanistan has turned sharply against the war, with rising death tolls both among the Afghan civilian population and foreign occupying forces and the obvious shortcomings of Karzai’s government. The number of British troops killed in Afghanistan reached 256 in early February 2010, surpassing the number of dead in the Falklands’ war of 1982, as three British troops were killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Helmand province.[viii]

Meanwhile, the Afghan cabinet voiced its condemnation of the killing of 27 civilians in the south of the country following a NATO airstrike in an area under Dutch military control in the border region between the provinces of Uruzgan and Dai Kondi.[ix] A cabinet statement affirmed that “The repeated killing of civilians by NATO forces is unjustifiable… We strongly condemn it.”[x]

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary stated that the victims of the airstrike were all civilians.  He said that two Land Cruisers and a pickup truck containing a total of 42 people came under attack from the air as they approached the Khotal Chowza mountain pass that connects the two provinces.

Tom Kavanagh


[i] Hamid Karzai takes control of Afghanistan election watchdog, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/feb/22/karzai-afghanistan-electoral-complaints-commission

[ii] Abdullah pulls out of Afghan vote, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8336388.stm

[iii] Accusations Of Vote Fraud Multiply in Afghanistan, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/27/AR2009082704199.html

[iv] Afghan poll: Main fraud allegations, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8244125.stm

[v][v] Reports link Karzai’s brother to heroin trade, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/04/world/asia/04iht-05afghan.16689186.html

[vi] Barack Obama’s war: the final push in Afghanistan, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/01/barack-obama-speech-afghanistan-war

[vii] Obama approves Afghanistan troop increase, http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/02/17/obama.troops/index.html

[viii] Afghanistan death toll exceeds Falklands as three UK soldiers die, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/feb/08/uk-soldiers-killed-afghanistan

[ix] Afghanistan slams US-led forces over civilian deaths, http://www.presstv.com/detail.aspx?id=119233&sectionid=351020403

[x] NATO Airstrike Kills Afghan Civilians, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/23/world/asia/23afghan.html

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A 70-year gagging order, imposed on photographs and post-mortem records relating to the 2003 death of Dr. David Kelly, has been challenged by some of Britain’s leading medical experts who are seeking to challenge the official verdict of suicide. Michael Powers QC, a former coroner and expert in coronial law who has been working closely with the doctors in attempting to reopen the investigation into Kelly’s death, remarked that the suicide verdict is “so improbable as to demand a much more detailed investigation of what happened”.[1]

The decision to block the release of photos and the post-mortem and medical reports relating to Dr. Kelly’s untimely death was taken by Lord Hutton in his capacity as chairman of the Hutton inquiry, which concluded in 2004 that the leading microbiologist had died after cutting an artery in his wrist. Responding to criticism and disquiet over the revelation that the records had been ordered to remain classified for such an unusually long duration, Hutton affirmed that he had taken the decision to prevent the disclosure of the post-mortem report so as not to cause Kelly’s wife and daughters “unnecessary distress”.[2] Michael Powers QC expressed his amazement as news broke of the extraordinary length of the gagging order, and remarked, “I can’t think of anything that would justify these documents being treated any differently.”

The decision to classify the records for such a long period was not revealed when the Hutton inquiry declared its findings in 2004, and was only made public in January of 2010 when a group of leading medical professionals attempted to reopen the inquest into Dr. Kelly’s death at Oxford Crown Court. Trauma surgeon David Halpin, epidemiologist Andrew Rouse, vascular surgeon Martin Birnstingl, radiologist Stephen Frost and Chris Burns-Cox who specialises in internal general medicine were informed by letter that the relevant material had been classified for 70 years.

Michael Powers QC stated that it was, “truly remarkable that they should be kept secret for twice as long as the other documents”. Powers remarked that the decision to keep the existence of this gagging order secret “raises questions as to what else was withheld” by the Hutton inquiry. “The medical evidence doesn’t add up”, Powers continued, “I have yet to meet a doctor that will say it was even possible, let alone likely [that Kelly committed suicide]”.

Dr. Kelly was 59 when his body was discovered on 18 July 2003 at a wooded area of Harrowdown Hill in Oxfordshire, five miles from his home. The official verdict is that Kelly committed suicide by slashing his wrist with a blunt gardening knife, although medical experts have long questioned this conclusion. In July 2009, 13 leading British pathologists called for an official inquest into Kelly’s death, publishing a 12-page dossier which stated that “the bleeding from Dr. Kelly’s ulnar artery is highly unlikely to have been so voluminous and rapid that it was the cause of death”.[3] Martin Birnstingl, one of Britain’s leading vascular surgeons and one of those demanding a new inquiry into Kelly’s death said, “’I have never, in my experience, heard of a case where someone has died after cutting their ulnar artery”.[4]

The paramedics who were among the first on the scene following the discovery of Kelly’s body stated that the amount of blood at they saw at the location where Kelly lay and the injuries to his wrist were inconsistent with the suicide verdict. Paramedic Vanessa May remarked, “I just think it is incredibly unlikely that he died from the wrist wound we saw”, with her colleague Dave Bartlett concurring. “I would have thought there would have been more blood over the body if someone had bled to death“, he told The Observer.[5] In addition to these inconsistencies, the nearly-empty Co-Proxamol packet next to the microbiologist’s body indicated that he had consumed 29 painkillers, although an examination of his stomach revealed only one partially digested capsule.

Although Dr. Kelly was left-handed, the cut from which he allegedly bled to death was made on his left wrist, meaning he would have had to awkwardly make the incision using his right hand. Although Kelly was not wearing gloves when his body was found, the knife he is said to have used had no fingerprints on it whatsoever. Trauma surgeon David Halpin, one of the pathologists seeking a fresh inquest into Kelly’s death, observed of the discrepancies in the official verdict that, “The idea that a man like Dr. Kelly would choose to end his life like that is preposterous. This was a scientist, an expert on drugs.”

Kelly, who had worked for the United Nations as a weapons inspector in Iraq, had been implicated in the run up to his death as the source of a BBC report which questioned the grounds for Britain’s role in the 2003 invasion of the Middle Eastern nation, and much of the attention surrounding his suspicious death has focused on this fact, however other information has since surfaced which casts the microbiologist’s passing in an entirely different light, and shows Dr. David Kelly to be but one piece of a much larger puzzle.

One of the world’s leading germ warfare experts and head of microbiology at Porton Down, home of Britain’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Kelly had a considerable reputation within the international intelligence community. His prominence is underlined by the fact that on one occasion he was tasked with debriefing Russian biochemist Dr. Vladimir Pasechnik – who would also die in suspicious circumstances attributed to suicide – who had defected from the Soviet Union. The Daily Mail noted in July of 2009 that Kelly had access to “some of the state’s most sensitive information and worked closely with the intelligence services of all the major industrialised countries”. Indeed, Kelly had worked as an advisor to Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency since 1995 with the full knowledge of the British government.

With years of experience handling sensitive and above top secret material behind him, Dr. Kelly was certainly aware of information that could prove damaging if released. Author Gordon Thomas stated that Dr. Kelly, “had explored with two or three writers [including myself]… the possibility that he could write a book, about his life. I said to him at the time, ‘you know, David, you signed the Official Secrets Act’, he said ‘I know, I’ll need somebody else to write it with the information I provide’, and I said ‘but you know, you won’t get away with it David.’”. The Daily Express reported that Kelly had been planning to disclose information regarding “his own secret dealings in germ warfare with the apartheid regime in South Africa”.[6]

South African cardiologist and head of the apartheid-era chemical and biological warfare programme Project Coast, Wouter Basson, confirmed in an interview – his first for several years – featured in CBC’s The Passionate Eye – Anthrax War documentary that he had met Dr. Kelly “three or four” times.[7] Basson stated that he had liaised with Kelly in order to exchange information, and refused to answer when questioned as to whether or not he had met the microbiologist at Britain’s highly secretive and well-guarded Porton Down research facility in Wiltshire.

Wouter Basson did however confirm that he had personally visited the site, along with Fort Detrick, Maryland in the United States, another notorious biological weapon research facility. The Ames-strain anthrax used in a series of highly publicised attacks in the United States shortly after the September 11th attacks in 2001 is confirmed to have been developed by the U.S. military at Fort Detrick.[8] Incredibly, the FBI’s principle suspect in the anthrax case – Bruce Ivins – also committed ‘suicide’ in extremely dubious circumstances in August 2008, allegedly overdosing on Tylenol and codeine.[9] Dr. Kelly also had experience working with anthrax, which Porton Down had received from Fort Detrick in the 1980’s, with the Daily Mail confirming that Kelly had, “tens of thousands of documents and photographs; some [showing] human victims of anthrax poisoning” at his Oxfordshire home.

When probed as to whether or not he was involved in the development of ethno-specific biological agents, Basson stated on record that, “What happened is we had the objective to synthesise a certain protein that was in sperm for contraceptive purposes. The objective was that if you could immunise a woman, against sperm, then you would make her infertile.” The scientist elaborated: “We were asked to do this by another country that had a population explosion problem, as part of an exchange of technology. They were giving us other stuff, they asked, well we haven’t got the time or the place to do that, will you guys do that”.

The mention of collaboration with another country is an apparent reference to Israeli cooperation, which was instrumental in the apartheid regime’s quest to procure nuclear weapons. As Chris McGreal writes in The Guardian, “Israel provided expertise and technology that was central to South Africa’s development of its nuclear bombs”.[10] In return, apartheid South Africa worked with Israel and shared research about race-specific biological agents. In November 1998 The Sunday Times reported that “Israel is working on a biological weapon that would harm Arabs but not Jews, according to Israeli military and western intelligence sources”, and although there is now no trace of the article on the newspaper’s website, it has been republished at several other locations.[11]

The Sunday Times reported that “Israeli scientists are trying to exploit medical advances by identifying distinctive genes carried by some Arabs, then create a genetically modified bacterium or virus… The scientists are trying to engineer deadly micro-organisms that attack only those bearing the distinctive genes”. This work is reportedly conducted at Israel’s Nes Tziyona chemical and biological research facility, one of the most secure locations in the country. The Israeli scientists who revealed this information to the London newspaper stated that the agents could be transmitted by “spraying the organisms into the air or putting them in water supplies”.

The article points out that such research “mirrors biological studies conducted by South African scientists during the apartheid era and revealed in testimony before the truth and reconciliation commission”. It was at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in 1996 that the existence of Project Coast first came to light. Scientists who had worked on the project testified that they had worked on developing targeted assassination tools engineered to leave no trace, as well as mass-sterilisation techniques designed for use against the country’s black population.

Wouter Basson, who was called before the Commission, did not admit to any involvement in the aforementioned programmes and thus did not earn the immunity from prosecution guaranteed to all those who acknowledged and admitted to their apartheid-era wrongdoings. In 1999 Basson was indicted in South Africa on charges of murder, fraud and drug smuggling, but was acquitted following a 30-month trial due to insufficient evidence. It was at this trial that it emerged that Project Coast, which had employed over 200 scientists in South Africa and benefitted from extensive international intelligence connections, had supplied anthrax and cholera to the South African military and police.

“Unnamed South African sources” also disclosed to Jane’s Foreign Report, a publication specialising in ‘security and defence matters’, that “Israeli scientists have used some of the South African research in trying to develop an “ethnic bullet” against Arabs”, according to the Sunday Times article. According to Foreign Report, Israeli scientists were able to pinpoint certain elements of Arab genetic make-up by carrying out tests on “Jews of Arab origin, especially Iraqis”.

This revelation is reminiscent of the 1950’s radiation experiments carried out by the Israeli state, during which over 100,000 Sephardic children were exposed to radiation 35,000 (thirty-five thousand) times over the recommended maximum dosage as part of an experiment paid for by the United States government. The children were selected from the darker-skinned elements of the Israeli population, many of whom had emigrated to Israel having been expelled from Morocco, and were told they were to receive head lice examinations before being subjected to devastating radiation exposure to the head. 6,000 died shortly after the experiment was conducted, and the survivors suffered from a range of debilitating conditions as a result of the experiments, with many still alive today. Their story is told in the award-winning Israeli documentary The Ringworm Children.[12]

A confidential Pentagon report from 1997 confirmed that biological weapons could and were being engineered to target specific genotypes. U.S. Defense Secretary from 1997 to 2001, William Cohen, stated that “certain types of pathogens that would be ethnic-specific” were being developed by some countries, with a senior western intelligence source confirming that this list of countries included Israel, for whose intelligence services Dr. David Kelly was working as an advisor at the time. The infamous Rebuilding America’s Defenses document published in September 2000 by the Project for a New American Century think tank, whose membership included prominent figures from the administration of George W. Bush such as Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, remarks that “advanced forms of warfare that can “target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool”.[13]

Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes Norman Baker has repeatedly called for a new and independent inquest into the circumstances surrounding Dr. David Kelly’s alleged suicide. “Any reasonable person looking at the evidence would, at the very least, agree that further investigation is necessary,” Baker said in a 2006 interview. “If it wasn’t suicide, then clearly Dr Kelly was bumped off. My aim is to find out exactly what happened. Frankly, there is more than enough cause to reopen the inquest.”[14] Michael Powers QC put it succinctly, “There should be a full inquiry. We need a proper answer.” The implications are far greater than the fate of just one man.

Tom Kavanagh


[1] Gagging order on David Kelly records could be lifted, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/jan/27/hutton-gagging-order-david-kelly

[2]Hutton inquiry closed David Kelly medical reports for 70 years,  http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/jan/27/hutton-gagging-order-david-kelly

[3] 13 doctors demand inquest into Dr David Kelly’s death, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1199109/13-doctors-demand-inquest-Dr-David-Kellys-death.html

[4] Did MI5 kill Dr David Kelly?, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1200004/Did-MI5-kill-Dr-David-Kelly-Another-crazy-conspiracy-theory-amid-claims-wrote-tell-book-vanished-death.html

[5] Medics raise Kelly death doubts , http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4089729.stm

[6] KELLY’S BOOK OF SECRETS, http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/111971/Kelly-s-book-of-secrets

[7] CBC – The Passionate Eye – Anthrax War, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shsQFGGU6uk&feature=related

[8] George Monbiot – Riddle of the Spores, http://www.counterpunch.org/monbiot0521.html

[9] Fort Detrick Scientist “Commits Suicide” as Anthrax investigation closes in, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=9730

[10] Brothers in arms – Israel’s secret pact with Pretoria, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/feb/07/southafrica.israel

[11] Israel Planning ’Ethnic’ Bomb as Saddam Caves In, http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sociopolitica/esp_sociopol_depopu17a.htm

[12] The Ringworm Children, http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6118144849760405404#

[13] Rebuilding America’s Defenses, http://newamericancentury.org/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf

[14] Why I believe David Kelly’s death may have been murder, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-397256/Why-I-believe-David-Kellys-death-murder-MP.html

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A human skull and two large bones owned by the secretive Skull and Bones society based at the prestigious Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut are expected to fetch up to US$20,000 when they go on offer at Christie’s auction house in New York later this month.

Along with this memorabilia, the lot also contains a small black book containing the names of Skull and Bones members or “Bonesmen” up until 1971. The auction house states that the collection of articles “provides a rare glimpse into the society which has been linked to many influential figures and leaders at Yale University and in this country”[1]

The elite society selects 15 members for entry every year from among Yale’s students, and remained exclusively male until 1991. CBS’s 60 Minutes notes that the secret society’s membership list includes “some of the most powerful men of the 20th century… and has included presidents, cabinet officers, spies, Supreme Court justices, captains of industry, and often their sons and lately their daughters”, calling the secret society, “a social and political network like no other.”[2]

Both the former President George W. Bush and his Democratic rival in the 2004 presidential election, Massachusetts senator John F. Kerry are Skull and Bones members, and Bush and Kerry were both asked about their membership during the 2004 campaign by the late Tim Russert on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Russert remarked to Bush “You were both in Skull and Bones, the secret society”, to which Bush retorted “It’s so secret we can’t talk about it”[3], before stammering awkwardly when probed on the significance of the two candidates’ societal connection. Bush selected fellow Skull and Bones member and Nixon-era Under Secretary of State for International Security Affairs William Donaldson as head of the Securities & Exchange Commission in early 2003.

When Kerry appeared on the programme a few months earlier, Russert had asked him “You were both members of Skull and Bones the secret society at Yale, what does that tell us?”, with the Democratic candidate replying “Uhh… Not much ‘cause it’s a secret”. Russert continued, “Is there a secret handshake? Is there a secret code?… 322, a secret number?”. Kerry evaded the question, replying, “Ahh there are all kinds of secrets, but one thing is not a secret, I disagree with this president’s direction that he’s taking the country, we can do a better job and I intend to do it.”[4]

Tim Russert fared better than student Andrew Mayer who was dragged to the ground by 6 police officers and tasered for asking Kerry a similar question relating to his Skull and Bones membership in September 2007 at the University of Florida[5]. Mayer was seized upon by police to applause from the audience immediately after he brought up Kerry’s connections to the Yale-based secret society, having already asked Kerry about why he refused to contest the 2004 election result despite evidence of disenfranchisement of black and Latino voters and widespread electoral fraud in several states. Mayer was subsequently arrested, having been tasered as he lay on the ground, surrounded by police officers[6].

Skull and Bones selects its annual intake of 15 members every year from Yale’s student body as part of Yale University’s “Tap Day”. Members meet every Thursday and Sunday evening in their final year of college[7], before becoming patriarchs of the society and lifetime members when they graduate. The headquarters of the society, based on the Yale University campus, are known as The Tomb.

Skull and Bones is, according to Christie’s, “thought by many to be one of the oldest and most prestigious secret societies in the United States”, with its reputation attributable to the names who have been initiated since the society’s foundation in 1832. In addition to George H.W. Bush and son, prominent Democratic politician, banker and businessman W. Averell Harriman, son of railroad tycoon E H Harriman, was a Bonesman, as was former CEO of the H. J. Heinz Company, Henry John Heinz II.

Both of George W. Bush’s grandfathers, George Herbert Walker and Prescott Bush, were also Skull and Bones members, and Prescott is a particularly polemic figure due to his involvement as “director and shareholder of companies that profited from their involvement with the financial backers of Nazi Germany”. Prescott Bush was a director of Union Banking Corporation which represented the U.S.-based interests of German industrialist and early Nazi supporter Fritz Thyssen, and continued in this position even after the United States entered the war against Germany[8].

Prescott also worked for Brown Brothers Harriman, the oldest privately owned bank in the United States and the world’s largest private investment bank at the time. He had been an initial partner of BBH along with fellow Skull and Bones member W. Averell Harriman, who served as a Senior Partner of the bank. Brown Brothers Harriman’s assets and assets belonging to other companies held by the bank, including Union Banking Corporation, were seized by the United States government under the Trading with the Enemy Act in late 1942. In December 2003, the Anti Defamation League issued a press release defending Prescott Bush and calling the accusations made against him for his involvement in financing Nazi Germany, “untenable and politically motivated”[9].

Prescott Bush, a vocal supporter of population control groups The American Birth Control League and Planned Parenthood, serving as treasurer for the latter, would go on to become a Republican senator, representing the state of Connecticut for over ten years until January 1963. The controversy surrounding the grandfather of Barack Obama’s predecessor is not limited to his extensive Nazi connections, however.

In June 2009 Obama’s government asked the Justice Department to dismiss a lawsuit brought by descendants of famous Native American Apache warrior Geronimo, whose remains were stolen from his tomb in 1918 or 1919, reportedly by a group of Skull and Bones members which included Prescott Bush[10]. Proceedings were filed against President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defence Robert Gates and Secretary of the Army Peter Geren in their capacity as federal officials in February of 2009. Yale University and the Skull and Bones Society were also named as defendants in the suit.

The descendants of Geronimo, who was buried in Oklahoma in 1909, wish to bury him in his native land – located in the state of New Mexico. The lawsuit alleges violations of a 1990 law designed to protect the right of Native Americans to their family members’ remains. It is alleged that bones stolen from Geronimo’s resting place have been kept in the secret society’s Yale University headquarters. The government of Barack Obama has countered that it has sovereign immunity from prosecution under the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act.

Tom Kavanagh


[1] A SKULL-AND-BONES BALLOT BOX, http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=5286778

[2]Skull And Bones – 60 Minutes – CBS, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/10/02/60minutes/main576332.shtml

[3]Bush Admits Skull and Bones, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iiisokDGbfA

[4] John Kerry Admits Skull and Bones Membership, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yOF713wOD4&feature=related

[5] Student hit with Taser at John Kerry speech, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1563486/Student-hit-with-Taser-at-John-Kerry-speech.html

[6]University of Florida student Tasered at Kerry forum,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bVa6jn4rpE

[7]The evolution of Tap Night, http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/features/2009/04/17/the-evolution-of-tap-night/

[8] How Bush’s grandfather helped Hitler’s rise to power, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/sep/25/usa.secondworldwar

[9] Prescott Bush’s Alleged Nazi “Ties”, http://www.adl.org/Internet_Rumors/prescott.htm

[10] US seeks to stop Geronimo lawsuit, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8112051.stm

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