Monday, September 03, 2007

Are We ‘Good Germans'? By Ed Ciaccio

A shirt I recently bought from Old American Century ( ) has the figure of Uncle Sam, steely-eyed, fists on hips, and under it, the following text:

“If you had told me a few years ago that we would have secret prisons through out the former Soviet republics, tortured our enemies, and used chemical weapons on civilians, I’d have thought you were crazy. But I also didn’t think you’d let Bush steal another election.”

Regardless of whether you choose to believe that both the 2000 and 2004 Presidential Elections were stolen (and there is ample evidence; see, for example and ), there are many other disturbing facts about our nation which no longer need to rest on faith to be “believed” because they are now part of the historical record.

Among them are the following:

Bush and his administration had many warnings before the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks ( )

War on Iraq for “regime change” was planned long before the 9/11 attacks ( ,,12956,1036687,00.html , and )

Intelligence about Iraq was “fixed” starting in 2002 to support Bush and Blair’s decision to attack Iraq ( and )

The U.S./U.K. invasion and occupation of Iraq is illegal and constitutes the supreme war crime, that of an unprovoked, preventive war of aggression similar to Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 ( , , and )

Over one million Iraqis died, including over 500,000 children, as a result of the sanctions imposed by George H.W. Bush after the 1991 Gulf War and then maintained by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush until the U.S./U.K. invasion in March, 2003 ( , , , and ) as all three administrations tried to provoke “regime change” in Iraq

Detainees held in U.S. prisons in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq have been tortured ( and )

CIA “Rendition” (kidnapping) of terrorist suspects to nations known to torture started in the Clinton administration, continued and increased under Bush, and was known by “top officials” ( and )

U.S. forces have committed war crimes by using weapons such as napalm (Mark 77 firebombs), depleted uranium, white phosphorous, and cluster bombs in Iraq ( , , , and )

Between 600,000 and one million Iraqis have died since the March, 2003 illegal U.S./U.K. invasion and occupation* ( , )

In spite of prior warnings, Bush failed to have the New Orleans levees repaired or see New Orleans was properly prepared for Hurricane Katrina (,1518,372455,00.html and )

Bush admitted he broke the FISA law, an impeachable offense ( , , and )

*If you consider the one million Iraqis who died as a result of the 1991-2003 sanctions and the one million who have died since the 2003 invasion, the word genocide comes to mind. If you consider the four million Iraqi refugees resulting from our invasion and occupation, and the resulting sectarian violence causing the creation of unprecedented sectarian enclaves in Iraq, the term ethnic cleansing comes to mind.

As Americans, supposedly believing in the rule of law, supposedly believing in fairness and compassion, what do we do now that we know these facts?

Do we deny them because they clash with our view of America as the “greatest country in the world”?

Do we shrug and say, “Well, every country has its dark side”?

Do we throw up our hands and complain that we can’t do much because Cheney and Bush have so much power and, besides, they’ll be out of office soon?

Or do we simply turn the page and see what else is on TV?

The “Good Germans” who did nothing had similar reactions while Hitler destroyed Europe and murdered 6 million Jews, and 5 million Poles, Russians, Communists, homosexuals and other “non-Aryans” in his death camps. They denied, or accepted and approved, or said they didn’t know, or (justifiably for many) feared punishment or death in Hitler’s dictatorship.

But we don’t live in a dictatorship.

And we DO know what has been done in our name.

So who are we? What have we become?

Right now there are three massive U.S. aircraft carrier task forces in the Persian Gulf, and B-1 and B-2 bombers and many fighters on airfields in countries surrounding Iran. They are there waiting for Bush, with Cheney’s urging, to give the signal to repeat “shock and awe’, this time on the Iranian people.

Right now another propaganda campaign, similar to that which preceded our 2003 Iraq invasion, is beginning, but this time charging Iran with unproven “evils” against our troops in Iraq. Again it is accepted without challenge by our compliant, corporate mainstream media with its many links to the so-called “defense” industry. Meanwhile, that same media distracts us with “coverage” of Larry Craig’s men’s room saga, or the death of Princess Di ten years later, or John Edwards’ haircuts, or Britney, or Lindsay, or Paris, or…

And right now, Iranian forces are accused, with little, if any, solid evidence, of helping kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Meanwhile, ignored by our media, U.S. special forces and CIA operatives are in Iran selecting targets for our planes, drones, and cruise missiles and supporting anti-Iranian government groups there. In effect, we have been waging war on Iran from inside Iran for almost two years already ( and ).

And now Bush wants our always-accommodating Congress, Democrats and Republicans, to declare a part of Iran’s military as “terrorists.” This will enable him to attack Iran without Congressional authorization.

These are also facts.

So what will you do about this?

Will you be a “Good German”?

History Will Not Absolve Us - Leaked Red Cross report sets up Bush team for international war-crimes trial by Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff

If and when there's the equivalent of an international Nuremberg trial for the American perpetrators of crimes against humanity in Guantánamo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the CIA's secret prisons, there will be mounds of evidence available from documented international reports by human-rights organizations, including an arm of the European parliament—as well as such deeply footnoted books as Stephen Grey's Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program (St. Martin's Press) and Charlie Savage's just-published Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy (Little, Brown).

While the Democratic Congress has yet to begin a serious investigation into what many European legislators already know about American war crimes, a particularly telling report by the International Committee of the Red Cross has been leaked that would surely figure prominently in such a potential Nuremberg trial. The Red Cross itself is bound to public silence concerning the results of its human-rights probes of prisons around the world—or else governments wouldn't let them in.

But The New Yorker's Jane Mayer has sources who have seen accounts of the Red Cross interviews with inmates formerly held in CIA secret prisons. In "The Black Sites" (August 13, The New Yorker), Mayer also reveals the effect on our torturers of what they do—on the orders of the president—to "protect American values."

She quotes a former CIA officer: "When you cross over that line of darkness, it's hard to come back. You lose your soul. You can do your best to justify it, but . . . you can't go back to that dark a place without it changing you."

Few average Americans have been changed, however, by what the CIA does in our name. Blame that on the tight official secrecy that continues over how the CIA extracts information. On July 20, the Bush administration issued a new executive order authorizing the CIA to continue using these techniques—without disclosing anything about them.

If we, the people, are ultimately condemned by a world court for our complicity and silence in these war crimes, we can always try to echo those Germans who claimed not to know what Hitler and his enforcers were doing. But in Nazi Germany, people had no way of insisting on finding out what happened to their disappeared neighbors.

We, however, have the right and the power to insist that Congress discover and reveal the details of the torture and other brutalities that the CIA has been inflicting in our name on terrorism suspects.

Only one congressman, Oregon's Democratic senator Ron Wyden, has insisted on probing the legality of the CIA's techniques—so much so that Wyden has blocked the appointment of Bush's nominee, John Rizzo, from becoming the CIA's top lawyer. Rizzo, a CIA official since 2002, has said publicly that he didn't object to the Justice Department's 2002 "torture" memos, which allowed the infliction of pain unless it caused such injuries as "organ failure . . . or even death." (Any infliction of pain up to that point was deemed not un-American.) Mr. Rizzo would make a key witness in any future Nuremberg trial.

As Jane Mayer told National Public Radio on August 6, what she found in the leaked Red Cross report, and through her own extensive research on our interrogators (who are cheered on by the commander in chief), is "a top-down-controlled, mechanistic, regimented program of abuse that was signed off on—at the White House, really—and then implemented at the CIA from the top levels all the way down. . . . They would put people naked for up to 40 days in cells where they were deprived of any kind of light. They would cut them off from any sense of what time it was or . . . anything that would give them a sense of where they were."

She also told of the CIA interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, who was not only waterboarded (a technique in which he was made to feel that he was about to be drowned) but also "kept in . . . a small cage, about one meter [39.7 inches] by one meter, in which he couldn't stand up for a long period of time. [The CIA] called it the dog box."

Whether or not there is another Nuremberg trial—and Congress continues to stay asleep—future historians of the Bush administration will surely also refer to Leave No Marks: Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality, the July report by Human Rights First and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The report emphasizes that the president's July executive order on CIA interrogations—which, though it is classified, was widely hailed as banning "torture and cruel and inhuman treatment"—"fails explicitly to rule out the use of the 'enhanced' techniques that the CIA authorized in March, 2002, "with the president's approval (emphasis added).

In 2002, then–Secretary of State Colin Powell denounced the "torture" memos and other interrogation techniques in internal reports that reached the White House. It's a pity he didn't also tell us. But Powell's objections should keep him out of the defendants' dock in any future international trial.

From the Leave No Marks report, here are some of the American statutes that the CIA, the Defense Department, and the Justice Department have utterly violated:

In the 1994 Torture Convention Implementation Act, we put into U.S. law what we had signed in Article 5 of the UN Convention Against Torture, which is defined as "an act 'committed by an [officially authorized] person' . . . specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering . . . upon another person within his custody or physical control."

The 1997 U.S. War Crimes Act "criminalizes . . . specifically enumerated war crimes that the legislation refers to as 'grave breaches' of Common Article 3 [of the Geneva Conventions], including the war crimes of torture and 'cruel or inhuman treatment.'"

The Leave No Marks report very valuably brings the Supreme Court— before Chief Justice John Roberts took over—into the war-crimes record of this administration. I strongly suggest that Human Rights First and Physicians for Social Responsibility send their report—with the following section underlined—to every current member of the Supreme Court and Congress:

"The Supreme Court has long considered prisoner treatment to violate substantive due process if the treatment 'shocks the conscience,' is bound to offend even hardened sensibilities, or offends 'a principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental.'"

Among those fundamental rights cited by past Supreme Courts, the report continues, are "the rights to bodily integrity [and] the right to have [one's] basic needs met; and the right to basic human dignity" (emphasis added).

If the conscience of a majority on the Roberts Court isn't shocked by what we've done to our prisoners, then it will be up to the next president and the next Congress—and, therefore, up to us—to alter, in some respects, how history will judge us. But do you see any considerable signs, among average Americans, of the conscience being shocked? How about the presidential candidates of both parties?


“If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn’t we have to turn it over to get it to stand up straight?” - Eduardo Galeano

A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves. -- Edward R. Murrow

Trinkets and treasure: China tames the US By Julian Delasantellis

August in Seattle sees the arrival of Seafair, the city's annual midsummer entertainment and cultural festival. A traditional part of Seafair has been the arrival of a number of US Navy warships for the "parade of ships" through Puget Sound, then to dock in Seattle for tours by the large numbers of local citizenry who wait to board the ships for hours under the hot sun - in contrast to everything you might have heard, it rains very infrequently in Seattle during midsummer.

The parade of ships for Seafair 2007 was not all that impressive; just a few smaller navy combat and support ships. All the big capital ships of the navy's Pacific fleet are currently in the Persian Gulf, steaming around in circles, waiting to bump into something with an Iranian flag on it so the American neo-conservatives can manufacture a casus belli for a future catastrophic war in Iran that will divert Americans' attention from the current catastrophic war in Iraq.

But Seafair in the summer of 2001, in that last, innocent idyllic US summer of blissful ignorance of how a lot of the world really felt about it, that parade of ships was grand. At the ranch, President George W Bush chopped wood, and as the only lethal foreign threat heading toward the US homeland reported by the media from overseas was that of sharks, the navy sent a particularly impressive contingent for the parade of ships.

Led by the 100,000-ton nuclear aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis, and accompanied by a number of major combat support ships, it was a particularly impressive sight as it sailed in from the northern Pacific Ocean through the Strait of Juan de Fuca toward Seattle.

I remember that year I was watching the ships' transit from a bluff above Puget Sound. There I saw them paced, and then passed, by the actual greatest naval power existent then, and even more so now, on Earth: the great imperial battle fleet of the navy of the People's Republic of China.

Box it and ship it
In saying that I am in no way, shape or form referring to the actual People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy. What I mean, what I saw that day, were the real dreadnoughts of modern-day Chinese naval power, the huge containerized cargo ships, some Chinese, most not, full of Chinese manufactured goods, making another one of their visits to the port of Seattle, the same way they do to hundreds of other Western ports every single day.

English economist John Maynard Keynes once marveled that, even in the conditions of the nascent globalization of the early 20th century, he could, as a fine English gentleman, sit in his garden in the morning and enjoy the benefits of all manner of fruits and delicacies from all over the world. This is more so now; these days, the world's middle classes have ready access to products they barely knew existed, from countries that themselves barely existed only half a century ago.

Today, you don't have to be a fine English gentleman with a manservant to enjoy fruit from Turkey or prawns from Vietnam - being a middle-class North American or European with a charge card will do just as nicely.

No politician or ideology has accomplished this transformation; in reality, globalization's true avatar is now the containerized shipping unit, those standard 20-to-40-foot rectangular cargo boxes that are seamlessly transferred from oceangoing ships to inland transit, either by trains or trucks, or to inland-waterway transport on barges.

This phenomenon started in the mid-1920s with US Midwestern railroads working with converted railroad boxcars; in 1929, the Seatrain lines brought this concept to sea by driving railroad boxcars on to ships for transport from the US northeast to Cuba.

The advantages of containerized shipping are obvious: massive cranes rapidly handling the containers obviate the need for expensive work crews to offload and reload each cardboard box of cargo at each transfer point of the transport process (ie, from ship to train, then from train to truck); also, the locked containers mean that it is far less likely that expensive plasma TVs or fur coats might once again just happen to "fall off the truck" to wind up in someone's house.

A relatively recent phenomenon is the fitting of the containerized units with self-contained electric refrigeration units. This is the manner in which many of these exotic delicacies and sweetmeats find their way on to the dining tables of the West; stores and restaurants are just not making enough money selling prawns at US$20 a kilo to justify flying them in fresh in the cargo hold of a Boeing 747.

Some 4,000 containerized cargo ships sail the world's oceans. Mostly, this transport is reserved for finished, manufactured products; other cargo, such as petroleum products or wheat, move in their own, specially dedicated cargo ships.

The largest container-ship companies in the world are Denmark's Maersk, Germany's Hapag-Lloyd and MSC from Belgium. China's two state-owned shipping companies, China Ocean Shipping (Group) Co (COSCO) and China Shipping Container Lines Co Ltd (CSCL), are currently respectively the sixth- and eighth-largest shipping companies in the world.

This makes the power currently accruing to China from the world shipping process even more remarkable. China is dominating the world with a fleet it does not own, that it sacrificed no treasure to build.

Unhealthy addictions
About 600 years ago, China attempted to do naval supremacy the old-fashioned way. In the early 15th century, as the great British navy to come was tied down supporting British ground forces fighting across the English Channel in France in the Hundred Years' War, and while the greatest naval power in the Mediterranean was that of the Ottomans, the Ming Dynasty's Yongle Emperor, Zhu Di, possessed the largest and most powerful navy on Earth.

With almost 200 ships, nearly twice the fleet of the great Spanish Armada almost two centuries later, the Chinese fleet dominated the waters of the western South Pacific and Indian oceans, all the way to the east coast of Africa.

In his 2006 book 1421: The Year that the Chinese Discovered America, Gavin Menzies argues that the emperor's chief admiral, Zheng He, actually sailed up the east coast of South America to the Caribbean, "discovering" the New World (the one that native Americans had discovered thousands of years earlier) 71 years before Christopher Columbus.

But it was all for naught. Court intrigue, along with the cost of maintaining a navy of some 27,000 sailors, led the great Chinese navy of the Ming Dynasty eventually to wither away and die; it was argued at court that the treasure being expended on the navy was doing nothing to protect China from the land-based armies of the remnants of the Mongol Empire. From that point forward, the concept of a "Chinese navy" was just about the closest thing you could come to a textbook oxymoron, something on the order of "giant shrimp" or "military intelligence".

Until now.

You frequently see containerized cargo ships making their way down Puget Sound to the port facilities in Seattle, completing their two-week high-seas journey from the massive Hong Kong and Shenzhen port complexes in southern China.

Most of the time, as they complete these voyages in from the Pacific, they ride low in the water, right down to the waterline. On these ships, the thousands of containers visible on deck, and the many more you don't see under the decks (the largest container ship in the world, the Maersk Line's Emma Maersk, can hold more than 14,000 individual 20-foot container units) are chock full, with TVs, washing machines and appliances, tires, toys and trinkets; the full catalogue of rapidly depreciating disposables over which North America is sacrificing its treasure.

As the containerized cargo ships leave Seattle, or San Francisco, or Long Beach, San Diego, Vancouver, all the way north to the newly bustling port of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, the ships ride a lot higher in the water. Most of the cargo containers are empty; they're being sent back to China to be refilled.

With the Chinese trade surplus with the US now running at about $150 billion a year, there's a lot more stuff coming into the US west coast than leaving. (And much of the value of what the US does export to China comes from either Boeing jetliners or intellectual properties, such as first-run teen-slasher movies, neither of which gets much transported to China on containerized cargo ships.)

Or maybe it just seems that way. What really is being transported back to China in those empty containers is power.

In the middle of the 19th century, first Britain, then Britain allied with France, fought two wars with China. These are called the Anglo-Chinese Wars in China; in the West, they are more frequently called the Opium Wars.

In a historical circumstance that those contemporaneous historians such as Niall Ferguson who wax about the boundless beneficence of the British Empire don't talk much about, the Opium Wars were fought over the Western powers' demand that China allow free license for British and French companies, particularly the British East India Company, to import and sell opium in China.

The Chinese government at the time well knew of opium's destructively addictive effects, but it was powerless to fight off the by then technologically superior Western powers. The Chinese defeat in the First Opium War in 1843 led to China ceding its control of, and British rule over, Hong Kong for 154 years; the 1860 Treaty of Tianjin that ended the Second Opium War was a virtual unconditional surrender by the Chinese: besides allowing the opium trade, it also allowed large Western military outposts (including those of the United States) to be set up in Beijing, as well as giving Western navies free access to navigate up the Yangtze River.

For at least the next century, the humiliation and subjugation of the Opium Wars burned in the heart of all Chinese nationalists.

One hundred and fifty years ago, the West subjugated China by addicting it to opium. Today, that power dynamic has been reversed. It is the West, especially the United States, that has become addicted, to an equally or even more addictive substance, cheap consumer products, and, more important, the profits that accrue from them.

Wal-Mart is a grand example of this phenomenon. Some 100 million Americans, one-third of the US population, passes through its happy doors every week. Between 15% and 20% (in sectors such as electronics and toys the percentages are closer to 50%) of all US consumer expenditure is rung up on Wal-Mart's registers. There may be a steamrolling public panic about the safety of Chinese consumer products but, as yet, there are still weeds growing in the cracks of the sidewalks of all those small downtown toy boutiques that sell locally produced US toys. Americans are still overwhelmingly going for the Wal-Mart price.

As Wal-Mart spread out of the southern United States in the early 1990s, its advertising campaign prided itself on the true-blue US origin and manufacture of its products; it has not used that pitch for quite a while. At least 10% of the US-China trade deficit represents Wal-Mart's China tab, but that does not mean that all the rest of the US consumer sector has taken up the flag for endangered American workers and manufacturers.

From the "big box" retailers Target, Sears and Kmart to the "category killers" of Circuit City and Best Buy, there are plenty of containers sailing east across the Pacific with barcodes that will have them sent to those establishments as well.

But the real source of China's power lies not with American consumers reclining in their Barcaloungers, with their Wal-Mart-bought chips and soft drinks, watching the latest Adam Sandler digital video disc that they picked up at the checkout counter while waiting to pay for the Wal-Mart big-screen TV. Americans may be unable to control their addiction to Chinese consumer products; it's a lot more important that the US ruling corporate sector is equally or more addicted to Chinese profits.

Just as a religious believer might trumpet the growth in a society's virtue, a believer in the religion of free-market capitalism holds no value higher than growth in productivity. Productivity growth, making an equal quantity of a product with less cost, or making a larger quantity of a product with the same quantity of value of input, is capitalism's glorious bright Elysium; it is the core process by which profit is generated.

Wal-Mart and other US retailers have managed to keep many of their prices stable in an era of general 2-4% retail inflation. Others have declined; they actually have been at Wal-Mart. However, this has only been accomplished through the enormous reduction in labor input costs made possible through non-unionized Chinese labor; save 80% or more on your labor costs, you can roll back prices on a $3 tube of toothpaste a few quarters and still make out like bandits. It is this process, the globalization two-step, fire in the US and hire in China, that is in large part responsible for the massive shift in US national income away from wages and salaries toward profits: the US profit-wage ratio is at its most extreme value since 1966.

Seen this way, the addiction of the US corporate class to profits from ships arriving from China represents perhaps the most significant great-power naval victory since Jutland in World War I. The addiction of the US consuming classes is nice but, ultimately, it has its limits; once you have two or three plasma TVs in your house, your appetite for more is probably moving toward being slaked.

However, for the corporate classes that comprise America's ruling elite, there will always be that one bigger next artificial high, be it from a grander beach house, a shinier Ferrari, a faster private jet, an older classical painting or a younger trophy wife, that continuing to mainline the Chinese profit needle might get one closer to. On the unlikely possibility that there still are a few communists left in the Chinese Communist Party, they must find the irony nothing short of ambrosial - once again, just as Vladimir Lenin said they would, communists are selling capitalists the rope with which they will hang themselves.

Looking after vested interests
The operation and effectiveness of the new Chinese power paradigm has been well demonstrated in President George W Bush's China policies. The self-proclaimed chief executive officer president, a man who seems to wake up every day with a burning desire to make rich people richer, who once described his political base as "the haves and have mores", has repeatedly proved, through his actions, that he well sees the value in using China to advance his unique cause.

On April 1, 2001, in the air above the waters near China's Hainan island, a US Navy EP-3 Orion maritime surveillance plane collided with a Chinese PLA F-8 fighter. The US aircraft, with 24 sailors, was forced to make an emergency landing at the PLA's Lingshui air base on Hainan; the Chinese pilot perished.

Both sides claimed the crash was the result of the other side's pilot doing his best Top Gun pilot imitation. American conservatives and militarists were outraged: they demanded an immediate return of the crew and plane; they also demanded that no Chinese nationals board the plane, claiming it to be sovereign US territory.

Some American neo-conservatives, trying out the themes they would find so devastatingly effective just a few months later, actually called for US military air strikes on China to effect the release of the plane, claiming that would provide the new president (Bush) with the requisite macho bona fides to get his domestic agenda passed in Congress.

China took a hard line. It boarded the plane and demanded an official US apology for the incident and the death of the PLA pilot before either the plane or crew would be released. American conservatives were aghast; they said Bush and his United States must never apologize for anything, a point that would be repeatedly proved during the nation's upcoming misadventure in Iraq.

The US State Department hemmed and hawed for a while, before finally producing an apology so obsequious that it bordered on abject groveling. The US even apologized for the plane's emergency landing on Hainan without prior ground clearance, something akin to a mugging victim apologizing for having his face get in the way of the mugger's truncheon. The crew was released after 12 days; the plane was released a few months later, but the Chinese demanded that it not be flown off the island but cut into little pieces and crated. They also demanded that the US pay reparations for damages done to the airfield as a result of the EP-3's emergency landing. The US acquiesced to both these demands.

Conservatives were thus even more outraged; they demanded, at the very least, US economic sanctions be applied to China, starting with blocking China's then-pending membership to the World Trade Organization. The Bush administration would hear none of it. For it, Chinese membership in the WTO would be a virtual Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for US industrialists hoping to shed their US workforce to hire much cheaper labor in China.

China's accession to the WTO went forward on schedule that September.

Since then, the major bilateral issue in US-China relations has been the artificially low level at which China has kept its currency, the yuan. The theory of the floating exchange regime that has governed the world's currency markets since 1973 states that countries such as China with massive trade surpluses should see their currencies appreciate in value against the currencies of the countries with which they are running surpluses. This has not happened with the yuan-US-dollar exchange rate: it was fixed by the Chinese government until the summer of 2005; since then, its controlled appreciation against the dollar has been modest at best.

It is obvious to everyone that China is keeping the yuan rate artificially low to maintain its competitiveness; a number of members of the US Congress, most notably Democratic Senators Charles Schumer and Max Baucus and Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley, have tried to get legislation moving that would impose economic sanctions on China that would punish it for the artificial suppression of the yuan's value.

The Bush administration will hear nothing of this either. Even though a yuan appreciation would greatly increase the chances that US manufacturing workers who still have their jobs might be able to keep them, Bush has announced that he will veto any attempt to punish China for its currency-management regime, and the pro-sanctions forces are not even close to having the required two-thirds vote in Congress to override a veto.

China does not have to lobby US congressional representatives to look after its interests; the US industrial elite does that quite well on its own. In much the same way that Nazi Germany established Vichy France to further its interests without actually occupying the country, the US corporate elite's desire to use China to enrich its wealth further has allowed China to create Vichy America.

That Taiwan problem ...
The major strategic contingency the Chinese military must plan for is the possibility that one day the political leadership might task it with the conquest of Taiwan.

The relations of China and the US over Taiwan have been governed by the "Shanghai Communique", signed at the end of president Richard Nixon's historic trip to Beijing in 1972. This had the US in essence denying Taiwan's claim that it was a separate state independent from China, in return for vague Chinese assurances that it would not force the issue militarily.

Very few observers believe that China will just tear up the Shanghai Communique and invade without provocation. However, if Taiwan did commit some provocation that questioned China's sovereignty over the island, if the situation were ambiguous enough, China just might send its fleet across the Taiwan Strait.

The only force that could check this move would be the US military, both the US Navy's 7th Fleet, based in Yokosuka, Japan, and the Pacific Air Force, primarily operating out of bases in Japan and South Korea.

Here can be seen the true genius of the Chinese plan to subdue the US with trinkets and treasure. To counter the US militarily would be hugely expensive, and probably beyond China's current technological capacity. Far better to do it the way it has, with trade. The Chinese could have America's industrial elite, fearing a shutoff of the China wealth spigot, whisper in the ears of American policymakers that they should lay off any military countering of a Chinese move against Taiwan.

Give China 10 days to two weeks of unhindered military access to the Taiwan Strait, and it'll put the flag of the People's Republic of China over the Presidential Palace in Taipei. This is the classic "indirect approach" of mid-20th-century English military strategist Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart; instead of facing the US at its strongest, its technological superiority, China has attacked the US at its weakest point, its acquisitive, materialist, greedy soul.

Cold War relics
In the early 1980s, the same people who are now warning against the menacing Chinese military threat were issuing just about the same warning about the Soviet military threat. Seen as a particularly ominous development was the Soviet construction of two "aircraft carriers" (in reality, the only aircraft they carried were helicopters, and a small number of the limited-range and -capability Yak 38 vertical-takeoff fighters), the Kiev and the Minsk.

Even though there were only two of these ships, as compared with the 12 aircraft carriers of the US Navy, and even though the Kiev and the Minsk were less than half the size of the big US carriers, warnings were still issued that this new development would soon represent a serious threat to America's century-long dominance of the oceans. Or, as the Ronald Reagan Pentagon argued before Congress, you better increase our budget.

The Kiev and the Minsk never really represented any threat to the US; they were unreliable and expensive to operate and, after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, there wasn't even any money to pay the sailors who crewed them.

In 1996, the Kiev was sold to China; in 2006, so was the Minsk. This also raised a few eyebrows among US militarists: were the Chinese, in buying the old Soviet navy on the cheap, going to use them to resuscitate the Soviet naval threat under the Chinese flag?

Nothing of the sort has happened. The Kiev and Minsk have been retired to be the prime attractions at a military theme park in Shenzhen. (There was some talk that the Minsk would face the wrecker's ball, or maybe, in the ultimate metaphor for the futility of expending national treasure in the modern world on expensive military equipment, it would be sunk to provide an artificial reef for marine life - in other words, the once-mighty warship would be deliberately turned into a snack for barnacles.) A recent photo in The Economist showed the Kiev tied up at dock beside a family at a picnic table under a Pepsi-Cola umbrella.

Nothing better illustrates the success of the Chinese strategy. For all the good they'll do for you in today's world, you might as well turn actual naval assets into money-making tourist attractions; you'll even be able to get some product-placement loot out of US beverage companies.

Real power now lies in those cargo ships forever steaming inexorably to the American heartland. In a couple of years, the United States will conclude its (by then) million-death, trillion-dollar misadventure in trying to subdue a few spits of green land between the Tigris and Euphrates. It will discover that, even if General David Petraeus' "surge" might have won the battle of al-Anbar, back home the US ruling elite has surrendered to China in the battle for the United States, without even firing a single shot.

Julian Delasantellis is a management consultant, private investor and educator in international business in the US state of Washington. He can be reached at


“If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn’t we have to turn it over to get it to stand up straight?” - Eduardo Galeano

Padilla's Kangaroo Court By Chris Stevenson

This presidential administration will go down as having taken the most liberties with dirty tricks as any other administration in history. The fact that they can detain an "enemy combatant" and torture him to the point where he can't competently defend himself against some of the most serious charges in US history is pure cowardice. To loosely connect him to the horrific events of September 11th 2001 and get away with it is astounding. Yet this is what many are made to believe regarding Jose Padilla; a man essentially no worse than an inner city gang-banger. Gang-banger convicted by gangsters. It wouldn't be out of line to recall the immortal words of Billy Batts in "Goodfellas" and tell this batty administration to "go home and get your F—kin' shine-box."

This is the man whose conviction is supposed to make us think we got payback for 9/11? This guilty verdict is supposed to make us breath a sigh of relief? I think not. If you run across Bush in a theater sneaking into the compassionate conservative section, ask him why he didn't have Luis Posada – a man with a record of killing – detained, tortured and prosecuted? And while his face is twitching (as it always does) ask him how the bin Laden search is going. Surely he must remember him; the man initially blamed for the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. The charges of Padilla meeting bin Laden and planning to detonate a "dirty bomb" were never substantiated (according to NPR). Undaunted, Bush trudged on with other charges he that he felt would stick.

Padilla was originally held as a material witness on a warrant issued in the state of New York stemming from 9/11. On 6/9/02 the President ordered then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to detain Padilla as an enemy combatant. District Court Judge Michael Mukasey may have been on the verge of questioning and ruling on the validity of continuing to hold Padilla under the material witness warrant, but he was then transferred to a military brig in South Carolina.

It was the Authorization for use of Military Force (AUMF) that legally justified the detention because it states you can use all "necessary force against… such nations, organizations or persons" under the opinion or based on opinion that a US citizen is an enemy combatant. No I don't know Padilla, I know he's not a saint, but this is the stuff of Kangaroo courts.

Accusations of being "light on evidence" and requests to drop some charges by the presiding judge add to the suspicious nature of the trial. Eventually it would be some wiretapped conversation with a co-defendant that would play a major role in his guilty verdict. It was assumed that plans between Padilla and co-defendant Adham Hassoun for a family outing at an amusement park was code language regarding plans for a domestic attack. Prosecutors (make that co-persecutors) played 70 intercepted phone calls, 7 of those calls actually had Padilla's voice on them. The notorious Chicago gang-banger was convicted by a jury of his "peers;" 5 Blacks, 4 whites, 3 Latinos and 0 Muslims, obviously all from south Florida. You'd think they'd at least flew in a couple of Chicanos from IL who owed him 20 bucks to sit in. The real kicker is Padilla wasn't even fit to stand trial, psychiatrist Angela Hegarty said that after 22 hours of examination he was mentally unfit, plus he exhibited a "facial tic." Hey, so does Bush. Perhaps he should have been on trial.

--Chris Stevenson is a columnist for the Buffalo Criterion .Contact him at


“If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn’t we have to turn it over to get it to stand up straight?” - Eduardo Galeano

Why the US and Israel Should Lose Middle East Wars - By Bill Christison (Former CIA Analyst)

08/27/07 "Counterpunch" -- -- George W. Bush has once again thrown down the gauntlet. The Mideast wars of the United States, he announced to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention on August 22, must end only with a U.S. victory. He has not wavered in this position since September 11, 2001. The unspoken but real purpose of his efforts has been and will be to concentrate increasing power over the Middle East in the hands of the small group of rich and greedy elites who rule the U.S. and Israel today, and perhaps he will achieve this goal. The more important result, however, will be the elimination of any movement toward greater global justice, stability, and peace in the world for decades to come.

It is past time to challenge the arrogant Mr. Bush directly.

For overwhelming moral reasons, I do not want the U. S. and Israeli governments to be victorious in any present or future Middle East wars. I want them to lose such wars.

U.S. policies in the Middle East since 9/11 have already caused a million or so killings and have created more injustice in the world than existed formerly. Every day results in more killings, more injustice. Unless might does indeed make right, we have no right whatever to win these wars. We should lose them.

If the U.S. were to "win" these wars, whatever that means, more of the world's people than at present would be ruled by the U.S. Most of these people do not want to be ruled by the U.S. -- which makes the wars themselves anti-democratic. That fact alone is reason enough to conclude that our country should lose these wars.

My personal belief is that the United States and Israel will inevitably lose these wars over time in any case. If this loss is in fact inevitable, conventional wisdom would argue that it is better for the loss to happen rapidly in order to hold casualties down. In a continuing civil war over which outsiders have limited control, however, conventional wisdom may not apply.

Nevertheless, a truly rapid -- meaning within the next six months -- acceptance of defeat by the U.S. and Israel of their own Mideast policies would probably offer the only possibility of mitigating the blame assigned to these two nations by the rest of the world for future mass killings of human beings throughout this unstable area.

Much of global public opinion will in any case correctly attribute a large residual responsibility to the U.S. and Israel for the utterly disproportionate and one-sided killings already carried out since 9/11 in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank. Further killings that occur during even a short and rapid transition to inevitable U.S. and Israeli defeat will only enlarge this residual. But a short, quick, and determined acceptance of defeat will still reduce to some extent the charges of U.S. responsibility for future killings.

A lasting peace in the Middle East will only happen, of course, if the U.S. and Israel are wise enough publicly (and honestly) to end their drive for joint imperium over the Middle East and Central Asia and also to cease their efforts to bring about regime change in Iran and Syria. In other words, as has long been the case, the U.S. and Israel will need to make serious long-term changes in their own foreign policies if they wish to avoid a conflict lasting for generations that ultimately they cannot win.

As of now, no evidence exists that either country is willing even to consider such policy changes, and no evidence exists that either the Republican or Democratic Parties in the U.S., any political parties in Israel, the military-industrial complexes of the U.S. and Israel, the Israel lobby in the U.S., the U.S. Protestant Christian Right, the Catholic Church, or the ruling elites of any EU states will bring one jot of meaningful pressure to bear on the Israeli or the U.S. government to change their policies.

If change is to come, it must come from ordinary voters, particularly in the U.S., applying pressure on the various groups listed above, or from ordinary people succeeding in setting up new groups or parties that will succeed in bringing greater pressure to bear. The pressures must be very strong and very explicit. People must emphasize day after day to both Democratic and Republican members of Congress and to every presidential candidate that the U.S. must first and foremost change its own policies. And people must emphasize to all politicians that the Israel lobby is one of the strongest forces pressing both Democrats and Republicans not to change U.S. policies, thereby preventing healthy political debate in the country. This must stop.

Finally, my hope is that sensible U.S. voters will agree with the opinions summarized here and in addition create a groundswell of support for the immediate impeachment and conviction of Bush and Cheney. This is the only action, in my view, that opens up the possibility of rapidly bringing about the necessary changes in U.S. policies.

Other Considerations

Let's say it bluntly. War with Iran is inevitable before January 2009 unless Bush and Cheney are both impeached first. New Israeli-U.S. hostilities in Lebanon are also likely. Either warfare or covert actions conducted by the U.S. and/or Israel to bring about regime change in Syria are also probable.

But those of us in the U.S. who claim to be peace activists ought to be ashamed. With rare exceptions, the powers in the movement are confident that things are already going our way, what with the Democratic Party's success in the 2006 congressional elections and the continuing disaster the Bush administration faces in Iraq. Most self-labeled peace activists think the odds so favor further Democratic victories that, as a group, we do not need to run any risks or do anything new to take the presidency away from the Republicans in 2008. It's old hat, maybe, but the best thing to do, most peace activists believe, is just to keep talking about withdrawal from Iraq, while patting ourselves on the back and emphasizing to each other that we are being admirably mature and responsible in not moving too fast toward actual withdrawal.

So let's admit that many of us sustain ourselves with hot air even when the subject is limited to Iraq. Let's admit too that few want to discuss the role Israel played in encouraging the U.S. to invade Iraq in 2003, because that would be unnecessarily criticizing Israel. In fact, both the Israel lobby and the Israeli government probably concluded as early as May 2003 that they had already achieved their own principal objectives in Iraq, and that it was counterproductive for them to waste their own credibility by continuing to oppose every aspect of the U.S. peace movement's criticism of the war. Even before things began going wrong in the war's execution, Israeli propagandists were soft-pedaling their own top officials' support for the war. But underneath, the support was definitely there, hard and firm.

When it comes to matters in the Middle East other than Iraq, most peaceniks are even less willing to address questions of the Israel lobby's involvement in U.S. policymaking. Talking about this would be the surest way to reveal the disunity and embarrassing differences within the so-called peace movement. In order to avoid an open discussion, it is easier for most of us simply to ignore the voluminous evidence that both the lobby, and senior U.S. officials who are in effect part of the lobby, are pushing the U.S. toward war, particularly with Iran, but also toward regime change in Syria and resumed hostilities in Lebanon. If it comes to war with any or all of these countries, most peace types note that they are not pushing for it, and they will silently hope more wars do not erupt, but they will not make a lot of noise about stopping such wars before they start. In this, they are simply following most of the leaders of the Democratic Party.

All of this, of course, is logically nonsensical. Take a minute and think of the mess the peace movement has created. First, the very name reflects the movement's shallowness. What good is a hypocritical, utterly out-of-touch and ineffective "peace movement," when beyond question ordinary people on this earth want justice before they want peace? The U.S. government and its ultra-close ally Israel actually want more unjust colonial wars and covert action to strengthen their own already unjust influence over a major part of the globe, in this case the Middle East. Peace above all is for those who support the status quo, but if you're in that category you're in a small minority. So let's banish the peace movement and get a global justice movement going. Peace may be all right long-term, but if you're one of the angry billions on this earth constantly surrounded by a stench of injustice that smothers all hope, chances are that, in your mind, peace should follow justice, not precede it. Chances are, in fact, that you have no favorable thoughts of any type about U.S. peaceniks.

Let's look at another question that is not just about the Middle East but is about the broader Islamic world as well. It seems clear that Samuel Huntington's concept of a clash of civilizations has expanded its intellectual appeal since September 11, 2001. We do indeed seem to have an example of a clash of civilizations that has become a growing force today. This force is nourished by the desire of Muslims for real freedom from the increasing political domination over the Islamic peoples by Western (Christian and Jewish) parts of the world. The principal Islamic motivation has little to do with "hatred of our freedoms." The Islamic hatred (and it does exist) is aimed at U.S., Israeli, and Western policies.

Huntington's book was published in the mid-1990s, and the events of September 11 can be seen as a major example of this type of clash of civilizations. The point to be made here is that ideas in the book, conveniently titled The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, lend themselves to being twisted fairly easily into ideas that the neocons, the Israel lobby, recent Israeli governments, EU elites, the Catholic Church, the Protestant Christian Right in the U.S., and the Bush administration itself all have established as part of their own views toward the Islamic world. The book therefore becomes an object of considerable value to the present rulers of the United States and Israel, since it can be seen as providing intellectual justification not only for the special relationship between these two nations, but also for the newly cordial ties of the European Union to U.S. and Israeli policies.

Those among us who wish to counter the notion that a clash of civilizations justifies what the U.S. and Israel are doing in the Middle East today should stand up and state their opposition loudly and directly. Supporters of the concept that the "clash" is a significant part of the present global political system seem to suggest that the very existence of the clash makes unjust, oppressive treatment of Islamic people somehow acceptable. But we should point out that the existence of a real clash is questionable, and that in any case injustice and oppression are never acceptable. People everywhere should realize that in this increasingly globalized world the importance of nationalism is beginning to fade. All of us should begin thinking much more about what are the best policies for the entire world to pursue, not what are the best policies for their own nations. To start this ball rolling, those who happen to live in the U.S. should stop thinking of themselves as exceptional. Americans are perfectly average -- no better and no worse than average people everywhere else. There are some -- a few -- exceptional people anywhere you look, but most of us do not make the cut.

We should emphasize that in today's world a Middle East empire dominated jointly by two nationalist powers, the U.S. and Israel, is not only anti-democratic, but is impossibly anachronistic as well

Bill Christison was a senior official of the CIA. He served as a National Intelligence Officer and as Director of the CIA's Office of Regional and Political Analysis. He can be reached at


“If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn’t we have to turn it over to get it to stand up straight?” - Eduardo Galeano

A Basic History of Zionism and its Relation to Judaism

Hanna Braun, London

First Published: September 2001: In order to understand the circumstances that led to the birth of Zionism I shall sketch an outline of the history of Judaism and the Jews.

Since biblical times Jewish communities lived in Arab lands, in Persia, India, East and North Africa and indeed in Palestine. With the destruction of the Temple and the final fall of their state in 70 AD many Jews were taken out of Judea and hence to Rome and the Diaspora. Many poorer Judeans, however (such as subsistence farmers), were able to stay in Palestine. (Some of them had converted to Christianity and were one of the earliest Christian groups.) Modern research suggests that when Islam arrived in the area in 633 AD many of these Jews converted and that they form a considerable part of today's Palestinians. These various communities were on the whole well integrated into their respective societies and did not experience the persecutions that later became so prevalent in Europe. In Palestine, for instance, Muslims repeatedly protected their Jewish neighbours from marauding crusaders; in one instance at least, Jews fought alongside Muslims to try and prevent crusaders from landing at Haifa's port, and Salah al-Dinl-din, after re-conquering Jerusalem from the crusaders, invited the Jews back into the city.

The Jews in Spain under Moorish rule flourished and experienced a renaissance mirroring that of the great Islamic civilisation and culture at the time. As Christianity spread from the north of Spain, Jews were again protected by Muslim rulers until the fall of Granada - the last Moorish kingdom to pass into Christian hands - when both Jews and Muslims were expelled at the end of the 15th century (Jews in 1492 and Muslims 10 years later). Most of the Jews from the Iberian peninsula settled in North Africa and the lands under Ottoman rule, including Palestine, and continued their peaceful co-existence with Muslims in those countries. The bulk of Portuguese "converted" Jews (these were forced conversions and such Jews were called Marranos, i.e. pigs, by Jews who had fled or who preferred to die for their faith) settled in Amsterdam, presumably because they had long established trading connections in that city. In 1655 they were invited to Britain by Oliver Cromwell. Most of them were glad to resettle since at the time the Netherlands had just freed itself from the Spanish yoke and the shadow of the dreaded inquisition was still uncomfortably close.

The fate of Jewry in European countries was very different: persecutions, killings and burnings were widespread and Jews were forced to live in closed ghettos, particularly in the Russian Empire, where they were confined to the "Pale of Jewish" (?) settlement, an area which consisted of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Byelarus or White Russia. Anyone who wished to move outside these borders needed special permission. However, by the mid-19th century some of the more progressive Jewish communities had established themselves in the big cities of St. Petersburg, Moscow and Kiev.

In central and western Europe religious tolerance, followed by the granting of full citizen rights and emancipation, came relatively early, in the wake of general liberalization. However, Russian rulers remained opposed to any liberalization, including religious tolerance and emancipation, and as late as 1881 Tsar Alexander the third initiated a series of particularly vicious pogroms to divert unrest amongst the population, at a time when Britain, for instance, boasted of a Jewish prime minister.

Total segregation was not always imposed from outside, however; frequently it was enforced from within by highly authoritarian rabbis who exercised absolute power over their congregations, often including the right to life and the imposition of the death penalty. Thus it was a major decision for anyone to leave these congregations and to look for a broader education (known as "enlightenment"). In eastern Europe enlightenment was a relatively late phenomenon and it found expression initially in the mid-19th century, in a revival of Hebrew language and literature and in the modern idea of Jews seeing themselves as a people.

This distinction between a people and a religion was of course disapproved of by the Orthodox Jews, who still today regard Hebrew as a sacred language to be used solely for prayers and religious studies and the Jewish people and religion as indivisible. The concept of the Jews as people closely mirrored the relatively new European idea of a homogeneous nation state. An exception to this was the socialist "Bund" organisation whose members rejected nationalism and later Zionism.

Some of these early proto-Zionists, calling themselves "Hovevei Zion" (Lovers of Zion), started the first settlements in Palestine in the 1870's, and a larger number of immigrants followed after the Russian pogroms of 1881-82. These settlers distinguished themselves by their deliberate segregation from the indigenous population and their contempt for local customs and traditions. This naturally aroused suspicion and hostility in the locals. This exclusivity was largely based on a sense of superiority common to Europeans of the time, who believed they were the only advanced and truly civilised society and in true colonial fashion looked down on "natives" or ignored them altogether. However, beyond that there was also a particular sense of superiority of Jews towards all non-Jews. This belief in innate Jewish superiority had a long tradition in religious Jewish thinking, central to which was the notion of the Jews as God's chosen people. Moshe Ben Maimon (Maimonides) had been an exponent of this theory and quite often thinkers with a more humane outlook, e.g. Spinoza, were excommunicated. The accepted thinking in the religious communities was that Jews must on no account mix with gentiles for fear of being contaminated and corrupted by them. This notion was so deeply ingrained that it quite possibly still affected, albeit subconsciously, those Jews who had left the townships and had become educated and enlightened. Thus the early settlers from eastern Europe transferred the "Stettl" (townlet) mentality of segregation to Palestine, with the added belief in the nobility of manual labour and in particular soil cultivation. In this they had been influenced by Tolstoy and his writings.

The "father" of political Zionism, Theodore Herzl (1860-1904), came from a totally different perspective. Dr. Herzl was a Viennese, emancipated, secular journalist who was sent by his editor to Paris in 1894 to cover the Dreyfus affair. Dreyfus had been a captain in the French Army who was falsely accused and convicted of treason (although he was acquitted and completely cleared some years later). The case brought to light the strength of a strong streak of anti-Semitism prevalent in the upper echelons of the French Army and in the French press, with profound repercussions in emancipated Jewish circles. Herzl himself despaired of the whole idea of emancipation and integration and felt that the only solution to anti-Semitism lay in a Jewish Homeland. To that end he approached various diplomats and notables, including the Ottoman Sultan, but mainly European rulers, the great colonial powers of the time, and was rewarded for his efforts by being offered Argentina or Uganda by the British as possible Jewish Homelands.

Herzl would have been quite happy with either of these countries, but when the first Zionist Congress was convened in Basle in 1897, he came up against Eastern European Jewry, by far the greatest majority of participants, who, although broadly emancipated and enlightened, would not accept any homeland other than the land of Zion. Not only had some of them already settled in Palestine, there were strong remnants of the religious/sentimental notion of a pilgrimage and possibly burial in the Holy Land. The last toast in the Passover ceremony is "Next year in Jerusalem"; although this was a religious rather than a national aspiration, it was common amongst the Orthodox communities to purchase a handful of soil purporting to come from the Holy Land to be placed under the deceased's head. (Orthodox Jews at that time completely rejected any Jewish political movement and did not attend the congress.)

Herzl was quick to realise that unless he accepted the "Land of Zion", i.e. Palestinian option, he would have hardly any adherents. Thus the Zionist movement started with a small section of Jewish society who saw the solution to anti-Semitism in a return to its "roots" and in a renewal of a Jewish people in the land of their ancestors. In his famous book "Der Judenstaat" (The State of the Jews) Herzl wrote that the Jews and their state will constitute "a rampart of Europe against Asia, of civilisation against barbarism," and again regarding the local population, "We shall endeavour to encourage the poverty-stricken population to cross the border by securing work for it in the countries it passes through, while denying it work in our own country. The process of expropriation and displacement must be carried out prudently and discreetly--Let (the landowners) sell us their land at exorbitant prices. We shall sell nothing back to them."

Max Nordau, an early Zionist, visited Palestine and was so horrified that the country was already populated that he burst out in front of Herzl: "But we are committing a grave injustice!" Some years later, in 1913, a prominent Zionist thinker and writer, Ahad Ha'am (one of the people), wrote: "What are our brothers doing? They were slaves in the land of their exile. Suddenly they found themselves faced with boundless freedom ... and they behave in a hostile and cruel manner towards the Arabs, trampling on their rights without the least justification ... even bragging about this behaviour." But the dismay of Nordau and others at the injustices to, and total lack of recognition of, the indigenous population was silenced and indeed edited out of Jewish history and other books, as was some of Herzl's writing. The Zionist slogan of "a land without people for a people without land" prevailed and within a matter of a few years the immigrants became "sons of the land" (Bnei Ha'aretz), whereas the inhabitants became the aliens and foreigners.

Following renewed efforts and lobbying after Herzl's death, the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which granted Zionists a Jewish Homeland in Palestine, set the official seal of approval on their aspirations. Protests and representations by local Arab leaders were brushed aside. Lord Balfour wrote in 1919: "In Palestine, we do not even propose to consult the inhabitants of the country. (Zionism's) immediate needs and hopes for the future are much more important than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who presently inhabit Palestine."

Settlements grew slowly for a long time, but the systematic buying up of land, frequently from absentee landlords, which left tenant farmers homeless, contributed to the first Palestinian uprising in 1921-22 and other outbursts of hostilities. The worst was a massacre of some 65 Jews in Hebron in 1929, after orthodox Jews from Eastern Europe had founded a "Yeshiva" (a religious study centre) in the town and had aroused the suspicions and hostility of the indigenous population, who prior to this had lived in peace and harmony for hundreds of years with their non-European Jewish neighbours. Another contributing factor to growing Arab hostility was the Zionists' policy of not employing Arabs or buying their produce.

For many years Zionism remained a minority movement of mainly Eastern European Jews, excluding the whole religious establishment, most central and western European Jews and, last but not least, all non-European Jews who, unbeknown to Herzl and his co-founders, form the majority of us. These communities were ignored by early Zionists, who had little interest in their aspirations until the establishment of the state of Israel after the "independence" war of 1948-9. After this the new state unleashed a massive propaganda campaign to induce the Sephardi and Oriental Jews to "ascend" to the land of their ancestors, mainly for demographic reasons--in 1948 only about one third of the population and about 6% of the land were Jews or in Jewish hands--but also as cannon fodder. This also happened in the 1980's with the Jews of Ethiopia. However, upon arrival these non-European newcomers were treated very much as inferior second-class citizens. This European dominance is still prevalent in modern Israel where, for example, the national anthem speaks about Jewish longing for the East towards Zion, whereas for many of the non-European communities Palestine lies to the West. Sadly, this has led to some groups of Sephardi (non-European) or Oriental Jews becoming extreme right-wing chauvinists, so as to "prove" their credentials.

Immigration ("Aliyah"--ascent in Zionist parlance) took off in seriously large numbers with the rise of Hitler, who initially declared himself quite sympathetic to Zionism, as had other right-wing anti-Semites before him. New Jewish settlements mushroomed, leading to a bitter and prolonged Palestinian uprising from 1936 till 1939, when it was crushed by the British mandatory powers. But it was not until the end of the 2nd World War and the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948 that Zionism started to win the hearts and minds of the majority of Jewish society. Since that time we have witnessed an increasing and deliberate confluence of Judaism and Zionism, to the extent that today it is widely regarded as treason and self-hate for a Jew to criticise the state, let alone Zionism.

In my view, this development was almost inevitable given the preconception of an exclusive Jewish state. Could we realistically conceive of a France purely for the French? England only for the English? (Unless, of course we belong to the National Front or similar groups.) In a post-colonial world the notion is completely unacceptable and ridiculous. How then, can Israel and the majority of its citizens justify their claim and yet remain convinced that theirs is a modern, democratic society? The last resort, when all logical justifications fail, is that God has promised the land to his people, namely us. (This rather begs the question of where this leaves a non-believing Jew.) I have found over the years, and particularly in the last 30 or so years, that the numbers of young people wearing the skullcap and generally observing at least some of the religious laws has increased dramatically, and I believe this is no coincidence.

The religious establishment has gone along with the general flow and has, indeed, profited from it. Since the late 50's there has also been a notable and frightening change in the Orthodox community, which led to the establishment in 1974 of the "Gush Emunim" (the block of the faithful), initiated by Rabbi Tsvi Yehuda Kook the younger. This is the fundamentalist movement which believes in accepting the state of Israel and striving to make it entirely and exclusively Jewish. Prior to this time Orthodox Jewry played no important role in politics except in pressuring successive governments to introduce more Jewish religious regulations into state law. The ultra-orthodox group "Neturei Karta" (the landless) has never recognised the state of Israel, and its members are exempt from army service.

Although Gush Emunim is small in numbers, it wields disproportionate influence since successive Israeli governments covertly (and sometimes almost overtly) have endorsed its aspirations. Gush Emunim's followers have been allocated to special army units so as to enable them to observe Jewish religious laws and rituals in every detail (although even in the regular army only Kosher food is served and the Sabbath is observed as far as possible). These units have a reputation as dedicated, crack troops. What is less well known but silently condoned is their refusal to give medical aid or even drive wounded persons to the hospital on the Sabbath unless they are Jews.

In my view this is an extremely short-sighted and dangerous road, leading in the end to a fundamentalist theocracy much like that of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The fundamentalists' belief is that the Messianic age is already upon us and that any obstacles to a total elimination of any non-Jews in the promised land, i.e. the whole of what was Palestine including the Holy Mount, is God's punishment for sinful Jews, namely all those who are westernised and secular. This fully exonerates, and indeed sanctifies, a man like Baruch Goldstein who murdered 29 Palestinians praying in the Ibrahimi mosque, as well as the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Like the Hamas movement, which was initially encouraged by Israel's secret services, this is another genie which, having been let out of the bottle, can no longer be controlled.

It seems a bitter irony that a movement that initially saw itself as progressive, liberal and secular should find itself in an alliance with, and held to ransom by, the most illiberal reactionary forces. In my view this was inevitable from its inception although the founders, and most of us (including even people like myself, growing up in Palestine in the thirties), did not foresee this and certainly would not have wished it.

Nowadays the deliberate blurring of the distinction between Zionism and Judaism, which includes a rewriting of ancient as well as modern history, is exploited to stifle any criticism of Israel's policies and actions, however extreme and inhuman they may be. This, incidentally, also plays directly into anti-Semitic prejudices by equating Israeli arrogance, brutality and complete denial of basic human rights to non-Jews with general Jewish characteristics.

Zionism has now assumed the all-embracing mantle of righteousness. It claims to represent and to speak for all Jews and has adopted the slogan of "my country right or wrong." The West tolerates Israel's continuous breaches of human rights--violations that it would not tolerate if perpetrated by any other country. Few Western states and not many Jews dare take a stand against Israel, particularly as many of the former still feel a sense of unease and guilt about the holocaust which Zionist Jews inside and outside Israel have exploited in what to me seems an almost obscene manner. In the USA, the Jewish Zionist lobby is still strong enough to keep successive governments on board. Moreover, the USA regards Israel as an important strategic ally in its fight against Middle Eastern "rogue" states which have supplanted the Soviet Union as the great satanic enemy of the free world.

I fear that unless and until Israel is judged by the same criteria as other modern states, this is unlikely to change. It is the duty of all Jews with a sense of justice and a conscience to speak out against the falsifications of history by the Zionist lobby, and the dangerous misconceptions it has led the West to accept.

Hanna Braun, London, September 2001


Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion

Israel Shahak, Fundamental Judaism in Israel

Ilan Halevi, A History of the Jews, Ancient and Modern

Michael Prior (ed.), Western Scholarship and the History of Palestine

The Great Iraq Swindle - How Bush Allowed an Army of For-Profit Contractors to Invade the U.S. Treasury

By Rolling Stone Magazine
Issue 1034

08/27/07 " Rolling Stone" --- Aug 23, 2007 -- - How is it done? How do you screw the taxpayer for millions, get away with it and then ride off into the sunset with one middle finger extended, the other wrapped around a chilled martini? Ask Earnest O. Robbins -- he knows all about being a successful contractor in Iraq.

You start off as a well-connected bureaucrat: in this case, as an Air Force civil engineer, a post from which Robbins was responsible for overseeing 70,000 servicemen and contractors, with an annual budget of $8 billion. You serve with distinction for thirty-four years, becoming such a military all-star that the Air Force frequently sends you to the Hill to testify before Congress -- until one day in the summer of 2003, when you retire to take a job as an executive for Parsons, a private construction company looking to do work in Iraq.

Now you can finally move out of your dull government housing on Bolling Air Force Base and get your wife that dream home you've been promising her all these years. The place on Park Street in Dunn Loring, Virginia, looks pretty good -- four bedrooms, fireplace, garage, 2,900 square feet, a nice starter home in a high-end neighborhood full of spooks, think-tankers and ex-apparatchiks moved on to the nest-egg phase of their faceless careers. On October 20th, 2003, you close the deal for $775,000 and start living that private-sector good life.

A few months later, in March 2004, your company magically wins a contract from the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq to design and build the Baghdad Police College, a facility that's supposed to house and train at least 4,000 police recruits. But two years and $72 million later, you deliver not a functioning police academy but one of the great engineering clusterfucks of all time, a practically useless pile of rubble so badly constructed that its walls and ceilings are literally caked in shit and piss, a result of subpar plumbing in the upper floors.

You've done such a terrible job, in fact, that when auditors from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction visit the college in the summer of 2006, their report sounds like something out of one of the Saw movies: "We witnessed a light fixture so full of diluted urine and feces that it would not operate," they write, adding that "the urine was so pervasive that it had permanently stained the ceiling tiles" and that "during our visit, a substance dripped from the ceiling onto an assessment team member's shirt." The final report helpfully includes a photo of a sloppy brown splotch on the outstretched arm of the unlucky auditor.

When Congress gets wind of the fias co, a few members on the House Oversight Committee demand a hearing. To placate them, your company decides to send you to the Hill -- after all, you're a former Air Force major general who used to oversee this kind of contracting operation for the government. So you take your twenty-minute ride in from the suburbs, sit down before the learned gentlemen of the committee and promptly get asked by an irritatingly eager Maryland congressman named Chris Van Hollen how you managed to spend $72 million on a pile of shit.

You blink. Fuck if you know. "I have some conjecture, but that's all it would be" is your deadpan answer.

The room twitters in amazement. It's hard not to applaud the balls of a man who walks into Congress short $72 million in taxpayer money and offers to guess where it all might have gone.

Next thing you know, the congressman is asking you about your company's compensation. Touchy subject -- you've got a "cost-plus" contract, which means you're guaranteed a base-line profit of three percent of your total costs on the deal. The more you spend, the more you make -- and you certainly spent a hell of a lot. But before this milk-faced congressman can even think about suggesting that you give these millions back, you've got to cut him off. "So you won't voluntarily look at this," Van Hollen is mumbling, "and say, given what has happened in this project . . . "

"No, sir, I will not," you snap.

". . . 'We will return the profits.' . . ."

"No, sir, I will not," you repeat.

Your testimony over, you wait out the rest of the hearing, go home, take a bath in one of your four bathrooms, jump into bed with the little woman. . . . A year later, Iraq is still in flames, and your president's administration is safely focused on reclaiming $485 million in aid money from a bunch of toothless black survivors of Hurricane Katrina. But the house you bought for $775K is now assessed at $929,974, and you're sure as hell not giving it back to anyone.

"Yeah, I don't know what I expected him to say," Van Hollen says now about the way Robbins responded to being asked to give the money back. "It just shows the contempt they have for us, for the taxpayer, for everything."

Operation Iraqi Freedom, it turns out, was never a war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. It was an invasion of the federal budget, and no occupying force in history has ever been this efficient. George W. Bush's war in the Mesopotamian desert was an experiment of sorts, a crude first take at his vision of a fully privatized American government. In Iraq the lines between essential government services and for-profit enterprises have been blurred to the point of absurdity -- to the point where wounded soldiers have to pay retail prices for fresh underwear, where modern-day chattel are imported from the Third World at slave wages to peel the potatoes we once assigned to grunts in KP, where private companies are guaranteed huge profits no matter how badly they fuck things up.

And just maybe, reviewing this appalling history of invoicing orgies and million-dollar boondoggles, it's not so far-fetched to think that this is the way someone up there would like things run all over -- not just in Iraq but in Iowa, too, with the state police working for Corrections Corporation of America, and DHL with the contract to deliver every Christmas card. And why not? What the Bush administration has created in Iraq is a sort of paradise of perverted capitalism, where revenues are forcibly extracted from the customer by the state, and obscene profits are handed out not by the market but by an unaccountable government bureauc racy. This is the triumphant culmination of two centuries of flawed white-people thinking, a preposterous mix of authoritarian socialism and laissez-faire profit eering, with all the worst aspects of both ideologies rolled up into one pointless, supremely idiotic military adventure -- American men and women dying by the thousands, so that Karl Marx and Adam Smith can blow each other in a Middle Eastern glory hole.

It was an awful idea, perhaps the worst America has ever tried on foreign soil. But if you were in on it, it was great work while it lasted. Since time immemorial, the distribution of government largesse had followed a staid, paper-laden procedure in which the federal government would post the details of a contract in periodicals like Commerce Business Daily or, more recently, on the FedBizOpps Web site. Competitive bids were solicited and contracts were awarded in accordance with the labyrinthine print of the U.S. Code, a straightforward system that worked well enough before the Bush years that, as one lawyer puts it, you could "count the number of cases of criminal fraud on the fingers of one hand."

There were exceptions to the rule, of course -- emergencies that required immediate awards, contracts where there was only one available source of materials or labor, classified deals that involved national security. What no one knew at the beginning of the war was that the Bush administration had essentially decided to treat the entire Iraqi theater as an exception to the rules. All you had to do was get to Iraq and the game was on.

But getting there wasn't easy. To travel to Iraq, would-be contractors needed permission from the Bush administration, which was far from blind in its appraisal of applicants. In a much-ballyhooed example of favoritism, the White House originally installed a clown named Jim O'Beirne at the relevant evaluation desk in the Department of Defense. O'Beirne proved to be a classic Bush villain, a moron's moron who judged applicants not on their Arabic skills or their relevant expertise but on their Republican bona fides; he sent a twenty-four-year-old who had never worked in finance to manage the reopening of the Iraqi stock exchange, and appointed a recent graduate of an evangelical university for home-schooled kids who had no accounting experience to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget. James K. Haveman, who had served as Michigan's community-health director under a GOP governor, was put in charge of rehabilitating Iraq's health-care system and decided that what this war-ravaged, malnourished, sanitation-deficient country most urgently needed was . . . an anti-smoking campaign.

Town-selectmen types like Haveman weren't the only people who got passes to enter Iraq in the first few years. The administration also greenlighted brash, modern-day forty-niners like Scott Custer and Mike Battles, a pair of ex-Army officers and bottom-rank Republican pols (Battles had run for Congress in Rhode Island and had been a Fox News commentator) who had decided to form a security company called Custer Battles and make it big in Iraq. "Battles knew some people from his congres sional run, and that's how they got there," says Alan Grayson, an attorney who led a whistle-blower lawsuit against the pair for defrauding the government.

Before coming to Iraq, Custer Battles hadn't done even a million dollars in business. The company's own Web site brags that Battles had to borrow cab fare from Jordan to Iraq and arrived in Baghdad with less than $500 in his pocket. But he had good timing, arriving just as a security contract for Baghdad International Airport was being "put up" for bid. The company site raves that Custer spent "three sleepless nights" penning an offer that impressed the CPA enough to hand the partners $2 million in cash, which Battles promptly stuffed into a duffel bag and drove to deposit in a Lebanese bank.

Custer Battles had lucked into a sort of Willy Wonka's paradise for contractors, where a small pool of Republican-friendly businessmen would basically hang around the Green Zone waiting for a contracting agency to come up with a work order. In the early days of the war, the idea of "competition" was a farce, with deals handed out so quickly that there was no possibility of making rational or fairly priced estimates. According to those familiar with the process, contracting agencies would request phony "bids" from several contractors, even though the winner had been picked in advance. "The losers would play ball because they knew that eventually it would be their turn to be the winner," says Grayson.

To make such deals legal, someone in the military would simply sign a piece of paper invoking an exception. "I know one guy whose business was buying weapons on the black market for contractors," says Pratap Chatterjee, a writer who has spent months in the Mideast researching a forthcoming book on Iraq contracts. "It's illegal -- but he got military people to sign papers allowing him to do it."

The system not only had the advantage of eliminating red tape in a war zone, it also encouraged the "entrepreneurship" of patriots like Custer and Battles, who went from bumming cab fare to doing $100 million in government contracts practically overnight. And what business they did! The bid that Custer claimed to have spent "three sleepless nights" putting together was later described by Col. Richard Ballard, then the inspector general of the Army, as looking "like something that you and I would write over a bottle of vodka, complete with all the spelling and syntax errors and annexes to be filled in later." The two simply "presented it the next day and then got awarded about a $15 million contract."

The deal charged Custer Battles with the responsibility to perform airport security for civilian flights. But there were never any civilian flights into Baghdad's airport during the life of their contract, so the CPA gave them a job managing an airport checkpoint, which they failed miserably. They were also given scads of money to buy expensive X-ray equipment and set up an advanced canine bomb-sniffing system, but they never bought the equipment. As for the dog, Ballard reported, "I eventually saw one dog. The dog did not appear to be a certified, trained dog." When the dog was brought to the checkpoint, he added, it would lie down and "refuse to sniff the vehicles" -- as outstanding a metaphor for U.S. contractor performance in Iraq as has yet been produced.

Like most contractors, Custer Battles was on a cost-plus arrangement, which means its profits were guaranteed to rise with its spending. But according to testimony by officials and former employees, the partners also charged the government millions by making out phony invoices to shell companies they controlled. In another stroke of genius, they found a bunch of abandoned Iraqi Airways forklifts on airport property, repainted them to disguise the company markings and billed them to U.S. tax payers as new equipment. Every time they scratched their asses, they earned; there was so much money around for contractors, officials literally used $100,000 wads of cash as toys. "Yes -- $100 bills in plastic wrap," Frank Willis, a former CPA official, acknowledged in Senate testimony about Custer Battles. "We played football with the plastic-wrapped bricks for a little while."

The Custer Battles show only ended when the pair left a spreadsheet behind after a meeting with CPA officials -- a spreadsheet that scrupulously detailed the pair's phony invoicing. "It was the worst case of fraud I've ever seen, hands down," says Grayson. "But it's also got to be the first instance in history of a defendant leaving behind a spreadsheet full of evidence of the crime."

But even being the clumsiest war profit eers of all time was not enough to bring swift justice upon the heads of Mr. Custer and Mr. Battles -- and this is where the story of America's reconstruction effort gets really interesting. The Bush administration not only refused to prosecute the pair -- it actually tried to stop a lawsuit filed against the contractors by whistle-blowers hoping to recover the stolen money. The administration argued that Custer Battles could not be found guilty of defrauding the U.S. government because the CPA was not part of the U.S. government. When the lawsuit went forward despite the administration's objections, Custer and Battles mounted a defense that recalled Nuremberg and Lt. Calley, arguing that they could not be guilty of theft since it was done with the government's approval.

The jury disagreed, finding Custer Battles guilty of ripping off taxpayers. But the verdict was set aside by T.S. Ellis III, a federal judge who cited the administration's "the CPA is not us" argument. The very fact that private contractors, aided by the government itself, could evade conviction for what even Ellis, a Reagan-appointed judge, called "significant" evidence of fraud, says everything you need to know about the true nature of the war we are fighting in Iraq. Is it really possible to bilk American taxpayers for repainted forklifts stolen from Iraqi Airways and claim that you were just following orders? It is, when your commander in chief is George W. Bush. font size="3">There isn't a brazen, two -bit, purse-snatching money caper you can think of that didn't happen at least 10,000 times with your tax dollars in Iraq. At the very outset of the occupation, when L. Paul Bremer was installed as head of the CPA, one of his first brilliant ideas for managing the country was to have $12 billion in cash flown into Baghdad on huge wooden pallets and stored in palaces and government buildings. To pay contractors, he'd have agents go to the various stashes -- a pile of $200 million in one of Saddam's former palaces was watched by a single soldier, who left the key to the vault in a backpack on his desk when he went out to lunch -- withdraw the money, then crisscross the country to pay the bills. When desperate auditors later tried to trace the paths of the money, one agent could account for only $6,306,836 of some $23 million he'd withdrawn. Bremer's office "acknowledged not having any supporting documentation" for $25 million given to a different agent. A ministry that claimed to have paid 8,206 guards was able to document payouts to only 602. An agent who was told by auditors that he still owed $1,878,870 magically produced exactly that amount, which, as the auditors dryly noted, "suggests that the agent had a reserve of cash."

In short, some $8.8 billion of the $12 billion proved impossible to find. "Who in their right mind would send 360 tons of cash into a war zone?" asked Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight Committee. "But that's exactly what our government did."

Because contractors were paid on cost-plus arrangements, they had a powerful incentive to spend to the hilt. The undisputed master of milking the system is KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary so ubiquitous in Iraq that soldiers even encounter its customer-survey sheets in outhouses. The company has been exposed by whistle-blowers in numerous Senate hearings for everything from double-charging taxpayers for $617,000 worth of sodas to overcharging the government 600 percent for fuel shipments. When things went wrong, KBR simply scrapped expensive gear: The company dumped 50,000 pounds of nails in the desert because they were too short, and left the Army no choice but to set fire to a supply truck that had a flat tire. "They did not have the proper wrench to change the tire," an Iraq vet named Richard Murphy told investigators, "so the decision was made to torch the truck."

In perhaps the ultimate example of military capitalism, KBR reportedly ran convoys of empty trucks back and forth across the insurgent-laden desert, pointlessly risking the lives of soldiers and drivers so the company could charge the taxpayer for its phantom deliveries. Truckers for KBR, knowing full well that the trips were bullshit, derisively referred to their cargo as "sailboat fuel."

In Fallujah, where the company was paid based on how many soldiers used the base rec center, KBR supervisors ordered employees to juke the head count by taking an hourly tally of every soldier in the facility. "They were counting the same soldier five, six, seven times," says Linda Warren, a former postal worker who was employed by KBR in Fallujah. "I was even directed to count every empty bottle of water left behind in the facility as though they were troops who had been there."

Yet for all the money KBR charged taxpayers for the rec center, it didn't provide much in the way of services to the soldiers engaged in the heaviest fighting of the war. When Warren ordered a karaoke machine, the company gave her a cardboard box stuffed with jumbled-up electronic components. "We had to borrow laptops from the troops to set up a music night," says Warren, who had a son serving in Fallujah at the time. "These boys needed R&R more than anything, but the company wouldn't spend a dime." (KBR refused requests for an interview, but has denied that it inflated troop counts or committed other wrongdoing in Iraq.)

One of the most dependable methods for burning taxpayer funds was simply to do nothing. After securing a contract in Iraq, companies would mobilize their teams, rush them into the war zone and then wait, citing the security situation or delayed paperwork -- all the while charging the government for housing, meals and other expenses. Last year, a government audit of twelve major contracts awarded to KBR, Parsons and other companies found that idle time often accounted for more than half of a contract's total costs. In one deal awarded to KBR, the company's "indirect" administrative costs were $52.7 million, and its direct costs -- the costs associated with the actual job -- were only $13.4 million.

Companies jacked up the costs even higher by hiring out layers of subcontractors to do their work for them. In some cases, each subcontractor had its own cost-plus arrangement. "We called those 'cascading contracts,' " says Rep. Van Hollen. "Each subcontractor piles on a lot of costs, and eventually they would snowball into a huge payout. It was a green light for waste."

In March 2004, Parsons -- the firm represented by Earnest O. Robbins -- was given nearly $1 million to build a fire station in Ainkawa, a small Christian community in one of the safest parts of Iraq. Parsons subcontracted the design to a British company called TPS Consult and the construction to a California firm called Innovative Technical Solutions Inc. ITSI, in turn, hired an Iraqi outfit called Zozik to do the actual labor.

A year and a half later, government auditors visited the site and found that the fire station was less than half finished. What little had been built was marred by serious design flaws, including concrete columns so shoddily constructed that they were riddled with holes that looked like "honeycombing." But getting the fuck-ups fixed proved problematic. The auditors "made a request that was sent to the Army Corps, which delivered it to Parsons, who then asked ITSI, which asked TPS Consult to check on the work done by Zozik," writes Chatterjee, who describes the mess in his forthcoming book, Baghdad Bonanza. The multiple layers of subcontractors made it almost impossible to resolve the issue -- and every day the delays dragged on meant more money for the companies.

Sometimes the government simply handed out money to companies it made up out of thin air. In 2006, the Army Corps of Engineers found itself unable to award contracts by the September deadline imposed by Congress, meaning it would have to "de-obligate" the money and return it to the government. Rather than suffer that awful fate, the corps obligated $362 million -- spread out over ninety-six different contracts -- to "Dummy Vendor." In their report on the mess, auditors noted that money to nobody "does not constitute proper obligations."

But even obligating money to no one was better than what sometimes happened in Iraq: handing out U.S. funds to the enemy. Since the beginning of the war, rumors have abounded about contractors paying protection money to insurgents to avoid attacks. No less an authority than Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, claimed that such payoffs are a "significant source" of income for Al Qaeda. Moreover, when things go missing in Iraq -- like bricks of $100 bills, or weapons, or trucks -- it is a fair assumption that some of the wayward booty ends up in the wrong hands. In July, a federal audit found that 190,000 weapons are missing in Iraq -- nearly one out of every three arms supplied by the United States. "These weapons almost certainly ended up on the black market, where they are repurchased by insurgents," says Chatterjee. font size="3">For all the creative ways that contractors came up with to waste, mismanage and steal public money in Iraq, the standard remained good old-fashioned fucking up. Take the case of the Basra Children's Hospital, a much-ballyhooed "do-gooder" project championed by Laura Bush and Condi Rice. This was exactly the sort of grandstanding, self-serving, indulgent and ultimately useless project that tended to get the go-ahead under reconstruction. Like the expensive telephone-based disease-notification database approved for use in hospitals without telephones, or the natural-gas-powered electricity turbines green lighted for installation in a country without ready sources of natural gas, the Basra Children's Hospital was a state-of-the-art medical facility set to be built in a town without safe drinking water. "Why build a hospital for kids, when the kids have no clean water?" said Rep. Jim Kolbe, a Republican from Arizona.

Bechtel was given $50 million to build the hospital -- but a year later, with the price tag soaring to $169 million, the company was pulled off the project without a single bed being ready for use. The government was unfazed: Bechtel, explained USAID spokesman David Snider, was "under a 'term contract,' which means their job is over when their money ends."

Their job is over when their money ends. When I call Snider to clarify this amazing statement, he declines to discuss the matter further. But if you look over the history of the Iraqi reconstruction effort, you will find versions of this excuse every where. When Custer Battles was caught delivering broken trucks to the Army, a military official says the company told him, "We were only told we had to deliver the trucks. The contract doesn't say they had to work."

Such excuses speak to a monstrous vacuum of patriotism; it would be hard to imagine contractors being so blithely disinterested in results during World War II, where every wasted dollar might mean another American boy dead from gangrene in the Ardennes. But the rampant waste of money and resources also suggests a widespread contempt for the ostensible "purpose" of our presence in Iraq. Asked to cast a vote for the war effort, contractors responded by swiping everything they could get their hands on -- and the administration's acquiescence in their thievery suggests that it, too, saw making a buck as the true mission of the war. Two witnesses scheduled to testify before Congress against Custer Battles ultimately declined not only because they had received death threats but because they, too, were contractors and feared that they would be shut out of future government deals. To repeat: Witnesses were afraid to testify in an effort to recover government funds because they feared reprisal from the government.

The Bush administration's lack of interest in recovering stolen funds is one of the great scandals of the war. The White House has failed to litigate a single case against a contractor under the False Claims Act and has not sued anybody for breach of contract. It even declined to join in a lawsuit filed by whistle-blowers who are accusing KBR of improper invoicing in Fallujah. "For all the Bush administration claims to do in the war against terrorism," Grayson said in congressional testimony, "it is a no-show in the war against war profiteers." In nearly five years of some of the worst graft and looting in American history, the administration has recovered less than $6 million.

What's more, when anyone in the government tried to question what contractors were up to with taxpayer money, they were immediately blackballed and treated like an enemy. Take the case of Bunnatine "Bunny" Greenhouse, an outspoken and energetic woman of sixty-three who served as the chief procurement executive for the Army Corps of Engineers. In her position, Greenhouse was responsible for signing off on sole-source contracts -- those awarded without competitive bids and thus most prone to corruption. Long before Iraq, she had begun to notice favoritism in the awarding of contracts to KBR, which was careful to recruit executives who had served in the military. "That was why I joined the corps: to stop this kind of clubby contracting," she says.

A few weeks before the Iraq War started, Greenhouse was asked to sign off on the contract to restore Iraqi oil. The deal, she noticed, was suspicious on a number of fronts. For one thing, the company that had designed the project, KBR, was the same company that was being awarded the contract -- a highly unusual and improper situation. For another, the corps wanted to award a massive "emergency" contract to KBR with no competition for up to five years, which Greenhouse thought was crazy. Who ever heard of a five-year emergency? After auditing the deal, the Pentagon found that KBR had overcharged the government $61 million for fuel. "The abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR," Greenhouse testified before the Senate, "represents the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career."

And how did her superiors in the Pentagon respond to the wrongdoing highlighted by their own chief procurement officer? First they gave KBR a waiver for the overbilling, blaming the problem on an Iraqi subcontractor. Then they dealt with Greenhouse by demoting her and cutting her salary, citing a negative performance review. The retaliation sent a clear message to any would-be whistle-blowers. "It puts a chill on you," Greenhouse says. "People are scared stiff."

They were scared stiff in Iraq, too, and for good reason. When civilian employees complained about looting or other improprieties, contractors sometimes threatened to throw them outside the gates of their bases -- a life-threatening situation for any American. Robert Isakson, a former FBI agent who worked for Custer Battles, says that when he refused to go along with one scam involving a dummy company in Lebanon, he was detained by company security guards, who seized his ID badge and barred him from the base in Baghdad. He eventually had to make a hazardous, Papillon-esque journey across hostile Iraq to Jordan just to survive. (Custer Battles denies the charge.)

James Garrison, who worked at a KBR ice plant in Al Asad, recalls an incident when Indian employees threatened to go on strike: "They pulled a bus up, got them in there and said, 'We'll ship you outside the front gate if you want to go on strike.' " Not surprisingly, the workers changed their mind about a work stoppage.

You know the old adage: You don't pay a hooker to spend the night, you pay her to leave in the morning. That maxim also applies to civilian workers in Iraq. A soldier is a citizen with rights, a man to be treated with honor and respect as a protector of us all; if one loses a limb, you've got to take care of him, in theory for his whole life. But a mercenary is just another piece of equipment you can bill to the taxpayer: If one is hurt on the job, you can just throw it away and buy another one. Today there are more civilians working for private contractors in Iraq than there are troops on the ground. The totality of the thievery in Iraq is such that even the honor of patriotic service has been stolen -- we've replaced soldiers and heroes with disposable commodities, men we expected to give us a big bang for a buck and to never call us again.

Russell Skoug, who worked as a refrigeration technician for a contractor called Wolfpack, found that out the hard way. These days Skoug is back home in Diboll, Texas, and he doesn't move around much; he considers it a big accomplishment if he can make it to his mailbox and back once a day. "I'm doing a lot if I can do that much," he says, laughing a little.

A year ago, on September 11th, Skoug was working for Wolfpack at a base in Heet, Iraq. It was a convoy day -- trucks braved the trip in and out of the base every third day -- and Skoug had a generator he needed to fix. So he agreed to make a run to Al Asad. "If I would've realized that it was September 11th, I never would've went out," he says. It would turn out to be the last run he would ever make in Iraq.

An Air Force vet, Skoug had come to Iraq as a civilian to repair refrigeration units and air conditioners for a KBR subcontractor called LSI. But when he arrived, he discovered that LSI had hired him to fix Humvees. "I didn't know jack-squat about Humvees," he says. "I could maybe change the oil, that was it." (Asked about Skoug's additional assignment, KBR boasted: "Part of the reason for our success is our ability to employ individuals with multiple capabilities.")

Working with him on his crew were two other refrigeration technicians, neither of whom knew anything about fixing Humvees. Since Skoug and most of his co-workers had worked for KBR in Afghanistan, they were familiar with cost-plus contracting. The buzz around the base was that cost-plus was the reason LSI was hiring air-conditioning guys to work on unfamiliar military equipment at a cost to the taxpayer of $80,000 a year. "They was doing the same thing as KBR: just filling the body count," says Skoug.

Thanks to low troop levels, all the military repair guys had been pressed into service to fight the war, so Skoug was forced to sit in the military storeroom on the base and study vehicle manuals that, as a civilian, he wasn't allowed to check out of the building. That was how America fought terrorism in Iraq: It hired civilian air-conditioning techs to fix Humvees using the instruction manual while the real Humvee repairmen, earning a third of what the helpless civilians were paid, drove around in circles outside the wire waiting to get blown up by insurgents.

After much pleading and cajoling, Skoug managed to convince LSI to let him repair some refrigeration units. But it turned out that the company didn't have any tools for the job. "They gave me a screwdriver and a Leatherman, and that's it," he recalls. "We didn't even have freon gauges." When Skoug managed to scrounge and cannibalize parts to get the job done, he impressed the executives at Wolfpack enough to hire him away from LSI for $10,000 a month. The job required Skoug, who had been given no formal security training, to travel regularly on dangerous convoys between bases. Wolfpack issued him an armored vehicle, a Yugoslav-made AK-47 and a handgun, and wished him luck.

For nearly a year, Skoug did the job, trying at each stop to overcome the hostility that many troops felt for civilian contractors who surfed the Internet and played pool and watched movies all day for big dollars while soldiers carrying seventy-pound packs of gear labored in huts with broken air conditioning the civilian techs couldn't be bothered to repair. "They'd have the easiest thing to fix, and they wouldn't do it," Skoug says. "They'd write that they'd fixed it or that they just needed a part and then just leave it." At Haditha Dam, Skoug witnessed a near-brawl after some Marines, trying to get some sleep after returning from patrol, couldn't get a group of "KBR dudes" to turn down the television in a common area late at night.

Toward the end of Skoug's stay, insurgent activity in his area increased to the point where the soldiers leading his convoys would often drive only at night and without lights. Skoug and his co-workers asked Wolfpack to provide them with night-vision goggles that cost as little as $1,000 a pair, but the company refused. "Their attitude was, we don't need 'em and we're not buying 'em," says Thomas Lane, a Wolfpack employee who served as Skoug's security man on the night of September 11th.

On that evening, the soldiers leading the convoy refused to let Skoug drive his own vehicle back to Heet without night-vision goggles. So a soldier took Skoug's car, and Skoug was forced to be a passenger in a military vehicle. "We start out the front gate, and I find out that the truck that I was in was the frickin' lead truck," he recalls. "And I'm going, 'Oh, great.' "

The bomb went off about a half-hour later, ripping through the truck floor and destroying four inches of Skoug's left femur. "The windshield looked like there was a film on it," he says. "I find out later it was a film -- it was blood and meat and stuff all over the windshield on the inside." Skoug was loaded into the back of a Humvee, his legs hanging out, and evacuated to an Army hospital in Germany before being airlifted back to the States.

When Skoug arrived, it was his wife, Linda, who had to handle all his affairs. She was the one who arranged for an air ambulance to take him to Houston, where she had persuaded an orthopedic hospital to admit him as a patient. She had to do this because almost right from the start, Wolfpack washed its hands of Russell Skoug. The insurance policy he had been given turned out to be useless -- the company denied all coverage, beginning with a $72,597 bill for his stay in the German hospital. Despite assurances from Wolfpack chief Mark Atwood that he would cover all Skoug's expenses, neither he nor the insurance company would pay for the $16,000 trip in the air ambulance. Nobody paid for the operations Skoug had in Houston -- as many as three a day, every day for a month. And nobody paid for his subsequent rehab stint in another Houston hospital -- despite the fact that military law requires every company contracting with the government to fully insure all of its employees in the war zone.

Now that he's out, sitting at home on his couch with only partial use of his left hand and left leg, Skoug has a stack of unpaid medical bills almost three inches tall. As he speaks, he keeps fidgeting. He apologizes, explaining that he can't sit still for very long. Why? Because Skoug can no longer afford pain medication. "I take ibuprofen sometimes," he says, "but basically I just grin and bear it."

And here's where this story turns into something perfectly symbolic of everything that the war in Iraq stands for, a window into the soul of for-profit contractors who not only left behind a breathtaking legacy of fraud, waste and corruption but, through their calculating, greed-fueled hijacking of this generation's broadest and most far-reaching foreign-policy initiative, pushed America into previously unknown realms of moral insanity. When I contact Mark Atwood and ask him to explain how he could watch one of his best employees get blown up and crippled for life, and then cut him loose with debts totaling well over half a million dollars, Atwood, safe in his office in Kuwait City and contentedly suckling at the taxpayer teat, decides that answering this one question is just too much to ask of poor old him.

"Right now," Atwood says, "I just want some peace."

When Linda Skoug petitioned Atwood for help, he refused, pointing out that he had kept his now-useless employee on the payroll for four whole months before firing him. "After I have put forth to help you all out," he wrote in an e-mail, "you are going to get on me for your husband not having insurance." He even implied that Skoug had brought the accident upon himself by allowing the Army to place him at the head of the convoy: "He was not even suppose [sic] to be in the lead vehicle to begin with."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of the Iraq War in a nutshell. In the history of balls, the world has never seen anything like the private contractors George W. Bush summoned to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Collectively, they are the final, polished result of 231 years of natural selection in the crucible of American capitalism: a bureaucrat class capable of stealing the same dollar twice -- once from the taxpayer and once from a veteran in a wheelchair.

The explanations that contractors offer for all the missing dollars, all the myriad ways they looted the treasury and screwed guys like Russell Skoug, rank among the most diabolical, shameless, tongue-twisting bullshit in history. Going back over the various congres sional hearings and trying to decipher the corporate responses to the mountains of thefts and fuck-ups is a thrilling intellectual journey, not unlike tackling the Pharaonic hieroglyphs or the mating chatter of colobus monkeys. Standing before Congress, contractors and the officials who are supposed to monitor them say things like "As long as we have the undefinitized contract issue that we have . . . we will continue to see the same kinds of sustension rates" (translation: We can't get back any of the fucking money) and "The need for to-fitnessization was viewed as voluntary, and that was inaccurate as the general counsel to the Army observed in a June opinion" (translation: The contractor wasn't aware that he was required to keep costs down) and "If we don't know where we're trying to go and don't have measures, then we won't know how much longer it's going to take us to get there" (translation: There never was a plan in place, other than to let contractors rip off every dollar they could).

According to the most reliable estimates, we have doled out more than $500 billion for the war, as well as $44 billion for the Iraqi reconstruction effort. And what did America's contractors give us for that money? They built big steaming shit piles, set brand-new trucks on fire, drove back and forth across the desert for no reason at all and dumped bags of nails in ditches. For the most part, nobody at home cared, because war on some level is always a waste. But what happened in Iraq went beyond inefficiency, beyond fraud even. This was about the business of government being corrupted by the profit motive to such an extraordinary degree that now we all have to wonder how we will ever be able to depend on the state to do its job in the future. If catastrophic failure is worth billions, where's the incentive to deliver success? There's no profit in patriotism, no cost-plus angle on common decency. Sixty years after America liberated Europe, those are just words, and words don't pay the bills.