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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

The assassination of senior Hamas official, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh on the 19th January in a Dubai hotel room has sparked an international row with Israel at its centre.  Al-Mabhouh had been linked by Israel to the abduction and murder of two Israeli soldiers in 1989, he is also a prominent member of the militant party which continues to hold political control in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has refused to confirm or deny accusations of Mossad’s involvement, stressing his country’s “policy of ambiguity” regarding Special Forces operations.[1] Several of the false passports linked to the assassination squad by Dubai police are registered with individuals currently residing in the Israeli state.  This, together with Israel’s significant motivation, has led the chief of police in Dubai to assert his 99% certainty of Israeli involvement, and to demand an Interpol warrant for the arrest of Mossad chief, Meir Dagan.[2]

In an interview with the Qatar based media source, Al-Jazeera last year, al-Mabhouh  confessed to the 1989 murders and stated that, “To the Israelis, my hands are stained with blood, but to God? This is what matters.”[3] Analysts argue that although this was a probable cause of the official’s death in playing against Israel’s pride, more important are accusations of his role in the arms smuggling. These centre on links with the state of Iran and the use of tunnels to transport tactical equipment (most importantly rockets) into the Gaza Strip. International speculation on this latter subject has always been intense, with many questioning the strength of relations between the Shi’te state and the militant Sunni party.

Although the row with Arab states has inevitably focused on the operation of Israeli forces on their home soil, many Western governments having also professed anger at the logistical details of the assassination.[4] The use of forged passports from several European countries by the squad has led to demands for explanations from Israel and appears to continue Israel’s notable habit of making life difficult for its friends.

6 British passports, as well as 5 from Ireland and a further few from France and Germany have already been linked to the investigation. The UK passports in particular appear to have been clones, replicating the identity of British citizens currently resident in the Jewish state. British Foreign Secretary David Milliband and his European counterparts have already lodged their stern disapproval and demanded answers from Israel.[5]

Despite the international furor, official and civilian responses in Israel have however been fairly relaxed. Although recognizing that Israel was almost certainly responsible, most press sources have expressed their certainty that the scandal will blow over. The columnist Eitan Haber, of Israel’s largest newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, described al-Mabhouh as a “master terrorist” and that Israel had achieved its objectives in eliminating him; he predicted that the foreign headlines would “be gone in a day or two.”[6]

After revelations by the UK’s “Daily Mail”, Israeli opinion has become particularly impatient with the international reproach it has been receiving.  In a special expose on the incident, the paper quoted an unnamed diplomatic source as reportedly confirming that Britain had received advance warning of the use of its passports, and that Israel would simply receive a “slap on the wrist.”[7]

Despite the international press headlines there is considerable evidence that media and government are merely completing the necessary overtures, and that Israeli conviction of the incident “blowing over” is indeed correct. Despite expressing their concern and condemnation, diplomatic comments have been significantly vague. The UK’s Gordon Brown has demanded, “a full investigation into this,” but conceded that, “it is necessary for us to accumulate that evidence before we can make statements.” The characteristic technique of using “proper procedures and channels” will likely yield the desired time for both parties.

The format of international press coverage is perhaps best represented by the “NY Daily News”, which features a poll in which readers can express their opinion out of two available options:

“Take our Poll: Hamas big executed

What do you think of the assassination of Hamas guerrilla Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai?

  • It’s a disgrace: The hit ignored international laws.
  • It’s great: That’s one less terrorist to worry about.”

It is significant that neither option questions the guilt of al-Mabhouh, but rather the procedure of the operation. Indeed the paper pertinently adds that, “Much of the European uproar is because the killers used British, Irish and other European passports,” rather than because they murdered an official in the government of a foreign state.[8]

With the near universal condemnation of Hamas in official circles there has been predictably little comment on this model of the extra-judicial killing of a foreign official. Investigation into the murder has, however, implicated the involvement of two Palestinian individuals who are former officers of the Palestinian security services. Their current employment is with a private security firm owned by Mohammed Dahlan; a senior member of Hamas’ rival, Fatah.[9] Dahlan was a former strongman in the Gaza Strip and was given assistance by both Israel and the U.S. in an attempt to topple the Hamas government following their election victory. After  the 2007 failed coup attempt, Dahlan, along with other Fatah members, was  expelled from the territory and has since established himself in the West Bank. The logistics of this operation would appear to implicate Fatah once again in assisting Israel with its security concerns.

Chris Bowles


[1] http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2010/02/20102219289545873.html

[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/feb/18/dubai-assassination-forged-british-passports

[3] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2010/02/21/2010-02-21_no_remorse_in_israel_over_guerrillas_death.html

[4] http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2010/02/20102219289545873.html

[5] http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/02/18/2822956.htm

[6] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2010/02/21/2010-02-21_no_remorse_in_israel_over_guerrillas_death.html

[7] http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/136085

[8] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2010/02/21/2010-02-21_no_remorse_in_israel_over_guerrillas_death.html

[9] http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1151245.html

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

A recent report leaked from the European Commission appears to legalise covert tactics to justify the increasingly dubious environmental benefits of bio-fuels.[1] The document is directed at the issue of deforestation, which has become so heavily associated with bio-fuel production in the developing world. In countries such as Indonesia, Brazil and Malaysia, where attempts to take advantage of the lucrative trade in bio-fuel ‘feedstocks’ have seen dramatic growth, the cheapest land is often the most desirable. This has tended to be rainforest or other virgin tropical vegetation.

Efforts to introduce sustainability guidelines on bio-fuels have sought to reduce the attractiveness of such measures. However, the significance of the E.C. report is that it appears to offer a clause to protect plantations created on previous forest land.  The report states that, “A change from forest to oil palm plantation would not per se constitute a breach of the criterion,” of sustainability. The classification of dense palm oil plantations as “forest” allows companies to conceal an alteration of the vegetation, and in turn to retain their sustainability credentials. [2]

This has been an issue at the heart of the controversy over bio-fuels for some time. Their concept was initially hailed as a reliable green alternative to the use of traditional carbon-fuels. As developed countries have struggled to meet limits on transport emissions through difficulties in implementing new technologies, bio-fuels appeared to offer a means to buy time. With their ‘carbon-neutral’ credentials they were preferable to fossil-fuel based products and could be produced from a variety of sources. This latter point has also been of interest to developed nations seeking to ensure their energy security. On both these grounds however, the concept has recently been shown to be failing.

Although bio-fuels capture carbon-dioxide from their various feedstocks, hence offsetting the CO2 released through their combustion, this ignores the indirect costs of their production. The vegetation often cleared for their production in developing countries tends be prime carbon capture. Peat-bog wetlands and tropical rainforests are considerably more efficient in the process than other vegetation,  and are usually preferred for plantation cultivation due to their cost.[3] Adding to this are the direct impacts of the vegetation destruction, through the clearing and burning, which releases further carbon dioxide. Farming processes often compound these effects through the use of fertilisers, leading to the release of nitrous oxide gases which are 300 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse contributor.[4]

Bio-fuels were initially favoured by developed countries for their prospects of producing secure transport fuels. Dependence on foreign sources of fossil-fuels has characterised the energy policies of most developed countries since decolonisation and has consequently forced them to rely on unstable markets which have been subject to frequent price-spikes. Encouraging bio-fuel production as a domestic industry promised to provide greater stability through the internalisation of energy policy. Through internal subsidies and incentives farmers were encouraged to switch areas of land to bio-fuel feedstocks. The pattern was also hoped to alleviate some of the problems of cereal over-production and dumping associated with the C.A.P. (Common Agricultural Policy).Since these policies, EU domestic production rates alone have accelerated to 10 billion litres annually.[5] Intervention from the WTO however, has acted to limit this growth and encourage a more international trade. Arguing that incentives and subsides harm international trade and provide domestic producers with unfair trade advantages, the WTO has sought to encourage more pluralist production. It argues for the developing world, that this could, “generate significant economic, environmental and social benefits.”[6]

Whilst developing nations may wish to take advantage of this lucrative new energy market, they often lack the resources to finance such initiatives. The WTO has therefore argued that private finance should be encouraged into these areas. The beneficial climate, environmental concerns, and land and labour costs should all make external production an attractive prospect to investors.[7] Private investment has indeed followed these guidelines as countries throughout the world have switched to feedstock production. This policy has not only had environmental consequences, but also threatens to have significant human impacts.

A recent report by ActionAid has attributed growing problems of landlessness, increased food prices and approximately 100 million more people falling below the breadline, to the 10% targets sought by the E.U.[8] As millions of acres of land are taken out of food production in Africa, Latin America and Asia this has had a predictably significant impact on world food markets. Since 2002 global food prices have increased more than 140 percent and many claim this trend will continue as long as the production of bio-fuels is encouraged. ActionAid cites in its report an investigation by the IMF which attributed up to 30% of the recent price increases directly to bio-fuels. [9]A more recent report by the World Bank has challenged this figure, claiming that perhaps as much as 70% of the rises have been due to the shift of farming to energy markets.[10]

These reports pose significant implications for the accepted logic of the West’s green agenda. They implicate the smaller populations of developed nations as having a far greater impact on food prices than over-population in the South.  Production methods, with their significant environmental and human impacts, also appear to contradict the initial expectations of this fuel source as carbon-neutral and beneficial. It is not surprising therefore, that increasingly elaborate means are being found necessary to justify the continued expansion of bio-fuels.

Chris Bowles


[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthcomment/geoffrey-lean/7168296/EU-raises-biofuel-threat-to-rainforests.html

[2] http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKLDE6191VX20100211?sp=true

[3] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthcomment/geoffrey-lean/7168296/EU-raises-biofuel-threat-to-rainforests.html

[4] http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,563927,00.html

[5] http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKLDE6191VX20100211?sp=true

[6] http://www.bioenergy-business.com/index.cfm?section=features&action=view&id=10786

[7] http://www.bioenergy-business.com/index.cfm?section=features&action=view&id=10786

[8] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/feb/15/biofuels-food-production-developing-countries

[9] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/feb/15/biofuels-food-production-developing-countries

[10] http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKLDE6191VX20100211?sp=true

22 Executives and Employees in the private military industry were recently arrested under charges of attempting to pay bribes to secure foreign contracts, in a joint US and UK operation.  The FBI claims that the accused attempted to pay a sizeable “commission” to an agent posing as the defence minister of an un-named African country. The various executives were each seeking to win a portion of a lucrative $15m contract to arm the country’s “presidential guard”.[1] The arrests, with the exemption of one, were all made in Las Vegas where the accused were attending the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show and Conference (S.H.O.T. show), billed as “the world’s premier exposition of combined firearms, ammunition, archery, cutlery, outdoor apparel, optics, camping and related products and services.”[2]

Comprising the end of a two-year investigation, the sting itself began just over 6 months earlier on 13th May at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Miami. A former executive in the military equipment industry acted as the contact through his previous business relations with all the accused. He introduced each of them to FBI agents posing as the foreign minister for an African country, and his sales procurement officer. According to the FBI, all the defendants agreed to pay a 20% commission on a shopping list which included grenade launchers, rifles and ammunition,, despite being told that half of it would go directly to the ‘foreign minister’ .[3]

The 22 individuals were charged in the Department of Justice’s (DoJ) largest investigation and prosecution in history in enforcement of the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The law, “prohibits U.S. persons and companies, and foreign persons and companies acting in the United States, from bribing foreign government officials for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business.”[4]

American pro-gun groups and lobbyists have attacked the move, claiming that it represents an offensive against gun owners. The anti-government website Prison Planet features an article titled “Obama Justice Department Decapitates Gun Industry” which laments, “Since the election of Obama the main question for gun owners has been, ‘when will Obama come after the guns’? It looks like that question has been answered!”[5] Despite the fact that the action focused on foreign trade, rather than domestic transactions, some believe that this is simply a further attempt by the Obama administration to stifle the US gun industry. That the embarrassment caused by the arrests was as a direct result of alleged illegal corrupt practices may not be enough to satisfy some.

The investigation has been lauded as one of the first of its kind in involving international co-operation to target corporate bribery. However, although the investigation did involve one executive from Smith & Wesson, and one sales-agent from the UK, the prosecutions were largely confined to smaller US firms.[6] The investigation significantly did not involve the bigger international defense giants such as Lockheed, Boeing and BAE who have previously been embroiled in sizeable corruption scandals, and who are all involved in military supply contracts to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The FBI investigation comes at a time of business expansion in both these regions, with international figures such as the UK’s Lord Mandelson urging, “companies to ‘seize the opportunity’ of investing in Iraq.”[7] The British Business Secretary recently embarked on a trade mission to the country with representatives of 23 British companies, including Rolls Royce, BP and Shell and encouraged UK defense firms to bid harder for contracts (some of which have already been as large as $300m). With competition between firms in this lucrative market growing, together with the notorious corruption records of both countries, the DoJ should not relax after its success.

Chris Bowles


[1] http://www.democracynow.org/2010/1/21/headlines

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/21/business/21sting.html

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/21/business/21sting.html

[4] http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2010/January/10-crm-048.html

[5] http://www.prisonplanet.com/obama-justice-department-decapitates-gun-industry-fbi-arrest-21-gun-industry-executives-in-las-vegas-to-attend-gun-show.html

[6] http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2010/January/10-crm-048.html

[7] http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/news/iraq/2009/04/iraq-090407-irna01.htm

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

In the last hours of 2009 a US judge dismissed all charges against 5 Blackwater employees held in connection with the Nisoor Square masacre in September 2007. The case centred on claims that guards from the private security firm shot at random at unarmed civilians as their convoy passed a junction, killing 17 and injuring dozens more. The firm, which has changed its operating name to Xe services, argues that their employees we’re responding to an ambush by insurgents.

The case has acted as a focusing point for Iraqi resentment at the presence and immunity of private security contractors within the country. Many civilians claim that their behaviour has long been conducted with a disregard for Iraqi sovereignty, and that this recent victory for Blackwater’s defence highlights the impression that they are able to operate free from prosecution. Five of the six men charged in the case have been released while the fate of a sixth remains unclear due to his guilty plea.

Blackwater is one of the largest and most controversial of the private contractors operating with the Coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although it has been formerly banned from Iraq by the national government, expectations that private staff will soon comprise 50% of armed forces capacity in Afghanistan will likely lead to further growth of its operations. The practice of contracting private firms for security and the protection of expatriates was hugely accelerated after 9/11, but has since seen employees embroiled in numerous cases regarding human rights and improper conduct.

During the Abu Ghraib investigations it was found that more than a third of the guards involved in abuse were employees of Blackwater. Following the Nisoor Square masacre, a 2007 House of Representatives report on the conduct of the company found several more issues. This House Oversight and Government Reform Committee found that between 2005 and 2007 there had been 195 reported incidents in which employees had fired weapons. Despite its legal remit to use only defensive force in the protection of State Department officials, it was found that in 80% of the cases Blackwater guards had fired first (often from a moving vehicle). Their reputation for over-zealous force was not assisted by further revelations that 122 people from their 800 strong operating capacity in Iraq had been fired from employment, due mostly to weapons-related incidents and substance abuse. Xe Services claims this figure represents its firm commitment to the highest standards within its workforce.

In the case brought by the Justice Department against the 6 employees, the judge dismissed the case on the grounds of improper practice, claiming that their prosecution was, “contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility”. District Judge Ricardo Urbina pointed to flaws in the collection and presentation of evidence. Sworn testimonies were collected from all 6 of the accused under specific terms from the State Department. These were obtained after threatening the men’s employment if they chose not to co-operate and under the formal understanding that they could not be used in legal proceedings. As government contractors, the guards were obligated to give an immediate report to State Department officials, but since the Constitution prevents the government from requiring a defendant to testify against himself, these statements could not be used in a prosecution.

It was on these grounds that Urbina dismissed the case, citing the fact that the testimonies had been used to obtain warrants, been presented to the jury, and had been leaked to witnesses. He was able to crush the case before trial without any reference to its merits from a criminal perspective. Although the Justice Department has 90-days from the date of dismissal to appeal the decision, they are unlikely to seek this. Due to the fact that the indictments sought by the department were so heavily dependent on information gained from the forced testimonies, it will prove difficult to pursue their case without them.

Iraqis and many human rights organisations have accused the U.S. justice system of deliberately avoiding an opportunity to secure accountability in its operations. Many argue that this ‘surprise’ action by Judge Urbina is reflective of the U.S.’s wish to avoid bringing its actions into public focus.

However the flaws in the Justice Department’s case have led others to question the practice of the prosecution. The errors made in the collection and handling of evidence should have meant that Urbina’s decision on December 31st came as no surpise. These errors, unacceptable under even normal legal practice, become more pronounced after claims that prosecutors ignored advice from senior department lawyers. These officials in the “taint team” warned the prosecution about the serious legal issues in their case, yet to no avail. Attorney Kenneth C. Kohl, who led the prosecution, has over 20 years experience and would have been expected to have foreseen the issues arising from the accuser’s testimonies.

Critiques of the Justice Department case claim that prosecution lawyers knowingly and deliberately sabotaged their own case in order to protect a politically sensitive issue from gaining legal examination. In his final assessment of the case, Judge Urbina himself provides perhaps the most damning indictment from this perspective:

“The only conclusion the court can draw from this evidence is that Kohl and the rest of the trial team purposefully flouted the advice of the taint team when obtaining the substance of the defendants’ compelled statements, and in so doing, knowingly endangered the viability of the prosecution.”

 

 

Chris Bowles

 

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

The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad met with Brazilian head of state Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brasilia on Monday as the two leaders were poised to sign new agreements boosting trade and cooperation and securing Iran’s burgeoning status within the region. The two nations are expected to sign accords on biotechnology, farming and energy, and may discuss co-operation on the construction of nuclear power facilities. Tehran hopes these agreements can boost bilateral trade between the two nations from $2 billion to $15 billion annually1.

In addition to signing trade deals with the Iranian head of state, Lula reiterated his support for Iran’s nuclear program, saying, “Brazil has a model of nuclear energy development recognised by the United Nations and we know about the controversy surrounding the same development by Iran. Brazil defends Iran’s right to develop uranium for peaceful purposes, just as Brazil has been doing. It is simple. That which we defend for ourselves, we defend for others.”2

Such reciprocity when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program is unlikely to sit well with Washington or Tel Aviv, both of which have been categorical in their opposition to Tehran’s desire to pursue a policy of uranium enrichment, claiming that Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies outright that it intends to develop nuclear armanents. The United States has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and Israel is the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons, although it allows no international inspection of its nuclear facilities and has never publicly acknowledged possessing such arms.

Israel has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran, citing fears that the Persian state is attempting to acquire nuclear weapons behind closed doors. In early November 2009 Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon stated on Sky News that Israel is “not bluffing” in its threats to “take military action” against what he called “Iran’s contentious nuclear program”3. Ahmadinejad has frequently been misquoted with regards to statements he has made about Israel, with the most notorious example being the wide circulation of reports he had called for the Zionist state to be “wiped off the map” in October 2005. The Iranian President had in fact quoted the late Ayatollah Khomeini, with an accurate translation of his words being, “The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time”4. Mainstream news outlets immediately reported a skewed translation of Ahmadinejad’s words which has served as evidence of the Iranian President’s desire to attack Israel ever since, with The New York Times and other sources stating that, “Iran’s conservative new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said Wednesday that Israel must be “wiped off the map””.5

In July of 2008, Pullitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh reported that at a meeting he attended in then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, the use of false flag operations to provoke a war with Iran was discussed in Cheney’s presence. Hersh reported, “There was a dozen ideas proffered about how to trigger a war. The one that interested me the most was why don’t we build — we in our shipyard — build four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats. Put Navy seals on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up.” Hersh says the idea was eventually rejected “because you can’t have Americans killing Americans”6.

As Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with Lula in the Brazilian capital, protests were held in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in what The Guardian labelled a denunciation of the Iranian President’s “record on human rights, homosexuality and Israel”. The Iranian government severely cracked down on domestic dissent this summer and outlawed protests as riots erupted in Tehran following Ahmadinejad’s disputed election victory. Ahmadinejad, who enjoys widespread support among Iran’s poor, has repeatedly accused the U.S. and Britain of meddling in Iran’s internal affairs.

In October, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Mohammad Ali Jafari accused British and American intelligence services of involvement in a suicide bombing targeted against the Revolutionary Guard leadership which killed 42. General Jafari claimed that his security officials had documents linking Britain and the United States to Jundullah, the militant group which claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing on Sunday 18th October7. “Behind this scene are the American and British intelligence apparatus, and there will have to be retaliatory measures to punish them”, said Jafari.

Such suspicions are certainly not without historical precedent. In 1952, following a unanimous vote in the Iranian parliament to nationalise the country’s vast oil reserves under President Mohammed Mossadeq, British intelligence (S.I.S.) launched a covert operation with the C.I.A in order to topple him and protect the interests of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company – now BP. British and American intelligence services staged bombings in Iran targeted against religious leaders which were then blamed on Iranian agents posing as Communists loyal to Mossadeq in an ultimately successful bid to turn the country’s religious establishment against the government8. Mossadeq was then replaced by the Shah whose brutal regime ruled with an iron fist before being deposed by the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Despite stating publicly that he wishes to “extend a hand” to Iran, in March U.S. President Barack Obama renewed sanctions against the Persian state which have been in place since 1995, when they were introduced by the administration of Bill Clinton. These sanctions prohibit American companies from investing in or trading with Iran. Obama defended this policy of isolation, stating that, “The actions and policies of the government of Iran are contrary to the interests of the United States in the region and pose a continuing and unusual and extraordinary threat”9.


Ahmadinejad was in Brazil on the first leg of a tour which the Iranian government hopes will strengthen the Persian state’s standing in a continent where it has numerous allies in the form of left-wing governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. The Iranian President will subsequently make visits to Caracas and La Paz, where he will meet with Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales respectively, both of whom have also voiced support for Iran’s right to develop nuclear technology for non-military purposes. Iran has been making steady diplomatic inroads into Latin America in recent years, provoking concern in Washington, which has traditionally regarded the region as its “backyard”.

Tom Kavanagh

1Brazilian protests greet Ahmadinejad at start of South American tour, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/23/ahmadinejad-brazil-protests-iran

2Lula destaca apoio ao Irã no desenvolvimento de urânio para fins pacíficos, http://noticias.uol.com.br/ultnot/internacional/2009/11/23/ult1859u1903.jhtm

3Israel threat to attack Iran is not a bluff, deputy FM says, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1126394.html

4“Wiped Off The Map” – The Rumor of the Century, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=4527

5Wipe Israel ‘off the map’ Iranian says, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/26/world/africa/26iht-iran.html

6EXCLUSIVE: To Provoke War, Cheney Considered Proposal To Dress Up Navy Seals As Iranians And Shoot At Them,http://thinkprogress.org/2008/07/31/cheney-proposal-for-iran-war/

8New York Times Special Report: The C.I.A. in Iran, http://www.nytimes.com/library/world/mideast/041600iran-cia-index.html

9Obama renews US sanctions on Iran, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7941031.stm

The government of the United States has announced it will seek the death penalty for alleged 9/11 conspirators due to be put on trial in New York city. Among the five Guantanamo detainees due to be transferred to the site of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre is the “self-confessed mastermind of the September 11th attacks”, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, according to The Guardian1.

President Obama affirmed that he is “absolutely convinced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be subjected to the most exacting demands of justice. The American people insist on it, and my administration insists on it”.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has been held in legal limbo at the United States’ Guantánamo Bay prison on the island of Cuba since his capture in March of 2003, has been subjected to indefinite detention without trial and prolonged periods in solitary confinement in violation of both the U.S. Constitution and internationally accepted standards covering imprisonment.

The New York Times reported in April 2009 that a 2005 Justice Department legal memorandum revealed that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been subjected to waterboarding 183 (one hundred and eighty three) times in just one month – March of 20032. The memorandum did not mention whether or not Mohammed had been subsequently subjected to additional waterboarding, although the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”, a term favoured by key members of the Bush administration as an alternative to “torture”, is widely acknowledged to be prevalent at Guantánamo Bay.

The New York Times evidently does not see the irony in confirming that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed endured simulated drowning 183 times in one month – equating to more than five times each day – before referring to him as “the self-described planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks” in the very same paragraph.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who made the announcement that the death penalty would be sought in the civilian trial of Mohammed and four others, said of the decision to bring the suspects to New York to face trial, “Today’s announcement marks a significant step forward in our efforts to close Guantánamo and to bring to justice those individuals who have conspired to attack our nation and our interests abroad”3. The reference to U.S. “interests abroad” is an apparent reference to Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, due to be tried for the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen.

Al-Nashiri, however, will not stand trial with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and will instead be tried by military commission. This controversial practice, introduced by the Bush administration in November of 2001 before being reintroduced as the Military Commissions Act in 2006, allows for trial in complete secrecy by a panel of judges appointed by the executive branch, followed by execution if a guilty verdict is passed. Barack Obama provoked outrage in May of 2009 when he clarified that he “supports the idea of the military commissions but opposes the version of the law that had been governing such trials in recent years”4.

Following the passage of the Act in 2006, The Center for Constitutional Rights observed that, “[a]mong other shortcomings”, the Military Commissions Act, “rejects the right to a speedy trial, allows a trial to continue in the absence of the accused, delegates the procedure for appointing military judges to the discretion of the Secretary of Defense, allows for the introduction of coerced evidence at hearings, permits the introduction of hearsay and evidence obtained without a warrant, and denies the accused full access to exculpatory evidence”5.

Remarkably, The New York Times and other prominent newspapers have characterised the announcement that some of those to face trial would be tried in civilian courts as a “major policy shift from the Bush administration, which contended that suspected Al Qaeda members should not be treated like — nor given the rights of — ordinary criminals”6.

Such a statement by no means sets The New York Times apart from other mainstream media outlets and is extremely misleading, belying the fact that, as reported in the same article, the Obama administration is in reality preserving and endorsing the previous administration’s contentious policy of trying “terror suspects” in secret by military tribunal. Quite how such a blatant continuation of a policy widely derided as inhumane and in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution constitutes a “major shift” from the Bush doctrine on terrorism stretches the limits of credibility.

Geoffrey Robertson, writing in the Comment is Free section of The Guardian‘s website under the heading “A nobler, trickier path to justice for 9/11”, states that “This is a trial that must be seen to be fair… Much will depend on the choice of judge, who must be conspicuously independent and of sufficient steel to reject evidence obtained by torture – there is no doubt that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has been waterboarded”7.

Robertson goes on to remark that “Obama has taken the more difficult, but more principled, path”, before directly contradicting himself in the very next paragraph by stating that “It is regrettable that the non-9/11 defendants still in Guantánamo are to face military trial… If jury trials are appropriate for the 9/11 conspirators, then they should be afforded to all prisoners whom American prosecutors wish to execute or to incarcerate for the term of their natural life.”

What is truly regrettable is that such obvious double standards dominate the mainstream press’ coverage of last week’s announcements regarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his fellow co-defendants. It is an astoundingly callous display of bravado on the part of an administration which consistently parades itself as an alternative to the human rights abuses and civil rights erosions perpetrated by its predecessor to pursue the death penalty for a man who has admittedly been repeatedly tortured in order to extract from him a confession of guilt.

Furthermore, Obama & Co.’s decision to preserve the abhorrent practice of trial by secret military tribunal is lamentable, and does little to assuage the concerns of those who see his administration as distinct from that of George W. Bush in terms of nothing but rhetoric. This trial will also bring us no closer to understanding who is really responsible for what happened on September 11th 2001; even if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and all who stand charged alongside him are convicted and put to death it will be obvious to anyone who bothers to take more than a passing interest that justice has not been done and that Obama is merely carrying on where his predecessor left off.

Tom Kavanagh

19/11 accused Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to be tried in New York court, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/13/911-accused-new-york-trial

2Waterboarding Used 266 Times on 2 Suspects, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/20/world/20detain.html?_r=2&hp

3Accused 9/11 Mastermind to Face Civilian Trial in N.Y., http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/14/us/14terror.html

4Obama resurrects military trials for terror suspects, http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/05/14/obama.military.tribunal/index.html

6Accused 9/11 Mastermind to Face Civilian Trial in N.Y., http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/14/us/14terror.html