Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

'Tis the season to tip a cold one, so here's a starter kit:


You may have another if you like, but do be careful.


I'm gonna grab my skates


and my kids


and go out for a nice long one!


Take it easy out there! I'll see you next year.

Democracy In Action: Slain Leader's Crown Passes To Her Son

The PPP, Pakistan's largest opposition party, has democratically chosen to honor Benazir Bhutto's lifelong commitment to democracy by democratically treating the leadership of the party as an heirloom and handing it to her 19-year-old son, Bilawal Zardari, a handsome young man who lacks any political experience, but whose political future has been well-planned for a long time.

Bilawal will democratically assume the responsibilities of his position once he has finished his degree at Oxford. His education will include private tutelage in the labyrinths of Pakistani politics. Lucky Bilawal.

While he's being groomed, the party leadership will remain in the Bhutto family, democratically resting in the hands of his father, Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto's widowed husband.

And to mark the democratic occasion, the new democratic leader-in-waiting has changed his name, adding his mother's (maiden) name, as Somini Sengupta reported in the New York Times:
The elder Mr. Zardari said his son would henceforth be known as Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
Now, at least, nobody will ever forget who Bilawal's mother was.

According to Somini Sengupta, the elder Mr. Zardari
instructed reporters not to ask his son any further questions, saying he was “of a tender age.”
Asif Ali Zardari is not a candidate for the upcoming Parliamentary elections, so he will not be eligible to become Prime Minister.

That honor would most likely fall to PPP vice president Makhdoom Amin Fahim, although "the elder Mr. Zardari" added that this decision "would have to be made by party leaders," according to Somini Sengupta.

All this is speculative of course, and assumes that the PPP will win the upcoming election. The poll, scheduled for January 8, may be delayed by several weeks because of the assassination and the violence that followed it, most of which now seems to have subsided.

PPP leadership have already declared their intention to run; this ruins any possibility of a boycott, such as the All Parties Democratic Movement was trying to organize. As Somini Sengupta puts it:
The other main opposition party, led by Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister, also decided Sunday to call off his previously announced boycott of the vote.
So much for the APDM. Without a united opposition -- and with no boycott of what will certainly be a rigged election -- whatever happens next cannot be much more than crude street theater, to be performed with many of the provisions of Musharraf's November 3 declaration of emergency still in place, although officially the state of emergency is over.

In effect, by choosing to participate in such a shady game, the current PPP leadership continues Benazir Bhutto's path of legitimizing the military dictatorship which only last month declared a state of emergency in order to better fight the terrorists, then arrested hundreds of lawyers and judges and human rights activists, sacked the Supreme Court, shut down independent media, and so on ...

And no matter when the next election is held, it's only for Parliament, not President. Under normal circumstances the next President would be elected by the incoming Parliament, but Musharraf has already rigged the matter so that his next term in office is assured.

And unless I am very wrong, Bilawal can go back to his studies, and his father can go back to managing his Swiss bank accounts, and Musharraf can go back to making new laws declaring his abuses legal and permanent and beyond the reach of any court, because democracy in Pakistan is not to be restored.

It could never be restored because it never existed in the first place. At best it was a dream and a hope, and perhaps also a slightly possible outcome. But the potential is long gone, because the corporate- military- terrorist establishment has already taken over in Pakistan, where the PPP has just been decapitated.

~~~

Meanwhile, the country continues to mourn the slain two-time Prime Minister, while more details continue to emerge indicating that Thursday's assassination was a state-sponsored hit, carefully planned and carefully covered up.
Athar Minallah, a board member of the hospital where Ms. Bhutto was treated, released her medical report along with an open letter showing that her doctors wanted to distance themselves from the government theory that Ms. Bhutto had died by hitting her head on a lever of her car’s sunroof during the attack.

In his letter, Mr. Minallah, who is also a prominent lawyer, said the doctors believed that an autopsy was needed to provide the answers to how she actually died. Their request for one last Thursday was denied by the local police chief.
This is from Jane Perlez in Lahore:
Pakistani and Western security experts said the government’s insistence that Ms. Bhutto, a former prime minister, was not killed by a bullet was intended to deflect attention from the lack of government security around her. On Sunday, Pakistani newspapers covered their front pages with photographs showing a man apparently pointing a gun at her from just yards away.

Her vehicle came under attack by a gunman and suicide bomber as she left a political rally in Rawalpindi, where the Pakistani Army keeps its headquarters, and where the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency has a strong presence.

The government’s explanation, that Ms. Bhutto died after hitting her head as she ducked from the gunfire or was tossed by the force of the suicide blast, has been greeted with disbelief by her supporters, ordinary Pakistanis and medical experts.
Jane Perlez writes for the New York Times.

Apparently it's OK to write reports like this for the NYT if the crime was committed in Pakistan.
Mr. Minallah distributed the medical report with his open letter to the Pakistani news media and The New York Times. He said the doctor who wrote the report, Mohammad Mussadiq Khan, the principal professor of surgery at the Rawalpindi General Hospital, told him on the night of Ms. Bhutto’s death that she had died of a bullet wound.

Dr. Khan declined through Mr. Minallah to speak with a reporter on the grounds that he was an employee of a government hospital and was fearful of government reprisals if he did not support its version of events.
Coincidence theorists like to ask "How could they keep a conspiracy quiet?"

There's the answer.
The medical report, prepared with six other doctors, does not specifically mention a bullet because the actual cause of the head wound was to be left to an autopsy, Mr. Minallah said. The doctors had stressed to him that “without an autopsy it is not at all possible to determine as to what had caused the injury,” he wrote.

But the chief of police in Rawalpindi, Saud Aziz, “did not agree” to the autopsy request by the doctors, Mr. Minallah said in his letter.

A former senior Pakistani police official, Wajahat Latif, who headed the Federal Investigative Agency in the early 1990s, said that in “any case of a suspected murder an autopsy is mandatory.” To waive an autopsy, Mr. Latif said, relatives were required to apply for permission.
In this case apparently they didn't do that; it was the chief of police who canceled the autopsy.

But then again the family didn't ask for the scene of the crime to be obliterated an hour later.

They didn't even ask for security to be pulled away from Benazir just as she left the rally in Rawalpindi.

Do you think these things just happen on their own?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Is Fatima Bhutto The Crown Princess Everyone's Looking For?

In the past few days, thousands of new visitors have come to my blog looking for information about -- especially photos of -- Fatima Bhutto, poet, journalist and niece of the slain former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

They've been landing on this page, which opens with a photo of former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver and may not be very helpful.

I think Pakistan would benefit from a bright young leader who understands the difference between theater and reality and is willing to talk about it. So it seemed like a good idea to put together a short post with two (count 'em) photos of Fatima Bhutto, plus a link to her entry at Wikipedia, where visitors can find many more useful links.



[related posts]

Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2007:
Aunt Benazir's false promises

Sigmund, Carl and Alfred, December 27, 2007:
Flashback: The Fraud That Is Benazir Bhutto, The Taliban And The Leftists Who Love Her

[Winter Patriot]
October 27, 2007
Benazir Bhutto Plays A Cynical Hand After Karachi Bombing

November 14, 2007
What's Next For Pakistan? What's Next For Us?

November 16, 2007
Theater Of The Absurd: Condi Sends Negroponte To Poke Musharraf

Pakistan: Dangerous And Violent Nonsense In Wake Of Bhutto Assassination

The dangerous nonsense coming out of Pakistan has reached seemingly impossible new levels of absurdity in the wake of Benazir Bhutto's assassination in Rawalpindi on Thursday.

[Seemingly impossible? Maybe. But the bar has been raised yet again, and this piece has been updated (twice) with even more absurdity than the absurd original.]

The government's story of how she died changed twice in the first 36 hours after her death, and now they don't want to talk about it anymore. Their story of who did it has only changed once, and that's all they want to talk about.

In short, Bhutto's party -- the Pakistan People's Party -- blames the government, and the government blames the terrorists. Which terrorists? Who cares! But if they could be connected to al Qaeda, so much the better...

... unless they also happened to be connected to the ISI, and therefore to Musharraf, and therefore (willingly and wittingly, or otherwise) to the Bush Administration.

We'll have more on these connections -- tenuous though they may be -- below. More on the future of the PPP below as well.

The government's shifting tales of the details of the former Prime Minister's death haven't helped quell the inevitable conspiracy theories; on the contrary, they tend to implicate the government in the murder -- or at least in the coverup.

Not incidentally, three days of violent protests have left at least 40 people dead, and tens of millions of dollars of damage to thousands of buildings and other facilities, including elections offices where voters lists have been "reduced to ashes".

AFP reports:
The interior ministry insists she had no gunshot or shrapnel wounds ...

"This is ridiculous, dangerous nonsense because it is a cover-up of what actually happened," Bhutto's spokeswoman Sherry Rehman, who was involved in washing her body for burial, retorted....

"There was a bullet wound I saw that went in from the back of her head and came out the other side," Rehman told AFP.
In any case it is clear that certain factions within the government are playing fast and loose with reality.

According to Javed Iqbal Cheema, spokesman for the Interior Ministry,
“It is not important now how she died because the fact is that we have lost her and the important thing is that who killed her and how can we catch them.”
The Bangkok Post had a slightly different quote, yet quite the same sentiment:
"It is immaterial how she died," he told journalists. "What is more important is, who are the people who killed her? I think we have to uncover those people."
Saeed Shah details the ever-changing story that has now been declared immaterial in Toronto's Globe and Mail:
Babar Awan, a senior People's Party official. He said he saw her body after the attack and there were at least two bullet wounds, one in the neck and one on the top of the head.

"It was a targeted, planned killing," he said. "The firing was from more than one side."
But
Instead of pronouncing her assassinated, the latest official account gives her a much more prosaic end. Cynics suggested it was an attempt to rein in the legend that has already sprung up of Ms. Bhutto as a martyr for democracy. Others say it's an effort to blunt criticism she wasn't adequately protected.
This is the second time the story has been changed.
Just 24 hours earlier, the government had been putting forward a different account that also contradicted the People's Party version of events. It had said Ms. Bhutto was not killed by gunfire, but by flying shrapnel from the blast.
And that story didn't agree with what the eyewitnesses saw, either.
Nearly all eyewitnesses and accounts by people travelling in her vehicle agree she was first shot and had slumped back into the jeep when the blast occurred.

Amateur video released yesterday shows a gunman firing at least three shots at Ms. Bhutto followed by a huge blast, but the government says the gunman missed.

The doctors at the hospital told journalists and People's Party leaders that she had died as a result of a bullet wound to the neck. Some of the doctors apparently later changed their stories.
So the question remains: How can you catch the people who did it if you don't care to find out what they did? It's a very strange way to solve a crime, so to speak. Some people will probably say it's a good way to keep a crime unsolved.

And it's not the only sign of a coverup:
Ms. Bhutto was sent to her grave yesterday without autopsy. Her body was flown immediately from the hospital, in a sealed coffin, to the burial. So the truth of government assertion that she died in an extraordinary accident will probably never be known.

Mohammadmian Soomro, the caretaker prime minister of Pakistan, told the cabinet that Ms. Bhutto's husband, Asif Zardari, had insisted on no autopsy.

But in a case of this nature, an autopsy is mandatory under the criminal law of Pakistan, according to leading lawyer Athar Minallah - and it is the state's responsibility.

"It is absurd, because without autopsy it is not possible to investigate," he said.

Firefighters also cleaned the scene of the attack in Rawalpindi with high-pressure hoses within an hour, washing evidence away.
Meanwhile the government has released a transcript of what it claims is a conversation between Baitullah Mehsud and an unidentified tribal leader, which is says proves that Baitullah Mehsud was behind the assassination.
"We have intelligence intercepts indicating that al-Qaeda leader Baitullah Mehsud is behind her assassination," said Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema.

Mr. Mehsud is a tribal chief in the Waziristan region, on the border with Afghanistan, and the leader of Pakistan's homegrown version of the Taliban. He is said to be close to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, who is an ally of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

According to a transcript released of a conversation between Mr. Mehsud and an unidentified religious cleric, the tribal chief conveyed his congratulations for the attack.

"It was a spectacular job. They were very brave boys who killed her," Mr. Mehsud said, according to the transcript, on being told by the cleric that three of his men were behind the assassination.
The article reprints the transcript. The empahsis is mine:
The following is a transcript released by the Pakistani government yesterday of a purported conversation between militant leader Baitullah Mehsud, who is referred to as Emir Sahib, and another man identified as a Maulvi Sahib, or Mr. Cleric. The government alleges the intercepted conversation proves al-Qaeda was behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto:

Maulvi Sahib: Peace be on you.
Mehsud: Peace be on you, too.
...
Maulvi Sahib: They were our men there.
Mehsud: Who were they?
Maulvi Sahib : There were Saeed, the second was Badarwala Bilal and Ikramullah was also there.
Mehsud: The three did it?
Maulvi Sahib: Ikramullah and Bilal did it.

Mehsud: Then congratulations to you again.
...
Mehsud: It was a spectacular job. They were very brave boys who killed her.
Maulvi Sahib: Praise be to God. I will give you more details when I come.
Mehsud: I will wait for you. Congratulations once again.
Maulvi Sahib: Congratulations to you as well.
...
Mehsud: Peace be on you.
Maulvi: Same to you.
Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether this transcript is legitimate, the flow of the conversation seems to show Maulvi Sahib telling Baitullah Mehsud who executed the attack.

Does this show that Baitullah Mehsud was behind it? One might think that if Baitullah Mehsud were responsible for the assassination, he would be the one giving the details.

And one might think the shooter shown in the photo would at least have a beard! But this is Pakistani politics after all, where nothing makes any sense at face value.

Even the alleged connection between Baitullah Mehsud and al Qaeda is in dispute.

And there's been more nonsense elsewhere, including this bit in the US, courtesy of TIME magazine:
An FBI and Department of Homeland Security bulletin sent out Thursday cited unsubstantiated reports that Lashkar-i-Jhangvi had claimed responsibility for Bhutto's assassination. An FBI official said that the bulletin was based on press reports and would not comment on whether the claim had been independently confirmed.
The same TIME article makes even less sense in spots.
"It is probable there are links between Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and al-Qaeda," says [Frederic Grare, a former French diplomat in Pakistan and a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace], "but it is certain they do have links to the government." He adds, "If the government itself says Lashkar-i-Jhangvi is involved, it is suicidal because it opens the door to speculation about their own role."

Indeed, while Pakistani authorities have had a hand in encouraging groups like Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Lashkar-i-Tayyba, Islamabad has done little to systematically dismantle these jihadist "armies" now that their original purposes — fighting the Soviets and supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan or fighting the Indians in Kashmir — are over.

"They have nothing else to do," says [Stephen Cohen, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution], "and they are causing mischief."
The fighting with India over Kashmir is by no means over, and the idea that terrorist groups send out suicide bombers to take out major political figures because they have nothing else to do is most fanciful. Only in America will readers take this sort of dangerous nonsense seriously.

Elsewhere in the article Cohen is quoted as saying:
"Bhutto was the only Pakistani politician willing to stand up and say, 'I don't like violent terrorists,'"
which is clearly false, as anyone who has been following the story of terrorism in Pakistan (here or elsewhere) can attest. It's the same old story: Nobody likes violent terrorists. But some people do like freedom-fighters.

And if the difference between the two is sometimes a bit blurry, well, then, that's quite handy in the propaganda sense, because the more confusing and frightening a subject, the fewer people will take it skeptically. As inhabitants of a nation terminally confused by violent terrorists, many Americans will believe almost anything.

And that makes it more and more inevitable that more and more disconnected terrorist groups will soon be described as affiliated with al Qaeda and/or Osama bin Laden, since such an affiliation is obviously the sine qua non of attracting serious American media attention ... and becoming a target in the GWOT.

~~~

As for the violence, an Interior Ministry spokesman enumerated the results of the violence in the first two days after the assassination, according to Dawn:
38 people were killed and 53 injured, 174 banks were gutted, 26 ransacked, 158 offices were burnt, 23 ransacked, 34 petrol stations were set ablaze and two damaged, 370 vehicles were set on fire and 61 damaged, 18 railway stations were torched and four ransacked, 72 train bogies were burnt, 765 shops, offices gutted and 19 offices ransacked.
According to a more detailed report from the Times of India:
Demonstrators have clashed with police and torched hundreds of buildings, trains and vehicles in the wake of the gun and suicide attack that claimed Bhutto's life on Thursday.

"In two days 38 innocent people have lost their lives and 53 have been injured," ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema told a news conference.

"At a time when the nation is mourning the death of Benazir Bhutto in a terrorist attack, some elements of criminal mentality have taken undue advantage of the situation," Cheema said.

More than 100 criminals had escaped when rioters broke open jails, he said.
But by Saturday, despite continued unrest, the spokesman was looking at the bright side:
Cheema said the overall situation was "satisfactory" on Saturday, partly due to the army's presence in several hotspots.

"The situation is getting back to normal rapidly and we hope that in a day or so life will return to normal in the country," he added.

President Pervez Musharraf earlier ordered security chiefs to take firm action to restore order to the country. Paramilitary troops have already been ordered to shoot rioters on sight in the southern city of Karachi.

Cheema also pledged that Pakistani authorities would bring to justice all the "miscreants" behind the unrest.

"I want to say that those who are involved will not be spared... they will face tough punishment," he added.
Do you want some more nonsense? CTV reports a fine bit of lingo-jingo from Cheema:
"This is not an ordinary criminal matter in which we require assistance of the international community. I think we are capable of handling it."
... in which the Interior Ministry spokesman suggests that Pakistani police are incapable of solving the small crimes on their own ... but they can handle the big ones without assistance? Yeah, sure!!

The Parliamentary election scheduled for January 8th is now in doubt. Nawaz Sharif has announced his party will boycott. Musharraf's party will run, of course. And the late Benazir Buhtto's PPP will meet on Sunday to decide whether to stand in the election or join the opposition boycott.

According to AFP, the wishes of the former PPP leader will be made known at Sunday's meeting and will be very difficult to disregard.
The PPP was to meet around 3:00pm (1000 GMT) in her home town of Naudero in the south to decide what to do next, with her husband Asif Zardari expected to read out instructions she left about the party's future.

"It will be almost impossible for the party to go against her wishes," said political analyst and columnist Shafqat Mahmood. Party officials said her son Bilawal Bhutto was favourite to take over what has become a political dynasty, with an advisory council running affairs until he finishes his studies at Britain's Oxford University.
The election commission will meet on Monday to decide whether to postpone the January 8 election, but according to the same political analyst, Shafqat Mahmood, their decision depends on the result of the PPP meeting. If PPP decide to boycott, it won't matter much whether the election commission wants to have an election on January 8th or not.

So here we are, on the edge of a great precipice, with emerging opportunities for the forces good and evil to shape the decades to come -- and our collective future now hinges on such weighty matters as whether a dead woman has left instructions to turn over the leadership of her party -- the largest opposition political party in the sixth most-populous nation on earth -- to a 19-year-old university student.

And this is democracy?? Nonsense indeed!

There are dangerous and violent times to come, for certain. But our future may have to wait, because the new prince of the democratic Pakistani opposition is still being trained -- at Oxford!

~~~

[update 1]
from Reuters India: Bhutto's son, husband to be co-leaders of party
NAUDERO, Pakistan (Reuters) - The 19-year-old son of assassinated Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, Bilawal, was on Sunday appointed chairman of her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) along with his father, party officials said.

"It has been decided that Bilawal will be the chairman and Mr (Asif Ali) Zardari will be co-chairman," one of the party officials said in the southern town of Naudero, where top officials of Bhutto's party were meeting.

Asif Ali Zardari was Bhutto's husband.
[update 2]
from Dawn: Bhutto party will take part in election: husband
NAUDERO, Pakistan, Dec 30 (AFP) - Slain Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party will take part in national elections set for January 8, her husband Asif Ali Zardari said at a Press conference Sunday.

He also called on former premier Nawaz Sharif to reverse his decision to boycott the polls, which Sharif had announced in the wake of Bhutto's death on Thursday. “We will go to elections,” Zardari said.
[the photos]
The photos accompanying this piece depict (from top) troops patrolling in Larkana, Benazir Bhutto's hometown, amid the wreckage of burnt-out cars; (2) shops in Larkana utterly destroyed, (3) a soldier on duty in Larkana, (4) a very military-looking person shooting at Benazir Bhutto, (5) soldiers arriving in Hyperabad, and (6) police in Karachi guarding a burning trailer.

[additional reading]
Robert Fisk in the Independent : They don't blame al-Qa'ida. They blame Musharraf
Tariq Ali at London Review of Books: Daughter of the West
Tariq Ali at the Guardian: A tragedy born of military despotism and anarchy
Melanie Colburn at Mother Jones: America's Devil's Game with Extremist Islam

What Took You So Long? Osama bin Laden Says The US Wants Iraq's Oil

If Osama bin Laden claims the United States wants to exploit Iraq's oil, does that mean it's not true?

I'm just kidding about that; I suspect the real import of the story is that now those of us -- conspiracy theorists -- who have been saying the same thing all along can be branded as "terrorists".

That part was easy. My real question is more difficult: What's with Osama bin Laden?

He's supposed to be this great geopolitical genius, capable of drawing the USA into battle on his terms, and keeping us there against our will, and so on...

Do you mean to say it's taken him all these years to figure out America wants Iraq's oil?

He may be a terrorist mastermind, but he's no conspiracy theorist.

Now, wait a minute ... the conspiracy theorists are terrorists, but the terrorists are not conspiracy theorists?

Oh well. I guess it makes as much sense as anything else about the GWOT.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Yes, Extremists Killed Benazir Bhutto. But Which Extremists?

Whenever there's a public death in one family or the other, the parallels between the Bhuttos in Pakistan and the Kennedys in America seem even more striking.

Start with wealth, power, public service at the national level, and violent death in the course of same. Add dashing men and gorgeous women; inspiring leadership and the most amazing cruelty; brilliance and incompetence; valor and corruption; and now, another violent public death.

But let's not overdo it. Benazir Bhutto's tale was her own, and it came to a sudden end on December 27 in Rawalpindi. Reports from Pakistan said she was leaving a rally in which she had appeared before thousands of people when she was shot twice from very close range, apparently by a suicide bomber who then detonated, killing himself as well as Benazir and another 20 or so.

Security had been described as very tight and multi-layered, so it's difficult to imagine how the attacker could have come so close to his target. Due to the nature of the attack, such questions may never be answered. It's the sort of murder that drives conspiracy theorists crazy.

The shooting-bombing has been universally ascribed to "extremists"; this scribe is too cold to argue. Nobody but an extremist would blow himself up to accomplish a political assassination. But what the press accounts universally fail to point out is that there are extremists on more than one side -- indeed, in this case, there are extremists on all sides.

Everybody knows about the extremists up in the northwestern mountains, the violent tribal people in the rugged area bordering Afghanistan. We always wind up talking about how the Americans are trying to stabilize Afghanistan. Nobody likes to talk about all the many ways in which Afghanistan became a mess. But the mess in Afghanistan was caused in large parts by the USA through Pakistan, and by Pakistan itself. And the inevitable reaction -- what the spooks call "blowback" -- has been coming to Pakistan for quite a while now.

It seems quite apparent that the two most important causes of this blowback are (1) Pakistan's support for the American plan to create terrorists and inject them into Afghanistan through Pakistan -- through the very northwest border area we are now discussing -- and (2) Pakistan's support for America's so-called Global War on Terror, which began as an assault on Afghanistan, and which, as nearly everyone in the region -- not only terrorists -- can see, is entirely bogus.

Some analysts see the GWOT primarily as a political weapon, and perhaps it is. But as the GWOT goes along, it becomes increasingly clear that the GWOT provides cover for a pre-determined set of American foreign and domestic policies, and the creation of these policies is no longer a "political" process, if by that term we understand the usual public squabbling between Democrats and Republicans.

Instead it appears increasingly certain that the central leadership of both parties is one and the same. Clearly, the grassroots memberships of the two parties are very different, and this difference (or, to be fair, this huge set of differences) manifests itself in many ways along the route to the top of the political power pyramids. But when it really counts, when it comes to national leadership, in matters foreign and domestic, both parties are driving in the very same direction.

All this may seem obvious to you; boring perhaps; entirely irrelevant to the assassination of this beautiful Pakistani leader who said the word "democracy" as if she were born for it, but who couldn't resist the lure of a shady back-room deal if a sniff of power were in the air. Power for her, of course!

She "served" as Prime Minister for two terms riddled with seemingly endless corruption, enhanced her family fortune considerably, and fled from the resulting criminal charges. Then the poor woman languished in the lap of luxury in Dubai and Great Britain for eight long years, during which although she was a fugitive from justice she somehow managed to convince the world press to term her situation "exile".

But this jet-setting life of abject extravagance wasn't enough for Ms. Bhutto, not compared to the chance to be Prime Minister for a (slightly illegal) third time. But who could offer her a chance to be Prime Minister again, and what would it take?

All it would take would be utter disregard of the term limit governing service by Prime Ministers, plus a new law legalizing her previous predations, so she could be returned to her native land without fear of those corruption charges still hanging over her head.

It wouldn't have been politically acceptable for Pakistan to grant amnesty to Benazir Bhutto alone. That would have smacked of favoritism. Instead President (then-General) Pervez Musharraf promulgated the National Reconciliation Ordinance, granting amnesty for virtually anything to virtually anybody working for the government, in the past, the present and the future. Not only was Benazir Bhutto forgiven for all her alleged crimes and invited to return; virtually all politicians can now follow whatever orders (or whims) they like, secure in the knowledge that the legal system cannot be used against them.

Thus was the rule of law stripped even further from the Pakistani landscape. And why did Musharraf do this? Because he was desperately unpopular, and the impending alliance with Benazir Bhutto, his former enemy, was seen as his only chance to remain in power. ("Remain in power" in this case means "continue to receive support from the Americans".) And the Americans -- bipartisan power-brokering Americans -- liked the idea of Musharraf and Bhutto sharing power.

With Bhutto as Prime Minister and Musharraf as President, the bipartisan American theory went, Pakistan would be a stable and very attractive country, and the alliance between the military man Musharraf and the civilian woman Bhutto would be symbolic as well as practical, and so on -- despite the fact that they had been political opponents forever.

And in return for this one last grasp at the brass ring, Benazir Bhutto asked her supporters -- members of the Pakistan People's Party -- not to resign their parliamentary seats in protest against the October 6 "re-election" of President General Musharraf. Had all the opposition parliamentarians resigned, the "election" would have been seen as bogus, but instead the PPP members stayed in their seats and abstained, granting Musharraf's "victory" a "legitimacy" it would not have attained otherwise.

Later in October, Benazir Bhutto returned from her self-described "exile" and immediately organized a long, slow, huge procession in which 140 people were killed by a suicide bomber. Ms. Bhutto herself was unhurt, but within days was describing herself as a victim of the bombing.

In order to "seal" his "re-election" "victory", Musharraf had to sack the Supreme Court, and he did this with a declaration of emergency at the beginning of November. Many of the justices who apparently would have declared his "re-election" illegal are still under house arrest.

But this is "democracy", according to the apolitical American consensus, which doesn't care whether Democrats or Republicans are in office, and which, truth be told, doesn't allow any other country in the world to run its own foreign and domestic policies, unless (a) those policies comport to the bipartisan apolitical consensus, or (b) they can't actually do anything about it.

In Pakistan, the election of a new Parliament is (or maybe "was") scheduled for January 8, and the big question -- some would say the only question -- for Pakistani politicians in recent weeks has been whether to run in the election or boycott the election until the Supreme Court is reinstated. Had Benazir Bhutto agreed to participate in the boycott, the "election" would have featured Musharraf's party and no others; it would clearly have been a sham.

But she would never go along with that, since her path to the Prime Minister's Office never included a boycott. In the wake of her decision the other opposition parties were more or less forced to run -- except for Imran Khan, who declared his intention not to run unless the judiciary were reinstated.

Meanwhile, another former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, has been declared ineligible because of a prior offense that is not covered under the NRO. But in the previous few days, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif had been making overtures about reconciliation, and yesterday -- after the assassination -- Nawaz Sharif addressed Bhutto's grieving supporters, saying "I will fight your battle." Whether this means anything at all remains to be seen.

Who killed Benazir Bhutto? It could have been anybody. She betrayed everybody except the Americans who wanted her to return to Pakistan, and for all we can tell she may have secretly betrayed them as well.

But motive isn't everything; Who could have penetrated the deep security? In accepting this power-sharing enticement from the Americans, she betrayed her own party, straight into the hands of Musharraf. Is this fact relevant? I wouldn't be surprised.

What comes next? That's the toughest call of all; even the people who seem to see Pakistan's future through a crystal ball are having trouble these days.

Who would have guessed that on the very day Musharraf lifted the state of emergency, a top international terror suspect would escape police custody and run clean away? Or that within two weeks, one bomb would narrowly miss former Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao and another would kill Benazir Bhutto?

Only two predictions feel relatively safe at this point:

(1) We may never know for sure who was behind the bombing, though we can expect the police to find a scapegoat before long, and

(2) We have not yet begun to imagine the consequences of this assassination.

Musharraf will want to reimpose emergency rule, and arrest all the lawyers and judges again. Nawaz Sharif will want to capture the support of Bhutto's supporters -- but so will everyone else. In the USA, presidential '08 candidates both red and blue will talk about bombing Pakistan, or think about doing it. Some may even speak of more open intervention, but nobody really wants to invade a country that big, or that wild; nobody but an extremist, that is.

And you'll hear lots of talk about extremists in the near future in connection with this assassination, and in nearly every case you will be expected to make the mental connection between the word "extremists" and the wild men in the mountains of the northwest. But you will remember, won't you, that in addition to these more famous extremists, there are extremists working for Musharraf, and extremists working for Bush ... and there may even be extremists working for the PPP, the party Benazir Bhutto betrayed.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto, 1953-2007: A Martyr To Her Own Greed

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated at a political rally in Rawalpindi.

You will see media reports of shock and grief at her death, but you will not likely see anything about how thoroughly she betrayed her country for personal gain.

Her death will be painted as a blow to George Bush and his plan to make Benazir the face of Pakistani "democracy". It will also be painted as a blow to Pakistani "democracy" itself.

But if there were anything approaching democracy in Pakistan and the USA, Benazir Bhutto and George Bush would both have been in prison a long time ago.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Idaho State Police Cadets' Slogan: "Don't Suffer From PTSD, Go Out And Cause It."

From ABC News:
Each class at the Idaho Police Officer Standards and Training Academy is allowed to choose a slogan that is printed on its graduation programs, and [this year's] class of 43 graduates came up with "Don't suffer from PTSD, go out and cause it."

According to the Veterans Association, tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers suffer from PTSD, which causes nightmares, flashbacks and physical symptoms that make sufferers feel as if they are reliving trauma, even many years later. Crime, accidents and other trauma can cause it in civilians.

Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney, who attended the Dec. 14 graduation, pointed out the slogan to the academy's director, Jeff Black, minutes before the ceremony began, Raney said. A photograph of the program was e-mailed anonymously to news outlets throughout the state.
It's comforting to know the people responsible for maintaining peace and upholding public order hold such things in high regard.
Black said the class president was ex-military, and that the slogan "slipped in." He declined to identify the graduate.
Very comforting indeed.

Makes you think warm, fuzzy thoughts about the future of the country.

Happy Holidays!

How Much Terrorism Did You Finance This Christmas?

If you bought a pirate DVD of a Hollywood movie to stick in your kid's stocking for Christmas, you're probably responsible for funding a beheading, a political assassination, or maybe even a suicide bombing, in India, or Pakistan, or maybe even Kashmir, the disputed territory that lies between them.

This is especially true if you live in Scotland.

I bet you never knew that before.

Neither did I, but then I caught a pair of articles by Richard Elias in The Scotsman, and I think he might be trying to tell us something.

The Glasgow connection
STRUGGLING for that last-minute Christmas present this year, many Scots will have succumbed to the tempting offer in the pub or work canteen of a cheap DVD of the latest Hollywood blockbuster. A useful stocking filler, thank you very much. It might be an illegal knock-off, but really, what's the harm?

That question has a chilling answer. Anyone who handed over their fiver may inadvertently have been funding a organisation responsible for dozens of killings, bombings and political assassinations, thousands of miles away in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Another piece from the same author explains things better:

Counterfeit DVD gang funds Kashmiri terrorists
A SCOTTISH gang is bankrolling murderous terrorist attacks in Kashmir, raising hundreds of thousands of pounds each year through counterfeiting and mortgage fraud...

MI5 sources say around 50 Scots Asians – most of them in Glasgow – are raising funds for Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), a Kashmiri separatist group responsible for hundreds of deaths and reportedly involved in the kidnap and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.

Much of the cash raised in Scotland is sent first to Dubai, where it is laundered, and then passed to JeM terrorists operating in the Kashmir region, say security sources.

It is estimated that up to £50,000 a month is raised in Scotland. As well as money from mortgage fraud, around £15,000 of this total is raised by selling counterfeit DVDs, CDs and clothing at market stalls and in pubs and clubs across Scotland.
These reports may be chilling, but they don't make much sense if you think about them from the point of view of the "security services": They know the money being sent to JeM is coming through Dubai and being laundered there; they know who's sending the money, and they even know how the bad guys are getting it!

So why are they telling us about it? Why don't they just arrest the bad guys? Call them terrorist suspects, and hold them (for up to 28 days) while searching their homes for incriminating evidence.

What's the problem? Have they no stock? What would it take? A stack of DVDs -- all of the same movie? What are they gonna say? "Hey! I was gonna watch those!"

Or if they can't arrest the DVD pirates, why don't they choke off the funds in Dubai? Dubai is our ally in the War On Terror, right? That's why we still do business there, isn't it?

But instead the "security services" get some chump from The Scotsman to write about it!

Why? Just to scare us?

You don't have to answer that if you don't want to.

But think about it: Bombings! Political assassinations! Beheadings!! All because you bought a pirate DVD ...

Elias doesn't mention it, and nobody else ever does either, but fortunately, if you buy your Christmas presents (and everything else) from legitimate (i.e. established corporate) sources, if you pay your taxes and obey the law of the land, you're only responsible for stuff like this:

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas / Oh War

I've been making jokes and posting music today, and enjoying the holiday with my family too, but I can't help feeling there's something incomparably obscene about being at war at Christmas -- let alone a war of choice, let alone a war with religious underpinnings that's billed as just and righteous, but -- like all the wars of my lifetime -- just happens to be about money, and power, and oil.

... all of which brings me back to a piece I wrote three years ago today:
Some days I just cannot get past the utter depravity of it all. We've got cold-blooded mass murder; routine torture; blind, blinded, blinding patriotism; and a media-inspired madness that has self-described Christians clamoring for all manner of grotesque and inhuman cruelty. Merry Christmas to all.

And it gets worse: Now we're supposed to believe that this horror is justified by the president's claim that God speaks through him. Oh really? What kind of God would tell anyone to do this? What kind of America would allow it?

Words fail me. Or at least, I don't have any more words of my own.

Listen to Pye Dubois, writing for Max Webster:

Oh War

Oh war, it's been done before
that's what they say
I wasn't there, they say there's one today
I don't care, I'm not there today

'cause I'd say "fuck you" instead of "thank you"
your choice under your breath
oh say go to hell
I'll go American express

Oh war, history says you're in it
your sister's boyfriend's in it
so so long, soldier, wash your socks and guns
and just remember
if you don't see a profit, sell your stocks and run

'cause I'd say "fuck you" instead of "thank you"
your choice under your breath
oh say no to hell
I'll go American express
It's especially dismal to see how little has changed in those three years, despite the best efforts of so many.

Oh well. Keep pluggin'.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Digesting The Paradox Whole: A Useful Political Tool

Jonah Goldberg has just published a fanciful novel called, "Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning". The title itself displays an enormous twisting of historical fact, of course, since Liberalism and Fascism represent quite opposite points of view. The publication of such fiction as if it were fact serves enormous and enormously vile political purposes, so Goldberg's new novel may be worthy of more attention than it deserves, so to speak.

And Larisa Alexandrovna just dessicates it in a new post called "Springtime for Hitler", the title of which refers to the following three and a half minutes of insane video (which you just have to see!)



You should read all of what Larisa wrote about Goldberg's novel, but I especially want you to see this:
Would Jesus support torture, war, mass-murder of innocents, and the wants of the rich over the needs of the poor? If you have read the bible, then you know that Jesus would call these things evil and yet the far right of American Christianity seems capable of digesting this paradox whole, without chewing or tasting it, let alone questioning the ingredients. These Christians do support war, helping the rich get richer at the expense of the poor, and anything the state demands as proof of loyalty. But they don't see these things as evil. Why do you suppose that is?

Because these types of Christian are a useful political tool, a state tool even, nothing more. They are popular with the fascist state mechanism because they provide a ready group of mindless drones, who can quickly be filled with political dogma, which they will accept as the teachings of God.

The same of course applies to Muslim extremists who while claiming to be doing the work of Allah are actually going against the very teachings of the Koran. After all, blowing up innocent people is not the work of a true Muslim. It is the work of a political system which prays on the minds of those who have faith, but no real understanding of the teachings of their religion.

And obviously this also applies to Jewish extremists who try to erase all Jewish identity and replace it with devout nationalism.
In my opinion, you should read the whole piece, either at Larisa's blog or at Huffington Post.

Your opinions, as always, are most welcome.

Consumer Advocates Suggest Giving Cash, Not Gift Cards

I can still remember how puzzled I was when I received my first Gift Certificate. I nodded and smiled at the explanation I was offered, but somehow I couldn't quite accept the notion that this paper in my hand was "just as good as money", with the obvious exception that it could only be spent in one place.

When I was a teenager, aunts and uncles would say "We didn't know what to get you, so we bought you a gift certificate so you could choose for yourself!"

I'd hold my tongue rather than asking the obvious question: "If you knew you didn't know what I wanted, then what made you think you knew where I would want to get it?"

"It's just as good as money," they would say, and I would somehow restrain myself from adding, "But it lacks the thing that makes money useful!"

And even though I could see as a young child that gift certificates were stupid, their attraction has grown ever stronger, and now you can buy an electronically encoded Gift Card from almost anywhere.

But why would you?

In Canada, a major media report is actually informing its readers that cash makes a better gift than a gift card.

Can you imagine!
The Consumers' Association of Canada is recommending that shoppers give cash instead of buying gift cards, which often go unused or come with many restrictions for their recipients.

"We recommend you forget about it completely and use cash," CAC spokesman Bruce Cran said.

One recent study in the United States reaffirmed other reports that consumers are losing out to retailers, estimating that 25 per cent of all gift cards go unused. Best Buy Co., for example, reported a profit of $43 million US from unused cards last year. Limited Brands Inc. recorded $30 million US in 2005 revenue because of unredeemed cards.
Why give big retailers all that free money?

Bruce Cran was right: Forget about it completely! Don't make an unnecessary trip to an unnecessary store to buy an unnecessary gift care that would put unnecessary restrictions on your intended recipient!

Don't think, "We didn't know what you wanted but we knew where you'd buy it".

Think, "We wanted you to be able to choose where to spend this!"
Canadians spent $1.8 billion on gift cards in 2006, and the amount is forecast to exceed $3 billion this year.
What's wrong in Canada? Are their brains all frozen?
The consumers' association has received numerous complaints about gift cards, which often have unexpected expiry dates, restrictions on cash-back services and administrative fees, Cran said.
Unexpected expiry dates? Restrictions? Administrative fees? Beautiful! This is all much more complicated -- and apparently much more lucrative -- than the old-fashioned gift certificate scam which I found so appalling as a kid.

So smarten up out there, will ya?

Thanks to those who do, and a very Merry Christmas to all my friends and readers -- indeed to all sentient beings!

... and to all your friends and relatives, too, of course!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Belgian Jailbreak Terror Plot And What It Tells Us About The GWOT

Something very scary happened in Belgium just the other day, and nobody's quite sure what it was. But if you watch closely, you might see a very familiar pattern:

Friday

The Belfast Telegraph: Security stepped up amid terror fears in Belgium
Security has been stepped up across Belgium after the arrest of 14 people accused of planning to break an al-Qa'ida militant out of jail.

Extra guards have been posted at airports, stations and Christmas markets after police said they couldn't be certain they had captured all those involved.

The group is suspected of trying to free a Tunisian man jailed four years ago for planning to detonate a car bomb at a Belgian air base where US military personnel were stationed.
First of all: the US military personnel stationed in Belgium are there to protect America!

You may wonder how they could protect America while stationed in Belgium.

It's because Belgium is part of the World, and the "G" in "GWOT" stands for "Global".

In other words, the only way for America to protect itself is to station troops and advisers and such, in or near every country in the world. "G" as in "Global".

You may wonder why other countries do not protect themselves in the same manner, sending troops all over the world in a self-declared (and self-described) "Long War" against something "Global".

From the UK's Telegraph: Fourteen arrested in Belgian terror plot
Belgian police have arrested fourteen Islamic extremists suspected to be planning a raid to free an man imprisoned for planning a terror attack on a US air base, according to officials.

The US Embassy has issued a warning to expatriates in the area of a "heightened risk of terrorist attack" in Brussels despite there being no indication of any American targets, while security has been heightened at airports, underground stations and other public places in the capital.

The Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, said that there had been indications suggesting "preparation of an attack".

"Other acts of violence are not to be excluded", he added.

The men were trying to free Nizar Trabelsi, a 37-year-old Tunisian ex-footballer who was given a 10-year sentence after he admitted planning to drive a car bomb into the mess at a Belgian airbase where around 100 US military personnel are posted. The prosecutor's office said that the fourteen intended to free Trabelsi using violence.

The US Embassy issued an alert to its citizens in Belgium to maintain a high level of vigilance, but made it clear that it had "no information to indicate that U.S. citizens or facilities are an intended target."
If "other acts of violence are not to be excluded", the situation is impossibly grave, isn't it?

Here's a hint: They want you to think so!

From the Financial Times: Belgium arrests 14 in terror probe
Belgium said yesterday it had dismantled an Islamic terrorist cell that allegedly planned to free a member of al-Qaeda from jail and potentially carry out attacks in the capital, Brussels, Andrew Bounds reports.

Police made 14 arrests, seized arms and explosives and declared a heightened alert, warning of unspecified threats.

The federal prosecutors' service said the group intended to free al-Qaeda operative Nizar Trabelsi, who was arrested two days after the September 11 attacks in the US. He was jailed for 10 years in 2004 for plotting to blow up a military base on the Belgian/Dutch border.

Those arrested allegedly aimed to blast a hole in the wall to release the Tunisian former professional footballer.

Most of those detained were from north Africa, and police reportedly acted on the instructions of an anti-terrorist magistrate after they had kept the suspects under surveillance for some time.

Officials from Belgium's crisis co-ordination centre said extra police had been deployed at airports, on public transport and in shops and central Brussels.
Did you catch all that? These reports are not excerpts, by the way, but full news stories. The depth of detail is quite something, isn't it? And that matters! because getting this sequence of events straight is a key, in my opinion, to a clear understanding of the Global War On Terror.

So: What happened? Belgian police arrested 14 people who they say were plotting to break another person out of jail.

It's not at all obvious why, something like this -- a pre-emptive coup against terror, if you will -- increases the risk to your airports, harbors, bridges and landmarks, as well as public transport, shops in the capital (and other cities as well). You may ask why this is so.

And you may think it strange to act as if these Islamic radicals -- who couldn't do what they were trying to do, given months to prepare, while they were simply under surveillance -- would be able to attack airports and buses and shops and such, on a moment's notice, while in police custody.

Or if they themselves wouldn't attack in "response" to their own arrest, who else would do so? Some other group of radicals who are so sympathetic to the very same cause, no doubt: some other radicals who are so well-prepared and so ready to strike that they are utterly unknown to the Belgian security forces who have been watching these 14 knuckleheads for months? Yeah, sure!

You may think it very strange indeed to instigate a wide-ranging security alert because of having arrested some supposed terrorists, whether they posed a legitimate threat or not...

Which, as it turns out, maybe they didn't!

Saturday

From the AP via the New York Times: Belgium Frees 14 Held as Plot Suspects
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- A judge released 14 suspected Islamic extremists Saturday for lack of evidence of their involvement in a plot to break free an al-Qaida prisoner convicted of planning an attack on U.S. air base personnel.

Prosecutors said the investigation would continue and that heightened security measures imposed across the country after Friday's arrests would remain in place through the New Year. "We think there is still a threat," said Lieve Pellens, spokeswoman for the Federal Prosecutor's office.

She said intelligence that an attack could be imminent meant the security forces had to act without waiting to gather the evidence.

"We could not treat this as we would a normal criminal case," Pellens said. "According to our investigation there were sufficient indications pointing to a terrorist threat. That is why we did not wait to detain the suspects."
So ... the police were so sure an attack was imminent that they simply had to act ... and then?
The government had said it had information the suspects were plotting to use explosives and other weapons to free Nizar Trabelsi [photo], a 37-year-old Tunisian serving 10 years for planning to a drive a car bomb into the cafeteria of a Belgian air base where about 100 American military personnel were stationed.

Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt warned Friday that the suspects could have other targets and stepped up police patrols in public places, including the Brussels airport, subway stations and the capital's popular downtown Christmas market.

The 14 suspects were arrested Friday in overnight raids. Reports indicated explosives had also been seized ...
Surely the explosives that were seized would be considered compelling evidence, no?

Even in Belgium?

But no!

No explosives, that is:
[Lieve] Pellens [spokeswoman for the Federal Prosecutor's office] said Saturday that searches of the suspects' homes uncovered no explosives, weapons or other evidence to persuade a magistrate to either charge them with any offense or keep them in jail.
So much for the "imminent" threat. They were just about to explode a bomb which we can't find in 24 hours even though we've been watching these guys forever!

The natural reaction in normal times might be to criticize the prosecution, but this is the GWOT, after all, and the G in GWOT is wild: It matches anything; it's here one day, Belgium the next, and could visit your home town tomorrow.

So tremble in fear!

Instead of condemning the prosecutors for arresting all these people without having any evidence against them, the occasion is marked by an assault on the law that says people who are arrested with no evidence must be promptly released:
The release renewed criticism of Belgian laws giving authorities 24 hours to present enough evidence to charge suspects or free them.

"Twenty-four hours is just not enough to look at the evidence in a terrorist inquiry," said Claude Moniquet, president of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, a Brussels think tank.

"The police get the same time to question a terrorist as they would a shoplifter," he said. "It's a judicial fiasco."

Most European nations allow police to hold terror suspects longer without charges. The limit is 48 hours in Germany, five days in Spain, six days in France and 28 days in Britain, according to the human rights group Liberty.
And of course in the USA there's no limit at all. The president can declare you an illegal enemy combatant, and detain your sorry ass forever, or he can send a hit squad after you. Or if you're lucky they might detail a drone to drop a missile on your car. Talk about a judicial fiasco!! And this is supposedly justified by the seriousness of the charge.

In other words, if the Americans accuse you of a crime as serious as terrorism, that's enough: they don't have to prove it. They don't have to prove anything, and you don't even have to have a hearing.

But that's not the way it is in Belgium ... not yet, anyway.

In Belgium, for some reason, there's at least one judge who still believes the old-fashioned rule of thumb that the more serious the charge the more evidence is needed to substantiate it. How September tenth!

Meanwhile, on the by-now nearly-irrelevant question: "What happened?"
The U.S. Embassy warned Americans on Friday of "a heightened risk of terrorist attack in Brussels," although it said it had no indication of specific targets.
No indication of any heightened risk of attack either, truth be told.

You may wonder why, in the absence of any evidence of imminent attack, a terror alert would be thrown upon an entire (albeit small) country. You may have a lot of questions. In fact you may be utterly confused -- even if you're an "analyst".

Some analysts see events such as this one -- and the results of the Miami Mice trial, and the public testimony of William (Jameel) Chrisman -- as losses for the Terror Warriors, but perhaps they don't understand the nature of the bogus war on bogus terror.

It's actually Mission Accomplished in a No-Lose Situation for the Terror Warriors, for a number of reasons, not least because the headlines that flashed around the world on Friday will have made an impact that will last forever, whereas the news that the suspects were released for lack of evidence will be soft-pedaled starting immediately if not sooner:
Belgian officials said police were continuing to investigate documents, computers and other unspecified materials found in the raids on the suspects' homes.

"The release of the 14 does not mean the investigation is finished. All the material that was found is being examined," Alain Lefevre, a director of the Belgian government's Crisis Center, told a news conference.

The suspects, whose names were not released, were expected to remain under police surveillance and could be detained again if more evidence is uncovered.

But Moniquet, the security expert, said he doubted the Belgian police had the resources to maintain an effective watch on all 14.
Well of course the Belgians don't have sufficient resources to watch all 14, let alone fight the GWOT properly -- Who does?

And that's the whole point: Now Belgium gets to spend billions more on "security" to monitor a bunch of "Islamic radicals" who will probably turn out to be chumps and knuckleheads, infiltrated, enticed, and/or entrapped into creating so much tangible evidence of a threat ...

... that Belgium may have to change its laws!

And that's the beauty of the GWOT, which stands for "Global Assault on the Rule of Law".

Once the rule of law is gone, it may be gone forever. This is called "advancing democracy".

Now that you understand the purpose and meaning of the GWOT, it's easy to see why air travel restrictions are still in place, even though they were instituted more than a year ago in "response" to a non-existent threat that was portrayed as immense and imminent.
This is the GWOT, my friend / and it might never end...
Apologies to Mary Hopkin and all, but really: How can this global madness possibly end?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Zelikow: CIA Withheld Tapes, Impeded 9/11 Investigation: Yeah, Right!!

The pot calls the kettle black, as the New York Times says a study of 9/11 commission documents indicates that the CIA impeded the investigation by failing to share videotapes of certain interrogations...

... and this is crucial because...

... if the commission had seen videotapes of two guys getting waterboarded and one of them implicating two of our key allies in the "global war on terrorism"...

... then the commission would have done a full investigation rather than a whitewash...

... and the criminals who foisted this ugly reality upon us would be hanging from the ceilings of tiny cages right now...

... rather than enjoying the fruits of their deception ...

... unless the relevant sections of the commission's report got redacted!!

Perhaps even more crucial, this revelation gives the whitewashers some much-needed cover: Now they can blame the Agency for impeding the investigation!

And that's why the "9/11 Panel Report" mentioned in the headline was written by Philip Zelikow, who personally orchestrated the whitewash.

Strangely (or not!), the NYT dipsy-doodles around the main story-line, which comes out like this:
A review of classified documents by former members of the Sept. 11 commission shows that the panel made repeated and detailed requests to the Central Intelligence Agency in 2003 and 2004 for documents and other information about the interrogation of operatives of Al Qaeda, and were told by a top C.I.A. official that the agency had “produced or made available for review” everything that had been requested.

The review was conducted earlier this month after the disclosure that in November 2005, the C.I.A. destroyed videotapes documenting the interrogations of two Qaeda operatives.

A seven-page memorandum prepared by Philip D. Zelikow, the panel’s former executive director, concluded that “further investigation is needed” to determine whether the C.I.A.’s withholding of the tapes from the commission violated federal law.

In interviews this week, the two chairmen of the commission, Lee H. Hamilton and Thomas H. Kean, said their reading of the report had convinced them that the agency had made a conscious decision to impede the Sept. 11 commission’s inquiry.
And so on. This bit was particularly rich:
A copy of the memorandum, dated Dec. 13, was obtained by The New York Times.

Among the statements that the memorandum suggests were misleading was an assertion made on June 29, 2004, by John E. McLaughlin, the deputy director of central intelligence, that the C.I.A. “has taken and completed all reasonable steps necessary to find the documents in its possession, custody or control responsive” to formal requests by the commission and “has produced or made available for review” all such documents.

Both Mr. Kean and Mr. Hamilton expressed anger after it was revealed this month that the tapes had been destroyed. However, the report by Mr. Zelikow gives them new evidence to buttress their views about the C.I.A.’s actions and is likely to put new pressure on the Bush administration over its handling of the matter.
Yeah, sure! Pressure on the Bush administration!

That's a good one!!

See also: Connecting The 9/11 Dots: Dead Cutouts, Destroyed Tapes, And The Hidden Assumption That Poisons Everything

Friday, December 21, 2007

Holy Terror: Suicide Bomb In Pakistan Mosque

An apparent suicide bomb attack today in Pakistan has killed at least 50 people but left the apparent target, politician Aftab Sherpao [photo], unharmed. The explosion occurred in a mosque on the compound of the former Interior Minister, and injured at least 80 others who were observing the Eid holiday.

Aftab Sherpao has been Pakistan's chief law enforcement official under President Musharraf, and is running for Parliament in the January 8 elections. He survived another apparent assassination attempt earlier this year.

As David Rhode reported for the New York Times:
In a telephone interview, Mr. Sherpao said that the bomb exploded as he and his relatives prayed in the front row of worshipers. He said he believed that the attacker had detonated the bomb in the third or fourth row of worshipers.

"It was a massacre," Mr. Sherpao said, his voice shaking with anger. "I can tell you that."
Rhode continues:
Independent Pakistani television stations showed images of blood-spattered prayer caps and clothes scattered across a white marble courtyard outside the mosque. Trails of scarlet blood marked where the injured were dragged from the building. Dozens of pairs of shoes – those of the dead and wounded -- lay abandoned.

The mosque, a modest white structure, was in the former minister's family compound in his ancestral village of Sherpao. A local police official estimated that hundreds of people were inside the mosque at the time of the attack, celebrating the holiday with him. The number of dead was expected to rise through the day.

In an interview on a local Pakistani television station, Farman Ali, a local government official, expressed "shock" that better security arrangements were not made during Mr. Sherpao's visit.
Riaz Khan of the AP had more details on the bomb and the security, via the Washington Post:
The bomb contained between 13-17 pounds of explosives and was filled with nails and ball bearings to maximize casualties, said the head of the bomb unit at the scene, who declined to give his name.
...

Iqbal Hussain, a police officer in charge of security at the mosque, said all those who entered had been made to pass through a body scanner and were searched with metal and explosive detectors.

Hamid Nawaz, the current interior minister, maintained there was no security lapse.

"All possible care had been taken, there was no lapse as such ... but such an incident can happen at such a gathering," Nawaz said on Aaj TV.
The metal detector couldn't spot fifteen pounds of ball bearings?

Please forgive my cynicism.
Bloodied clothes, hats, shoes and pieces of flesh were strewn about the building. Witnesses said the dead included police officers guarding Sherpao, who was praying in the mosque's front row at the time but not injured.

"We were saying prayers when this huge explosion occurred," said Shaukat Ali, a 26-year-old survivor of the blast whose white cloak and pants were torn and spattered with blood.

The bomber was praying in a row of worshippers when he detonated the explosive, provincial police chief Sharif Virk said. Hundreds of people were in or around the mosque, about 40 yards from Sherpao's house, witnesses said.

District mayor Farman Ali Khan said between 50 and 55 people were killed, and authorities were collecting information on their identities. Local police chief Feroz Shah said over 100 were wounded.

The hospital in Peshawar was wracked with chaos as the injured arrived in pickup trucks, ambulance sirens wailed and the wounded screamed for help.
...

A bulldozer was brought in to dig graves for the dead next to the mosque. Other volunteers used shovels.

Tom Toles: What Could Happen Next?


Toles puts the GWOT in a nutshell.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Inquiry Says "Criminal Collusion" In The "Escape" Of Rashid Rauf

The report from an official Pakistani inquiry into the "escape" of Rashid Rauf disputes the claims of the two policemen who were escorting the alleged Liquid Bomber and calls his disappearance "a case of criminal collusion", according to an article published a few hours ago by Pakistan's Dawn.

The piece, by Mohammad Asghar, is the only account of the inquiry report currently available in English on the internet. It is confusing in spots and perhaps we will have to await clarification; but on the other hand Mohammad Asghar writes English better than I read Urdu, so I'm not complaining too much.

The main problem -- with either Mohammad Asghar's account or the inquiry report itself -- is that it describes two mutually exclusive timelines as if they both happened!

Regular readers know the background: Rashid Rauf was called "a key person" in the alleged "Liquid Bomber" plot, which was called "an imminent threat" despite the fact that none of the so-called "trans-Atlantic airline bombers" had bought airline tickets, and was to have killed "hundreds of thousands of people" despite the fact that the method of attack described in this case was utterly impossible.

And Rashid Rauf, who was arrested in Pakistan in August of 2006, has been in custody ever since, despite the fact that all the charges against him have been dropped -- twice.

But the British still want him (officially in connection with a five-year-old murder, and unofficially in connection with the so-called "terror plot"). And Britain and Pakistan don't have an extradition treaty, but the Pakistanis want something in return, so an exchange of prisoners was being arranged -- and just last week the British collected a few new prisoners to swap.

The British have denied this, but the Pakistanis have confirmed it.

In any case, on Saturday, December 15, after being taken from jail in Rawalpindi to an extradition hearing in Islamabad, Rashid Rauf "escaped" from police custody.

At first we were told that he somehow slipped out of his handcuffs and overpowered two policemen, but that didn't fly.

Then we got a second story about how his uncle took Rashid and the constables out for lunch and then they stopped at a mosque where Rashid got permission to go in and pray -- alone! But that didn't fly either.

So now we have this inquiry, which itself seems flightless.

One one hand, Mohammad Asghar quotes the inquiry's report as saying
“The escape was made good in the vicinity of F-8 Markaz, the district courts, Islamabad, and right after the hearing."
But on the other hand he says:
After the hearing, both the constables escorted Rauf out of the court and instead of a police van they put him in a private car, brought by Rashid Rauf’s uncle and drove back to Adiala. They removed the handcuff of Rauf at his request and stopped at a restaurant.

Later Rauf requested the constable to allow him to offer Zuhr prayers in a mosque from where he escaped.
You see the problem? If Rashid Rauf escaped in Islamabad, right after the hearing, then he didn't go to a restaurant and a mosque in Rawalpindi, did he?

Mohammad Asghar gives some support to the notion that the "escape" happened in Islamabad:
A source close to the investigation revealed that coming to know about the escape, the SSP [Senior Superintendent of Police] contacted the uncle of Rauf on his cellphone and was told that Rauf had escaped from F-8 Markaz.
So it looks as though "burgers and prayers" was simply a cover story -- a ploy to give Rashid Rauf time to get away.

If this was, as it looks, a deliberate release, then why wouldn't they let him go as soon as possible after the hearing, then take as long as possible to report it?

When asked why it took so long to report their prisoner missing, they could describe the ride to McDonald's, they could describe waiting for him outside the mosque, they could talk about the time they spent looking for him, and perhaps in the end they could get away with calling it a "mistake".

Be that as it may; by the time all the reporting got started, Rashid Rauf would be long gone.

That's how I would do it. All this rigmarole would be part of the plan, anyway. But I would expect the inquiry to sort it all out. And they don't seem to have done that.

They do appear to have got partway there.
According to sources, the telephone call record of the two constables suggested that Nawabzada and Tufail talked to each other at least three times after Rauf went missing. The location of Nawabzada was a private bus stand near Choor while Tufail was somewhere else, whereas both claimed that they had been guarding Rauf.
So it's pretty clear that the constables are lying.

It's also apparent that they have taken some liberties with the same prisoner in the recent past.
The report contains statements of two constables, Mohammad Tufail and Nawabzada, saying they had transported Rashid Rauf from Adiala jail to Islamabad on three previous hearings.
...

It is learnt that during previous hearings, the two constables, while on way to Adiala, had illegally taken Rauf to his uncle’s home.
So ... what about this time?

Mohammad Asghar makes it seem as if the second timeline, which I have called a "cover story", appears in the report as part of its account of what really happened, rather than merely what the perpetrators said to cover their tracks.

High-level chicanery, as we well know, is often a sign of high-level coverup. So if this is a fair characterization of the inquiry report, some very high-level people are going to be very upset.

Mohammad Asghar quotes the report as saying:
"It is not a case of negligence but a case of criminal collusion with the accused and facilitating him to escape.”
"The accused" in this instance include the two constables, Mohammad Tufail and Nawabzada, as well as Rashid Rauf's uncle Muhammad Rafiq and two others whose names have not yet been released.

A previous report says phone records indicate conversations between Constable Tufail and Uncle Rafiq before the day of Rashid Rauf's "escape". Were they setting up the arrangements? Were they concocting the cover story? We might never know.

But given what we know already, it seems fairly clear that the "criminal collusion" runs much higher than these two constables.

Here's Mohammad Asghar, one more time:
The inquiry report also concluded that it was not the fault only of the two constables who had brought the accused from Adiala, but the entire Headquarters Establishment of the ICT [Islamabad Capital Territory] police was responsible for not taking appropriate security measures.
If the official account -- the one being dissed by Western diplomats -- is as ragged as this article makes the inquiry report seem, it's no wonder they're saying it contradicts itself on key points!!

We probably haven't seen the last of this inquiry, although we may very well have seen the last of Rashid Rauf.

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thirtieth in a series