memo to Pat Buchanan

Memo To: Pat Buchanan
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Choosing sides

Im not sure you ever had anything good to say about the United Nations, but I know you at least have never condemned it in the way our new U.N. Ambassador has – John Bolton at one point arguing that it really doesn’t exist. Over the years, I’ve had problems with the U.N., especially at the height of the Cold War. Yet I have always looked upon the tall pile of bricks at Turtle Bay in Manhattan as a necessary international institution. I never thought it could really do much harm as long as the United States had veto power over Security Council resolutions that might run counter to our national interests. The General Assembly could pass resolutions we didn’t like from dawn ’til the cows came home, but as long as they could not enforce those resolutions, they seemed only a nuisance.

It could be that I was aware of its coming into existence after WWII, when I was nine years old. It was about the only issue that my conservative father and my left-wing maternal grandfather could agree was a good thing. Why? Because it would provide a place where nations could discuss their differences and try to resolve them through diplomatic means. Diplomacy is always cheaper than war. Yes there was the Korean War and the Vietnam War, more “battles” within the larger Cold War than actual “wars.” But the U.N. did not interfere with Washington’s decisions to engage in those long battles. The Korean War was actually a “police action” endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, with the Soviet Union not showing up to veto the resolution. (Perhaps because it believed it would be in Moscow’s best interest to have the U.S. tied down in an Asian war, which of course turned out indecisively.)

You may not appreciate my perspective, Pat, but I would say the proof is in the pudding, i.e., our United States “won the Cold War” without a nuclear exchange. Can you say that would have happened if the pile of bricks on Turtle Bay never existed? Conservatives have long dismissed the U.N. as an expensive “debating society,” but how expensive could it have been if in the end it played a constructive role in preventing the nuclear exchange we all worried about when we learned the Soviets had nukes? I never covered the U.N. full time, but the old National Observer would send me there on special assignment in the late 1960s, so I did get to experience first hand the discussions and debates that went on, not only in the halls, but also in the dining rooms, the elevators and even the men’s rooms. I wrote several thousand words on the India/Pakistan war that was a hot topic at the U.N., and I wound up appreciating the salubriousness of intellectual engagement in that pile of bricks when the war ended with little loss of life.

The reason I am writing to you, Pat, is to try in a small way to let you see that for all our complaints about the United Nations during the Cold War, there is a new paradigm. In the Cold War, the chess game between the Capitalist West and the Communist East meant that Washington and Moscow (and Beijing, from time to time), would try to win over “Global Public Opinion” by sucking up to the “lesser nations” with money bribes and military or economic assistance. The nature of the bilateral contest for global dominance meant that the countries of the world lined up on one side or the other, with Washington or Moscow, and expressed that support at the General Assembly and the Security Council. None of that goes on anymore. Why?

Because we are in a unipolar world. The United States is at the top of the global power pyramid. To me, this means the shifting alliances that you and I watched on a daily basis during the Cold War are no longer relevant. The United Nations remains a great debating society, but all its debates now are aimed at keeping the world at peace within a capitalist framework, more or less. (Look at Russia, India, and China if you want to see unbridled capitalism at work.)

If we now look back two years, to the days before the U.S. went to war against Iraq, I think you should acknowledge that the international political body proved far superior to our political national body in debating war and peace. The U.N., both General Assembly and Security Council, could clearly see that in March of 2003 there was no threat of weapons of mass destruction from Saddam Hussein. He had been rendered toothless by the previous decade on U.N. inspections and U.S./British bombings. You and I could both see that the war was unnecessary, but don’t you agree you might not have felt that way unless you had seen how Saddam had buckled in every way to UNSC #1441? If we hadn’t watched the proceedings at the U.N. over that period, we might have gone along with Cheney, Perle, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and signed up for war.

What I mean to say is that conservatives who once decried the United Nations as a nuisance should now look upon it as a positive force! Republicans who were snookered by the neo-cons into supporting the Iraq war are now confused about this new set-up. How could the U.N. have been right and they wrong? As a “nationalist” and America First advocate, you can of course continue to view the meanderings of the U.N. membership with some skepticism, but I’d suggest that you think of it the way my dad and granddad did back in October 1945. You and I have spent our lives as communicators, and what the Forces of Darkness in the U.S. wish to do is shut down the U.N. because they do not want to hear from the rest of the world what they think of their Plan for American Empire.

This is what the so-called “Oil-for-Food Scandal” is all about. The Perle Cabal has been furious with Kofi Annan and the rest of the U.N. crowd for the past four years, because it has gotten in the way of their Imperial designs. Here is how I put it in a commentary I posted here last December 10:

Once it became clear some months ago that Saddam Hussein had been telling the truth about not having weapons of mass destruction or connections to al-Qaeda, it should have been an embarrassment to the neo-conservatives who talked President George Bush into war with Iraq.

They were not in the least embarrassed, though, because they had known well before the invasion that Saddam had done everything he could possibly do to assure the world that he was no threat to the region, the US and the world. Their intent all along was no secret: They wanted "regime change" to fit their plans for an American empire, with a permanent outpost in Baghdad.

To do this, they had to clear out all the obstacles in their path – which meant open assaults on the international institutions that had been developed to prevent war, through diplomacy backed by the threat of sanctions. This meant demeaning the United Nations, the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) inspectors of chemical and biological weapons under Hans Blix, and the International Atomic Energy Agency under Muhammad al-Baradai.

France, Germany, Russia and China had become obstacles to regime change in Baghdad, either at the UN Security Council or at NATO, or both. To neutralize them with American public opinion, the neo-cons used their contacts in the news media to broadcast the argument that these countries were pursuing selfish interests related to Iraq's oil. Out of this soup came the "oil-for-food scandal" which now threatens to bring down UN General-Secretary Kofi Annan and besmirch the UN and its affiliated institutions.

That was December 10. You can now see more clearly that the only real force determined to denigrate Kofi Annan, and with him the entire infrastructure at Turtle Bay, is that of the neo-cons and their allies in Congress and in the conservative news media. They all went berserk this last week when Paul Volcker issued his latest report on the “Oil-for-Food Scandal” and cleared Secretary General Annan of all the slimy assertions that have emanated from the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota. Can you believe Coleman decided that Volcker’s virtual exoneration of Kofi meant that Kofi should resign or be fired as Secretary General?

Bottom line, Patrick, is that we cannot fiddle around and watch these dark forces of American imperialism continue to have their way, spinning the news to demonize Kofi Annan and the U.N. agencies that stand the best chance of seeing the planet through another half century or more without a nuclear exchange. In the last analysis, you are either a supporter of the U.N. or another foot soldier in the Cheney/Perle/Wolfowitz American legion. There is no middle way, unless you want to play Mugwump. Remember the Mugwumps? Mug on one side of the fence, wump on the other?

April 2, 2005

Jude Wanniski [send him mail] runs the financial/political advisory service

Copyright © 2005 Jude Wanniski

Don't be surprised by the UN's corruption

For most people, the very words "United Nations" have something solid about them. Perhaps they conjure up an august phrase, such as "international community", or a solemn symbol, such as the blue UN seal. Americans and Europeans both sometimes talk about the United Nations as if it were an ally or an adversary, or at any rate a sovereign country with whom they can do business. In the first presidential debate, President Bush spoke of "going to the United Nations" as if it were a tiresome relative. ("I didn't need anybody to tell me to go to the United Nations. I decided to go there myself.")

But, as the events of the past few weeks have once again reminded us, the United Nations is not a person or an ally, let alone a sovereign nation. The UN isn't even a collection of well-meaning people who just want peace. It is a group of different agencies with different agendas, some of which - the World Health Organisation or the tsunami aid coordinators - are vital, and some of which - the Libyan-chaired Commission on Human Rights - are ludicrous. Some of its employees are hugely effective, some are apallingly bad. More to the point, none is subject to the kind of oversight that would be taken for granted in a democratic government or a similarly-sized corporation.

That, at any rate, is the clear impression that emerges from the two reports published by the committee set up to examine the operations of the UN's famously corrupt oil-for-food programme in Iraq. The latest report, published this week, examined in great detail the personal behaviour of the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and Kojo Annan, his son. Kojo Annan worked for Cotecna Inspection SA, a company with legal and financial problems that nevertheless won a contract to inspect goods coming into Iraq under the oil-for-food programme. The investigators found that Kojo Annan misled his father about the length of his employment - indeed, Kojo told Kofi of Cotecna's UN interests only after they were revealed by a Sunday Telegraph article. From the documents assembled in the report, it is also pretty clear that Kojo, who had a habit of pitching up and hanging around at big UN conferences, intended to profit from his father's position. But the probe did not find any evidence that Cotecna won its UN contract thanks to Kofi Annan's intervention.

Nevertheless, the report does not, as Annan Senior claimed this week, amount to an "exoneration". Despite the fact that it did not find the Secretary General personally guilty of corruption, the portrait of his office that emerges from the report is not exactly savoury. When they began their work, the investigators discovered that Mr Annan's former chief of staff, Iqbal Riza, had just destroyed three years' worth of documents - a procedure that began, perhaps not coincidentally, right after the investigation was launched. They also discovered that the head of the United Nations' office of internal oversight, Dileep Nair, had paid the salary of a staff member using money that had been designated for the administration of the oil-for-food programme - which was particularly disturbing, given that Nair was the person responsible for monitoring UN bureaucrats, and that the staff member was employed to design an anti-corruption programme. These new revelations, when added to the dodgy procurement practices and corruption outlined in the previous oil-for-food investigation report - as well as recent revelations of misconduct by UN peacekeepers and sexual harassment scandals among UN bureaucrats - don't exactly make the United Nations look like a model of corporate probity, let alone an organisation that is capable of bringing peace to various war-torn bits of the world.

Not everyone has been surprised by these revelations that the people who work for the UN are no more virtuous than the employees of any other large organisation. In fact, concerns about corruption, as well as the UN's tendency to overreach its mandate, were what lay behind the Bush White House's recent decision to appoint one of the UN's most prominent critics, John Bolton, as UN ambassador. For Bolton is one of the few people in public life who has long been willing to draw the distinction between what the United Nations actually is, and what everybody would like it to be. He is also one of the few to understand that there are limits to what the organisation can achieve, given that it is not beholden to a democratic government or even to a sovereign government. It is precisely because there is no electorate that can toss the Libyans out of the human rights commissioner's chair, and no judicial system that can try corrupt officials, that the UN so often runs into problems.

Mr Bolton may not be the most tactful spokesman for UN reform - he once said that if the top 10 storeys of the New York Secretariat fell off the building, nobody would notice - but many in Washington hope that he can help push the organisation in the right direction.

To their credit, there are signs that the current UN leadership understands the depth of their current problems, and their significance for the UN's reputation as well as its long-term effectiveness. The fact that Mr Annan allowed the oil-for-food probe to be not only conducted by outsiders, but led by an American - Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve - was a good sign. The Secretary General has also recently proposed a series of reforms, not only to big institutions such as the Security Council but to the organisation's personnel policies, which have traditionally relied on political appointees. These are the kinds of changes that could help give the UN the modern management capability it needs to cope with new global threats such as terrorism and mass epidemics.

Yet - as John Bolton has written - there will always be limits on what the UN can achieve, no matter how well the institution is run. Because it is accountable to no one, such an international organisation is never going to be good at managing large, long-term projects involving a lot of money, such as the oil-for-food programme. Because it is not beholden to a democratic government, it will never be the right choice for a major military operation. However comforting, consensual and "international" it may sound, a decision to "send in the United Nations" is never going to be the complete solution to any problem.

• Anne Applebaum is on the editorial board of The Washington Post
(Filed: 03/04/2005)

©Telegraph Group Limited

"Beat the fuck out of the detainees" soldiers told

Instructions to the Soldiers

he American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is charging that U.S. Army documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the mistreatment of detainees in Iraq was much more widespread than the government has admitted.

The advocacy group also accused the Army of failing to comply with a court order to release the documents and of manipulating the media "to minimize coverage and public access."

The ACLU said the reason for the delay in delivering the more than 1,200 pages of documents was "evident in the contents," which include reports of brutal beatings, "exercise until exhaustion," and sworn statements that soldiers were told to "beat the f**k out of" detainees. One file cites evidence that military intelligence personnel in Iraq "tortured" detainees held in their custody.

The treatment was reportedly meant to "soften up" detainees for interrogation. It occurred at the same time guards at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad were carrying out similar tactics.

Army officials also released the first full accounting of 16 closed detainee-homicide investigations and eight open cases from Afghanistan and Iraq. The list shows that half of the cases (12) occurred in U.S. detention facilities abroad from late 2002 to late 2004.

And the ACLU has disclosed a Sept. 14, 2003 memo signed by Lt. Gen. Ricardo A. Sanchez, then senior commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, authorizing 29 interrogation techniques, including 12 that "far exceeded limits established by the Army's own Field Manual."

The Sanchez memo allows for interrogation techniques including the use of military dogs specifically to "exploit Arab fear of dogs," sensory deprivation, and stress positions.

"At a minimum, the documents indicate a colossal failure of leadership," ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer told IPS. "The documents provide further evidence that abuse of prisoners was pervasive in Iraq. The government's contention that abuse was aberrational is completely unhinged from reality."

The documents were supposed to have been turned over to the ACLU on March 21, but were not released until late on March 25 – the Friday preceding Easter weekend.

"Select reporters received a CD-ROM with the documents before they were given to the ACLU," the group added.

The documents – along with more than 30,000 others to date – were released in response to a federal court order that directed the Defense Department and other government agencies to comply with a year-old request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filed by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense, and Veterans for Peace. The New York Civil Liberties Union is co-counsel in the case.

The newest documents include:

  • Evidence of abuse of a teenage detainee: A high school student had his jaw broken, requiring his mouth to be wired shut, and could eat only through a straw. The victim was told "to say that I've fallen down and no one beat me." The Army report concluded that the broken jaw was caused either as a result of a blow by a U.S. soldier or a collapse due to "complete muscle failure" from being excessively exercised.
  • Death of a detainee with no history of medical problems: Abu Malik Kenami died while in detention in Mosul, Iraq. On the day he died, Kenami had been "punished with several ups and downs – a correctional technique of having a detainee stand up and then sit-down rapidly, always keeping them in constant motion … and ha[d] his hands flex-cuffed behind his back." He was also hooded, with "a sandbag placed over [his] head." The file states that "[t]he cause of Abu Malik Kenami's death will never be known because an autopsy was never performed on him."
  • Soldiers were told to "beat the fuck out of detainees": Army documents include sworn statements that soldiers were told in August 2003 to "take the detainee[s] out back and beat the fuck out of them."

  • Perceptions of chain-of-command endorsement of retribution: A military intelligence team saw soldiers kicking blindfolded and "zipcuffed" detainees several times in the sides while yelling profanities at them. The investigation concludes that at least three military personnel abused the detainees. It adds that some of the soldiers "may perceive that the chain-of-command is endorsing 'payback' by allowing the units most affected by suspected detainee actions to play the greatest role in bringing those suspects to justice."

In a separate development, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which joined the ACLU in the FOIA case, said "at least 26 prisoners who died in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002 were likely the victims of criminal homicide."

CCR released a series of documents surrounding one unexplained death in Mosul, Iraq, obtained through a FOIA request with the ACLU, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense, and Veterans for Peace. CCR said the documents derive from "what appears to be a very brief investigation of the death of a prisoner" in December 2003 in an Army Brigade Holding Area in Mosul, Iraq.

One soldier reports, "He continued to mess with his mask/sandbag so I took his handcuffs off and put them behind his back and smoked him for another 20 minutes before I sat him down."

At night, the prisoner had to sleep with the sandbag on his head and his hands cuffed behind his back. On the morning of the fourth day, he was found dead in his cell. According to the report, an autopsy was supposed to be performed, but no record of it was provided. As the result of another investigation, the Army has decided not to prosecute 17 U.S. soldiers implicated in the deaths of three prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, according to a new accounting released by the Army last week.

Investigators had recommended that all 17 soldiers be charged in the cases, according to the accounting by the Army Criminal Investigation Command. The charges included murder, conspiracy, and negligent homicide.

The Defense Department declined to comment further on any of its reports.

April 2, 2005

William Fisher writes for Inter Press Service.

OFFICIALLY AWOL: Individual Ready Reservists who aren't reporting for duty

Army ready to call some missing IRR members 'no-kidding AWOL'

By Lisa Burgess, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Saturday, April 2, 2005

ARLINGTON, Va. — Army leaders are preparing to announce that those from the Individual Ready Reserve refusing to honor their mobilization orders will be declared “absent without leave,” according to Army and DOD officials.

The number of people to be declared AWOL “is very small — about 12,” an Army officer involved in developing the policy told Stripes on Wednesday.

But the move to punish the no-shows “is long overdue,” said the officer, who asked not to be identified.

The IRR is a category of servicemembers who have left active duty or active reserve service but still have time left on their obligation to serve. IRR members are in an active status, but do not perform regularly scheduled training.

In January 2004, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorized the Army to tap the IRR to fill slots in units bound for Iraq — the first IRR call-up since the Gulf War.

As of March 16, 370 of the 4,067 IRR members who have received mobilization orders had not reported as ordered, according to Maj. Elizabeth Robbins, an Army spokeswoman.

Refusing to report for military duty is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, with penalties ranging from a bad-conduct discharge to a court-martial and jail time.

Until now, however, Army officials had decided not to declare IRR members AWOL, largely because the Human Resources Command in St. Louis has done a poor job tracking the IRR force, and some of the no-shows may never have received their orders, the Army officer said.

“The IRR is broken, and we know it, and we need to fix it,” the officer said.

However, “a handful” of the 370 no-shows “are no-kidding AWOL,” Army spokesman Lt. Col. Tom Collins said March 24.

For those individuals, the Army’s patience is at an end, the officer working with the policy said.

The Army does not have the manpower to actively pursue AWOL soldiers, the officer said.

But the names of AWOL servicemembers are sent to a criminal database used by national and local agencies, which means that even a routine traffic stop could result in arrest and referral to the Army for prosecution.

Both Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker and David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, have approved the plan to declare recalcitrant call-ups as AWOL, the officer said.

The only remaining hurdle is for Rumsfeld to approve the AWOL listings, which Army officials anticipate will happen next week, the officer said.

“It’s about time,” Army Capt. Chris Ward, a combat engineer who was part of the IRR call-up, said in a Monday telephone call from Iraq.

“A big part of your morale is to think that what you’re doing is worthwhile and important,” said Ward, who has been in Iraq since Jan. 21. “But if the Army is so short of people [they are turning to the IRR], why haven’t they been enforcing the law?”

Knowing that there have not been any consequences for disobeying IRR mobilization orders, Ward said, “makes me wonder, could they have gotten by fine without me, either?”

© 2003 Stars and Stripes.

Wolfowitz and the World Bank - Roll over George Orwell

Kurt Nimmo
published by Another Day in the Empire

It is often said some women are drawn to men of power. Henry Kissinger and Bubba Clinton come to mind. “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac,” Doctor K. reportedly said. Or maybe mass murder is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Kissinger and Clinton certainly rank high in the rogue’s gallery of war criminals, giving a new spin to the term “lady-killer.”

Enter Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense, founder of the neo-con “think tank” Project for the New American Century, former consultant for the death merchant Northrop Grumman, and now head of the neolib loan shark operation, the World Bank.

“Reports indicate that Dr. Clare Selgin Wolfowitz separated from Paul because he had an affair with a woman at Johns Hopkins University,” Jackson Thoreau quotes consultant Barry O’Connell, a former Republican and now conservative Democrat, as saying. “Paul Wolfowitz was Dean and Professor of International Relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of The Johns Hopkins University. During that time he used his position to prey on woman under his authority. When the scandal broke, he and his wife Clare separated but appear not to have divorced. At this point it is unclear if the relationship with Shaha Ali Riza predates the scandalous affair at SAIS. One may wonder if Wolfowitz has trouble keeping track of his women, but I have it on good authority that he uses his protective detail of federal officers to manage his affairs and shuttle him from assignation to assignation.” See this photo of Wolfie the babe magnet.

Shaha Riza, supposedly a feminist, is the acting manager for External Relations and Outreach for the Middle East and North Africa Region at the World Bank. Sheesh, talk about sex in the office supply closet. “Wolfowitz, a married father of three, is said to be so blinded by his relationship with Riza, that influential members of the World Bank believe she played a key role in influencing the Pentagon official to launch the 2003 Iraq war. As his trusted confident, she is said to be one of most influential Muslims in Washington,” reports the Arab News site. “After [Riza and Turkish Cypriot Bulent Ali Riza, now divorced] moved to America, Riza worked for the Iraq Foundation, set up by expatriates to overthrow Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War. She subsequently joined the National Endowment for Democracy, created by President Ronald Reagan to promote American ideals.” In other words, the woman is a full-blown neo-con. The Iraq Foundation, based in Washington, is funded by the State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA,” Allen Weinstein, who helped draft the legislation establishing NED, is quoted by the historian William Blum as saying.

You’d think Wolfowitz’s relationship with Riza would get in the way of his newly enshrined duties as mafia don at the World Bank. However, if we know anything about the neo-cons, it is that they get away with bloody murder—literarily, as Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate—and are above reproach.

In a hilarious article by Ward Harkavy in the Village Voice—where Harkavy makes the obvious comparison between the World According to Bush and Superman’s Bizarro World (we learn that the neo-conned World Bank will likely hand out grants rather then make loans. “Staff at the World Bank fear Mr. Wolfowitz might push through longstanding U.S. proposals to make it an organization that gives out grants rather than loans,” Harkavy quotes Julian Borger of the Guardian as predicting. “It’s much easier to politicize grants,” an official told Borger.

“You want to fight terrorism? Then fight suffering. But under Wolfowitz, look for more World Bank money to be poured into, say, Iraq projects brainstormed by the Bush regime’s bidness pals. Not just in Iraq, but anywhere there’s oil and other riches to be plundered,” observes Harkavy.

Anandi Pandya of the Guardian has a bit different take. “The Bank would now lend money only to states willing to be clients of the US and agree to privatize their non-existent social security systems, schools and water supply, and only big oil companies will benefit,” writes Pandya. “Being tough may require skills other than the traditional aid and debt relief approach to development, and that may make Wolfowitz dangerous for the status quo. But the status quo is not the only way to remove poverty.” Of course, bombing the bejesus out of third world nations does not “remove poverty” either.

Out here in the hinterlands, watching all of this unfold, one has to shrug with disbelief. Before the Shaha Riza allegation hit the blogosphere in full force, and people began making comments about the unlikelihood of Wolfie doubling as a babe magnet, we were subjected to other inanities, such as the rather clownish U2 front man Bono pulling for the Wolf as loan shark mafia don. “Wolfowitz adviser Kevin Kellems told Reuters the deputy U.S. defense secretary initiated … lengthy conversations with the lead singer of the rock group U2, whose name had been bandied about for the World Bank presidency,” reported CNN Money a week and a half ago. “An endorsement by Bono, who campaigns extensively for African aid and debt relief, could defuse some of the criticism of Wolfowitz.” Bono, who rubbed elbows with Bush because he bought into Dubya’s promise to end AIDS in other lifetime, particularly in Africa, seems to have amnesia when it comes to the crimes of Wolfowitz and Bush—as evidenced by 100,000 or more dead Iraqis. For some reason Bizarro Bono did not have the urge to take a shower after walking and talking with Bush the Junior, a man who expressed contempt for poor people from an early age onward, probably soon after he tired of blowing up frogs with firecrackers.

One is struck with amazement how easily people roll over and play dead—in the above case, Europeans who apparently don’t have problems with Wolfowitz managing the World Bank, even after all the nasty things the neo-cons have said about “old” Europeans. Delusional thinking is the order of the day as Bushzarro world becomes the international norm, at least for the ruling elite. “The World Bank’s incoming president, Paul Wolfowitz, declared debt relief for the poorest nations to be one of the most pressing issues when he assumes office in June after he was unanimously approved as the new chief of the organization,” reports Reuters. War is peace, occupation and premeditated murder democracy, and loan sharking is compassion for the poor of the “htrae” (or earth in Bizzaro world). If you believe any of this, I have a bridge to sell you in the Kalahari.

Roll over George Orwell.

Three times more women killed by tsunami, aid agency says

The tsunami's impact on women was seen especially in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India. By Suzanne Plunkett, AP

LAMSENIA, Indonesia (AP) — The tsunami that overwhelmed Asia in December killed three times more women than men, and the resulting scarcity of female survivors has led to reports of forced marriages and rape, the British-based charity Oxfam International said Saturday.

Although official statistics do not provide the gender of victims, partial data indicates that many more women than men were among the 300,000 people killed or declared missing after the Dec. 26 tsunami devastated the coastlines of 11 countries around the Indian Ocean.

The impact on women was seen especially in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India. Indonesia, the country hardest hit by the earthquake-generated tsunami, now has villages where men now outnumber women 10-to-1.

"The tsunami has dealt a crushing blow to women and men across the region. In some villages it now appears that up to 80% of those killed were women," said Becky Buel, Oxfam's policy director. "This disproportionate impact will lead to problems for years to come unless everyone working on the aid effort addresses the issue now. We are already hearing about rapes, harassment and forced early marriages."

The report concluded that women suffered disproportionately because they had a more difficult time outrunning the surging waters or the bad luck of being at home while the men were out at sea fishing or in the fields working.

As a result, men now far outnumber women in crowded camps and scattered settlements, and the women are vulnerable to a range of abuses, the report said. Sri Lankan women reportedly have been sexually assaulted in camp toilets and domestic violence is on the rise, the report found.

Indonesian women, according to Oxfam and women activists, are being sexually harassed in camps, forced or rushed into marrying much older men and victimized by abusive Indonesian soldiers, who reportedly have strip-searched them.

"We know of at least three marriages in which women married older widowers. What we don't know is how forced it was," said Ines Smyth, gender adviser for Oxfam.

"When we asked them, they say they have an obligation to their family and were frightened for the future. If you lost everything you had, including your family, it's very difficult to refuse whatever is being offered, whether it's protection or the possibility of a house."

Indonesian activists claim it is difficult to get women to talk about the abuse or report it to authorities. The few women left in coastal settlements interviewed said they were unaware of any abuse, and they were focusing on rebuilding their lives.

The Aceh province's hard-hit coast is dotted with the remnants of villages dominated by widowers. Lamsenia, a once-thriving fishing and farming village of 833 on the west coast, now has only 35 women among its 158 survivors, and all but one of those women have moved elsewhere. Gampong Pandee, on the edge of the provincial capital Banda Aceh, was reduced from 1,139 people to 246 — with only 20 women.

Such radical changes in a village's population will likely alter a community for good, activists say, with men put in a difficult position of leaving a village to restart a family or bringing newcomers into what often was a very tight-knit community.

The tsunami also could adversely impact poor widowers in places like Lamsenia. Most would like to remarry and start a new family, but they have no money for the costly dowry and no immediate prospects of resuming their jobs as rice farmers, traders or fishermen.

"What we need is women but we also need money to get them," said Mohammed Ali, a 50-year-old sand miner from Lamsenia whose wife and five of his six children were killed in the tsunami. "We also need a house. If we have a wife and no shelter, it means nothing."

Survivors in Lamsenia and Gampong Pandee say they mostly miss the chatter and laughter of the women. There is no one to do the cooking, the washing and, most of all, to keep them company at night.

For 26-year-old Indra Saputra, the tsunami was especially painful. A day before it hit, he and his pregnant wife had celebrated their wedding with a party for the entire village.

Now, she is gone and the prospects of doing it all over again are difficult to comprehend.

"I'll eventually get married because it's too traumatic to be alone," he said. "For now, I have to get this village back to normal and rebuild my home. But it's difficult because I've got no one to share things with."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

online editing and the truth to the rumor

Online Journalism Review,
Annenberg School of Journalism, University of Southern California

How to succeed as a citizen media editor

There's a new animal in online newsrooms -- the editor in charge of citizen journalism and blogs. These pioneers share best practices and tips.

By Mark Glaser
Posted: 2005-03-22

( '? posting this is something like the writer writing a novel about a writer, or the filmmaker making a film about making a film, but thought it would interst some of you when considering the work you read each day...)

There's something inherently like the "Odd Couple" about the pairing of citizen media with a traditional newsroom. If citizen media is about being all-inclusive, with news as a conversation, old-line media has been about news coming from the mouths and pens of journalists, with the readers left to fend for themselves in the "Letters to the Editor."

But when those old-line news organizations go online, they must compete with local bloggers, Craigslist, Slashdot and any online source that lets readers do the talking. So it's not surprising that the more industrious news sites have started to ask their readers to take on citizen media projects, submit photos, start a blog or give live online feedback that runs beneath each staff-written story.

But who do you put on the front line? Who can oversee these efforts with a light but discerning touch, allowing free speech without inviting lawsuits? That's the role of the new citizen media editor, a role that's only now coming into focus at various sites such as,, and

Part chat moderator, part copy editor and part ombudsman, the citizen media editor is such a new role that no one really has that title, yet. Alicia Hoffman at is multimedia editor. Lex Alexander at is a staff writer at the News & Record newspaper and citizen-journalism coordinator at the Web site (as well as a blogger for the site).

Outside of South Korea, where the pioneering OhMyNews uses varying degrees of editorial oversight, budding citizen media editors are just feeling their way around, trying to find the right balance.

"This is going to be a process of mutual discovery," said Dan Gillmor, blogger and former San Jose Mercury News columnist, who is starting a grassroots media company. "People will learn from each other's moves, which is kinda cool."

Even if "pure" bloggers sneer at the mainstream media's stutter-steps toward blogs and citizen media -- and would laugh at a set of guidelines for editing them -- the newspaper companies feel this is their best chance to grab a younger audience and survive in a world of dwindling circulation.

"We have read all the dire predictions about newspaper readership," said John Robinson, editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, NC. "We have seen the trendlines. We have read the local blogs and experienced the best (and worst) of citizen journalism. Doing nothing wasn't an option. Well, it was, but it was a stupid one. So, we decided to experiment with other types of journalism and other ways to reach readers."

And these experiments can pay off. OhMyNews became profitable in 2003, and the Northwest Voice expects to hit profitability by the end of the year, according to new Voice publisher Lisa Baldridge. The Voice's parent company, which runs the Bakersfield Californian, has plans to launch similar publications for other local communities.

"We have met our revenue goals twice, including the latest [print] issue, and plan to finish the year in the black," Baldridge said via e-mail. "Our site traffic continues to grow month over month as more people become aware of it. We are averaging 50 new registered users per issue."

After conversing with editors overseeing citizen media efforts at various news organizations, we've come up with some basic best practices for the citizen media editor -- keeping in mind this person's fragile embryonic state.

For brevity's sake, let's call this person the CME, for citizen media editor or citizen managing editor. But as each site uses a different level of citizen media -- whether it's blogs or reader-written stories -- the role of the CME can vary from site to site and the CME duties might just be one part of an online editor's job.

Win the trust of your audience before cashing them in.

It's important for CMEs to know why they're doing what they're doing. A copy editor knows his job is to keep errors out of copy. A reporter knows her job is to report the news in a fair way. The CME wants to keep typical spelling and grammar errors out of copy, while also giving citizen reporters the freedom to tell their story and the motivation to continue to do the work for little or no pay.

But before the CME has anything to work with, the news organization must first teach its audience what citizen journalism is and make them comfortable working together in a new way. Howard Owens, director of new media at, sees his site's efforts with a photo blog, podcast, and forums as community outreach.

"The most satisfying aspect to all of this is the interaction with the readers," Owens told me via e-mail. "When they help us report the story better, or correct an error, give us a news tip, or add insight that we wouldn't have gotten otherwise, we feel like we've provided an important community service. ... The result will be -- and this does excite me, of course -- more page views, more visits, more visitors and a more loyal audience, which will help us grow revenue. That's all great, but we should never stop asking the question, how do we serve our readers and our community better?" goes further than by offering a way for readers to submit stories in its "Your News" section. So far, only 10 stories have been posted in the first month of its existence. Initially, Robinson has a more philosophical goal than a directly financial one.

"Our primary goal is to become the place where readers come if they want to know what is going on in their community," Robinson said. "No matter how small the story is, we can and will provide a place for it. We are interested in showcasing a variety of voices and tastes. Yes, we want to drive traffic there. Yes, we want many, many submissions. And yes, if someone can break news there, that's OK, too. But our first goal is to open the door wider for citizens to have a place to write, and to build a place, a trusted place, for readers to get news, information and engage in dialogue with us and others."

Edit with an open mind for the writer, but a keen eye for trouble.

Now comes the gray area of the CME's job. What gets edited, fact-checked or outright rejected? Where do you draw the line? This is perhaps the greatest variable at each news site and depends on your level of trust in the reader as expert or eyewitness. only launched its Citizen Journalist section last fall after the U.S. elections and actually makes assignments for its audience such as asking about how faith has shaped their life or what they thought about the Super Bowl. The site's editor-in-chief Dean Wright says the section's editorial process is still being worked out.

"We're very concerned about that issue [how much fact-checking is done] and are in discussions about our procedures right now," Wright told me via e-mail. "We don't intend to compromise our reputation."

At, Robinson says "we're making the rules as we go along" as for what is allowed. He said he wants a low standard for admittance but that "the only certain knockouts are libel and untruth masquerading as truth." His lieutenant in the field, Alexander, said he checks for libel, grammar and curse words. "If a factual assertion seems questionable, I check it," Alexander told me via e-mail, "but I don't rigorously fact-check each submission."

Hoffman, who has CME duties at, has wrestled with the balance of free speech with community and newspaper standards. At one point, readers were posting racist comments below stories, and the site ultimately allowed them to stay.

"We really do want an open exchange of opinions and ideas," Hoffman told me via e-mail. "There are several posts that the human being in me wants to delete, but the journalist in me won't. ... What I've been heartened by are the responses submitted by others participating on the comment boards. People are regulating themselves. The community is taking ownership of the comment boards, and that is what we were hoping for in the beginning."

Keep an even keener eye for libelous statements.

The Catch 22 for citizen journalism is that if any editing is done, then the news organization could be held accountable for any libelous statements made or any copyrighted material that was lifted from another source. But if no editing is done, the liability might go away (as it has in libel cases against Internet service providers), but the quality would plummet as well.

The Northwest Voice makes sure to have an editor look over every submission. Baldridge, the new publisher, says it gets very few controversial submissions because of the family-oriented nature of the content.

"Preventing legal issues like libel is one of the reasons our editor reads all of the content submitted," Baldridge told me. "We have the same legal guidelines as any newspaper, and if we have a questionable submission, we won't run it until it has been checked. ... There will always be a bit more confidence in staff-generated content, but it's been our experience that our community contributors are good, reliable storytellers."

The Northwest Voice does require citizen journalists to register with the site first and runs a disclaimer beneath each of the stories: "The opinions and accuracy of information in this article are the responsibility of the contributor."

Ronald Coleman is an attorney and blogger with experience dealing with trademark and free speech issues online. Coleman told me that Northwest Voice's disclaimer wasn't all that useful.

"For all practical purposes, unless a company has a completely open forum, and makes no editorial choices whatsoever, it can be held responsible for the publication of defamatory or infringing material," Coleman told me via e-mail. "And the problem for newspapers is that they depend on advertisers, who will not tolerate their brand being associated with the sort of stuff that finds its way into unfiltered forums."

Coleman said that if he were representing a media outlet, he would require an agreement whereby the contributor accepts liability -- something that Northwest Voice does in its Terms of Service included in registration. In fact, there are seven rules for contributors, with this one at No. 1: "You agree to not knowingly submit any false, defamatory, abusive, obscene, threatening, racially offensive, sexually explicit or illegal material to the Web site."

Rather than being a readers' representative, you're giving the reader a voice.

While the traditional role of ombudsman is to represent the readers to the newsroom, interactivity makes the ombudsman job less necessary -- especially where there's citizen media. If a site allows its readers to write entire stories or commentary, there's no reason that commentary couldn't be related to the newspaper's own lapses in coverage. The CME could very well end up being the conduit for watchdog content right from the audience.

At, Robinson plays the ombudsman role online instead of Alexander, taking reader's issues directly to his editorial staff. At, John Moore, assistant managing editor of new media, writes a blog that gives readers an inside peek at what the editorial staff is considering for Page One of the newspaper.

"I'm a bit distrustful of the ombudsman model because too often they're not really a readers' representative," Owens told me. "What we're aiming at, and I think ultimately serves the reader better, is complete transparency. That's John's role with his blog -- to be transparent about what we're doing and why. The readers can represent themselves. They don't need John to do it for them. We can be the conduit through which the information flows, where necessary, but most of the time, readers represent themselves directly right in the comments."

In the case of, the editors provide a bit more guidance to citizen journalists, so their role is slightly different than at newspaper sites with open-ended submissions on any topic. "I'd also suggest that we're navigators, too, steering the responses toward stories or topics that we think would make good reading and fodder for citizen journalists," Wright said.

Get the features right, then spread the word.

Beyond editorial work, a CME might also consider how to increase reader-generated stories and comments, as well as add more local bloggers with expertise. Lex Alexander at says the early efforts for promotion there have been a bit scattered, though that will change once all the features are nailed down.

"I'll be working with our artists and promotions people to develop a marketing campaign and possibly some community promotions later this spring and summer," Alexander said. "My main concern is to get features in place first -- in particular, any features that will help break down artificial divisions between the newsroom and the community. Once we've done that, then we can say, 'Hey, look at what we're doing now!'"

It doesn't hurt that has a link titled "Submit articles here" in the top part of its home page. At, Hoffman says that some marketing campaigns are in the works, but so far word-of-mouth has worked pretty well. She hasn't had to recruit bloggers yet and is careful when considering the addition of new ones.

"If I think they sound interesting, I reply back and ask for a basic outline of what they think their first few blog entries will look like ... maybe some more specifics if I think they are vague," Hoffman said. "I also ask for ideas on titles, a short bio, a blog description and a photo. Sometimes they think this is too much work, and I never hear back. Maybe I'm wrong, but I figure if they can't take the time to answer those basic questions, they may not be dedicated enough to keep the blog updated."


From Joseph F Dunphy MBA MFP on March 26, 2005 at 8:24 PM

One of the downside issues is that newspapers and mainstream media can use this as a way to further reduce staff--to be blunt--"union busting." The prize winning journalist who just quit Newsday said that she could no longer stand the staff cuts that were lowering quality--in spite of the fact that Newsday's reputation rose previously with its INCREASED spending on more staff and reporting beats and assets.
Thus, the CME develops in essence a min-bureau, and the paper can cut back a full-timer. Net result: worse coverage overall by the newspaper.
TV and radio stations are arrogant enough as it is. As an ex-business journalist, I would rather commit my time to blogs that had nothing to do with established media. That way you could at least try to contribute to media diversity.
One of my favorite independent great and diverse material, and now they are bought up by some media conglomerate. They had a great site on Latin and Latin literature, but as they went more corporate, the moderator decided to migrate elsewhere.
Many newspapers are so boring now that it is inevitable that people will migrate to the web. What is needed is copyright laws that leave the copyright automatically with the author, with newspapers having newspaper rights only.
In addition, CME do not address the issue of cartoons. Some of the most creative work being done today is on the web, and animated cartoons, especially political satire, are much more lively on the internet.
The article also does not address the issue of accounting--if a citizen blogger helps boost circulation 10% in an age of declining circulation, will the newspapers grant the blogger the "right to an accounting," hiring independent CPA to make sure that the blogger gets their fair compensation for the contribution to the paper's success?
One of the attractions of blogging is that you set up a site, and a paypal account, and if people like it, they support it directly. In an era where corporations are lobbying Washington right and left to cut the benefits--especially medical--of employees, any revenue retained by corporate is more likely to contribute to the downward spiral of quality of life in the US.
It is better for bloggers to pursue the independent model. In case fellow bloggers haven't noticed, one of the biggest forces behind the corporate money pushing to strip-mine Social Security are actually manufacturers--which includes the paper companies, the ink companies, the printing press companies, the drug companies, and makers of cars and trucks.
Let them see if they can get bloggers in India and Russia to write for US newspapers--maybe during their coffee breaks on their regular jobs as help desk operators.
3-26-05 end message.

From Lex Alexander on March 31, 2005 at 9:08 AM

[[One of the downside issues is that newspapers and mainstream media can use this as a way to further reduce staff--to be blunt--"union busting."]]

They *can* -- but they don't have to, and that's not what we're doing. (In case it matters, we're nonunion.)

[[In addition, CME do not address the issue of cartoons.]]

Speaking only for myself, that's because right now I'm focusing on news, not entertainment. I'm well aware of Web cartoons. Plan 9 Publishing ( is a niche publisher -- the only one, so far as I know -- that focuses on dead-trees versions of Internet cartoons, and its owner is a long-time friend. (Full disclosure: We worked together on a book project unrelated to cartoons.)

[[The article also does not address the issue of accounting--if a citizen blogger helps boost circulation 10% in an age of declining circulation, will the newspapers grant the blogger the "right to an accounting," hiring independent CPA to make sure that the blogger gets their fair compensation for the contribution to the paper's success?]]

We're transitioning from a business model that is failing to a new business model that is, as yet, undefined. The area holding our greatest interest now in terms of ad-revenue models is the so-called "long tail" model (described here).

[[It is better for bloggers to pursue the independent model.]]

It might or might not be, depending on the blogger. In any event, under the kind of open-source journalism toward which we hope to transition, "contributing readers," as we call those who submit stories, need not do so full-time or even regularly. We plan to encourage those with special skill or expertise to do so regularly and to try to find some way of compensating them.

I'll be happy to address any other questions/concerns here, or e-mail me at

© Online Journalism Review



DAVE, SYSTEM ADMINISTRATOR, FLAG BLACKENED - OK folks, here's the real deal as far as I can share it legally at the moment. Consider it as a press release if you wish and feel free to distribute it for whatever reason you deem necessary.

I'm under court order not to speak about specifics and have my attorney trying to find out what the maximum penalty for disclosure really is. I hate to have to keep my mouth shut in areas where the Gestapo is involved, but I also have to weigh things against the overall security of flag and it's sub-domains and also the well being of my family.

I have been ordered to submit IP info on two separate incidents having to do with sub-domains hosted on flag. Both of these are in regard to claimed or threatened responsibility for acts of propaganda by the deed. Both incidents involve topics which are completely out of line for consideration here at flag and really I can only view them in two ways. Either people are simply ignorant about the murderous history of the FBI, or, as is my belief in one case, they are trying to make flag vulnerable to government intrusion.

At this point let me say, in all honesty and conviction, that if I end up dead by strange means - suicide, overdose, drunk driving accident (I never, ever, ever drink and drive), "accidental" gunshot to the back of the head while sleeping ala Fred Hampton, car jacking, or anything else reasonably suspicious, contact the FBI in Chico, California for more details.

I have called numerous friends nationwide, anarchists and otherwise whose opinions I respect and who I know will be honest and forthwith in their opinions to ask them how I should proceed. The unanimous consensus is that I comply with the wishes of the FBI and provide the IP addresses responsible. The only point of discussion, really, has been whether or not I should reveal the specific information in violation of two court orders. . .

Freedom of speech does not exist, don't try to test it. They will come bust down your door - for real - point a gun to your head and pull the trigger if you refuse to comply.

SIMONIKER, SLASHDOT, MAY 19, 2004 - Doc Ruby writes "Investigating a crack of eVoting company VoteHere, the FBI is said to be issuing a subpoena for the traffic logs of journalist Beverly Harris' BlackBoxVoting website. The FBI is pursuing Harris on the theory that her site is the connection between incriminating memos leaked from (VoteHere competitor) Diebold and the intrusion into VoteHere's servers. Are you on the list?"

MICHAEL, SLASHDOT, AUG 31, 2004 - The Justice Department has issued a subpoena seeking IP logs from Calyx, the ISP for, after individuals posted the names, addresses, and phone numbers of some of the RNC delegates. The subpoena was issued as part of an ongoing investigation of voter intimidation. As reported earlier in this Slashdot article, the Justice Department tried this before. Calyx, represented by the ACLU, responded, claiming that '[t]he only intimidation taking place here is the Secret Service intimidating people who speak out against the government.'

Tinkers, tailors, soldiers, spies on the desert dune

Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who was shot by US troops on her way to Baghdad airport after being freed 4 March by her abductors, was released from Celio military hospital in Rome last Friday.

She'd been interviewed on TV midweek (on the program "Ballaro'") and insisted that she wanted to make it clear that she had never said that she had been the target for assassination by the patrol unit of the US III Infantry Division at Baghdad airport on 4 March [actually, she's been reported as having said: "They wanted to kill me"]. She had simply noted that the shooting had the "mechanics" of an ambush—which she had said previously on 8 March. She declared that the death of Nicola Calipari, the senior Italian intelligence (SISMI) official who shielded her from the bullets and saved her life, weighed heavily on her mind. "We thought the danger was over after my rescue . . . And instead, suddenly, there was this shooting. We were hit by a spray [she called it "rain" in previous statements] of fire. I was talking to Nicola, when he leaned over me, probably to defend me, and then he slumped over," Sgrena said, this time, on RAI News 24.

She said she was feeling weak and found it hard to recover her emotional strength. On Democracy Now , journalist Naomi Klein confirmed the shock she felt at finding Sgrena in a weaker condition than press reports had led her to expect. The bullet (or shard of the bullet that killed Calipari by penetrating the right temple, the direction from where the fire came, and exiting a little above the left ear) had penetrated her shoulder area and bruised the edge of her lung. There had been complications.

Pier Scolari, her husband/companion had said earlier upon her arrival, "Giuliana told me and the other people [sic] who were there told me that the American attack was completely unjustified. They had alerted the whole chain of command. The Italian troops were awaiting them at the airport. And then they fired with 300, 400 rounds." In "My Truth," published in Il Manifesto on 6 March, Sgrena had reported that "our car was going slowly. The Americans opened fire without a motive. Calipari died in my arms."

Last week, the Parliamentary Committee for Control of Intelligence Services (COPACO) was told that on the left-hand side of the seat behind the driver (authentic photos of the car were shown on TV), where Giuliana rested her head, there were four bullet holes. She seems to have saved herself only because instinct made her slide down in her seat; then Calipari threw himself over her.

Testifying before COPACO, presidential undersecretary Gianni Letta and SISMI chief Nicolò Pollari both defended SISMI agent Calipari's actions. "We considered all options. The government, SISMI, and agents in the field all agreed on a course of action that involved the fewest risks. Considering the various options, going it alone was the least risky," Letta said. These choices involved not informing US authorities of any details before the hostage was secured, using a non-armored-car, and refusing a car-escort convoy. Il Manifesto reporting on a COPACO briefing commented that no one now will be able to say that Calipari had run useless risks, as an internal Pentagon memo, reported in the Washington Times, had insinuated—a voice then picked up by the press in Italy.

Letta warned that he would not answer questions on the ransom or on concessions made to the kidnappers. "In Iraq, there are people who risk lives to help us out," Letta pleaded. Committee chair Enzo Bianco, and members of opposition parties agreed not to ask. Letta reiterated what Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini had said on many occasions (significantly to the Chamber of Deputies on 8 March), as had Berlusconi (to the Senate on 9 March). The Italian government and the American government continue to think differently on what happened at the airport.

On the speed of the car said to be 40 kilometers per hour by the driver and Sgrena, the US claims it was going at 160 kilometers per hour, an unrealistic claim because the car would have sped off the road or overturned when hit by a 20-second barrage of some 400 rounds. As for the exact location of the car when the shooting started, the US authorities claim to have shot at the front of the vehicle to disable the motor, but, though the car was hit in many places, no shot disabled the motor. The front left tire was flat in the photo. Instead, the driver, a major in the police and familiar with Baghdad roads, where he had worked up to a few months earlier, said that he was blinded by a light and the shots began simultaneously.

He had hardly time to apply the brakes, went on for two meters, and stopped. His version is consistent with evidence in the photo that shows the car's rear window completely smashed. Far from appearing to be heading toward the patrol, as the soldiers claimed, it was moving slightly away. Above all, the two governments disagree over the signals that the Americans put out. Letta pointed out that "the police officer who drove said that the shots occurred immediately after a light flashed blinding him, giving him barely the time to apply the brakes."

Almost concurrently with the COPACO report, the investigation by the Italian justice ministry suffered a humiliating setback. Public prosecutors in Rome sought to have the Toyota Corolla, in which the Italians were traveling when they came under attack, inspected. In question are the car's speed and the quantity and direction of the rounds fired into it. The Italian minister of justice, Roberto Castelli, had authorized two police analysts to travel to Baghdad. Almost on the point of departure, orders arrived from the Italian Embassy in Baghdad to abort the mission. The American authorities apparently opposed the inspection. "The Americans' refusal to permit investigators authorized by public prosecutors and the justice ministry to proceed is an alarming sign," said Letta. "It is a serious development, which evidences the scarce will to collaborate."

The Italian government's vicissitudes in trying to get hold of the Toyota Corolla is a source of acute political embarrassment to Premier Silvio Berlusconi who is facing regional elections this spring. He is Bush's second most important coalition ally, after British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in the invasion and occupation of Iraq—but his transatlantic ally's intransigence is endangering his hold on power. To boot, Berlusconi's questionable "reforms" of the Italian constitution aimed at placing more power in the executive and practically reversing the 1948 constitution crafted to insure a power balance among the branches of government and to insure popular representation, are now receiving more scrutiny than before.

When the Associated Press asked to see the car on 5 March, it was told that the Americans didn't know where it was. On 10 March a C130J military plane of the VII autonomous Italian division or "group" left Bateen base at Abu Dhabi for Baghdad, charged with bringing back the Toyota Corolla and delivering it to Rome. The plane returned empty; Calipari's car remained in Baghdad. Shortly before 10 March, a photo of "the" car surfaced with fewer bullet holes than suggested by the description of a "rain of bullets" in Sgrena's account. It was the wrong car. The Washington Times' Rowan Scarborough had claimed that the shots had been eight not 400 and further blamed Calipari for supposedly not securing an exit strategy. And so on. Eventually, the Italian public prosecutors at the court of magistrates in Rome located the owner, who leased cars to the Italian embassy in Baghdad, and bought the vehicle, but the Americans refused to surrender it, keeping it in a hangar at Camp Victory, in the area of Baghdad airport.

Last week's orders to abandon the inspection of the car added a further wound to an already aggrieved sense of national pride, following Berlusconi's declaration on 17 March that he was withdrawing the withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq, announced just 24 hours earlier.

"I told him: 'George, everything is as it was before. Nothing has changed,'" blubbered what many call the "Pagliaccio of Europe," the unctuous Berlusconi. It was understood that this about-face was instigated by Bush, who seems to have taken Berlusconi to the proverbial woodshed and demanded that he change his mind. Justifiably, Italians wanted to know whether Italy had any sovereignty in foreign policy left or whether it was now being dictated by Washington. The refusal to allow public prosecutors to have access to the Toyota Corolla has Italians now asking whether Italy has any self-determination left even regarding internal policy.

The immense political damage done to Italian public trust in their US ally, admittedly not very solid to begin with (80 percent opposed the war), is hard to grasp on this side of the Atlantic, where the killing of a top Italian government intelligence official and the wounding of a rescued kidnapped journalist are dismissed as the result of an unfortunate mishap at a "checkpoint" on "the most dangerous highway on earth," caused by either trigger-happy and/or frightened soldiers. In some accounts, Calipari has been passed off as an anonymous "bodyguard"—not as the second in command, at times, of the Italian equivalent of the CIA and currently chief of operations in "foreign searches."

Sgrena has been painted as a latter day Patricia Hearst, Svengalied by her captors into some sort of hysterical adoration, ignoring the fact that Sgrena is an astute political journalist and veteran of West Asia and the Middle East. It's not that she loves the resistance in an ideological knee-jerk response—there's hardly any notable "left" presence in the Iraqi resistance, thus far, which may be its Achilles' heel, as political analyst Tariq Ali has already noted. It's that she understands the desperate logic and inevitability of the resistance, especially given the slaughterhouse that Iraq has become under occupation.

Unembedded and unbrainwashed, Sgrena cannot be expected to call her captors "cutthroats" when she's perfectly aware of her own government's responsibility in the massacres that took place in Fallujah—to mention just one of the bloodiest episodes of that murderous war. Sixty percent of Iraqi civilian deaths are a result of American bombardments, a study by the Iraqi Ministry Of Health confirmed on 4 February 2005.

What these typically cartoonish and simplistic accounts in our media fail to grasp is that Italians are not Fox News addicts. In their eyes, their own government has taken them to war in violation of their constitution for an ally that is treating their country as an inconsequential doormat. Five hundred thousand Italians had mobilized on 19 February in mass demonstrations in Rome and all over Italy demanding Sgrena's release and the withdrawal of the troops from Iraq. (Fini, himself, has acknowledged that the people of Italy were the force behind Sgrena's rescue and release.) Two hundred thousand Italians showed up for Calipari's funeral. Polls conducted in Italy in these past weeks indicate that 70 percent of the public favor recalling the troops. But, apparently, their government no longer has the authority to respond to their will or to carry out a straightforward investigation into the killing of one of their chief public servants. Their ally in Washington obstructs both measures.

Too, what Italians know about the tragic incident of 4 March approaching Baghdad terminal at the airport is vastly more than what their counterparts know in the land of Weapons of Mass Deception.

Nicola Calipari left Rome for Baghdad on 4 March with a squad of ten SISMI agents, landing at Kuwait City (not Abu Dhabi as first reported). Principal task: to deposit the ransom of from $6 to $8 million—a ransom Bush forced to have Berlusconi deny. Reporting to the Senate on the incident (9 March), Berlusconi never mentioned the word "ransom," but his vice-premier, Fini, dutifully denied the handover of the ransom on television—such a claim in the Senate would have had the opposition in stitches, since the ransom had been reported in the press without eliciting denial by SISMI or the Berlusconi triple entente (Berlusconi's own soccer-sounding team of Forza Italia, Bossi's immigrant-bashing and secessionist Northern League, and Fini's Alleanza Nazionale, the re-named party of Mussolini loyalists—US allies in Rome!). Supposedly, the denial of the ransom was part of the deal Bush made in agreeing to have two Italians sit as "external" observers on his military investigation of the shooting.

In Kuwait City, Calipari was told that Sgrena was to be released. Taking with him only the police major, he said nothing to the CIA but is said to have been in contact with US military intelligence, who had direct contact with military troops. Arriving in Baghdad at 4:30 pm, Calipari obtained security badges—and permission to carry two guns. According to Letta, "Calipari had activated all the necessary contacts with US authorities required by airport security between 4:30 pm and 7:10 pm."

In some reports, he met a Captain Green to obtain the badges—it's not clear if Green was CIA or military intelligence. This is a curiously obfuscated point because Captain Green was waiting, along with the SISMI chief in Baghdad, and General Maioli, vice-commander of coalition forces under US control, at the airport for the rescue party's night arrival. (In some reports, the CIA station chief was a member of the party.) According to Letta, reporting to COPACO hearings, Captain Green and the others were kept in the dark about the details until 8:30 pm, because Reuters was releasing the news of the rescue at 8:35 (actually the news was first announced by Al Jazeera). Green, Letta said, had a radio with which he could have given all information necessary to the patrols in the area. It is not known what he did, but, at the very least, he did not give orders not to shoot at the rescue party. At 8:55 pm the patrol fired on the rescue car. Who is Green? I could not find anything useful on him. If CIA, Green knew something was afoot from 4:30 pm. If he was not CIA, was the station chief at Baghdad airport, too? All accounts confirm a CIA presence at Baghdad airport.

Whatever Green's role may have been in operation, Calipari was in an awful rush to get Sgrena out of Baghdad. He made no arrangements for her to stop at the embassy and rented his own car with an Iraqi license plate, although Italian police in Baghdad had a pool of their own cars. The rush is evidenced by the fact that Simona Parri and Simona Torretta, released in September through Calipari's efforts, stayed in Baghdad two days before returning to Rome.

Waiting in the house where she was being held, two kidnappers told Giuliana Sgrena that she was leaving for Rome ("Te ne vai a Roma," in Sgrena's account to the Corriere della Sera). Later, they told her that they were committed to her freedom but that "the Americans wanted her dead." Which "Americans"? She didn't believe them. She only remembered those words when she was hit by the "rain of fire" on the way to her flight back to Rome. In COPACO's hearings, on 21 March, Il Manifesto reported that Letta and Pollari testified that "the car in which the kidnappers delivered Sgrena was stuffed with explosives. At the least incident, they would have blown it up."

Sgrena, confirmed this detail in her latest interview on television ("Ballaro'"). "When the kidnappers left the car, one of them told me, 'If they attack us, we open fire.' And the other added, 'In that case we'll all be blown up." Was this possibility behind Calipari's rush and behind his secrecy, particularly regarding the CIA? Was it why the kidnappers knew she was leaving for Rome? Had it been agreed as the best course because of some danger? Why was the car booby-trapped? To prevent capture?

She waited in her car-bomb for half an hour, before Calipari came and helped her out, saying, "Giuliana, I'm Nicola. You are free." They took an alternate road to the one reputed to be "the most dangerous road on earth"—the one with the car bombs and the regular mayhem, the one the press in the US had advertised as the logical place where soldiers would be fearful, the one, military authorities said, where a number of car-bomb incidents had occurred just that week.

On 9 December 2004, Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune reported: "The Iraq war goes from bad to worse. That's the maddening paradox: we liberated Baghdad, but we can't use the airport road. US officials in Baghdad barred embassy staffers from using the 10-mile segment of highway that connects the embassy to the airport. Why? Because it isn't safe. They'll have to go by helicopter instead. Think of that."

It was, therefore, unusual for US Ambassador John Negroponte to be on that road that night (and not flying over it by helicopter), as US authorities claimed when they released their news that the patrol that attacked Sgrena was protecting the ambassador driving to a 7 or 7:30 dinner appointment at Camp Victory. In fact, it was against his own orders. And which road? The "most dangerous highway" or the alternative route? No distinction was made at the time of the statement. And the thought of Negroponte loose on that road (whichever he was supposed to be on) at that time seems ominous, if it is true. The soldiers had no idea if he had passed, it was said—though he had to have passed, for Sgrena's car was attacked at 8:55 pm—when they shot at the allegedly crazily speeding car, driving improbably fast on a road that was flooded and potholed, around a 90-degree curve on a rainy and dark night—driving recklessly but with the interior light on!

The police major didn't take the "most dangerous highway on earth." He took the alternative route. "Did you recognize the road?" asked the Corriere della Sera to Sgrena (Interview, 11 March).

"Yes, because I know that road. It is the alternative road to the airport, the one that passes through the Green Zone, controlled by the Americans. It bypasses the inhabited zones. It's a road I traveled on several times."

"Did you meet checkpoints?"

"Not a one. We were never stopped. Sure, I was euphoric, and I can't say if there were soldiers along the way. But I would remember a checkpoint. As the curve was ending, the shots. From the right and behind. It isn't true that they shot from the front."

And why were there no warning shots? The rules of engagement require warning shots and disabling the motor. Or is it, as a US sergeant appears to have said, "American soldiers have a right to shoot at anything they deem dangerous"?

From the interview with the Corriere (11 March):

"What do you see from the car?"

Sgrena: "It wasn't a checkpoint but a patrol which shot after they lighted us up with a flash. An armoured car on the side of the road [right side]. A soldier opens the door on the right. When he sees us I have the impression that he is disconcerted ("che rimanga male"—hard to translate. Perhaps "disappointed"?]. He curses. I think he said, "Oh, shit." Even when the others appear, seven or eight, I have the sensation that they are disappointed."

"You spoke of 'a rain of bullets' or of 'handfuls' of bullets."

Sgrena: "I saw the bullets. I don't know if they were 300 or 400, but the car was full of bullets."

"And the driver?"

Sgrena: "From the ground I hear him speaking on the phone. I hear him shouting, 'Nicola is dead. She's far from me, but I see her eyes are open.'"

In his debriefing the police major, who was driving the car, said, "I remember that some 10 soldiers approached. I got out of the car. They made me kneel." They took his weapon, but he was able to say on the phone to Rome that there was nothing to celebrate. In some reports he said, still on the phone but kneeling, "Nicola is dead, and I have a gun pointed at my head." If the soldiers feared a car-bomb, why did they approach the car?

Some observers have noted that if assassination had been the intent, all should have been killed. The trouble was that Calipari died with his ear glued to the phone in direct communication with Rome—with Berlusconi, Pollari, Letta, and even Scolari. The police major declared, "He made some telephone calls to inform the officer who gave us the badges [Green] and the officer who was supposed to facilitate our re-entry [to Italy]." Sgrena confirms that Calipari never spoke in English—but it is known that calls to people like Green goes through channels. On the phone with Letta, as he was struck dead, Calipari transmitted the whole volley of fire. It is possible that the divergence from US versions springs from this evidence: no warning shots as of shots fired in the air, no shouts of "stop." The volley is heard in real time by the government in Rome.

Last note: the bullets. Photos of the car show holes of different sizes. The police major himself testified that he heard shots of different "cadences." Some of the holes are consistent with shots fired from M-4 rifles (or old M-16s), but some holes are consonant with bullets of 12 mm—from machine guns. Sgrena feels very guilty because Calipari had said, "I will sit next to you, so you'll feel more secure." She needn't feel guilty. Had Calipari sat in the passenger's seat, he would not have escaped his death. In the center of the backrest is a large bullet hole. Shots seem to have been aimed at chest or head level, and that is why inspection of the car is so crucial. Minister of Justice Roberto Castelli commented, "The investigators' travel plan, blocked at the last moment, is a strongly alarming sign."

And the motive? First one has to determine the target. Most people, accepting the theory that this incident was no accident, seem to think the target was Sgrena. But she writes for a paper that prints 20,000 copies at most, and, though one of the most reliable in Italy for opinion and news, it is hardly worth worrying about. What she knows about Fallujah is already well known among her readership. However, I'm willing to consider that the abduction and what she may have seen, and has not yet processed, may make her dangerous. She has already noted that the woman who took care of her during her imprisonment spoke only English and French to the two kidnappers and that one of two of her very devout Muslim kidnappers unexpectedly shook her hand as she was about to leave. The other was a fan of the Italian soccer team that wore T-shirts imprinted with "Free Giuliana" during a game.

Who benefits? Certainly not Berlusconi. I don't know about Bush. That depends on what Negroponte had for dinner that Friday night! Calipari's two satellite phones were confiscated at the shooting and never returned. On it were the contacts he made to obtain Sgrena's release—the people who "risked lives" to help him secure her release. Negroponte has been charged with crushing the Iraqi resistance. He had experience in such things with the "Salvador Option." And on 21 February, all Italian reporters left Baghdad, courtesy of orders by Bush's man in Rome, "il cavaliere, signor" Berlusconi.

But the whole thing stinks of secret-service shenanigans—really nasty stuff! And it's been 30 years since I've been thrilled by John Le Carre' scenarios. Meanwhile, Ambassador Mel Sembler in Rome blames a "failure of communication" on General Maioli, the liaison officer between Italy and the US. No! You think? But perhaps intentional, at least on Calipari's part!

Could the US government/CIA/military have been annoyed at Italy for paying ransom, at Sgrena for sticking her nose in where it didn't belong, and at Calipari for snatching the hostage without their supervision? Sure. But ordinary emotions cannot be allowed to be the sole motivating force of this extraordinary gang of conscienceless and corrupt thugs. They want cold, calculated, and long-term results—preferably in profits. It's part of their ethos as corporate planners!

By Luciana Bohne March 28, 2005

Luciana Bohne teaches film and literature at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. She can be reached at

Burma refugees miss Thai deadline

The UN refugee agency estimates that about 1,000 Burmese political refugees have missed Thursday's deadline to register with the Thai authorities.

These refugees could now be detained and deported back to Burma.

Those who did register are now being sent to special camps along the Thai-Burma border.

The UN has expressed its concern about the refugees, and the conditions in some of the camps. Rights groups say the relocation is a political move.

They say the Thai government, which has been forging closer links with Burma's military junta, wants to weaken the country's international pro-democracy movement.

No mobile phones or other electronic devices will be allowed into the camps, making it difficult for political activists to continue their work.


As he boarded a bus in Bangkok to take him to a camp, Khin Maung Win, a former political prisoner in Burma, told the Associated Press he felt as though he were being imprisoned again.

Another dissident, Kuang Zan, told the Bangkok Post he was not sure the camps would be safe.

"The [pro-Rangoon] Democratic Karen Buddhist Army has already broken into some refugee camps, and hurt some of the refugees there," he said.

Some 3,000 refugees were expected to eventually take part in the relocation programme, according to the UN.

On Thursday, the deadline for registration, about 250 people signed up at a detention centre near Bangkok while another 400 registered in the north-western border town of Mae Sot, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees

Douglas DiSalvo, a official for the UNHCR, which is overseeing the programme, said: "We had a steady flow of people throughout the day. People came in all different vehicles - people in trucks and taxis and private cars, with all their belongs and bags ready for transport to the camps."

Story from BBC NEWS

Mother angered in her grief as photos of casket are refused

mother's plea for photo goes unheard

WASHINGTON — A single red rose in hand, Karen Meredith leans over her son's simple white stone marker at Arlington National Cemetery.

Tears fall before words.

It's her first visit since she buried 1st Lt. Kenneth Michael Ballard, a fourth generation soldier, last fall.

Still fresh, like the soil churned behind her son's grave for another row of dead, is her anger. Anger at the way the Pentagon refused her sole wish when her son was killed by a sniper last May to photograph his casket returning from Iraq.

Meredith wanted to capture the way fellow soldiers respectfully draped the American flag across the casket, tucking the sides just so, and the way an honor guard watched over him as he was unloaded from a cargo plane.

But the Pentagon firmly said "no." It was against regulations and would violate the privacy of family members of other slain soldiers.

"It's dishonorable and disrespectful to the families," said Meredith. "They say it's for privacy, but it's really because they don't want the country to see how many people are coming back in caskets."

The Pentagon's reasons for denying the media access to the caskets returning to Dover Air Force Base are widely reported and legally contested. What isn't so well known is that the Pentagon refuses to allow the families of dead soldiers access to the caskets returning to Dover and other military bases.

"It's bad enough that they won't let the country see the pictures of the caskets, but a grieving mother?" asked Meredith. "It's unforgiveable after what I lost."

The Department of Defense defends its policy, which was created in 1991 by then-secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. The policy protects the privacy of families who have lost loved ones in the war and who may not want their son or daughter's casket inadvertently photographed, said Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Defense Department spokesperson.

What families of dead soldiers really want is "the expeditious return of their remains," not photographs at Dover, Venable said.

The department strongly discourages family members from coming to Dover to watch the caskets of the dead unload. "It's a tarmac, not a parade ground," Venable said. The caskets arriving at Dover are similar to the "hearse pulling up to the back of a funeral home," he said.

Meredith says she was prepared to lose her son in battle. What she wasn't prepared for was the way the military treated her when he died from a sniper's bullet in the head. She doesn't understand how a single photograph of his casket for her own personal album would violate her own privacy.

"It is ironic that this policy denies us the very freedoms of the press and speech my son — and so many like him — gave their lives to protect," Meredith says.

Some families think the caskets should be photographed. Some families say they shouldn't. There is no consensus on this point, said Joyce Raezer, director of government relations for the National Military Family Association, a Virginia-based nonprofit organization with 30,000 members.

The organization does not have an official opinion about requests like Meredith's, but Raezer believes from her conversations with families who have lost a loved one that most would support allowing the family of a dead soldier to have a photograph. She suggests that the military take the photo when the casket arrives and include it in the materials they routinely give to families when there is a loss.

"There is a difference between taking photos and showing it to the world every time a plane comes to Dover and taking a photo for a personal memento for the family," Raezer said.

Open government advocates are rallying behind Meredith and other family members who want to see photos of their loved ones at Dover. They view this as another attempt by the Bush administration to keep the actions of the government secret. They suspect that the ban is to prevent the public from getting too upset about the war in Iraq.

"I think it's a atrocious that they won't allow photos," said Rick Blum, executive director of, an umbrella organization of conservative and liberal organizations concerned about excessive secrecy in government. "The pictures show the true cost of war and the honor and the respect that the military gives to their sacrifice."

Other open government advocates suspect that there may be political reasons for denying the public access to photograph the caskets.

"The policy keeps these remarkable images off the front pages and off television as if out of sight could mean out of mind," said Tom Blanton, executive director of the National Security Archive, a nonpartisan research institute based in Washington. "The policy disguises this steady, mounting toll."

The Pentagon's policy of banning photos at Dover is being challenged in federal court by Ralph Begleiter, a journalism professor from the University of Delaware.

Begleiter has requested all still and moving images of fallen soldiers returning in caskets dating back to October 2001 when the war in Afghanistan started. He filed his request under the Freedom of Information Act, a federal law that requires agencies to make records and materials available to the public, with the support of the National Security Archive.

"This is not a partisan political issue," said Begleiter in a release about his lawsuit posted on the Internet. "It's all about allowing the American people to accurately and completely assess the price of war." The case is still pending.

Venable, the Pentagon spokesperson, said there have only been two instances where the department has permitted photographs of caskets since the policy was put in place in 1991.

In 1996, Clinton personally oversaw the return of 33 caskets containing the remains from Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown's plane crash in Croatia. In 2000, the Pentagon allowed photos of caskets from the al-Qaida attack on the USS Cole in 2000.

The National Security Archive keeps its own tally of examples where the images of caskets were released to the public.

The organization cites eight other examples where photos of caskets arriving at military bases were allowed, including the return of Americans killed in the 1998 al-Qaida terrorist bombing in East Africa; the caskets of six dead soldiers who died in a training accident in Kuwait in March 2001 were photographed at Ramstein Air Base; and in September 2001, the the Air Force published a photograph of the casket carrying the remains of a victim of the al-Qaida attacks on the Pentagon.

Exceptions to the rule stopped when the war in Iraq began.

On the Web:
1st Lt. Kenneth Michael Ballard:
National Security Archive at George Washington University:
Rebecca Carr's e-mail address is rcarr(at)

March 24, 2005