- #1 No Habeas Corpus for "Any Person"
- #2 Bush Moves Toward Martial Law
- # 3 AFRICOM: US Military Control of Africa's Resources
- # 4 Frenzy of Increasingly Destructive Trade Agreements
- #5 Human Traffic Builds US Embassy in Iraq
- #6 Operation FALCON Raids
- #7 Behind Blackwater Inc.
- #8 KIA: The US Neoliberal Invasion of India
- #9 Privatization of America's Infrastructure
- # 10 Vulture Funds Threaten Poor Nations' Debt Relief
- # 11 The Scam of "Reconstruction" in Afghanistan
- # 12 Another Massacre in Haiti by UN Troops
- # 13 Immigrant Roundups to Gain Cheap Labor for US Corporate Giants
- # 14 Impunity for US War Criminals
- # 15 Toxic Exposure Can Be Transmitted to Future Generations on a "Second Genetic Code"
- #16 No Hard Evidence Connecting Bin Laden to 9/11
- # 17 Drinking Water Contaminated by Military and Corporations
- # 18 Mexico's Stolen Election
- # 19 People's Movement Challenges Neoliberal Agenda
- # 20 Terror Act Against Animal Activists
- # 21 US Seeks WTO Immunity for Illegal Farm Payments
- # 22 North Invades Mexico
- # 23 Feinstein's Conflict of Interest in Iraq
- # 24 Media Misquotes Threat From Iran's President
- # 25 Who Will Profit from Native Energy?
With the approval of Congress and no outcry from corporate media, the Military Commissions Act (MCA) signed by Bush on October 17, 2006, ushered in military commission law for US citizens and noncitizens alike. While media, including a lead editorial in the New York Times October 19, have given false comfort that we, as American citizens, will not be the victims of the draconian measures legalized by this Act-such as military roundups and life-long detention with no rights or constitutional protections-Robert Parry points to text in the MCA that allows for the institution of a military alternative to the constitutional justice system for "any person" regardless of American citizenship. The MCA effectively does away with habeas corpus rights for "any person" arbitrarily deemed to be an "enemy of the state." The judgment on who is deemed an "enemy combatant" is solely at the discretion of President Bush.
"Who," warns Parry, "has 'an allegiance or duty to the United States' if not an American citizen?"
Besides allowing "any person" to be swallowed up by Bush's system, the law prohibits detainees once inside from appealing to the traditional American courts until after prosecution and sentencing, which could translate into an indefinite imprisonment since there are no timetables for Bush's tribunal process to play out.
Section 950j of the law further states that once a person is detained, not withstanding any other provision of law (including section 2241 of title 28 or any other habeas corpus provision) no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any claim or cause of action whatsoever... relating to the prosecution, trial, or judgment of a military commission under this chapter, including challenges to the lawfulness of procedures of military commissions."
Other constitutional protections in the Bill of Rights, such as a speedy trial, the right to reasonable bail, and the ban on "cruel and unusual punishment," would seem to be beyond a detainee's reach as well.
Parry warns that, "In effect, what the new law appears to do is to create a parallel 'star chamber' system for the prosecution, imprisonment, and possible execution of enemies of the state, whether those enemies are foreign or domestic.
"Under the cloak of setting up military tribunals to try al-Qaeda suspects and other so-called unlawful enemy combatants, Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress effectively created a parallel legal system for 'any person'-American citizen or otherwise-who crosses some ill-defined line."
In one of the most chilling public statements ever made by a US Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales opined at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Jan. 18, 2007, "The Constitution doesn't say every individual in the United States or citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas corpus. It doesn't say that. It simply says the right shall not be suspended."
More important than its sophomoric nature, Parry warns, is that Gonzales's statement suggests he is still searching for arguments to make habeas corpus optional, subordinate to the President's executive powers that Bush's neoconservative legal advisers claim are virtually unlimited during "time of war."
Bush Moves Toward Martial Law
The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007, which was quietly signed by Bush on October 17, 2006, the very same day that he signed the Military Commissions Act, allows the president to station military troops anywhere in the United States and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, in order to "suppress public disorder."
By revising the two-century-old Insurrection Act, the law in effect repeals the Posse Comitatus Act, which placed strict prohibitions on military involvement in domestic law enforcement. The 1878 Act reads, "Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both." As the only US criminal statute that outlaws military operations directed against the American people, it has been our best protection against tyranny enforced by martial law-the harsh system of rules that takes effect when the military takes control of the normal administration of justice. Historically martial law has been imposed by various governments during times of war or occupation to intensify control of populations in spite of heightened unrest. In modern times it is most commonly used by authoritarian governments to enforce unpopular rule.'
Section 333 of the Defense Authorization Act of 2007, entitled "Major public emergencies; interference with State and Federal law," states that "the President may employ the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service-to restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States, the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of (or "refuse" or "fail" in) maintaining public order-in order to suppress, in any State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy."
Thus an Act of Congress, superceding the Posse Comitatus Act, has paved the way toward a police state by granting the president unfettered legal authority to order federal troops onto the streets of America, directing military operations against the American people under the cover of "law enforcement."
The massive Defense Authorization Act grants the Pentagon $532.8 billion to include implementation of the new law which furthermore facilitates militarized police round-ups of protesters, so-called illegal aliens, potential terrorists, and other undesirables for detention in facilities already contracted and under construction, and transferring from the Pentagon to local police units the latest technology and weaponry designed to suppress dissent.
Author Frank Morales notes that despite the unprecedented and shocking nature of this act, there has been no outcry in the American media, and little reaction from our elected officials in Congress. On September 19, a lone Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) noted that 2007's Defense Authorization Act contained a "widely opposed provision to allow the President more control over the National Guard [adopting] changes to the Insurrection Act, which will make it easier for this or any future President to use the military to restore domestic order without the consent of the nation's governors."
A few weeks later, on September 29, Leahy entered into the Congressional Record that he had "grave reservations about certain provisions of the fiscal Year 2007 Defense Authorization Bill Conference Report," the language of which, he said, "subverts solid, longstanding posse comitatus statutes that limit the military's involvement in law enforcement, thereby making it easier for the President to declare martial law." This had been "slipped in," Leahy said, "as a rider with little study," while "other congressional committees with jurisdiction over these matters had no chance to comment, let alone hold hearings on, these proposals."
Leahy noted "the implications of changing the [Posse Comitatus] Act are enormous." "There is good reason," he said, "for the constructive friction in existing law when it comes to martial law declarations. Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy. We fail our Constitution, neglecting the rights of the States, when we make it easier for the President to declare martial law and trample on local and state sovereignty."
Morales further asserts that "with the president's polls at a historic low ... and Democrats taking back the Congress ... it is particularly worrisome that President Bush has seen fit, at this juncture to, in effect, declare himself dictator."
AFRICOM: US Military Control of Africa's Resources
In February 2007 the White House announced the formation of the US African Command (AFRICOM), a new unified Pentagon command center in Africa, to be established by September 2008. This military penetration of Africa is being presented as a humanitarian guard in the Global War on Terror. The real objective is, however, the procurement and control of Africa's oil and its global delivery systems.
The most significant and growing challenge to US dominance in Africa is China. An increase in Chinese trade and investment in Africa threatens to substantially reduce US political and economic leverage in that resource-rich continent. The political implication of an economically emerging Africa in close alliance with China is resulting in a new cold war in which AFRICOM will be tasked with achieving full-spectrum military dominance over Africa.
AFRICOM will replace US military command posts in Africa, which were formerly under control of US European Command (EUCOM) and US Central Command (CENTCOM), with a more centralized and intensified US military presence.
A context for the pending strategic role of AFRICOM can be gained from observing CENTCOM in the Middle East. CENTCOM grew out of the Carter Doctrine of 1980 which described the oil flow from the Persian Gulf as a "vital interest" of the US, and affirmed that the US would employ "any means necessary, including military force" to overcome an attempt by hostile interests to block that flow.
It is in Western and Sub-Saharan Africa that the US military force is most rapidly increasing, as this area is projected to become as important a source of energy as the Middle East within the next decade. In this region, challenge to US domination and exploitation is coming from the people of Africa-most specifically in Nigeria, where seventy percent of Africa's oil is contained.
People native to the Niger Delta region have not benefited, but instead suffered, as a result of sitting on top of vast natural oil and natural gas deposits. Nigerian people's movements are demanding self-determination and equitable sharing of oil-receipts. Environmental and human rights activists have, for years, documented atrocities on the part of oil companies and the military in this region. As the tactics of resistance groups have shifted from petition and protest to more proactive measures, attacks on pipelines and oil facilities have curtailed the flow of oil leaving the region. As a Convergent Interests report puts it, "Within the first six months of 2006, there were nineteen attacks on foreign oil operations and over $2.187 billion lost in oil revenues; the Department of Petroleum Resources claims this figure represents 32 percent of 'the revenue the country [Nigeria] generated this year."
Oil companies and the Pentagon are attempting to link these resistance groups to international terror networks in order to legitimize the use of the US military to "stabilize" these areas and secure the energy flow. No evidence has been found however to link the Niger Delta resistance groups to international tenor networks or jihadists. Instead the situation in the Niger Delta is that of ethnic-nationalist movements fighting, by any means necessary, toward the political objective of self-determination. The volatility surrounding oil installations in Nigeria and elsewhere in the continent is, however, used by the US security establishment to justify military "support" in African oil producing states, under the guise of helping Africans defend themselves against those who would hinder their engagement in "Free Trade."
The December 2006 invasion of Somalia was coordinated using US bases throughout the region. The arrival of AFRICOM will effectively reinforce efforts to replace the popular Islamic Courts Union of Somalia with the oil industry-friendly Transitional Federal Government. Meanwhile, the persistent Western calls for "humanitarian intervention" into the Darfur region of Sudan sets up another possibility for military engagement to deliver regime change in another Islamic state rich in oil reserves.
Hunt warns that this sort of "support" is only bound to increase as rhetoric of stabilizing Africa makes the dailies, copied directly out of official AFRICOM press releases. Readers of the mainstream media can expect to encounter more frequent usage of terms like "genocide" and "misguided." He notes that already corporate media decry China's human rights record and support for Sudan and Zimbabwe while ignoring the ongoing violations of Western corporations engaged in the plunder of natural resources, the pollution other peoples' homelands, and the "shoring up" of repressive regimes.
In FY 2005 the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Initiative received $16 million; in FY 2006, nearly $31 million. A big increase is expected in 2008, with the administration pushing for $100 million each year for five years. With the passage of AFRICOM and continued promotion of the Global War on Terror, Congressional funding is likely to increase significantly.
In the end, regardless of whether it's US or Chinese domination over Africa, the blood spilled will be African. Hunt concludes, "It does not require a crystal ball or great imagination to realize what the increased militarization of the continent through AFRICOM will bring to the peoples of Africa."
Frenzy of Increasingly Destructive Trade Agreements
The Oxfam report, "Signing Away the Future," reveals that the US and European Union (EU) are vigorously pursuing increasingly destructive regional and bilateral trade and investment agreements outside the auspices of the WTO. These agreements are requiring enormous irreversible concessions from developing countries, while offering almost nothing in return. Faster and deeper, the US and EU are demanding unprecedented tariff reductions, sometimes to nothing, as the US and EU dump subsidized agricultural goods on undeveloped countries, plunging local farmers into desperate poverty. Meanwhile the US and EU provide themselves with high tariffs and stringent import quotas to protect their own producers. Unprecedented loss of livelihood, displacement, slave labor, along with spiraling degradation of human rights and environments are resulting as economic governance is forced from governments of developing countries, and taken over by unaccountable multinational firms.
During 2006, more than one hundred developing countries were involved in FTA or Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) negotiations. "An average of two treaties are signed every week," the report says, "Virtually no country, however poor, has been left out."
Much of the recent debate and controversy over trade negotiations has revolved around the increasingly devastating trade-distorting practices of rich countries versus the developing countries' needs for food security and industrial development. The new generation of agreements ... extends far beyond this traditional area of trade policy-imposing a damaging set of binding rules in intellectual property, services, and investment with much deeper consequences for development and impacts on the poor.
Double standards in the intellectual-property rights chapters of most trade agreements are glaring. As new agreements limit developing countries' access to patented technology and medicines while failing to protect traditional knowledge-the public-health consequences are staggering. The US-Colombia FTA is expected to reduce access to medicines by 40 percent and the US-Peru FTA is expected to leave 700,000 to 900,000 Peruvians without access to affordable medicines.
US and EU FTAs also require the adoption of plant-breeder rights that remove the right to share seeds among indigenous farmers. The livelihood of the world's poorest farmers is thus made even more vulnerable, while profit margins of the world's largest agribusinesses continue to climb. US FTAs are now pushing for patents on plants, which will not only limit the rights of farmers to exchange or sell seeds, but also forbid them to save and reuse seed they have grown themselves for generations. Under US FTAs including DR-CAFTA, US-Peru and US-Colombia FTAs, developing-country governments will no longer be able to reject a patent application because a firm fails to indicate the origin of a plant or show proof of consent for its use from a local community. As a result, communities could find themselves forced to pay for patented plant varieties based on genetic resources from their own soil.
New rules also pose a threat to essential services as FTAs allow foreign investors to take ownership of healthcare, education, water, and public utilities.
Investment chapters of new FTAs and BITs allow foreign investors to sue for lost profits, including anticipated future profits, if governments change regulations, even when such reforms are in the public interest. These rules undermine the sovereignty of developing nations, transferring power from governments to largely unaccountable multinational firms. A growing number of investment chapters and treaties further tip the scales of justice by preventing governments from screening or regulating foreign investment-banning the use of all 'performance requirements' in all sectors including mining, manufacturing, and services.
More than 170 countries have signed international investment agreements that provide foreign investors with the right to turn immediately to international investor-state arbitration to settle disputes, without first trying to resolve the matter in national courts. Such arbitration fails to consider public interest, basing decisions exclusively on commercial law.
Not only is the legal basis for investment arbitration loaded against public interest, so are the proceedings. Despite the fact that many arbitration panels are hosted at the World Bank and the United Nations, the investment arbitration system is shrouded in secrecy. It is virtually impossible to find out what cases are being heard, let alone the outcome or rationale for decisions. As a result, there is no body of case decisions to inform governments of developing countries when drafting investments agreements.
Oxfam notes that the only group privy to this information is an increasingly powerful select group of commercial lawyers, whose fees often place them out of reach of developing-country governments. These lawyers, according to the Oxfam report, are eager to advise foreign investors regarding opportunities to claim compensation from developing countries under international investment agreements.
Strong opposition is growing to the political asymmetry inherent in these bilateral trade and investment agreements. As Oxfam notes, "It is in nobody's long-term interest to have a global economy that perpetuates social, economic, and environmental injustice."
KIA: The US Neoliberal Invasion of India
Farmers' cooperatives in India are defending the nation's food security and the future of Indian farmers against the neoliberal invasion of genetically modified (GM) seed. As many as 28,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide over the last decade as a result of debt incurred from failed GM crops and competition with subsidized US crops, yet when India's Prime Minister Singh met with President Bush in March 2006 to finalize nuclear agreements, they also signed the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA), backed by Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), and Wal-Mart. The KIA allows for the grab of India's seed sector by Monsanto, of its trade sector by giant agribusiness ADM and Cargill, and its retail sector by Wal-Mart.
Though the contours of KIA have been kept so secret that neither senior Indian politicians nor the scientific community know its details, it is clear that Prime Minister Singh has agreed to sacrifice India's agriculture sector to pay for US concessions in the nuclear field.
In one of very few public statements by a US government official regarding KIA, Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, states, "While the civilian nuclear initiative has garnered the most attention ... Our first priority is to continue giving governmental support to the huge growth in business between the Indian and American private sectors. Singh has also challenged the United States to help launch a second green revolution in India's vast agricultural heartland by enlisting the help of America's great land-grant institutions."
Vandana Shiva translates, "These are twin programs about a market grab and a security alignment ... Burns announced that while the nuclear deal is the cutting edge, what the US is really seeking is agricultural markets and real estate markets ... to take over the land of people, not through a market mechanism, but using the state and an old colonial law of land acquisition to grab the land by force."
Through KIA, Monsanto and the US have asked for unhindered access to India's gene banks, along with a change in India's intellectual property laws to allow patents on seeds and genes, and to dilute provisions that protect farmers' rights. A combination of physical access to India's gene banks and a possible new intellectual property law that allows seed patents will in essence deliver India's genetic wealth into US hands. This would be a severe blow to India's food security and self-sufficiency.
At the same time KIA has paved the way for Wal-Mart's plans to open five hundred stores in India, starting in August 2007, which will compound the outsourcing of India's food supply and threaten 14 million small family venders with loss of livelihood.
"This is not about 'free trade," Shiva explains, "Today's trade system, especially in agriculture, is dishonest, and dishonesty has become a war against farmers. It's become a genocide."
Farmers are, however, organizing to protect themselves against this economic invasion by maintaining traditional seed banks and setting up exemplary systems of community agrarian support. In response to the flood of debilitating debt tied to GM/hybrid seeds and the toxic petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides these crops depend on, one woman in the small village of Palarum says, "We do not buy seeds from the market because we suspect they may be contaminated with genetically engineered or terminator seeds." Instead village women save and trade hardy traditional seeds that have evolved over centuries to produce low-maintenance, nutritious "crops of truth."
Each village in this rural area of India has formed its own community-based organization called a sangham. Seventy-two sanghams are part of a regional federation. These sanghams form an informal social security network that, through the maintenance of seed banks, will come to the rescue of individuals or entire villages in times of crop failure. Every member of the community has access to food and is assured of some work even if landless. The federation furthermore trains students in skills such as carpentry, computing, pottery, bookbinding, veterinary science, herbal medicine, sewing, farming, waste management, and agro-forestry.
Author Arun Shrivastava comments that, "These seventy-two villages were once horizontally and vertically stratified along caste, class, and religious lines. Food scarcity was endemic, people were malnourished, the majority worked as unskilled day wagers. Today they are cohesive, interdependent. I did not see one malnourished person. Rarely do people go to urban centers to seek work." Shrivastava continues, "The community is the most important entity that can help us ensure food and nutrition security... The right of access to natural resources-land, rivers, forests, air, and everything that Nature has given us, including seeds, is the fundamental right of the communities, not of the corporations or the state or the individual. No corporation has the right to expropriate what Nature gave us."
Professor of genetics Suman Sahai concludes, "India must be cautious that it does not become the dumping ground for a technology and its controversial products that have been rejected in many parts of the world and whose safety and usefulness remain questionable... Food security is an integral part of national security. All India's efforts in the nuclear arena to shore up its national security goals will be undermined if it allows itself to become insecure in the \matter of food."
Vulture Funds Threaten Poor Nations' Debt Relief
Vulture funds, otherwise known as "distressed-debt investors," are undermining UN and other global efforts to relieve impoverished Third World nations of the debt that has burdened them for many decades.
Vulture funds are financial organizations that buy up debts that are near default or bankruptcy. The vulture fund will pay the original investor pennies on the dollar for the debt and then approach the debtor to arrange a better repayment on the loan, or will go after the debtor in court.
In the private financial world, these funds, like the birds they are named for, provide a useful function for investors who are unable to follow up on defaulted debts and are themselves facing financial ruin if the debtor reneges entirely.
Under normal circumstances, distressed-debt investing-like day trading-is risky business. It is a gamble and the company knows that going in. The vulture fund may get nothing for its investment if the debtor continues to default and has no assets to attach. However, if there is still meat on the bones (the debtor has considerable assets to liquidate) the vulture fund can make millions.
A problem has arisen in recent years, however, as vulture funds have begun inserting themselves into an increasingly globalized "free market"-where no distinction is made between an irresponsible and defaulted company and a destitute and impoverished nation.
In the case of nations, the actions of vulture funds are corrupting the process begun in 1996 to provide debt relief for Third World nations struggling to emerge from the heavy debt laid upon them by previous corrupt rulers and colonial masters.
In one recent case, the poverty-stricken nation of Zambia was negotiating with Romania to reduce a $40 million debt still owed from a 1979 loan to buy Romanian tractors. In r999, Romania had agreed to liquidate the entire loan for $3 million. Zambia planned to use the debt cancellation to invest in much-needed nurses, teachers, and basic infrastructure. Just before the deal was finalized however, investors at the England-based vulture fund Donegal international convinced the Romanian government to sell them the loan for just under $4 million-not much more than Zambia had offered. Donegal then turned around and sued Zambia (where the average wage is barely a dollar a day) for the full $40 million.
Throughout the lawsuit, global NGOs have pleaded with the English High Court to void the new contract and allow Zambia to honor the original agreement of $3 million. But on February 15, 2007, an English court ruled that Donegal was entitled to much of what it was seeking-at least $15 million, perhaps more.,
In a last desperate plea, global NGOs working to relieve Third World debt (such as Oxfam and the Jubilee Debt Campaign) turned to Donegal directly, asking them to forgive the debt. Donegal knows that, as a national entity, even a cash-poor country like Zambia has access to considerable resources; in this case copper, cobalt, gem stones, coal, uranium, marble, and much more. Public works and other civic improvement projects can also be liquidated.
Also, Donegal has no history of mercy toward impoverished nations. In 1996 it paid $11 million for a discounted Peruvian debt and threatened to bankrupt the country unless they paid $8 million. Donegal got its money. Now they're suing Congo Brazzaville for $400 million for a debt they bought for $10 million. Donegal and other vulture funds have teams of lawyers combing the world for assets that can be seized.
Even worse, many of these vulture funds have influential ties to powerful world leaders like the Bush administration. The risk normally faced by distressed-debt investors is virtually eliminated when they have political influence that is greater than the poor nation they are suing. They raise most of their money through legal actions in US courts, where lobbying and political contributions hold influence. And many vulture fund CEOs have close links to top officials both in the US and England.
President Bush has the power to block collection of debts by vulture finds, either individual ones or all of them, if he considers it to be at odds with US foreign policy-in this case debt relief for poor countries. According to Congressman John Conyers, "It's our position that the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the comity doctrine brought from our constitution allows the president to require the courts defer in individual suits against foreign nations. And so, we're conducting a couple of things. First of all, we want to know where these practices are going on at the present time, and, two, how we can get this information to President Bush so that he can, as he indicated to us, stop it immediately."
Chancellor Gordon Brown, now the prime minister of England, calls the vulture funds perverse and immoral. Oxfam and jubilee have urged the chancellor to use his influence as chair of the International Monetary Fund's key decision-making committee to make sure that new regulations are devised that prevent private companies from bypassing international debt rules and pursuing debts from very poor countries.
The Scam of "Reconstruction" in Afghanistan"
A report issued in June 2005 by the non-profit organization Action Aid reveals that much of the US tax money earmarked to rebuild Afghanistan actually ends up going no further than the pockets of wealthy US corporations. "Phantom aid" that never shows up in the recipient country is a scam in which paychecks for overpriced, and often incompetent, American "experts" under contract to USAID go directly from the Agency to American bank accounts. Additionally, 70 percent of the aid that does make it to a recipient country is carefully "tied" to the donor nation, requiring that the recipient use the donated money to buy products and services from the donor country, often at drastically inflated prices. The US far outstrips other nations in these schemes, as Action Aid calculates that 86 cents of every dollar of American aid is phantom.
Authors Ann Jones and Fariba Nawa suggest that in order to understand the failure and fraud in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, it is important to look at the peculiar system of American aid for international development. International and national agencies-including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and U SAID, that traditionally distribute aid money to developing countries-have designed a system that is efficient in funneling money back to the wealthy donor countries, while undermining sustainable development in poor states.
A former head of U SAID cited foreign aid as "a key foreign policy instrument" designed to help countries "become better markets for US exports." To guarantee that mission, the State Department recently took over the aid agency. USAID and the Army Corps of Engineers now cut in US business and government interests from the start, making sure that money is allocated according to US economic, political, strategic, and military priorities, rather than according to what the recipient nation might consider important.
Though Afghans have petitioned to allocate aid money as they find appropriate, donor countries object, claiming that the Afghan government is too corrupt to be trusted. Increasingly frustrated and angry Afghan communities meanwhile claim that the no-bid, open-ended contracts being awarded to contractors such as Kellogg, Brown, and Root/ Halliburton, DynCorp, Blackwater, and the Louis Berger Group are equivalent to licensed bribery, corruption, theft, and money laundering.
The Karzai government, confined to a self-serving American agenda, has delivered little to the average Afghan, most of whom still live in abject poverty. Western notions of progress evident in US-contracted hotels, restaurants, and shopping malls full of new electronic gadgets and appliances are beyond the imaginations or practicalities of 3.5 million war torn Afghan citizens who are without food, shelter, sewage systems, clean water or electricity.
Infrastructure hastily built with shoddy materials and no knowledge or respect for geologic or climatic conditions is culminating in one expensive failure after another. USAID's website, for example, boasts of its only infrastructure accomplishment in Afghanistan - the Kabul-Kandahar Highway - a narrow and already crumbling highway costing Afghanis $1 million a mile. The highway was featured in the Kabul Weekly newspaper in March 2005 under the headline, "Millions Wasted on Second-Rate Roads." The article notes that while other bids from more competent construction firms came in at one-third the cost, the contract went to the Louis Berger Group, a firm with tight connections to the Bush administration-as well as a notorious track record of other failed and abandoned construction projects in Afghanistan.
Former Minister of Planning, Ramazan Bashardost, complained that when it came to building roads, the Taliban had done a better job. "And," he also asked, "Where did the money go?" Now, in a move certain to lower President Karzai's approval ratings and further diminish US popularity in the area, the Bush administration has pressured Karzai to turn this "gift from the people of the United States" into a toll road, charging each driver $20 for a road-use permit valid for one month. In this way, according to American "experts" providing highly paid technical assistance, Afghanistan can collect $30 million annually from its impoverished citizens and thereby decrease the foreign aid "burden" on the United States.
Jones asks, "Is it any wonder that foreign aid seems to ordinary Afghans to be something only foreigners enjoy?"
Another Massacre in Haiti by UN Troops V
Eyewitness testimony confirms indiscriminate killings by UN forces in Haiti's Cite Soleil community on December 22, 2006, reportedly as collective punishment against the community for a massive demonstration of Lavalas supporters in which about ten thousand people rallied for the return of President Aristide in clear condemnation of the foreign military occupation of their country. According to residents, UN forces attacked their neighborhood in the early morning, killing more than thirty people, including women and children. Footage taken by Haiti Information Project (HIP) videographers shows unarmed civilians dying as they tell of extensive gunfire from UN peacekeeping forces (MINUSTAH).
A hardened UN strategy became apparent days after the demonstration, when UN officials stated they were entering Cite Soleil to capture or kill gangsters and kidnappers. While officials of MINUSTAH have admitted to "collateral damage," in the raids of December 2006, they say they are there to fight gangsters at the request of the René Préval government.
But many residents and local human rights activists say that scores of people having no involvement with gangs were killed, wounded, and arrested in the raids.
Although MINUSTAH denied firing from helicopter gunships, HIP captured more than three hours of video footage and a large selection of digital photos, illustrating the UN's behavior in Haiti.
An unidentified twenty-eight-year-old man, filmed by HIP, can be seen dying as he testifies that he was shot from a circling UN helicopter that rained gunfire on those below. HIP film also shows a sixteen-year-old, dying just after being shot by UN forces. Before dying he describes details of the UN opening fire on unarmed civilians in his neighborhood. The wounded and dying, filmed by HIP, all express horror and confusion.
IPS observed that buildings throughout Cite Soleil were pockmarked by bullets; many showing huge holes made by heavy caliber UN weapons, as residents attest. Often pipes that brought in water to the slum community now lay shattered.
A recently declassified document from the US embassy in Port-auPrince reveals that during a similar operation carried out in July 2005, MINUSTAH expended 22,000 bullets over several hours. In the report, an official from MINUSTAH acknowledged, "given the flimsy construction of homes in Cite Soleil and the large quantity of ammunition expended, it is likely that rounds penetrated many buildings, striking unintended targets."
Frantz Michel Guerrier, spokesman for the Committee of Notables for the Development of Cite Soleil based in the Bois Neuf zone, said, "It is very difficult for me to explain to you what the people of Bois Neuf went through on Dec. 22, 2006-almost unexplainable. It was a true massacre. We counted more than sixty wounded and more than twenty-five dead, among [them] infants, children, and young people."
"We saw helicopters shoot at us, our houses broken by the tanks," Guerrier told IPS. "We heard detonations of the heavy weapons. Many of the dead and wounded were found inside their houses. I must tell you that nobody had been saved, not even the babies. The Red Cross was not allowed to help people. The soldiers had refused to let the Red Cross in categorically, in violation of the Geneva Convention." Several residents told IPS that MINUSTAH, after conducting its operations, evacuated without checking for wounded.
Following the removal of Haiti's elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide government , up to one thousand Lavalas political activists were imprisoned under the US-backed interim government, according to a Miami University Human Rights study.
A study released by the Lancet Journal of Medicine in August 2006 estimates that 8,000 were killed and 35,000 sexually assaulted in the greater Port-au-Prince area during the time of the interim government (2004-2006). The study attributed human rights abuses to purported "criminals," police, anti-Lavalas gangs, and UN peacekeepers.
HIP Founding Editor Kevin Pina commented, "It is clear that this represents an act of terror against the community. This video evidence shows clearly that the UN stands accused, once again, of targeting unarmed civilians in Cite Soleil. There can be no justification for using this level of force in the close quarters of those neighborhoods. It is clear that the UN views the killing of these innocents as somehow acceptable to their goal of pacifying this community. Every demonstration, no matter how peaceful, is seen as a threat to their control if it includes demands for the return of Aristide to Haiti. In that context it is difficult to continue to view the UN mission as an independent and neutral force in Haiti. They apparently decided sometime ago it was acceptable to use military force to alter Haiti's political landscape to match their strategic goals for the Haitian people."
Impunity for US War Criminals
A provision mysteriously tucked into the Military Commission Act (MCA) just before it passed through Congress and was signed by President Bush on October 17, 2006, redefines torture, removing the harshest, most controversial techniques from the definition of war crimes, and exempts the perpetrators-both interrogators and their bosses-from prosecution for such offences dating back to November 1997.
Author Jeff Stein asks, "Who slipped language into the MCA that would further exempt torturers from prosecution?"
The White House denies any involvement or knowledge regarding the insertion of such language, leaving the origin of adjustments to this significant part of the MCA a mystery.
Motivation for this provision, however, leads clearly to leadership in the Bush administration, as the passage effectively rewrote the US enforcement mechanism for the Geneva War Crimes Act, which would have, upon sworn testimonies of Lieutenant General Randall M. Schmidt, Major General Mike Dunlavey, and US Brigadier General Commander, Janis Karpinski, held former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, and President George Bush guilty of active roles in directing acts of torture upon detainees held at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib (see Censored 2007, Story #7).
A spokesperson for the Center for Constitutional Rights comments, "The MCA's restricted definitions arguably would exempt certain US officials who have implemented or had command responsibility for coercive interrogation techniques from war crimes prosecutions...
This amendment is designed to protect US government perpetrators of abuses during the 'war on terror' from prosecution."
Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch adds that the effect of this provision of the MCA is "that perpetrators of several categories of what were war crimes at the time they were committed, can no longer be punished under US law."
As a whole, the MCA evolved out of the need to override the June 2006 Supreme Court declaration that the administration's hastily assembled military commissions were unconstitutional. That momentous Supreme Court decision confirmed that all prisoners in US custody had to be held in accordance with the Geneva Convention's Article 3, which prohibits "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment." Through passage of the MCA, Congress and the President negated the corrective role of the courts in checking and balancing executive power.
A Senate aide involved in the drafting of the Senate version of the bill that was agreed upon by john McCain, Lindsey Graham, and John Warner, said, "We have no idea who [the extended impunity provision] came from or how it came to be." White House spokesperson Dana Perrino said the stealth changes didn't come from the counsel's office, "It could have come from elsewhere in the White House or justice Department," she said, "but it didn't come from us."
Whatever the source, the amended provision was passed and is a part of US law.
Mexico's Stolen Election
Overwhelming evidence reveals massive fraud in the 2006 Mexican t ./ presidential election between "president-elect" Felipe Calderón of the conservative PAN party and Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador of the more liberal PRD. In an election riddled with "arithmetic mistakes," a partial recount uncovered evidence of abundant stuffing and stealing of ballots that favored the PAN victory.
Meanwhile, US interests were significantly invested in the outcome of Mexico's election. Though neither candidate had any choice but to cooperate with the US agenda, important differences existed around energy policy, specifically with regard to foreign privatization of Mexican oil and gas reserves.
Though the energy sector of Mexico is already deeply penetrated by US capital, as it stands, the Mexican government owns and controls the oil industry, with very tight restrictions on any foreign investment. Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), the fifth largest oil company in the world, exports 8o percent of its oil to the US. Sixty percent of its revenue ($30 billion per year) currently goes to the Mexican government, accounting for more than 40 percent of the Mexican government's annual revenues.
Calderón promises a more thorough and streamlined exploitation of Mexico's oil, demanding that Mexico remove barriers to private/foreign investment (which are currently written into the Mexican Constitution). Obrador, on the other hand, insisted on maintaining national ownership and control of the energy sector in order to build economic and social stability in Mexico.
In June 2005, Mexico signed an accord called Alliance for the Security and Prosperity of North America (AS PAN) with Canada and the US. The point was made that this accord would be binding on whoever became president of Mexico in the upcoming elections. Included in AS PAN is a guarantee to fill the energy needs of the US market, as well as agreements to forge "a common theory of security," allowing US Homeland Security measures to be implemented in Mexico.
Five months later, in November 2005, an "audition" was held with Mexican presidential candidates before members of the US Chamber of Commerce in Mexico City. All candidates were asked whether they would open the energy sector in Mexico, especially the nationalized oil company, PEMEX, to US exploitation.
Felipe Calderón received resounding applause when he answered that he is in favor of private investment in PEMEX, and of weakening the labor unions. He also received applause when he stated that he supported George Bush's guest worker program and that he agreed the border needed to be secured or militarized. Obrador said that he would not allow risk capital investment in PEMEX-but hastened to add that other sectors would be opened to investment.
Calderón won the audition, Obrador was granted the role of understudy. Former US Ambassador to Mexico Jeffrey Davidow told Obrador, "If you win the election, we will support you." But when Obrador appeared to be the front-runner in the election, PAN allied with forces in the US to launch a feverish campaign against him.
Though US laws prevent US influence in other countries' elections, anti-Obrador ads airing on Mexican TV were designed by US firms and illegally financed by business councils that included such transnationals as Wal-Mart and Halliburton. US election advisers Rob Allyn and Dick Morris were contracted to develop a media campaign that would foment fear that Obrador, with ties to Chavez and Castro, posed a dangerous Socialist threat to Mexico.
Outgoing president Vicente Fox violated campaign law by making dozens of anti-Obrador speeches during the campaign, as the PAN party illegally saturated airwaves with swift-boat style attack ads against Obrador. Under Mexican law, ruling party interference is a serious crime and grounds for annulling an election.
While Obrador's campaign and hundreds of independent election observers documented several hundred cases of election fraud in making their case for a recount, most Mexican TV stations failed to report the irregularities that surfaced. Days after the election The New York Times irresponsibly declared Calderón the winner, and Bush called to personally congratulate Calderón on his "win," even though no victor had been declared under Mexican law. Illegal media campaigns combined with grand-scale fraud had had their effect.
Dominant forces in the US thus had a strong presence behind the scenes of the 2006 Mexican election. As a consequence, Washington looks forward to working with Calderóri, who promises tighter (repressive) control and cooperation on all matters of interest to the US, in an accelerated plan to put Mexico more directly under US domination.
Mexico has thus been denied the democratic election of a president who might have joined Latin America in standing up to aggressive US neoliberal policies.
People's Movement Challenges Neoliberal Agenda
The US Free Trade model is meeting increasingly successful resistance as people's movements around the world build powerful alternatives to neoliberal exploitation.
This is particularly evident in Latin America, where massive opposition to US economic domination has demanded that populist leaders and parties take control of national governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Uruguay.
Latin American presidents are delivering on promises to fix the mistake of twenty-five years of neoliberal reforms that resulted in the region's worst economic collapse in more than one hundred years. In the two decades preceding World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies, 1960-1980, the region's income per person grew by 82 percent. By comparison it grew just 9 percent 1980-2000, and only 4 percent 2000-2005.
Strong ties between Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Cuba's Fidel Castro, and Bolivia's Evo Morales, Ecuador's Rafael Correa, and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, along with cooperative relationships with major economies including Argentina and Brazil, are creating the real potential for autonomous alternatives to US-dictated economic policy in the Western Hemisphere.
In the past year alone several leaders have announced plans to cut ties with the World Bank and IMF. After a sweeping reelection in December 2006, Chavez announced April 30, 2007 that, having paid off debts to the World Bank and the IMF, Venezuela would cut ties with both institutions. Chavez has been able to put his nation on a path of solid growth by fulfilling his 1998 campaign promise to renationalize Venezuela's oil industry (PDVSA). Though fierce US opposition to his move to end foreign privatization led to a failed US-backed military coup in 2002, nationalized oil is now the source of nearly half the Venezuela government's revenues and 8o percent of the country's export earnings. Venezuela's economy has grown 38 percent in the last three years.
Chavez plans to set up a new lending institution run by Latin American nations and has pledged to support it with Venezuela's booming oil revenues., Venezuela's $50 billion in foreign exchange reserves is providing financial support to countries in the region without the exploitive policy conditions attached to WTO and World Bank lending. Leaders are thus able to deliver on promises to their people, contributing not only to stability but to the strengthening of Democracy in the region.
In April 2006, Evo Morales announced his rejection of the IMF and any future FTA with the US. He instead launched the Bolivian Peoples Trade Agreement (PTA), a socialist alternative to the neoliberal free trade model. The PTA emphasizes support of indigenous culture, reciprocity, solidarity, and national sovereignty. Above all the PTA emphasizes improved living conditions for the whole population as a result of international trade and investment. Bolivia's 2005 passage of a Hydrocarbons Law raised the royalties paid by foreign gas companies to the government of Bolivia. While infuriating US corporations, the resulting tens of millions of dollars in revenue have enabled Bolivia to pay off its IMF debt and begin to build social programs and national reserves.
In December 2006, Rafael Correa, who recently won the presidential election in Ecuador on an anti-privatization, anti-US military base platform, announced plans to restructure Ecuador's foreign debt in order to increase spending on crucial social programs. Ecuador has since paid its debt to the IMF and announced plans to sever ties to the institution. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has also announced negotiations toward an IMF exit.
Argentina was one of the IMF's most publicized "successes" turned-crushing-failure at the end of the last century. From 1991 to 1998 the country adopted a host of IMF-recommended reforms including large-scale privatizations. The economy grew substantially during this period but went into a terrible downward slide beginning in mid-1998. At the end of 2001 the whole experiment fell apart, with the country defaulting on more than $100 billion of debt. The currency collapsed soon thereafter, and the majority of people fell below the poverty line in a country that had previously been one of the richest in Latin America.
When Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner finally refused the IMF's debilitating repayment mandates, Argentina's economy began to rebound-and it hasn't stopped growing. In a remarkable expansion, which was never supposed to have happened according to IMF predictions, Argentina's economy has grown by 47 percent in the past few years, making it the fastest growing economy in the Western Hemisphere, and pulling more than nine million people (in a country of 36 million) out of poverty. Argentina decided to make its break with the IMF in January 2006 by paying off its remaining $9.9 billion debt.
As of December 2005, Brazil is also free to make its own decisions, free from IMF interference, after paying off its debt two years ahead of schedule. "We repaid the money to show the world that this country has a government and it is the owner of its own nose," Lula said at the time, adding, "Brazil has been able to decide that it does not want another IMF deal."