Seymour Hersh: Propaganda Used Ahead of Iraq War Is Now Being Reused over Iran’s Nuke Program November 21, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iran, War.
Tags: amy goodman, Democracy Now, ehud barak, iaea, Iran, iran nuclear, iran sanctions, israel iran, jsoc, netanyahu, non-proliferation, nuclear weapons, roger hollander, Seymour Hersh
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www.democracy.org, Nov. 21, 2011
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- Seymour Hersh: Despite Intelligence Rejecting Iran as Nuclear Threat, U.S. Could Be Headed for Iraq Redux
AMY GOODMAN: Today the United States, Britain and Canada plan to announce a coordinated set of sanctions against Iran. ABC News and the Wall Street Journal report the sanctions will target Iran’s oil and petrochemical industry. Last weekend, President Obama warned no options were being taken off the table.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The sanctions have enormous bite and enormous scope, and we’re building off the platform that has already been established. The question is, are there additional measures that we can take? And we’re going to explore every avenue to see if we can solve this issue diplomatically. I have said repeatedly, and I will say today, we are not taking any options off the table.
AMY GOODMAN: International pressure has been mounting on Iran since the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency revealed in a report the, quote, “possible military dimensions” to its nuclear activities. The IAEA said “credible” evidence, quote, “indicates [that] Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.” The IAEA passed a resolution Friday expressing, quote, “increasing concern” about Iran’s nuclear program following the report’s findings.
The speaker of Iran’s parliament said yesterday Iran would review its relations with the IAEA following the report. Ali Larijani indicated it may be difficult for Iran to continue to cooperate with the nuclear watchdog.
ALI LARIJANI: [translated] If the agency acts within the framework of the Charter, we accept that we are a member of it and will carry out our responsibilities. But if the agency wants to deviate from its responsibilities, then it should not expect the other’s cooperation.
AMY GOODMAN: Iranian parliamentary speaker. Meanwhile, some Iranians have expressed the desire for increased cooperation with the IAEA.
SAID BAHRAMI: [translated] Considering the fact that the government has made plenty of clarifications, it would be better for it to expand its cooperation with the IAEA and let them see for themselves, close up, so there would be no pretext for the superpowers.
AMY GOODMAN: Last week, the Pentagon confirmed it has received massive new bunker-busting bombs capable of destroying underground sites, including Iran’s nuclear facilities. The 30,000-pound bombs are six times the size of the Air Force’s current arsenal of bunker busters.
The new sanctions against Iran also follow last month’s allegations by the United States that Iranian officials were involved in a thwarted plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington. The U.S. is expected to announce today that Iran’s financial sector is of “primary money-laundering concern.” This phrase activates a section of the USA PATRIOT Act that warns European, Asian and Latin American companies they could be prevented from doing business with the United States if they continue to work with Iran.
Well, to talk more about the sanctions and the implications of the IAEA report, we go to Washington, D.C., to speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. He’s been reporting on Iran and the bomb for the past decade. His latest piece is titled “Iran and the IAEA.” It’s in The New Yorker.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Sy. Talk about what you feel should be understood about what’s happening in Iran right now in regards to its nuclear power sector.
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, you mention, going in—by the way, the piece was in the blog. It wasn’t in the magazine; it was on the web page.
But you mentioned Iraq. It’s just this—almost the same sort of—I don’t know if you want to call it a “psychosis,” but it’s some sort of a fantasy land being built up here, as it was with Iraq, the same sort of—no lessons learned, obviously. Look, I have been reporting about Iran, and I could tell you that since ’04, under George Bush, and particularly the Vice President, Mr. Cheney, we were—Cheney was particularly concerned there were secret facilities for building a weapon, which are much different than the enrichment. We have enrichment in Iran. They’ve acknowledged it. They have inspectors there. There are cameras there, etc. This is all—Iran’s a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Nobody is accusing them of any cheating. In fact, the latest report that everybody’s so agog about also says that, once again, we find no evidence that Iran has diverted any uranium that it’s enriching. And it’s also enriching essentially at very low levels for peaceful purposes, so they say, 3.8 percent. And so, there is a small percentage being enriched to 20 percent for medical use, but that’s quite small, also under cameras, under inspection.
What you have is, in those days, in ’04, ’05, ’06, ’07, even until the end of their term in office, Cheney kept on having the Joint Special Operations Force Command, JSOC—they would send teams inside Iran. They would work with various dissident groups—the Azeris, the Kurds, even Jundallah, which is a very fanatic Sunni opposition group—and they would do everything they could to try and find evidence of an undeclared underground facility. We monitored everything. We have incredible surveillance. In those days, what we did then, we can even do better now. And some of the stuff is very technical, very classified, but I can tell you, there’s not much you can do in Iran right now without us finding out something about it. They found nothing. Nothing. No evidence of any weaponization. In other words, no evidence of a facility to build the bomb. They have facilities to enrich, but not separate facilities for building a bomb. This is simply a fact. We haven’t found it, if it does exist. It’s still a fantasy. We still want to think—many people do think—it does.
The big change was, in the last few weeks, the IAEA came out with a new report. And it’s not a scientific report, it’s a political document. It takes a lot of the old allegations that had been made over the years, that were looked at by the IAEA, under the regime or the directorship of Mohamed ElBaradei, who ran the IAEA for 12 years, the Egyptian—he won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work—somebody who was very skeptical of Iran in the beginning and became less so as Iran went—was more and more open. But the new director of the IAEA, a Japanese official named Amano, an old sort of—from the center-right party in Japan—I’m sure he’s an honorable guy, he believes what he believes. But we happen to have a series of WikiLeak documents from the American embassy in Vienna, one of the embassies in Vienna, reporting on how great it was to get Amano there. This is last year. These documents were released by Julian Assange’s group and are quite important, because what the documents say is that Amano has pledged his fealty to America. I understand he was elected as a—he was a marginal candidate. We supported him very much. Six ballots. He was considered weak by everybody, but we pushed to get him in. We did get him in. He responded by thanking us and saying he shares our views. He shares our views on Iran. He’s going to be—he’s basically—it was just an expression of love. He’s going to do what we wanted.
This new report has nothing new in it. This isn’t me talking. This is—in the piece I did for the New Yorker blog, it’s different for the blog because it has more reporting in it. I talked to former inspectors. They’re different voices than you read in the New York Times and the Washington Post. There are other people that don’t get reported who are much more skeptical of this report, and you just don’t see it in the coverage. So what we’re getting is a very small slice in the newspaper mainstream press here of analysis of this report. There’s a completely different analysis, which is, very little new.
And the way it works, Amy, is, over the years, a report will show up in a London newspaper, that will turn out to be spurious, turn out to be propaganda, whether started by us or a European intelligence agency—it’s not clear. This all happened, if you remember the Ahmed Chalabi stuff, during the buildup to the war in [Iraq], all about, you know, the great arsenals that existed inside [Iraq]. The same sort of propaganda is being used now—pardon me, I have a slight cold—that shows up over the years, over the last decade, in various newspapers. The IAEA would look at it, rule it not to be—be a fabrication, or certainly not to be supportable by anything they know. All of these old reports, with the exception of, I think, in a new study that was put out by the IAEA—there were maybe 30 or 40 old items, with only three things past 2008, all of which are—they—many people inside the IAEA believe to be spurious, not very reliable fabrications. So there you are.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Sy Hersh, you’re saying that it’s not new information. It’s a new head of the IAEA that’s making the difference here. Can you talk more about U.S. infiltration of Iran, JSOC in Iran, surveillance, as well, in Iran?
SEYMOUR HERSH: Sure. I mean, the kind of stuff they did. I could tell you stuff that was secret eight, nine years ago. We would—for example, we developed—if there was an underground facility we thought was—where we saw some digging, let’s say, in a mountain area, we would line the road, when there were trucks going up and down the road, we would line the road with what seemed to be pebbles. In fact, they were sensors that could measure the weight of trucks going in and out. If a truck would go in light and come out with heavy, we could assume it was coming out with dirt, they were doing digging. We did that kind of monitoring.
We also put all sorts of passive counters, measures, of radioactivity. Uranium, even plutonium—most of the stuff that’s being done there is enriched uranium. They’re not making plutonium. But you can track. At a certain point, you have to move it. Once you take it out and start moving it around, you can track it. You can find Geiger counters, if you will, to use that old-fashioned term. You can measure radioactivity and see increases. We would go into a building, our troops, sometimes even with Americans, go into a building in Tehran, where we thought there was something fishy going on, start a disturbance down the street, take out a few bricks, slam in another section of brick with a Geiger counter, if you will, or a measuring device to see if, in that building, they were doing some enrichment we didn’t know about.
And we also have incredible competence at looking for air holes from the air, from satellites. If you’re building an underground facility, you have to vent it. You have to get air into it. You have to find a way to remove bad air and put in fresh air. And so, we have guys that are experts, tremendous people in the community. Some of them retired and set up a private company to do this. They would monitor all of the aerial surveillance to look for air holes, so we could find a pattern, try to find a pattern, of an underground facility. Nada.We came up with nothing.
And the most important thing is, we also—and the IA—even this new report also says—let me emphasize this: if you’re not diverting uranium, if you’re not taking uranium out of the count and smuggling it someplace so that you can build a bomb—and that, the IAEA is absolutely categorical on—everything that they are enriching, whatever percentage they enrich to, is under camera inspection, and under inspection of inspections. It’s all open, under the treaty, the safeguard treaty. Nobody is accusing Iran of violating the treaty. They’re just accusing them of cheating on the side, or some evidence they are. And there’s been no evidence of a diversion. So if you’re going to make a bomb, you’re going to have to bring it in from someplace else. And given the kind of surveillance we have, that’s going to be hard to do, to import it from a third country, bring in uranium and enrich it, or enriched uranium. It’s just a long shot.
And what you have is—as I said, it’s some sort of a hysteria that we had over Iraq that’s coming up again in Iran. And this isn’t a plea for Iran. There’s a lot of things that the Iranians do that is objectionable, the way they treat dissent, etc., etc. So I’m just speaking within the context of the hullabaloo that’s up now. And as far as sanctions are concerned, you know, excuse me, we’ve been sanctioning Cuba for 60 years, and Castro is—you know, he may be ill, but he’s still there. Sanctions are not going to work. This is a country that produces oil and gas—less and less, but still plenty of it. And they have customers in the Far East, the Iranians. They have customers for their energy. We’re the losers in this.
AMY GOODMAN: How would you compare the Obama administration to the Bush administration when it comes to Iran?
SEYMOUR HERSH: I can’t find a comparison. Same—a little less bellicose, but the same thing. I do think—I have every reason to believe that, unlike Mr. Bush, President Obama really is worried about an attack. He doesn’t want to see the Israelis bomb Iran. That’s the kind of talk we’ve been getting in the press lately.
And there’s new—as you mentioned, the 30,000-pound bombs built by Boeing, I think. The problem is that most of Iran’s facilities, the ones that we know about, the declared facilities under camera inspection, a place called Natanz, is about 80, 75 to 80 feet underground. And you’d have to do a hell of a lot of bombing to do much damage to it. You could certainly do damage to it, but the cost internationally would be stupendous. The argument for going and bombing is so vague and so nil. There’s been studies done showing—technical studies, MIT and other places, and the Israeli government also has had its scientists participate in these studies, showing it would be really hard to do a significant amount of damage, given how deep the underground facilities are. But you hear this talk about it.
And there’s—you know, look, this president has said nothing about what’s going on in Tahrir Square again. We’re mute. He’s been mute on this kind of bellicosity. But my understanding is that, purely from inside information, is that he does understand the issues more. I think it’s right now a political game being played by him to look tough. You know, everybody’s chasing, you know, the independent vote. I don’t know why—what’s so important to go after people that can’t decide whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, but that seems to be the name of the game.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s turn to the response in Israel to the IAEA report. Yesterday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in an interview with CNN the time has come to deal with Iran. When asked specifically whether Israel would attack Iran, this is how he responded.
DEFENSE MINISTER EHUD BARAK: I don’t think that that’s a subject for public discussion. But I can tell you that the IAEA report has a sobering impact on many in the world, leaders as well the publics. And people understand that the time had come. Amano told straightly what he found, unlike Baradei. And it became a major issue, that I think, duly so, becomes a major issue for sanctions, for intensive diplomacy, with urgency. People understand now that Iran is determined to reach nuclear weapons. No other possible or conceivable explanation for what they had been actually doing. And that should be stopped.
AMY GOODMAN: That was the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak. Sy, your response?
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, what makes me nervous is Barak and Bibi, Bibi Netanyahu, are together on this. They’re not always together on many things. They both agree, and that’s worrisome because, again, it’s a political issue there. Everybody—the country is moving quickly to the right, Israel is, obviously. And I can just tell you that I’ve also talked—unfortunately, the ground rules are so lousy in Israel, I can’t write it, but I’ve talked to very senior intelligence people in Iran—in Israel, rather. If you notice, you don’t hear that much about it, but the former head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, who left—who was the guy that orchestrated the attempted assassinations in Dubai, etc.—no dove—has been vehement about the foolishness of attempting to go after Iran, on the grounds that it’s not clear what they have. They’re certainly far away from a bomb. Israel has been saying for 20 years they’re, you know, six months away from making a bomb.
But I can tell you that I’ve talked to senior Israeli officers in Israel who have told me, A, they know that Iran, as the American intelligence community reported—I think it was in ’07—there was a National Intelligence Estimate that became public that said, essentially, Iran did look at a bomb. They had an eight-year war with Iraq, a terrible war, 1980 to 1988. And we, by the way, the United States, sided with Iraq, Saddam Hussein at that time. Iran then, in the years after that, they began to worry about Iraq’s talk about building a nuclear weapon, so they did look, in that period, let’s say ’87 to—’97 to 2003, no question. The American NIE said in ’07—it was augmented in 2011. I wrote about it a year ago in The New Yorker. It said, yes, they did look at a bomb, but not—they knew that they couldn’t—there was no way they could make a bomb to deter America or Israel. They’re not fools. This Persian society has been around for a couple thousand years. They can’t deter us. We have too many bombs. They thought maybe they could deter Iraq. After we went in and took down Iraq in ’03, they stopped. So they had done some studies. We’re talking about computer modeling, etc., no building. They—no question, they looked at the idea of getting a bomb or getting to the point where maybe they could make one. They did do that, but they stopped in ’03.
That’s still the American consensus. The Israelis will tell you privately, “Yes, we agree.” They stopped most of their planning, even their studies, in ’03. The Israeli position is they stopped not because they saw what we did to Iraq, but they thought that we could—we destroyed Iraq—I had a general tell me this—we destroyed Iraq in—it took them—we did in three weeks what they couldn’t do in eight years. They thought they would be next. But the consensus was, yes, they stopped. And also, if you asked serious, smart, wise Israelis in the intelligence business — and there are many — “Do you really think, if they got a bomb—and they don’t have one now—they would hit Tel Aviv?” and the answer was, “Do you think they’re crazy? We would incinerate them. Of course not. They’ve been around 2,000 years. That’s not going to happen.” Their fear was they would give a bomb to somebody else, etc.
But there’s an element rationality in the Israeli intelligence community that’s not being expressed by the political leadership. It’s the same madness we have here. There’s an element of rationality in our intelligence community which says, in ’07, and it has said it again last year, they don’t have the bomb. They’re not making it. It’s at NIE, 16 agencies agreed, 16 to nothing, in an internal vote, before that—they did an update in 2011 on the ’07 study and came to the same place. It’s just not there. That doesn’t mean they don’t have dreams. It doesn’t mean scientists don’t do computer studies. It doesn’t mean that physicists at the University of Tehran don’t do what physicists like to do, write papers and do studies. But there’s just no evidence of any systematic effort to go from enriching uranium to making a bomb. It’s a huge, difficult process. You have to take a very hot gas and convert it into a metal and then convert it into a core. And you have to do that by remote control, because you can’t get near that stuff. It’ll kill you. So radioactive.
I mean, so, look, I’m a lone voice. And you know how careful The New Yorker is, even on a blog item. This piece was checked and rechecked. And I quote people—Joe Cirincione, an American who’s been involved in disarmament many years. These are different voices than you’re seeing in the papers. I sometimes get offended by the same voices we see in the New York Times and Washington Post. We don’t see people with different points of view. There are, inside the—not only the American intelligence community, but also inside the IAEA in Vienna. There are many people who cannot stand what Amano is doing, and many people who basically—I get emails—and this piece came out, was put up, I think, over the weekend. And I get emails, like crazy, from people on the inside saying, “Way to go.” I’m talking about inside the IAEA. It’s an organization that doesn’t deal with the press, but internally, they’re very bothered by the direction Amano is taking them.
It’s not a scientific study, Amy. It’s a political document. And it’s a political document in which he’s playing our game. And it’s the same game the Israelis are picking up on, and those who don’t like Iran. And I wish we could separate our feelings about Iran and the mullahs and what happened with the students from 1979, into the reality, which is that I think there’s a very serious chance the Iranians would certainly give us the kind of inspections we want, in return for a little love—an end to sanctions and a respect that they insist that they want to get from us. And it’s not happening from this administration.
AMY GOODMAN: Seymour Hersh, I want to thank you very much for being with us. His latest piece is on the blog at The New Yorker. It’s called “Iran and the IAEA.” Seymour Hersh won the Pulitzer Prize. His piece, you can see at The New Yorker’s website.
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The WH/Politico attack on Seymour Hersh June 2, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Iran, Media.
Tags: anonymous source, glenn greenwald, Iran, iran nuclear, journalism, Media, politico, roger hollander, Seymour Hersh
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Seymour Hersh has a new article in The New Yorker arguing that there is no credible evidence that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons; to the contrary, he writes, “the U.S. could be in danger of repeating a mistake similar to the one made with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq eight years ago — allowing anxieties about the policies of a tyrannical regime to distort our estimates of the state’s military capacities and intentions.” This, of course, cannot stand, as it conflicts with one of the pillar-orthodoxies of Obama foreign policy in the Middle East (even though the prior two National Intelligence Estimates say what Hersh has said). As a result, two cowardly, slimy Obama officials ran to Politico to bash Hersh while hiding behind the protective womb of anonymity automatically and subserviently extended by that “news outlet”:
the Obama administration is pushing back strongly, with one senior official saying the article garnered “a collective eye roll” from the White House . . . two administration officials told POLITICO’s Playbook that’s not the case. . . . a senior administration official said. . . . “There is a clear, ongoing pattern of deception” from Iran . . .”the senior administration official added” . . . And a senior intelligence official also ripped Hersh, saying his article amounted to nothing more than “a slanted book report on a long narrative that’s already been told many times over” . . .
Dutifully writing down what government officials say and then publishing it under cover of anonymity is what media figures in D.C. refer to as “real reporting.” But the most hilarious part of this orgy of cowardly anonymity comes at the end, when Politico explains what is supposedly the prime defect in Hersh’ journalism:
Hersh has faced criticism for his heavy reliance on anonymous sources, but New Yorker editor David Remnick has repeatedly said he stands by his reporter’s work.
That’s the criticism that ends an article that relies exclusively on anonymous government sources, appearing in a D.C. gossip rag notorious for granting anonymity to any powerful figure who requests it for any or no reason. The difference, of course, is that the Pulitzer Prize-winning, five-time-Polk-Award-recipient investigative journalist who uncovered the My Lai massacre and the Abu Ghraib scandal grants anonymity to those who are challenging the official claims of those in power (that’s called “journalism”), while Politico uses it (as it did here) to serve those in power and shield them from all accountability as they spew their propaganda (which is called being a “lowly, rank Royal Court propagandist”).
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, battlefield executions, david edwards, Obama, prisoners, roger hollander, Seymour Hersh, Taliban
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By David Edwards
May 12, 2010 “Rawstory” –
The journalist who helped break the story that detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were being tortured by their US jailers told an audience at a journalism conference last month that American soldiers are now executing prisoners in Afghanistan.
New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh also revealed that the Bush Administration had developed advanced plans for a military strike on Iran.
At the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Geneva, Hersh criticized President Barack Obama, and alleged that US forces are engaged in “battlefield executions.”
“I’ll tell you right now, one of the great tragedies of my country is that Mr. Obama is looking the other way, because equally horrible things are happening to prisoners, to those we capture in Afghanistan,” Hersh said. “They’re being executed on the battlefield. It’s unbelievable stuff going on there that doesn’t necessarily get reported. Things don’t change.:
“What they’ve done in the field now is, they tell the troops, you have to make a determination within a day or two or so whether or not the prisoners you have, the detainees, are Taliban,” Hersh added. “You must extract whatever tactical intelligence you can get, as opposed to strategic, long-range intelligence, immediately. And if you cannot conclude they’re Taliban, you must turn them free.
Hersh has a long history as an investigative journalist and worked for many years at The New York Times. In 1969, he broke the story of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
Afghanistan’s My Lai Massacre March 5, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in History, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, afghanistan atrocity, afghanistan massacre, Afghanistan War, civilian casualties, collagteral damage, dave lindorff, geneva convention, history, hugh thompson, isaf, jerome starkey, Karzai, michael bernhardt, my lai, obama's war, Pentagon, roger hollander, ron ridenhur, Seymour Hersh, Vietnam War, william calley
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Students executed by US forces in Kunar Province
Friday 05 March 2010
When Charlie Company’s Lt. William Calley ordered and encouraged his men to rape, maim and slaughter over 400 men, women and children in My Lai in Vietnam back in 1968, there were at least four heroes who tried to stop him or bring him and higher officers to justice. One was helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr., who evacuated some of the wounded victims, and who set his chopper down between a group of Vietnamese and Calley’s men, ordering his door gunner to open fire on the US soldiers if they shot any more people. One was Ron Ridenhour, a soldier who learned of the massacre and began a private investigation, ultimately reporting the crime to the Pentagon and Congress. One was Michael Bernhardt, a soldier in Charlie Company, who witnessed the whole thing and reported it all to Ridenhour. And one was journalist Seymour Hersh, who broke the story in the US media.
Today’s war in Afghanistan also has its My Lai massacres. It has them almost weekly, as US warplanes bomb wedding parties or homes “suspected” of housing terrorists that turn out to house nothing but civilians. But these My Lais are all conveniently labeled accidents. They get filed away and forgotten as the inevitable “collateral damage” of war. There was, however, a massacre recently that was not a mistake – a massacre, which, while it only involved fewer than a dozen innocent people, bears the same stench as My Lai. It was the execution-style slaying of eight handcuffed students, aged 11-18, and a 12-year-old neighboring shepherd boy who had been visiting the others in Kunar Province on December 26.
Sadly, no principled soldier with a conscience like pilot Thompson tried to save these children. No observer had the guts of a Bernhardt to report what he had seen. No Ridenhour among the other serving US troops in Afghanistan has investigated this atrocity or reported it to Congress. And no American reporter has investigated this war crime the way Hersh investigated My Lai.
There is a Hersh for the Kunar massacre, but he’s a Brit. While American reporters, like the anonymous journalistic drones who wrote “CNN’s” December 29 report on the incident took the Pentagon’s initial cover story – that the dead were part of a secret bomb squad – at face value, Jerome Starkey, a dogged reporter in Afghanistan working for the Times of London and the Scotsman, talked to other sources – the dead boys’ headmaster, other townspeople and Afghan government officials – and found out the real truth about a gruesome war crime – the execution of handcuffed children. And while a few news outlets in the US like The New York Times did mention that there were some claims that the dead were children, not bomb makers, none, including CNN, which had bought and run the Pentagon’s lies unquestioningly, bothered to print the news update when, on February 24, the US military admitted that in fact the dead were innocent students. Nor has any US corporate news organization mentioned that the dead had been handcuffed when they were shot. Starkey reported the US government’s damning admission</a>. Yet still the US media remain silent as the grave.
Under the Geneva Conventions, it is a war crime to execute a captive. Yet, in Kunar on December 26, US-led forces, or perhaps US soldiers or contract mercenaries, cold-bloodedly executed eight hand-cuffed prisoners. It is a war crime to kill children under the age of 15, yet in this incident a boy of 11 and a boy of 12 were handcuffed as captured combatants and executed. Two others of the dead were 12 and a third was 15.
I called the secretary of defense’s office to ask if any investigation was underway into this crime or if one was planned, was told I had to send a written request, which I did. To date, I have heard nothing. What the Pentagon has done – no surprise – is to pass the buck by leaving any investigation to the International Security Assistance Force – a fancy name for the US-led NATO force fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. It’s a clever ruse, since Congress has no authority to compel testimony from NATO or the ISAF as it would the Pentagon. A source at the Senate Armed Services Committee says the ISAF is investigating, and that the committee has asked for a “briefing” – that means nothing would be under oath – once that investigation is complete, but don’t hold your breath or expect anything dramatic.
I also contacted the press office of the House Armed Services Committee to see if any hearings into this crime have been planned. The answer is no, though the press officer asked me to send her details of the incident. (Not a good sign that House members and staff are paying much attention – the killings led to countrywide student demonstrations in Afghanistan, to a formal protest by the office of President Hamid Karzai and to an investigation by the Afghan government, which concluded that innocent students had been handcuffed and executed and, no doubt, contributed to a call by the Afghan government for prosecution and execution of American soldiers who kill Afghan civilians.)
There is still time for real heroes to stand up in the midst of this imperial adventure that may now appropriately be called Obama’s War in Afghanistan. Plenty of men and women in uniform in Afghanistan know that nine innocent Afghan children were captured and murdered at America’s hands last December in Kunar. There are also probably people who were involved in the planning or carrying out of this criminal operation who are sickened by what happened. But these people are, so far, holding their tongues, whether out of fear or out of simply not knowing where to turn. (Note: If you have information you may contact me.)
There are also plenty of reporters in Afghanistan and in Washington who could be investigating this story. They are not. Don’t ask me why. They certainly should not be able to call themselves journalists – at least with a straight face.
Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-area journalist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net. Lindorff may be reached at email@example.com
Tags: al-Qaeda, bagram, cheney, cia assassination, cia jails, cia prisons, CIA rendition, dianne feinstein, drone, drone missiles, executive assassination ring, house intelligence, jeremy scahill, leon panetta, obama administration, pakistan airstrikes, pakistan war, predator drones, roger hollander, Seymour Hersh, sy hersh, torture
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Congress is outraged that Cheney concealed a CIA program to assassinate al Qaeda leaders, but they should also be investigating why Obama is continuing—and expanding—U.S. assassinations.
by Jeremy Scahill
In June, CIA Director Leon Panetta allegedly informed members of the House Intelligence Committee of the existence of a secret Bush era program implemented in the days after 9-11 that, until last month, had been hidden from lawmakers. The concealment of the plan, Panetta alleged, happened at the orders of then-Vice President Dick Cheney.
Now, The New York Times is reporting that this secret program that had “been hidden from lawmakers” by Cheney was a plan “to dispatch small teams overseas to kill senior Qaeda terrorists.” The Wall Street Journal, which originally reported on the plan, reported that the paramilitary teams were to implement a “2001 presidential legal pronouncement, known as a finding, which authorized the CIA to pursue such efforts.”
The plan, the Times says, never was carried out because “Officials at the spy agency over the years ran into myriad logistical, legal and diplomatic obstacles.” Instead, the Bush administration “sought an alternative to killing terror suspects with missiles fired from drone aircraft or seizing them overseas and imprisoning them in secret C.I.A. jails.”
The House Intelligence Committee is now reportedly preparing an investigation into this program and the Senate may follow suit. “We were kept in the dark. That’s something that should never, ever happen again,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein. Withholding this information from Congress “is a big problem, because the law is very clear.”
There are several important issues raised by this unfolding story. First, while the Times claims the program was never implemented, the program sounds very similar to what Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sy Hersh described in March as an “executive assassination ring” run by Dick Cheney that operated throughout the Bush years:
“Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.”Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.
Hersh’s description sounds remarkably similar to that offered by the Times and the Wall Street Journal. While the House and Senate should certainly investigate this program-and lying to Congress, misleading it or concealing from it such programs is likely illegal-it is also important to guarantee that it has actually stopped. But another pressing issue for the Congress is investigating the Obama administration’s adoption of this secret program’s central components. As the Times noted, the major reason-beyond logistical hurdles-that the program was not implemented (if that is even true) was that the Bush administration began increasing its use of weaponized drones to conduct Israeli-style targeted assassinations (often, these drones kill many more civilians than so-called “targets”). These drone attacks, coupled with the use of extraordinary rendition and secret prisons, became the official program for “eliminating” specific individuals labeled “high value” targets by the administration.
The Obama administration has not only continued the Bush policy of using drones to carry out targeted assassinations, but has also continued the use of prisons where people are held indefinitely without charge or access to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Under Obama, Bagram air base in Afghanistan is expanding and, at present, hundreds of prisoners are held there without charges. In essence, the Obama administration is doing exactly what this secret CIA program sought to do, albeit out in the open.
Beyond the Cheney assassination program, what is really worthy of Congressional investigation right now is the legality of Obama’s current policy of assassination. In 1976, President Gerald Ford issued an executive order banning assassinations. “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination,” states Executive Order 11905.
White House lawyers–with their seemingly infinite legal creativity–would likely say that the drone strikes are not assassinations, but rather part of war. That putting poison in a cigar of a foreign leader is different than launching missiles at a funeral where an “enemy” is believed to be among the mourners. While the implications of the U.S. assassinating heads of state or foreign officials are grave, it could be argued that, on some levels, the drone attacks are worse in the sense that they kill many more civilians. Moreover, these drone attacks largely take place is Pakistan, which is a sovereign nation. There is no legal or Congressional declaration of war against Pakistan.
It is long past due that the Congress investigate this U.S. government assassination program. The politically inconvenient truth, however, is this: An actual investigation would require the Democrats pounding Cheney over his concealment of an assassination program (that allegedly was not implemented) to focus their investigation on how President Obama actually implemented and expanded that very program.
© 2009 Jeremy Scahill
Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.
McChrystal was Cheney’s Chief Assassin May 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: afghanistan commander, Afghanistan War, assassin, camp nama, cheney's assassin, Dick Cheney, geneva conventions, Guantanamo, habaes corpus, human rights, Human Rights Watch, international red cross, joint special operatins, jsoc, mcchrystal, military commissions, roger hollander, Seymour Hersh, special forces, stanley mcchrystal, torture, torture practices, torture techniques
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Seymour Hersh says that Dick Cheney headed a secret assassination wing and the head of the wing has just been named as the new commander in Afghanistan.
In an interview with GulfNews, (the Persian Gulf’s largest daily English language newspaper published from Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates) on May 12, 2009 Pulitzer prize-winning American investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, said that there is a special unit called the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) that does high-value targeting of men that are known to be involved in anti-American activities, or are believed to be planning such activities.
According to Hersh, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) was headed by former US vice president Dick Cheney and the former head of JSOC, Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal who has just been named the new commander in charge of the war in Afghanistan.
McChrystal, a West Pointer who became a Green Beret not long after graduation, following a stint as a platoon leader in the 82nd Airborne Division, is currently director of Staff at the Pentagon, the executive to Joint staff to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Most of what General McChrystal has done over a 33-year career remains classified, including service between 2003 and 2008 as commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, an elite unit so clandestine that the Pentagon for years refused to acknowledge its existence.
On July 22, 2006, Human Rights Watch issued a report titled “No blood, no foul” about American torture practices at three facilities in Iraq. One of them was Camp Nama, which was operated by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), under the direction of then Major General Stanley McChrystal.
McChrystal was officially based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, but he was a frequent visitor to Camp Nama and other Special Forces bases in Iraq and Afghanistan where forces under his command were based.
An interrogator at Camp Nama known as Jeff described locking prisoners in shipping containers for 24 hours at a time in extreme heat; exposing them to extreme cold with periodic soaking in cold water; bombardment with bright lights and loud music; sleep deprivation; and severe beatings.
When he and other interrogators went to the colonel in charge and expressed concern that this kind of treatment was not legal, and that they might be investigated by the military’s Criminal Investigation Division or the International Committee of the Red Cross, the colonel told them he had “this directly from General McChrystal and the Pentagon that there’s no way that the Red Cross could get in.”
In the July 2, 2006 report, When Human Rights Watch asked whether the interrogator knew whether the colonel was receiving orders or pressures to use the abusive tactics, Jeff said that his understanding was that there was some form of pressure to use aggressive techniques coming from higher up the chain of command; however neither he nor other interrogators were briefed on the particular source.
“We really didn’t know too much about it. We knew that we were only like a few steps away in the chain of command from the Pentagon, but it was a little unclear, especially to the interrogators who weren’t really part of that task force.”
The interrogator said that he did see Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of US Joint Special Operations forces in Iraq, visiting the Nama facility on several occasions. “I saw him a couple of times. I know what he looks like.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is the international body charged under international law with monitoring compliance with the Geneva Conventions, and it, therefore, has the right to inspect all facilities where people are detained in a country that is at war or under military occupation.
To hide prisoners or facilities from the ICRC or to deny access to them is a serious war crime. But many US prisons in Iraq have held “ghost” prisoners whose imprisonment has not been reported to the ICRC, and these “ghosts” have usually been precisely the ones subjected to the worst torture. Camp Nama, run by McChrystal’s JSOC, was an entire “ghost” facility.
The decision by Obama’s administration to appoint General McChrystal as the new commander in charge of the war in Afghanistan and retaining the military commission for the US war-on-terror detainees held in the Guantanamo Bay prison are the latest examples of the new US administration walking in Bush’s foot steps with regards to torture and denial of habeas corpus.
Tags: afghanistan command, Afghanistan War, allen roland, assasination, counterinsurgency, Dick Cheney, joint special operations, josoc, juan cole, Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, mary tillman, mcchrystal, Obama, pakistan, pat tillman, pat tillman murder, pushtun, roger hollander, rumsfeld, Seymour Hersh, special ops
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www.opednews.com, May 14, 2009
Seymour Hersh recently described the JSOC as an “executive assassination wing” controlled for many years by the office of former Vice President Dick Cheney. From Sept 2003 to August 2008 ~ Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal headed that command and now President Obama moves to the dark side by giving him command of US forces in Afghanistan: Allen L Roland
Make no mistake about it, President Obama’s selection of Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal as commander of US forces in Afghanistan is a blatant move to the dark side of our current Middle East adventure.
McChrystal is director of the Joint Chiefs staff, but from September 2003 to August 2008, he headed the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which oversees such elite units as the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy SEALs.
Muriel Kane, ICH, writes ~ Famed investigative reporter Seymour Hersh recently described the JSOC as an “executive assassination wing” controlled for many years by the office of former Vice President Dick Cheney. Speaking to a University of Minnesota audience in March, Hersh called JSOC “a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. … They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office…. Congress has no oversight of it. … It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on.” http://informationclearinghouse.info/article22606.htm
Newsweek did run a brief article on McChrystal in June 2006 and gave evidence of America’s gradual move toward the dark side ~ ” Rumsfeld is especially enamored of McChrystal’s “direct action” forces or so-called SMUs ~ Special Mission Units ~ whose job is to kill or capture bad guys, say Pentagon sources who would speak about Special Ops only if they were not identified. But critics say the Pentagon is short-shrifting the “hearts and minds” side of Special Operations that is critical to counterinsurgency ~ like training foreign armies and engaging with locals.” http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13392189/site/newsweek/print/1/displaymode/1098/
And don’t forget that in April 2004, General McChrystal ( who reported directly to Dick Cheney ) approved paperwork awarding Pat Tillman a Silver Star after he was killed by enemy fire ~ even though he suspected the Ranger had died by fratricide, according to Pentagon testimony later obtained by AP. The testimony showed that McChrystal sent a memo to top generals imploring “our nation’s leaders,” specifically the president, to avoid removing the “devastating enemy fire” explanation from the award citation for their speeches. In 2007, the Army overruled a Pentagon recommendation that McChrystal be held accountable for his “misleading” actions.
Seymour Hersh: Secret US Forces Carried Out Assassinations in a Dozen Counties, Including in Latin America March 31, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Dick Cheney, War.
Tags: al-Qaeda, amy goodman, assassination ring, assassination wing, cheney assassination, democrcy now, Dick Cheney, George Bush, Guantanamo, john hannah, joint special op, joint specials operations command, jsoc, navy seals, roger hollander, Seymour Hersh
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www.democracynow.org, March 31, 2009
AMY GOODMAN: Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh created a stir last month when he said the Bush administration ran an executive assassination ring that reported directly to Vice President Dick Cheney. Hersh made the comment during a speech at the University of Minnesota on March 10th.
- SEYMOUR HERSH: Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination wing, essentially. And it’s been going on and on and on. And just today in the Times there was a story saying that its leader, a three-star admiral named McRaven, ordered a stop to certain activities because there were so many collateral deaths. It’s been going in—under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or to the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving.
AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday, CNN interviewed Dick Cheney’s former national security adviser, John Hannah. Wolf Blitzer asked Hannah about Sy Hersh’s claim.
- WOLF BLITZER: Is there a list of terrorists, suspected terrorists out there who can be assassinated?
JOHN HANNAH: There is clearly a group of people that go through a very extremely well-vetted process, inter-agency process, as I think was explained in your piece, that have committed acts of war against the United States, who are at war with the United States, or are suspected of planning operations of war against the United States, who authority is given to the troops in the field and in certain war theaters to capture or kill those individuals. That is certainly true.
WOLF BLITZER: And so, this would be, and from your perspective—and you worked in the Bush administration for many years—it would be totally constitutional, totally legal, to go out and find these guys and to whack ’em.
JOHN HANNAH: There’s no question that in a theater of war, when we are at war, and we know—there’s no doubt, we are still at war against al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and on that Pakistani border, that our troops have the authority to go after and capture and kill the enemy, including the leadership of the enemy.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s John Hannah, Dick Cheney’s former national security adviser. Seymour Hersh joins me now here in Washington, D.C., staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. His latest article appears in the current issue, called “Syria Calling: The Obama Administration’s Chance to Engage in a Middle East Peace.”
OK, welcome to Democracy Now!, Sy Hersh. It was good to see you last night at Georgetown. Talk about, first, these comments you made at the University of Minnesota.
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, it was sort of stupid of me to start talking about stuff I haven’t written. I always kick myself when I do it. But I was with Walter Mondale, the former vice president, who was being amazingly open and sort of, for him—he had come a long way in—since I knew him as a senator who was reluctant to oppose the Vietnam War. And so, I was asked about future things, and I just—I am looking into stuff. I’ve done—there’s really nothing I said at Minnesota I haven’t written in the New York Times. Last summer, I wrote a long article about the Joint Special Operations Command.
And just to go back to what John Hannah, who is—was—I think ended up being the senior national security adviser, almost—if not the chief of staff, deputy chief of staff for Dick Cheney in the last three or four years, what he said is simply that, yes, we go after people suspected—that was the word he used—of crimes against America. And I have to tell you that there’s an executive order, signed by Jerry Ford, President Ford, in the ’70s, forbidding such action. It’s not only contrary—it’s illegal, it’s immoral, it’s counterproductive.
The evidence—the problem with having military go kill people when they’re not directly in combat, these are asking American troops to go out and find people and, as you said earlier, in one of the statements I made that you played, they go into countries without telling any of the authorities, the American ambassador, the CIA chief, certainly nobody in the government that we’re going into, and it’s far more than just in combat areas. There’s more—at least a dozen countries and perhaps more. The President has authorized these kinds of actions in the Middle East and also in Latin America, I will tell you, Central America, some countries. They’ve been—our boys have been told they can go and take the kind of executive action they need, and that’s simply—there’s no legal basis for it.
And not only that, if you look at Guantanamo, the American government knew by—well, let’s see, Guantanamo opened in early 2002. “Gitmo,” they call it, the base down in Cuba for alleged al-Qaeda terrorists. An internal report that I wrote about in a book I did years ago, an internal report made by the summer of 2002, estimated that at least half and possibly more of those people had nothing to do with actions against America. The intelligence we have is often very fragmentary, not very good. And the idea that the American president would think he has the constitutional power or the legal right to tell soldiers not engaged in immediate combat to go out and find people based on lists and execute them is just amazing to me. It’s amazing to me.
And not only that, Amy, the thing about George Bush is, everything’s sort of done in plain sight. In his State of the Union address, I think January the 28th, 2003, about a month and a half before we went into Iraq, Bush was describing the progress in the war, and he said—I’m paraphrasing, but this is pretty close—he said that we’ve captured more than 3,000 members of al-Qaeda and suspected members, people suspected of operations against us. And then he added with that little smile he has, “And let me tell you, some of those people will not be able to ever operate again. I can assure you that. They will not be in a position.” He’s clearly talking about killing people, and to applause.
So, there we are. I don’t back off what I said. I wish I hadn’t said it ad hoc, because, like I hope we’re going to talk about in a minute, I spend a lot of time writing stories for The New Yorker, and they’re very carefully vetted, and sometimes when you speak off the top, you’re not as precise.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what the Joint Special Operations Command is and what oversight Congress has of it.
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, it’s a special unit. We have something called the Special Operations Command that operates out of Florida, and it involves a lot of wings. And one of the units that work under the umbrella of the Special Operations Command is known as Joint Special Op—JSOC. It’s a special unit. What makes it so special, it’s a group of elite people that include Navy Seals, some Navy Seals, Delta Force, our—what we call our black units, the commando units. “Commando” is a word they don’t like, but that’s what we, most of us, refer to them as. And they promote from within. It’s a unit that has its own promotion structure. And one of the elements, I must tell you, about getting ahead in promotion is the number of kills you have. Of course. Because it’s basically devised—it’s been transmogrified, if you will, into this unit that goes after high-value targets.
And where Cheney comes in and the idea of an assassination ring—I actually said “wing,” but of an assassination wing—that reports to Cheney was simply that they clear lists through the Vice President’s office. He’s not sitting around picking targets. They clear the lists. And he’s certainly deeply involved, less and less as time went on, of course, but in the beginning very closely involved. And this is the elite unit. I think they do three-month tours. And last summer, I wrote a long article in The New Yorker, last July, about how the JSOC operation is simply not available, and there’s no information provided by the executive to Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: What countries, Sy Hersh—what countries are they operating in?
SEYMOUR HERSH: A lot of countries.
AMY GOODMAN: Name some.
SEYMOUR HERSH: No, because I haven’t written about it, Amy. And I will tell you, as I say, in Central America, it’s far more than just the areas that Mr. Hannah talked about—Afghanistan, Iraq. You can understand an operation like this in the heat of battle in Iraq, killing—I mean, taking out enemy. That’s war. But when you go into other countries—let’s say Yemen, let’s say Peru, let’s say Colombia, let’s say Eritrea, let’s say Madagascar, let’s say Kenya, countries like that—and kill people who are believed on a list to be al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-linked or anti-American, you’re violating most of the tenets.
We’re a country that believes very much in due process. That’s what it’s all about. We don’t give the President of United States the right to tell military people, even in a war—and it’s a war against an idea, war against terrorism. It’s not as if we’re at war against a committed uniformed enemy. It’s a very complicated war we’re in. And with each of those actions, of course, there’s always collateral deaths, and there’s always more people ending up becoming our enemies. That’s the tragedy of Guantanamo. By the time people, whether they were with us or against us when they got there, by the time they’ve been there three or four months, they’re dangerous to us, because of the way they’ve been treated. But I’d love to move on to what I wrote about in The New Yorker.
AMY GOODMAN: One question: Is the assassination wing continuing under President Obama?
SEYMOUR HERSH: How do I know? I hope not.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Sy Hersh. We’re going to go to break, and then we’ll be back with him, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. His piece in The New Yorker is called “Syria Calling: The Obama Administration’s Chance to Engage in a Middle East Peace.” Stay with us.
Iranians Ponder Their Future With an Obama Administration December 29, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, algiers accord, Ann Wright, Barack Obama, bbc news, codepink, gay rights, gaza, George Bush, hamas, hezbollah, hillary clinton, hostage crisis, human rights, Iran, iran iraq war, iran nuclear, iran women, Iran-Contra, Iraq war, israel, Khamenei, khomeini, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, nonproliferation, nuclear energy, nuclear enrichment, Palestine, Rahm Emanuel, reagan, refugees, regime change, revolutionary guard, roger hollander, Seymour Hersh, shah, Taliban
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29 December 2008, www.truthout.org
by: Ann Wright, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Embassy hostage crisis.expanded in 2007 by this authorization.time frame unchanged from previous estimates. Mr. Ahmadinejad. Nazi-style extermination of a people. regional wind power manufacturer . We met with the director and staff at the modern state-of-the-art factory in south Tehran. Saba Niroo has installed some of the 143 wind turbines planned for the wind farm in Manjil, Guillan Province and the 43 wind turbines planned for the Binalood wind farm in Khorasan Razavi Province. They have installed four wind turbines in the Pushkin Pass wind farm in Armenia.Danish wind energy company with whom the Iranian company has had a contractual relationship has now refused to honor its 15-year contract to furnish critical parts for the wind turbines.compared to American society, we don’t have many homosexuals – in Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.” criminally sexually assaulted another youth. As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, President Ahmadinejad’s views are enormously influential. As we approach a critical time in international relations, we are offering our viewers an insight into an alternative world view. Channel 4′s role is to allow viewers to hear directly from people of world importance with sufficient context to enable them to make up their own minds.”promoting Western hairstyles.” to protect against attacks from rogue states” is perceived by many Iranians as a strategy to ensure that tensions in the region continue to escalate. The United States is planning to deploy 10 Ground-based Mid-course Interceptors in Poland and batteries of shorter-range Patriot PAC-3 anti-ballistic missiles to protect the Interceptors.»Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”
An Iranian woman holds up a lamp during a power outage in Tehran, Iran. (Photo: Morteza Nikoubazi / Reuters)
Traveling to Iran as a Citizen Diplomat for Peace
Just a month ago, while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and US President George Bush met for the last time as heads of state in late November 2008 in Washington and continued their relentless bellicose rhetoric toward Iran, I and three activists from the United States were in Iran as citizen diplomats talking with Iranians on their views of a new American presidential administration and their hopes for their country.
We went to Iran with no illusions. We knew well the history of United States involvement in Iran. We knew of Iranian support for organizations U.S. administrations have labeled as “terrorist” groups. And we were very familiar with international concerns about Iran’s nuclear enrichment program and human rights record.
We wanted to talk with members of the Iranian government as well as with ordinary Iranians. We ended up meeting with officials in the Iranian president’s office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with two women members of the Iranian Parliament (Majles). We also spoke with businesspersons, members of nongovernmental organizations, writers, filmmakers and university students and faculty.
Writing about the concerns of the Iranians we met leaves one open to comments of being one-sided, not speaking with enough Iranians to provide the “real” voices and of picking and choosing voices to record. I acknowledge the possible criticism in advance, but believe our discussions are worthy of presentation to those who have not been so fortunate to have traveled to Iran to see and hear for themselves. So here goes.
Iranians Want Peace, Not War
Codepink Women for Peace co-founders Jodie Evans and Medea Benjamin, Fellowship of Reconciliation Iran program director Laila Zand and I were reminded in virtually every conversation that Iranians want peace with the United States, not war. Not one person in Iran told us that first, she believed her country would begin a war with the United States or any other country, to include Israel, and second, that if the United States initiated military actions against Iran, that those actions would resolve problems in Iran or with the United States.
They reminded us that, unlike the United States, which has invaded and occupied Iran’s neighbors Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran has not attacked any country in the last 200 years. They reminded us that Iran was the victim of an eight-year war in the 1980′s when Iraq invaded Iran and the United States and European countries provided Iraq with military equipment, intelligence and chemical weapons that were used at least 50 times against Iranian civilians and military forces. We learned that during the eight-year war the Revolution’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini had mandated that it would be against Islamic precepts to bomb Iraqi cities or use chemical or unconventional weapons on Iraq – and Iranian military forces complied – even though the Iraqi military bombed Iranian cities, including Tehran, and used chemical weapons on Iranians.
Most Iranians Have Issues With Their Government, as Most Americans Have Issues With Theirs
Iran is a county with a population of about 70 million (two and one-half times as many people as Iraq) and a geographic area about the size of Alaska (four times as large as Iraq). Tehran, the Iranian capital, has 7.5 million people in the urban area and 15 million in surrounding areas. It is a modern city, with a beautiful subway and cosmopolitan shops, as well as a huge traditional bazaar and an incredible number of cars, trucks and motorcycles. Tehran and Iran have recovered from the Iraq war that ended 20 years ago and are holding up remarkably well to US and international sanctions.
Most Iranians with whom we talked openly said they have issues with many aspects of their government. Many said the Iranian people share a common dislike with Americans – dislike of their government – noting that President Bush’s and the US Congress’s approval ratings with the American people are extremely low, as is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s ratings, particularly in urban areas. But, they strongly said they do not want outside interference in the internal political events of their country and definitely do not want a political system and government installed by invasion and occupation. Their democracy, even with its flaws, is better than a US-enforced democracy, they said.
America’s best policy would be to treat Iran with respect and not with threats of military action. Any attempt to overthrow the Iranian government would be met with stiff opposition, even from those who don’t like the government, they repeated. “Regime change” will come in due time and in an Iranian manner.
US Interference in Iran’s Internal Affairs
Several reminded us that in January 1981, the United States signed the Algiers Accord, in which the US agreed “not to intervene directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs.” The Algiers Accord was the agreement signed by the United States and Iran to end the 444-day US
However, this Accord has been violated numerous times by the United States. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote that, in late 2007, President Bush requested and received from Democratic Congressional leadership $400 million reprogrammed from previous authorizations to fund a presidential finding that substantially increased covert activities designed to destabilize Iran’s religious leadership. These covert actions involved support for the Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. Hersh also revealed that United States Special Operations Forces had been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with presidential authorization, since 2007, including seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” who could be captured or killed. Hersh said operations by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) were significantly
Iran’s Nuclear Program
Iran has had a nuclear program for almost 50 years, having purchased a research reactor from the United States in 1959 during the Shah’s reign. The Iranian government states that its nuclear energy program will allow increased electricity generation to reduce consumption of gas and oil to allow export of more of its fossil fuels. The US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) made public December 3, 2007, concluded with “high confidence” that the military-run Iranian nuclear weapons program had been shut down in 2003, but that Iran’s enrichment program could still provide enough enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon by the middle of the next decade, a
Virtually everyone with whom we spoke said they believe that their country has a right to have a nuclear enrichment program and to produce nuclear energy. Many questioned why Iran would ever need a nuclear weapons program, unless as leverage against the United States’ 30-year antagonism toward their country. They reminded us that Iran is a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (unlike nuclear states Israel, India and Pakistan, which refused to join the NPT and developed nuclear weapons purposefully outside the treaty.) Additionally, they insist that Iran is in compliance with the IAEA standards, according to the November 2008 IAEA report, despite interpretations of the report by the United States and Israel.
Some reminded us that on August 9, 2005, at the IAEA meeting in Vienna, 60 years after the US atomic bombing of Japan, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei announced that he had issued a fatwa, or religious mandate, forbidding the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons. Importantly, the Supreme Leader controls the Iranian military and the nuclear program of Iran, not the President of the country,
Iran, Israel and the United States
Iran, Israel and United States have had a disturbing, but fascinating, history over the past 30 years. Iran’s current relationship with Israel and Western countries seems to be defined by President Ahmadinejad’s October 2005 statement – widely reported, but tragically and dangerously mistranslated and misinterpreted – that “Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth.” According to highly respected Middle Eastern scholar Juan Coles, Ahmadinejad was “not making a threat, but was quoting a saying of Ayatollah Khomeini that urged pro-Palestinian activists in Iran not give up hope – that the occupation of Jerusalem was no more a continued inevitability than had been the hegemony of the Shah’s government. Whatever this quotation from a decades-old speech of Khomeini may have meant, Ahmadinejad did not say that “Israel must be wiped off the map” with the implication that phrase has of
But the history of Iranian-Israeli relationships is more than just Ahmadinejad’s misinterpreted statement. Israel, like the United States, had a long history of selling arms to the Shah, which Iran’s revolutionary government was willing to exploit secretly, despite its public animosity toward the state of Israel. In the early years (1980-82) of the Iranian Revolution and during the war with Iraq, Ayatollah Khomeini’s government sold oil to Israel in exchange for weapons and spare parts. Even during the American hostage crisis (1979-1981) in which 52 US diplomats were held for 444 days, Israel made weapons deals with Iran. Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State Alexander Haig gave permission to Israel to sell US-made military spare parts for fighter planes to Iran in early 1981.
In another remarkable relationship known as the Iran-Contra affair, funds from Israel’s sale to Iran of US weapons in 1985-1986 were used by U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, National Security Adviser Adm. John Poindexter, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane (President Reagan’s first National Security Adviser) and National Security Council staffer US Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North to fund the Contras’ war against the revolutionary government in Nicaragua. This was in violation of a Congressional ban on funding the Contras and took place during the Iraq-Iran war when the US was also providing military equipment including chemical weapons to Iraq, Iran’s opponent in the war. Iranians remember that those convicted for their actions, including Weinberger, Poindexter, McFarlane and North, were pardoned by President George H.W. Bush, who was vice president during the period of criminal actions conducted by government officials during the illegal Contra affair.
Iranian Support for Hamas and Hezbollah
When asked about one of the most contentious points in US-Israeli-Iranian relationships – the Iranian government’s support for Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon – Iranians pointed out that the US has consistently and heavily funded Israel during its 62-year existence (US provides about $4 billion per year to the Israeli government and the Israeli Defense Forces.) Many Iranians suggested that Palestinians who have lived in refugee camps during those 62 years must be provided assistance. Hezbollah began in 1982 as a small militia fighting against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and is now not only a military group but a political organization that won seats in the Lebanese government, has a radio and satellite television station and provides social development and humanitarian assistance for much of southern Lebanon. Iranians strongly felt that Hamas, the elected (and they emphasize elected) government of Gaza, needs financial support, particularly now in current extraordinary humanitarian crisis due to the lengthy Israeli blockade of foods and services into Gaza.
On the question of Iraq, many Iranians who lived in the border regions with Iraq during the eight-year war said they personally knew the agony of deaths, injuries, destruction and other costs of war and do not wish that on their former enemies. They talked of the irony of the political outcome of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, in which many Shi’a Iraqis, who lived in exile in Iran during Saddam’s regime and have long-standing ties to the Iranian government, are now in leadership positions in the new US-backed Iraqi government.
Other Iranians reminded us of Iran’s help to the US in 2001 and 2002 in the early days of the US military action in Afghanistan. When we asked about recent United States intelligence analysis that indicated Iranian support for the Taliban, we were met with laughs. The Taliban are of the Sunni branch of Islam, while Iranians are of the Shi’a branch. They reminded us that in 1998 the Taliban murdered 11 Iranian diplomats and one Iranian newsperson at the Iranian consulate in Afghan northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, an incident which Iranians have not forgotten. The Iranians consider the Taliban their adversaries and feel that a Taliban government in Afghanistan would make the region more unstable.
Sanctions Are Drying Up Lines of Credit for Businesses
We found that Iranians are proud of their creativity to outwit the 29 years of various sanctions the US has placed on their country. They say the US has only isolated itself commercially by its sanctions, as Iran trades with many other nations. Europeans, Chinese, Russians and Indians have had flourishing businesses with Iran. However, the recent international sanctions clampdown on lines of credit for Iranian banks has had a rippling effect into the business community, where money for loans to Iranian businesses for purchase of materials is drying up. Oil dollars that paid for an incredible amount of imports are drying up with the downturn in oil prices, and the government is beginning to reevaluate the large subsidizes given to the population for food, gasoline and services.
We spoke with four businesswomen (an architect, a chemist, a business consultant and an agricultural professional) who said each of their businesses had been affected negatively with the shrinking of money available for purchase of materials from outside the country and for continuation of current levels of operation or expansion of their business.
One of the most incredible stories we heard about the effect of the sanctions was on the alternative energy sector. Since there is so much rhetoric in the US about the dangers of the Iranian nuclear program, we decided to see if there were alternative energy companies in the country. On the aircraft flying into Iran, we met a European businessman who said he would put us in touch with the director of a wind energy company. He introduced us by telephone to the director of Saba Niroo, an Iranian company that makes wind turbines and is the largest
However, the director told us that because of US sanctions pressure, Vestas, a
As a result, Saba Niroo has 50 huge 70-foot-long wind blades and corresponding chassis and installation towers lying useless in its warehouse and warehouse yard. Saba Niroo may go bankrupt in six months if it is unable to complete and sell the wind turbines – all because of US sanctions and pressure.
As a part of citizen diplomacy, we decided to defy sanctions and show our support of alternative energy programs, by purchasing shares in Saba Niroo. We have also decided to purchase shares in the Danish company Vestas, which has a big US headquarters in Portland, Oregon. As shareholders, we could put shareholder pressure on Vestas to honor its contract with the Iranian company.
Human Rights in Iran
On the question of human rights in Iran, executions, political prisoners and rights of gays and lesbians, many Iranians strongly want changes in their government’s policies. In response to a question on September, 24, 2007, from an audience at Columbia University in New York, President Ahmadinejad drew widespread criticism when his answer was translated as “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals in our country, we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who told you that we have it.” In October 2007, one of Ahmadinejad’s media advisers said that the President had meant that “
Homosexual acts are punishable by law: sodomy (defined as “sexual intercourse with a male) is punishable by execution and punishment for “lesbian acts” is 100 lashes. However, conviction takes the testimony of four witnesses and if the accused recants before witnesses testify, the accused will not be punished. The discussion of human rights of youth and gay youth combined in the much-publicized 2005 execution by hanging of two young men in Iran. Some say they were executed because they were solely because they were gay and others say the two young men – minors – were convicted and hanged because they
Interestingly, sex change is legal in Iran and there are more sex change operations in Iran than any other country except Thailand. The Iranian government provides grants up to $4,500 for the operation and further funding for hormone therapy on the theory that persons wanting a sex change have a “treatable disorder.”
Iranians want change to come from within their society, not imposed by another government, especially one, as we were reminded, that has its own human rights issues, including incarceration of the highest percentage of its citizenry of any country in the world, high rates of execution (Texas in particular), state-sponsored kidnapping from other countries (known in the Bush administration as extraordinary rendition), imprisonment without due process, extrajudicial courts and a military and an intelligence agency that are notorious for torture.
When thinking of women in Iran, many in the West immediately respond with comments about the clothing women must wear. Few realize that 70 percent of all university students are women, 30 percent of doctors in Iran are women, 80 percent of women are literate (88 percent of men can read), women receive 90 days of maternity leave at two-thirds pay and right to return to their jobs, and the number of children per woman has declined from seven in 1979 to 1.7 now. Abortions are illegal in Iran, but it’s the only country I know of where couples must take a class on modern contraception before being issued a marriage license. It has the only state-supported condom factory in the Middle East, and it produces 45 million condoms a year in 30 different colors, shapes and flavors.
In one of the most successful instances of women’s grassroots organizational pressure on the government, in September 2008, over 100 advocates for women’s rights successfully lobbied against proposed changes to marriage laws which were detrimental to women and forced the Iranian Parliament to drop the regressive amendments.
Yes, there are mandatory clothing rules for women, including wearing a scarf and clothing that covers the arms to the wrists and legs to the ankles, and they are cited by Western women as a form of human rights concern. In fact, as our aircraft arrived at the Tehran International Airport terminal, the aircraft crew announced “By the law of the country of Iran, women cannot leave the aircraft without a scarf on their heads – and there will be an Iranian official outside the aircraft to return women who are not properly covered.” While some Iranian women say wearing the scarf is burdensome, others are comfortable with the dress code. In any case, clothing restrictions are not the main focus of women’s rights advocates. Rights to custody of children and property after divorce, right to education and health care are more important than mandatory wearing of a scarf.
In the Month Since Our Visit
Sparks Fly Over Iranian President’s BBC Christmas message – “Jesus Christ Would Stand Up to Bullying, Ill-Tempered and Expansionist Powers”
In what they surely knew would be a very controversial request, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) asked Iranian President Ahmadinejad to deliver the BBC channel 4′s traditional “alternative Christmas message” to the Queen’s Christmas address.
The head of BBC News and Current Affairs said the decision to ask President Ahmadinejad was because “
It turned out that Ahmadinejad’s short, 36-second message in Farsi with English subtitles broadcast on Christmas Day 2008, probably resonated with much of the world, but predictably provoked a British government hornet’s nest with his comment that if Jesus Christ lived today he would stand up against bullying powers. “If Christ were on earth today, undoubtedly he would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers.” Ahmadinejad, a devout Muslim, criticized the “indifference of some governments and powers” towards the teachings of the “divine prophets, including Jesus Christ” and said that “the general will of nations” was for a return to “human values.” He declared, “The crises in society, the family, morality, politics, security and the economy … have come about because the prophets have been forgotten, the Almighty has been forgotten and some leaders are estranged from God.”
Ahmadinejad’s remarks received very little media coverage in the United States, minuscule when compared to the news story of the month – President Bush’s encounter with the Iraqi shoe thrower. However, a spokeswoman for the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in predicting anticipated Bush administration displeasure, said: “President Ahmadinejad has during his time in office made a series of appalling anti-Semitic statements. The British media are rightly free to make their own editorial choices, but this invitation will cause offense and bemusement not just at home but amongst friendly countries abroad.”
Labor Member of Parliament (MP) Louise Ellman, chairwoman of the Labor Jewish Movement, said: “I condemn Channel 4′s decision to give an unchallenged platform to a dangerous fanatic who denies the Holocaust, while preparing for another, and claims homosexuality does not exist while his regime hangs gay young men from cranes in the street.” Conservative MP Mark Pritchard, a member of the Commons all-party media group, said: “Channel 4 has given a platform to a man who wants to annihilate Israel and continues to persecute Christians at Christmas time.”
Media Relations Not a Strong Suit of the Iranian Government
It’s almost as if Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who is up for re-election in summer 2009, has hired lame ducks US Vice President Dick Cheney and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert as his foreign policy, national security and media consultants. How else could the Iranian government have come up with so many incidents in the past weeks that give ammunition to those in the United States and Israel who do not want dialogue with Iran on nuclear and regional security issues, who want human rights issues to publicize and who wish ill to the Iranian government and people?
For example, on December 22, 2008, the Iranian government closed down two human-rights organizations headed by 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. The government accused the organization of carrying out illegal activities, such as publishing statements, writing letters to international organizations and holding news conferences. The Center for Participation in Clearing Mine Areas helps victims of landmines in Iran and Defenders of Human Rights Center reports human rights violations in Iran, defends political prisoners and supports families of those prisoners. Ebadi was also taken into police custody briefly following the raids.
The first week in December 2008, in a campaign against Western cultural influence in Iran, Qaemshahr city police arrested 49 people during a crackdown on “satanic” fashions and unsuitable clothing and closed five barbershops for “
And now, there is the predictable increased international criticism about the Russian government providing the Iranian government with S-300s, anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems, triggered by the Bush administration’s decision to put a “missile shield” in Poland and the Czech Republic. On December 23, 2008, United Press International reported that the Russian government had begun delivery to the Iranian government of some of its most modern anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems, the S-300s. These missile systems can shoot down ballistic missiles and aircraft at low and high altitudes as far away as 100 miles. Iran conducted well-publicized air force and ballistic missile defense exercises in September 2008.
The Bush administration’s ballistic poke in the eye of Russia and Iran by the deployment of ballistic missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic “
Iranians Not Optimistic About Future Relations with the United States Under an Obama Administration
Despite President-elect Barack Obama’s comments during the presidential campaign that he would have dialogue with the Iranian government without preconditions, many Iranians with whom we spoke are not optimistic that there will be meaningful change in US policy during an Obama administration. Citing appointments of former Israeli Defense Force member and US Congressman Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff; Hillary Clinton, who during the summer campaign said she would “obliterate” Iran if Iran used nuclear weapons against Israel (a statement that Iranians find incomprehensible since it is Israel that has nuclear weapons, not Iran, and Israel continues to threaten Iran), and Dennis Ross, the Middle East negotiator during the Clinton and Bush administrations, Iranians said they hoped the AIPAC lobby in the United States had not already determined Obama’s agenda toward Iran.
Iranians Want Peace
To emphasize again, the overwhelming comment from Iranians during our visit was that they want peace with the United States. They hope that the new president of the United States will talk with their government to resolve issues, instead of resorting to the threat, much less the use, of military action.
Our Future With Iran – a Hope for Diplomacy, Not Military Action
As we have seen from the American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the use of our military to resolve security issues kills and injures innocent civilians, destroys cities and villages, creates more people who dislike/hate our country and who may be willing to use violence against us, and jeopardizes, not enhances, the security of the United States.
As a retired US Army colonel and a former US diplomat, I hope that the Obama administration will throw away the old template of 30 years of crisis, threats of military action, vindictiveness and retaliation and look to diplomacy to develop a peaceful future with Iran!