Saturday, April 18, 2009

Infiltrating Alpha 66 By SAUL LANDAU

Infiltrating Alpha 66

An Interview with Gerardo Hernandez, Leader of the Cuban Five


This conversation took place on April 1, 2009. Our film crew received Justice Department approval to talk with “the prisoner,” with a prison official in the room. Before his 1998 arrest, Gerardo Hernandez directed the operations of the other Cuban State Security agents who infiltrated violent groups in the Miami area for the purposes of stopping them from carrying our terrorist attacks on tourist sites in Cuba. We took complete and careful notes.

Saul Landau: What was your mission and why?

Gerardo Hernandez: In the US in general and Florida specifically, many groups contemplated and carried out acts of terrorism in Cuba. We were collecting information on Alpha 66, the F4 Commandos, the Cuban American National Foundation, and Brothers to the Rescue. Many years have passed and I hope that nothing has escaped me but I think those were the principal groups in which we working [infiltrating].

SL: What did you learn through your infiltration?

GH: The first thing that struck me was the impunity with which these groups operated, violating the laws of the US: The Neutrality Acts [of the 1790s] that supposedly means no organization can use American soil to commit terrorism against another country.

In the case of Alpha 66, the operatives would take a fast boat and shoot at targets along Cuba’s coast. When they would return to Miami, they would hold a press conference lecture and openly say what they had done.

And when someone would ask, “Hey, doesn’t that violate the neutrality laws,” they would reply: “Not really, because first we went to one of the Keys somewhere in the Caribbean and then we went to Cuba. So technically, we didn’t leave from the US.” They did this openly and no US agency took responsibility.

SL: In what years?

GH: This has been going on since 1959. I personally began dealing with this in the 1990s. Since I’ve been here in prison in Victorville [California] about 3 years ago, I think in 2005 they arrested a Cuban right here in this county with an arsenal, all kinds of weapons in his house. And the first thing he said was, “Well, I am a member of Alpha 66 and I’m using these weapons in the struggle for Cuban freedom.” That was his defense.

SL: Were the Cuban Five all volunteers? How does one prepare to infiltrate an enemy group in an enemy country? And then act as if you were enemies of your country and friends of them?

GH: Yes, all volunteers. In my case, I’m not a career military man. I studied to be a diplomat. It took me 6 years to complete my degree in International and Political Relations. Afterwards, I went to Angola, as part of a voluntary international mission. And while I was in Angola it seems I sparked the attention of the Cuban intelligence services, and when I got back, they approached me with this mission. They said, “We know you studied to be a diplomat, but you know our country has a certain situation with these terrorist groups that are coming from Florida to commit all kinds of crimes and we need someone to go and fulfill these tasks.”

I could have said “No, I studied diplomacy, I want to be a diplomat,” but Cubans, those who were raised with the Revolution, know that during the past 50 years our country has faced almost a war environment. In Cuba, he who doesn’t know personally a victim of terrorism, at least knows about the plane that exploded over Barbados, killing 73 people [October 1976]. Who doesn’t know about the bomb [in 1997] that killed Fabio di Selmo [an Italian tourist and guest at Havana’s Hotel Copacabana detonated by a Salvadoran who said he was hired by Luis Posada ] just to mention a few acts? There was a pre-school where the counter revolutionaries lit a [gas] tank on fire. These actions are part of the Cuban conscience. So, I told the Intelligence officers, “Yes, I am prepared to fulfill this mission.”

SL: How did you manage to infiltrate these groups? How did you convince them, people like Jose Basulto [head of Brothers to the Rescue], for example?

GH: For Cubans in this country, everything is connected. Cubans in the United States have enormous privileges, ones that no other citizens of the world have. Cubans arrive by any route, including with false passports, and the only thing they have to say is, “I come seeking freedom,” and right away the US gives them all the documents they need. So, in the case of Basulto, for example, one of our comrades who infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue had originally “stolen” a plane from Cuba. Rene [Gonzalez, another of the Cuban Five] flew his plane here and, as is the custom, he was received as a hero. He got lots of attention and, later joined the Brothers. His job was collecting information about that organization.

So, if you ask me how, I say that we used as our foundation for infiltration the very privileges all Cubans receive when they arrive in this country; even those who took others with them, and have hijacked airplanes, or have put a gun up to a pilot’s head. Look at people like Leonel Matias, who [in 1994 he hijacked a boat in Cuba and killed a naval officer in the process] killed someone on a boat, arrived here on that boat, with his gun -- and the body was even discovered. But despite all of that, he didn’t have to face any processes in the U.S. justice system. Those people are automatically pardoned. So using exactly that kind of advantage, we were able to penetrate to a certain level, these organizations.

When I mention Brothers to the Rescue, some might think, “This is a humanitarian organization that rescued balseros [rafters].” On the contrary, while their activities were limited to rescuing balseros, they had no problems with the Cuban authorities. What people tend not know is that Jose Basulto, the head of that organization, has a long record as a terrorist. He trained with the CIA, and infiltrated Cuba in the 1960s. In 1962, he came to Cuba on a fast boat and fired shells at the Cuban coast, including targeting a hotel. Even Basulto, with all his known history, had no problems while he limited his actions to rescuing balseros. In 1995, however, the United States and Cuba signed migratory agreements specifying that boats intercepted at sea would no longer be brought to the United States; rather they would be returned to Cuba. At that point, people stopped contributing money to Basulto and his organization because, they said: “Why are we going to give money to Basulto’s organization? When he calls the coast guard, they are just going to return those balseros to Cuba?”

So, when Basulto saw his business in danger, he invented this invasion [in 1995] of Cuban airspace as a way to keep people donating money. We presented this evidence in our case. If the press hasn’t wanted to pay much attention to this…well, they don’t want to touch such material. It doesn’t behoove them. I am referring to the corporate press. The documents are all there showing how Basulto and the Brothers to the Rescue were trying out handmade weapons in order to introduce them in Cuba.

When Basulto testified at our trial [2001], our attorneys asked him what he intended to do with all those weapons. All this is in the trial record, though no one seems to want to pay attention to it. People tend to talk about the Brothers to the Rescue as if they were a humanitarian organization, omitting the part about terrorism; like they omit the facts that the FBI had penetrated that organization as well. The FBI had someone inside the group giving them information on the Brothers’ activities. Why would the FBI penetrate a humanitarian organization?

Saul Landau is currently making (with Jack Willis) a film on the Cuban Five. His other films are available on DVD from He is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and autho of A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD (Counterpunch A/K).

Get A Room Ya Big Lugs


How adorable. Captions anyone? Blingees? Seriously send me a Blingee of this and I'll post it after the jump, promise. Know what we got after the jump? Evo!



I think I like this below one best. Smiles are a little weaker, lips are pursed. They maybe screwed up the handshake? Chavez went for the fist jab possibly? That would've been awesome...


Ok, now your Blingees below. Click here to get started. Seriously it's a weekend. What else you got going on? Hop to it.Email 'em to borevnet (at) gmail (dot) com.

Obama Meets Chavez!!

Ok this one was me, but really I did this in like 3 minutes. It's easy! Now yours...

Awww....look who loves Evo. Thanks, Bina:


Oh wow thanks, Jason, because really, a Blingee isn't complete until somebody has a stroke, awesome:


This next one's only missing the unicorn. Thanks, Santos!

Best Friends!

It's Sunday in the Park with Barack. Nice one, CC:


Friday, April 17, 2009

Breaking news: Assassination plot to kill the President & Vice President of Bolivia has been foiled. 3 mercenaries killed & 2 captured.

Bolivia probes financing behind international group that plotted to kill president

A Bolivian police officer displays seized guns taken in the city of Santa Cruz from an armed group at a police station in La Paz, Thursday, April 16, 2009. Bolivian police said they broke an armed international group on Thursday that was plotting to assassinate President Evo Morales and the vice president.Three suspects were killed and two were arrested in a half-hour long shootout with officers in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, police said. The area is the center of political opposition to Morales.(AP Photo/Juan Karita) (Juan Karita, AP / April 16, 2009)

Here’s a little bit of history kiddies: During the second world war the Serbs fought AGAINST the Nazi invaders, while the Croats JOINED THE NAZIS and were infamous for their brutality towards their prisoners that evened sickened their Nazi allies.Fast forward to the end of WWII and many Nazis (and their allies) fled to South America - including those the CIA relocated after “Operation Paperclip”. The U.S. backed dictatorship in Bolivia gave the Croatian refugees(?) land in the media-luna region. Fast forward to the independence of apartheid Rhodesia, which became the independent nation of Zimbabwe in April 1980. The at-the-time U.S. supported dictator of Bolivia also gave the racist Rhodesian immigrants land in the media-luna region to populate, farm, and “whiten the country”. Fast forward to now. Many of the leaders of the opposition to Evo Morales are Croatian and Rhodesian Bolivians. Hmmm? Three mercenaries were killed: one Irish, one Rumanian, and a Bolivian of Croatian descent. Two mercenaries were captured, one a Bolivian ex-military who was living in Croatia, and a Hungarian naturalized Croatian. See where I’m going?

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Bolivian officials were investigating Friday who financed a plot to assassinate President Evo Morales and what an international group of alleged mercenaries — including two fighters from the Balkan wars — were doing in Bolivia.

Among three men killed and two arrested in a dramatic police shootout in the opposition bastion of Santa Cruz, at least two suspects fought for Croatian independence, according to government officials.

Bolivian police closed in on the group Thursday in the eastern city, sparking a dramatic gun battle as the suspects fled to a downtown hotel and blew out its windows with a grenade.

Police commander General Victor Hugo Escobar identified the dead ringleader of the band as 49-year-old Eduardo Rosza Flores, son of a Hungarian father and Bolivian mother.

Rosza commanded a brigade in the Balkans after arriving there as a war correspondent in 1991, according this his personal Web blog.

The firefight with police also killed Magyarosi Arpak, a Romanian sniper, and Michel Martin Dwyer, an Irish expert in martial arts and weapons, the police commander said.

Police arrested Mario Francisco Tadik Astorga, 58, a Bolivian-Croatian who also fought in the Balkans, and Elot Toazo, a Hungarian computer science expert.

They have yet to be assigned lawyers. Prosecutor Jorge Gutierrez said the suspects were presented before prosecutors.

The group was monitored for some time until it launched a dynamite attack at the house of Cardinal Julio Terrazas in Santa Cruz on Wednesday that caused no fatalities, Deputy Government Marcos Farfan Erbol said Friday.

Police seized an arsenal, personal computers containing city plans of Santa Cruz and La Paz, the capital, and a list of possible targets, Escobar said.

The government said the group planned to attack the president, vice president and other authorities and personalities, including Santa Cruz Gov. Ruben Costas, a leader of political opposition to Morales.

It was unclear why a group of alleged anti-Morales assassins would attack Costas or Terrazas, who also is known to support the president's opponents controlling much of Bolivia's farm and natural gas wealth in the lowland east around Santa Cruz.

But Costas questioned the government's information, saying it was "mounting a show" to discredit the opposition.

Santa Cruz and three other states have adopted measures seeking greater autonomy from Morales' central government.

Morales has accused Costas of fomenting anti-government violence after rioters in September seized state buildings to block a vote on a new constitution. Eleven people died in the skirmishes, and a U.N. report found the president's political opponents responsible.

Morales ejected the U.S. ambassador and Drug Enforcement Administration officials over accusations that American diplomats had supported the opposition. He also claimed that the U.S. organized groups to assassinate him. Washington denies those charges.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Year in Hate: Number of Hate Groups Tops 900

The Year in Hate
Number of Hate Groups Tops 900
By David Holthouse
Illustration by Sean McCabe

year in hate

From white power skinheads decrying "President Obongo" at a racist gathering in rural Missouri, to neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen hurling epithets at Latino immigrants from courthouse steps in Oklahoma, to anti-Semitic black separatists calling for death to Jews on bustling street corners in several East Coast cities, hate group activity in the U.S. was disturbing and widespread throughout 2008, as the number of hate groups operating in America continued to rise. Last year, 926 hate groups were active in the U.S., up more than 4% from 888 in 2007. That's more than a 50% increase since 2000, when there were 602 groups.

As in recent years, hate groups were animated by the national immigration debate. But two new forces also drove them in 2008: the worsening recession, and Barack Obama's successful campaign to become the nation's first black president. Officials reported that Obama had received more threats than any other presidential candidate in memory, and several white supremacists were arrested for saying they would assassinate him or allegedly plotting to do so.

At the same time, law enforcement officials reported a marked swelling of the extreme-right "sovereign citizens" movement that wreaked havoc in the 1990s with its "paper terrorism" tactics. Adherents are infamous for filing bogus property liens and orchestrating elaborate financial ripoffs.

Somewhat surprisingly, it wasn't just the usual suspects from the white supremacist underworld who sought to exploit the country's economic turmoil and political strife. A key 2008 hate group trend was the increasing militancy of the extremist fringe of the Hebrew Israelite movement, whose adherents believe that Jews are creatures of the devil and that whites deserve death or slavery.

These radical black supremacists have no love for Barack Obama, calling him a "house nigger" and a puppet of Israel. They preach to inner-city blacks that evil Jews are solely responsible for the recession. The rhetoric of white-skinned hate group leaders in 2008 was equally alarming. Last September, for example the cover of National Socialist magazine depicted then-presidential nominee Barack Obama in the crosshairs of a scope, with the headline "Kill This Nigger?"

What follows is a detailed look at the three most active and dangerous white supremacist hate group sectors in 2008: Ku Klux Klan groups, neo-Nazis, and racist skinheads.

Ku Klux Klan groups
Reversing a generally declining trend since 2000, Klan groups in the U.S. increased significantly in 2008, from 155 chapters to 186. Seventeen new chapters belong to the Brotherhood of Klans Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (BOK), which during the past five years has grown into the largest Klan organization in the country. In 2008, the Marion, Ohio-headquartered BOK launched a handful of chapters in Canada, linking up with the Aryan Guard, a fast-growing white nationalist group based in Alberta.

A smaller but likewise rapidly expanding Klan group, the United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which in 2007 absorbed the National Aryan Knights, more than doubled its number of chapters and tripled its geographic reach last year, going from 11 chapters in eight states to 24 chapters in 24 states.

The continued rise of the United Northern and Southern Knights and the BOK paralleled the decline of the Imperial Klans of America (IKA). Since 2005, the IKA has shriveled from 39 chapters in 26 states to just six chapters in five states. Last year, it suffered a crippling blow when a Meade County, Ky., jury delivered a $2.5 million judgment against members of the IKA, including $1 million against IKA leader Ron Edwards, in a lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of a mixed-race teenager who was assaulted by IKA thugs in Kentucky.

Beyond the IKA trial, the biggest Klan story for the mainstream media in 2008 was the murder of a 43-year-old Tulsa, Okla., woman during a backwoods Klan initiation ritual near Bogalusa, La. According to law enforcement investigators, the victim was recruited over the Internet to join the Sons of Dixie, a tiny KKK faction led by Raymond "Chuck" Foster. Foster allegedly shot the woman in the head after she changed her mind about joining the Klan.

Blipping on the media's radar last December was the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, whose imperial wizard, Ray Larsen, called for all Klansmen "worldwide" to wear black armbands and fly the American flag upside down on Jan. 20, the day of Barack Obama's inauguration.

Neo-Nazi groups
A slight drop in the number of neo-Nazi chapters last year from 207 to 194 was attributable largely to the dissolution of National Vanguard after its leader, Kevin Alfred Strom, was convicted in January 2008 on child pornography charges. (Strom was released last fall after serving prison time.)

Another major neo-Nazi leader, American National Socialist Workers Party "Commander" Bill White, also suffered legal troubles in 2008, culminating in his December indictment on several federal felony counts for posting death threats on his website or by making them by phone. Along with the threats, White often posted the home addresses of perceived enemies, ranging from Canadian human rights attorney Richard Warman (in an item subtly titled "Kill Richard Warman") to Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts to officials of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

When the seven-count federal indictment came down, White was already jailed in Chicago on separate charges. He was arrested last October and extradited from Roanoke, Va., where he owns apartments in black neighborhoods, to face a federal obstruction of justice charge for allegedly threatening the foreman of a Chicago jury that convicted neo-Nazi leader Matt Hale in 2004 of soliciting the murder of a federal judge. Still, despite White's legal and personal financial turmoil (he declared bankruptcy last June), the ANSWP grew last year from 30 chapters in 26 states to 35 chapters in 28 states, making it the second-largest neo-Nazi organization in the country, after the National Socialist Movement (NSM).

Apart from its usual literature dispersals, book burnings, swastika lightings, and its annual "Hated and Proud" hate rock festival, the NSM in 2008 targeted Latino immigrants with sizable "illegal invasion" protests in Washington, D.C., and Omaha, Neb. Subjected for years to movement ridicule for their brown-shirt uniforms, NSM national and state chapter leaders also voted at the group's National Congress last April to switch to "more militant looking" black BDUs (Battle Dress Uniforms). Even with the makeover, the NSM lost 30 chapters last year (it later added 26, for a net loss of six chapters) after leader Jeff Schoep abandoned his family and relocated NSM headquarters from Minneapolis to Detroit in January 2008, reportedly to move in with a new girlfriend of dubious Aryan purity.

Nevertheless, the NSM benefited from diminished competition as the formerly dominant National Alliance continued its long decline, shrinking to 11 chapters in nine states. Similarly, Aryan Nations, another one-time powerhouse, withered to 11 chapters in 10 states. White Revolution gained no ground, ending the year as it began with a dozen chapters.

Two upstart neo-Nazi groups emerged in 2008. The League of American Patriots, which held its inaugural meeting last March 29, appears to be comprised of former National Vanguard members. The second newcomer, Knights of the Nordic Order, was founded by "two former captains of the Aryan Brotherhood," a notorious white supremacist prison gang, according to its website.

Racist Skinhead groups
The total number of racist skinhead crews, driven by the addition of a couple of new organizations, rose from 90 in 2007 to 98 last year.

Relatively inactive in 2007, Hammerskin Nation, long a force to be reckoned with in the racist skinhead subculture, came back in a big way in 2008. The diminished tally of Hammerskins chapters (which dropped from 15 to 12) is misleading, as it represents the merging of smaller chapters and Hammerskin leaders weeding out weaker outfits, rather than a real drop in the organization's strength and membership. On the contrary, the Hammerskins last year stepped up recruiting while forging new bonds with other skinhead groups and hosting dozens of hate rock concerts, white power cookouts, Mixed Martial Arts prizefight viewing parties and other widely promoted events.

The Confederate Hammerskins (CHS), the organization's southeastern regional division, kept particularly busy, beginning last March with a St. Patty's Day concert in Central Florida that was heavily attended by skins from across the country. Represented crews included Volksfront, Blood & Honour American Division, Atlantic City Skins, Troops of Tomorrow, and The Hated. Members of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, a notorious biker gang, also attended.

A close Hammerskins ally, the Portland, Ore.-based Volksfront, held its first annual "Althing" gathering last Aug. 29-Sept. 1 on private land purchased by Volksfront in rural Missouri, about an hour's drive north of St. Louis. Part three-day hate rock blowout, part skinhead summit, the Althing was held in the "Samuel Weaver Memorial Hall," named after white supremacist Randy Weaver's son, who was killed by federal agents during the infamous Ruby Ridge standoff in 1992 (Weaver's wife and a U.S. marshal were also killed). Among the white supremacist leaders who attended was veteran skinhead organizer David Lynch, leader of the resurgent Sacramento, Calif.-based crew American Front.

Last December, more than 100 skinheads from at least five states gathered in Florida for a "Martyr's Day" party, co-sponsored by CHS, Volksfront and American Front, that featured a keynote address phoned in from prison by Richard Kemp, a member of the white supremacist terrorist group The Order. Martyr's Day commemorates the 1984 death of Order founder Bob Mathews, who died in a shootout with the FBI.

Another noteworthy development in the skinhead sector was the severe weakening of the Vinlanders Social Club (VSC), a skinhead coalition that began in 2003 and grew to become Hammerskin Nation's primary rival. Plagued by infighting, criminal prosecutions and desertions, the Vinlanders made no public appearances in 2008, limiting their activities to private beer bashes. Three inner-circle Vinlanders, including co-founder Eric "The Butcher" Fairburn, were convicted last year of a March 2007 racially motivated attack on a homeless black man in downtown Indianapolis. At his sentencing hearing last August, Fairburn publicly renounced the skinhead movement.

Formerly aligned with the VSC, the Keystone State Skinheads (KSS) distanced their group from the Vinlanders, changed their name to Keystone United and recast themselves as media-friendly "pro-white" activists. Keystone mouthpiece Keith Carney denounced hooliganism in several newspaper and television interviews. Last October, the group held a "Leif Ericson Day Celebration," honoring the Viking explorer, in a Philadelphia public park on the banks of the Schuylkill River. In contrast to the screaming hate rock performed by Absolute Terror and Total War at the annual Keystone-sponsored "Uprise" concert in January 2008, which was held in a secret location, Celtic folk musicians provided entertainment at the two-faced crew's "family-friendly" event.

In contrast to KSS, the United Society of Aryan Skinheads (USAS) made no effort to revamp its image in 2008. Formed in recent years inside California's state prison system, the USAS continues to espouse white-power skinhead ideology and grow into a strong presence throughout Southern California as members are paroled. The USAS went from a single chapter in 2007 to nine chapters in 2008, including three separate crews in San Diego, the group's base of operations in the outside world. Though populated almost entirely by ex-cons, the USAS, unlike most prison-based white supremacists, actually maintains a powerful racist identity and rarely compromises principles in favor of criminal profits.

One major new racist skinhead group surfaced in 2008: the Supreme White Alliance, or SWA. Co-founded by Kentucky skinhead Steven Edwards, son of Imperial Klans of America leader Ron Edwards, the SWA by year's end boasted eight chapters in as many states, an active website and a substantial online presence on MySpace as well as on the white nationalist social networking site New Saxon. The group's vice president is former IKA member Jarred Hensley, who served more than a year for his role in the hate crime assault that led to the SPLC lawsuit. "Out of prison and back on the streets," Hensley posted on MySpace last July upon his release. "It's gr88 to be a Skinhead!" Last October, former SWA probate Daniel Cowart was arrested in Tennesee with another skinhead he met online for allegedly plotting to assassinate Barack Obama after killing 88 black students (88 is neo-Nazi code for the phrase "Heil Hitler"). The SWA claimed that Cowart had been kicked out prior to hatching the plan.

Southern Poverty Law Center
400 Washington Ave.
Montgomery, AL 36104

Anatomy of Bush's Torture 'Paradigm'

Anatomy of Bush's Torture 'Paradigm'

By Ray McGovern
April 14, 2009

The prose of the recently leaked report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on torture seems colorless. It is at the same time obscene — almost pornographic.

The 41-page ICRC report depicts scenes of prisoners forced to remain naked for long periods, sometimes in the presence of women, often with their hands shackled over their heads in "stress positions" as they are left to soil themselves.

The report's images of sadism also include prisoners slammed against walls, locked in tiny boxes, and strapped to a bench and subjected to the drowning sensation of waterboarding.

How could it be that we Americans tolerate the kind of leaders who would subject others to systematic torture — yes, that’s what the official report of the international body charged with monitoring the Geneva agreements on the treatment of prisoners concludes — torture.

Over the past week I have been asked to explain how this could have happened; who authorized the torture in our name? The Red Cross report lacks the earmarks of rogues or “rotten apples” at the bottom of some barrel.

This is what I have been telling those who ask:

Rather than Harry Truman’s famous motto on his Oval Office desk, “The Buck Stops Here,” this was a case of “The Buck Starts Here.” President George W. Bush set the tone and created the framework, with strong support from Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The first hints of what was in store came from the President himself in the White House bunker late on Sept. 11, 2001, at a meeting with his closest national security advisers after his TV address to the nation about the terrorist attacks that morning.

The vengeful bunker mentality prevailing at that meeting comes through clearly in the report of one of the participants, Richard Clarke in his book, Against All Enemies. Describing the President as confident, determined, forceful, Clarke provides the following account of what President Bush said:

“We are at war.… Nothing else matters. … Any barriers in your way, they’re gone.”

When, later in the discussion, Secretary Rumsfeld noted that international law allowed the use of force only to prevent future attacks and not for retribution, Bush nearly bit his head off.

“No,” the President yelled in the narrow conference room, “I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.”

‘Taking the Gloves Off’

In the weeks that followed, the air in Washington hung heavy with demons of retribution. Afghanistan was invaded in October 2001, and during a prisoner uprising on Nov. 25, a CIA officer was killed there.

A young American citizen, John Walker Lindh, was discovered among the prisoners in the area. There was not the slightest evidence that Lindh had anything to do with the killing.

But documents show that U.S. Joint Special Operations troops were told that the office of the Defense Secretary’s counsel (William J. Haynes II, was Pentagon general counsel at the time) had authorized an Army intelligence officer “to take the gloves off and ask whatever he wanted” of Lindh.

Despite urgent intervention by Justice Department ethics attorney Jesselyn Radack, Lindh was not properly read his rights. Instead, the FBI agent on the scene ad-libbed in an offhand way, “You have the right to an attorney. But there are no attorneys here in Afghanistan.”

Lindh had been seriously wounded in the leg. Despite that, U.S. troops put a hood over him, stripped him naked, duct-taped him to a stretcher for days in an unheated and unlit shipping container, and threatened him with death.

Parts of his humiliating ordeal were captured on film (a practice that became tragically familiar with the photos of Abu Ghraib).

In her book, Canary in the Coalmine: Blowing the Whistle in the Case of John Walker Lindh, attorney Radack comments that official documents pertaining to this case provide “the earliest known evidence that the Bush Administration was willing to push the envelope on how far it could go to extract information from suspected terrorists.”

(Because she protested, Radack was fired as Justice Department legal ethics advisor, put under criminal investigation, and even added to the “no-fly” list.)

End-Run Around Geneva

But the Bush administration was just getting started.

On Jan. 18, 2002, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales advised the President that the Justice Department had issued a formal legal opinion concluding that the Geneva Convention III on the Treatment of Prisoners of War (GPW) does not apply with respect to al Qaeda.

Gonzales added that he understood that Bush had “decided that GPW does not apply and, accordingly, that al Qaeda and Taliban detainees are not prisoners of war under the GPW.”

On Jan. 19, 2002, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld told combat commanders that the President had “determined that al-Qaeda and Taliban individuals under the control of the Department of Defense are not entitled to prisoner of war status for purposes of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell asked the President to reconsider his decision and to conclude, instead, that the GPW does apply to both al Qaeda and the Taliban. But Powell’s protest was couched in bureaucratic politeness, rather than in anger and outrage. [See’s “Cowardice in the Time of Torture.”]

The next step took the form of the fateful memorandum of Jan. 25, 2002, signed by Alberto Gonzales but drafted by counsel to the Vice President David Addington. That memo outlined for the President “the ramifications of your decision and the Secretary’s [Powell’s] request for reconsideration.”

It described a “new paradigm” that, the writers claimed “renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners, and renders quaint some of its provisions.”

Gonzales and Addington urged the President to disregard Powell’s misgivings and move ahead. But they cloaked their argument in lawyerly language that obscured what was to come.

The lawyers argued that it was “appropriate” and “consistent with military necessity” to waive Geneva regarding the treatment of al Qaeda and Taliban detainees, but they inserted assurances that the prisoners would be treated “humanely” and “in a manner consistent with the principles of GPW.”

Powell Rebuffed

Brushing aside Powell’s objections, President Bush adopted the Gonzales/Addington language and signed a memorandum to that effect on Feb. 7, 2002. The memo went to Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Powell, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Chief of Staff to the President Andrew Card, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Condoleezza Rice, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers.

The memo amounted to an executive order, although it was not labeled as such. In it, the President alludes fulsomely to Justice Department opinions and recommendations, as well as “facts” supplied by the Defense Department.

Bush then takes clear responsibility for the decision to spurn Geneva: “I determine that common Article 3 of Geneva does not apply to either al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. … I determine that Taliban detainees … do not qualify as prisoners of war under Article 4 of Geneva … and that al Qaeda detainees also do not qualify as prisoners of war.”

The Feb. 7, 2002, memo bears the Orwellian title “Humane Treatment of al Qaeda and Taliban Detainees.” In it, Bush lifts verbatim the language from the Gonzales/Addington memo of Jan. 25, 2002, and makes it his own.

Bush claimed, for example, “the war against terrorism ushers in a new paradigm [that] requires new thinking in the law of war.”

Bush then tries to square a circle, directing (twice in the two-page memo) that “detainees be treated humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of GPW.”

Smell Smoke?

The smoking-gun memorandum of Feb. 7, 2002, was released to the media, together with other documents, by Gonzales on June 22, 2004, but it did not receive the attention it deserved until recently.

On Dec. 11, 2008, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released, without dissent, the summary of their committee’s report on the abuse of detainees.

The report’s first subhead was: Presidential Order Opens Door to Considering Aggressive Techniques, and the first words of the first sentence of the first paragraph were, “On Feb. 7, 2002, President Bush signed a memorandum stating…”

Referring to the “President’s order,” the first paragraph adds that “the decision to replace well-established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees.”

“Conclusion Number One” of the Senate Armed Services Committee report states: “Following the President’s determination [of Feb. 7, 2002], techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions … were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.”

Once Bush had opened the door with his Feb. 7, 2002, memo, other actions followed to implement the President’s “new paradigm.”

White House lawyers worked with Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel to develop constitutional theories about expansive presidential powers that effectively let Bush operate beyond the law.

The OLC traditionally is the office that tells presidents the limits of their constitutional authorities. However, in this case, Yoo collaborated with Gonzales, Addington and other White House lawyers in hammering out arguments that the administration could use to implement harsh interrogations of al Qaeda suspects.

On Aug. 1, 2002, Yoo and his OLC superior, Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, issued an opinion that so narrowly defined “torture” that it cleared the way for a variety of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, which creates a near-drowning experience.

Top-Down Torture

As the legal framework for Bush’s torture policies took shape, senior officers and lower-level participants in the interrogations understood that the basis for the newly permitted harsh tactics stemmed from a presidential decision.

In a report on Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses, former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger indicated that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top commander in Iraq, instituted a “dozen interrogation methods beyond” the Army’s standard practice under the Geneva Convention.

Sanchez said he based his decision on “the President's memorandum,” which he said allowed for "additional, tougher measures" against detainees, according to the Schlesinger report.

An FBI e-mail of May 22, 2004, from a senior FBI agent in Iraq stated that President Bush had signed an Executive Order approving the use of military dogs, sleep deprivation and other tactics to intimidate Iraqi detainees.

The FBI official sought guidance in confronting an unwelcome dilemma. He asked if FBI personnel in Iraq were required to report the U.S. military’s harsh interrogation of detainees when such treatment violated Bureau standards but fit within the guidelines of a presidential Executive Order.

In sum, abundant evidence indicates that the torture techniques applied in the jail cells and interrogation chambers — the “alternative set of procedures” about which Bush boasted publicly on Sept. 6, 2006 — resulted directly from Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002, memo and implementing actions by his administration.

Interrogators also were egged on by comments from Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld regarding the “tough” treatments they favored.

One fig leaf left covering the otherwise exposed role of Bush and his top aides remains the clever inclusion of the word “humane” in the memo that made possible what the International Committee of the Red Cross condemned as “inhuman” treatment of terror suspects in U.S. custody.

There’s also the-Justice-Department-told-me-it-was-legal excuse, though the evidence is now clear that the Bush administration essentially stage-managed the Yoo-Bybee opinions.

For instance, when the Yoo-Bybee opinions were withdrawn by Bybee’s OLC successor, Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, Addington and other administration officials successfully pressured Goldsmith to resign and then welcomed a new OLC chief, Steven Bradbury, who reinstated the key opinions in May 2005.

And – as the evidence built of illegal torture in 2006 – the Bush administration pushed the “Military Commissions Act” through the Republican-controlled Congress with phrasing that granted a degree of retroactive immunity.

The law states that “no person may invoke the Geneva Conventions or any protocols thereto in any habeas corpus or other civil action or proceeding to which the United States, or a current or former officer, employee, member of the Armed Forces, or other agent of the United States is a party as a source of rights in any court of the United States or its States or territories.”

That provision was interpreted as a broad amnesty for U.S. officials, including President Bush and other senior executives who may have authorized torture, murder or other violations of human rights.

The law also granted Bush the authority “to interpret the meaning and the application of the Geneva Conventions.” [For details, see’s “Shame on Us All.”]

However, there remain legal questions about whether the law’s language would prevent prosecutions under pre-existing anti-torture laws.

The sudden appearance of the damning report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, initially given to the CIA’s acting general counsel on Feb. 14, 2007, greatly complicates any rotten-apples-at-the-bottom-of-the-barrel-type disingenuousness.

In a departure from the usual diplomatic parlance, the ICRC minces not a word in referring to those who authorized torture. In the report itself, the Red Cross calls on current U.S. authorities “to punish the perpetrators, where appropriate, to prevent such abuses from happening again.”

What do you suppose is holding Attorney General Eric Holder back from appointing an independent prosecutor to investigate, with a view toward rubbing out, once and for all, this shameful stain on our collective conscience?

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. An Army officer and CIA analyst for almost 30 years, he now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

Investigating Israeli War Crimes in Gaza - by Stephen Lendman

Investigating Israeli War Crimes in Gaza - by Stephen Lendman

Independent investigations and convincing testimonies, on both sides, provide compelling evidence of Israeli war crimes in Gaza. It's time to hold the guilty accountable.

In February, the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights showed conclusively how Israel violated core international law principles by indiscriminately attacking civilians in spite of IDF claims such instances were justified.

Amnesty International accused Israel of war crimes and called on the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has a long record of acting as an imperial agent even while at times fulfilling its mandate "to protect the human rights of people around the world....stand with (them) and uphold political freedom (by) bring(ing) offenders to justice."

It partly did this in a report titled "Rain of Fire" by citing "Israel's Unlawful Use of White Phosphorous in Gaza....over populated areas, killing and injuring civilians, and damaging civilian structures, including a school, a market, a humanitarian aid warehouse and a hospital."

The IDF also used "missiles, bombs, heavy artillery, tank shells, and small arms fire in densely populated neighborhoods, including downtown Gaza City (in violation of) international humanitarian law (and laws of war) which require taking all feasible precautions to avoid civilian harm and prohibits indiscriminate attacks."

HRW called the use of white phosphorous "indiscriminate, deliberate (and) reckless." It said America supplied the weapons and needs to answer for its actions. It called on the UN Security Council or Secretary-General to appoint an independent international commission to investigate credible war crimes allegations, including use of illegal weapons.

Omitted from the report were over six decades of mass slaughter and destruction, a process amounting to genocide. Also not mentioned was the full impact of 22 days of attacks, Gaza still under siege, and the West Bank under military occupation. Unlisted was the death and injury toll; civilian shootings in cold blood; the vast number of homes, government buildings, hospitals, ambulances, fishing boats, crops, schools, mosques, businesses, UN buildings and shelters, entire infrastructure and neighborhoods, and all other wanton destruction. Silence as well on the incalculable toll on 1.5 million Gazans and continued assaults against them.

On April 6, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI) and the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) compiled detailed evidence of war crimes in a lengthy report - from Gazan and medical staff testimonies of wounded being denied care, shot in cold blood at close range, prevented from being evacuated, and being terrorized "without mercy." A team of international independent legal, health, and medical experts conducted the investigation.

PHRI executive director Hadas Ziv said: "One of the difficult things in the report is clear harm to innocent people....(the unleashing of) such fire power among the population." It documented 44 civilian testimonies and took samples of tissue, soil, water, swamp grass, suspected infected ammunition, and chemical weapons, then sent them to the UK and South Africa for testing and evaluation.

Al-Haq on Operation Cast Lead

Al-Haq is an independent Palestinian NGO based in Ramallah, West Bank, established in 1979 to "protect and promote human rights and the rule of law" in Occupied Palestine.

In April, it issued a position paper titled: "Operation Cast Lead and the Distortion of International Law - A Legal Analysis of Israel's Claim to Self-Defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter." The justification is preposterous by a nation absolving itself of compelling war crimes evidence.

Nonetheless, on March 30 (after 11 days), the IDF closed its inquiry into military misconduct allegations with judge advocate general, Avichai Mendelblit, dismissively calling them "heresay" based on no substantiating evidence. "They were based on rumors (and) did not reflect the operational circumstances which had actually taken place on the ground." This is typical Israeli stonewalling whenever it's caught red-handed along with blaming victims for its own crimes.

On March 31, a Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) press release stated:

PCHR "believes that the speed with which this inquiry was concluded illustrates the consistent failure of the (IDF) to genuinely investigate crimes (its soldiers regularly commit) against Palestinian civilians. Investigations of this nature do not meet international standards of independence and transparency, and obstruct justice."

Al-Haq reviewed 22 days of "unrelenting aerial attacks coupled with intensive ground incursions" as well as the deaths, injuries, and destruction they caused. Yet, incredibly, in the morning before the attack, Israel's UN ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, informed the Secretary-General:

"After a long period of utmost restraint, the government of Israel decided to exercise, as of this morning, its right of enshrined in Article 51 of the (UN) Charter."

Its basis was legally untenable on at least two counts:

-- that Gaza remains effectively occupied and Israel bears full responsibility for it; and

-- Israel's attack was unprovoked, preemptive, and related to the broader occupation and conflict matching the world's fourth most powerful military against a defenseless civilian population with only small arms and homemade weapons for defense.

Gaza's Legal Status

Despite its 2005 disengagement, Gaza remains occupied. Article 42 of the 1907 Hague Regulations states that:

"territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised."

Legally, "effective control" exists if adversarial military forces can "at any time they desire assume physical control of any part of the country." In addition, whether an "occupying power" has enough "force" or "capacity" to make its power felt. Israel's disengagement plan asserts its right to "guard and monitor (Gaza's) external land perimeter and will continue to maintain exclusive authority (of its) air space" and coast line. It also allows troop deployments inside the Territory and right to control the population administratively through the tax and revenue system, civil population registry, and exclusive regulation of all goods and people traffic in and out.

Self-Defense under International Law

The UN Charter's Article 2(4) declares that all Member States "shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any manner inconsistent with the purpose of the United Nations."

However, the Charter permits armed force under two conditions - when authorized by the Security Council or under Article 51 authorizing the "right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member....until the Security Council has taken measures to maintain peace and security."

Operation Cast Lead was unprovoked aggression in the context of 42 years of occupation and conflict, and as such is "regulated exclusively by international humanitarian law," not the whim of the occupier to twist it.

As an occupying power, Article 51 doesn't apply, since Israel is bound by international humanitarian laws, including Fourth Geneva Convention provisions. It has specific legal obligations over Gaza and the West Bank:

-- to treat civilians humanely;

-- refrain from violence of any kind;

-- care for the sick and wounded;

-- ensure adequate food and medical supplies;

-- afford judicial guarantees; and

-- look after "protected persons" under its control in all other respects.

International law also restricts combat methods and means employed by all parties. Legally, only narrowly defined "military necessity" justifies an attack - on targets intended to weaken or overcome the enemy or bring conflict to an end. Even then, the principles of distinction and proportionality apply:

-- distinction between combatants and military targets vs. civilians and non-military ones; attacking the latter is a war crime; and

-- proportionality prohibitions against disproportionate, indiscriminate force likely to cause damage to or loss of lives or objects.

Prior to an attack, Israel is also obligated to provide "effective advance warning" to alert civilians, then take all measures possible to minimize non-combatant casualties. Under Fourth Geneva, "neutralized zones" protect them to assure they're free from harm as much as possible during conflict.

Israel violated the rules of war and occupation and committed crimes of war and against humanity. It attacked civilians disproportionately without distinction, including in densely populated areas. It made no effort to distinguish between military and civilian targets. It willfully targeted the entire Gaza population, its property and infrastructure - indiscriminately in grave breach of Geneva and other international humanitarian laws. The laws of war as well. As such, its officials and commanders are criminally liable and should be held accountable for their actions.

Al-Haq concluded:

"Israel's reliance on self-defence misconstrues international law in an attempt to evade (its) international legal obligations...." Its self-defense justification under Article 51 is fraudulent on its face and "holds no validity under international law."

UN Gaza War Crimes Inquiry

On April 3, the UN announced Richard Goldstone's appointment to head a Gaza fact-finding investigation into alleged Gaza war crimes during Operation Cast Lead. Martin Uhomoibhi, president of the UN Human Rights Council, said an independent team of experts will conduct the mission after discussing it in Geneva for the next few weeks.

Goldstone is a respected jurist, having been a justice for nine years on South Africa's Constitutional Court. He also served as chief prosecutor for the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals and is a Hebrew University board member. As a Jew, he was "shocked" to be appointed but promised to be fair and even-handed. He "hope(s) that the findings....will make a meaningful contribution to the peace process....and provide justice for the victims."

On March 17, he was one of 16 international figures, including Archbishop Desmund Tutu, calling for a war crimes investigation. His mandate is to focus on Palestinian victims of the recent Gaza war but will investigate all alleged violations before, during, and after the conflict.

Earlier, Israel refused to participate in previous Council investigations, calling them biased. It's unclear if it will cooperate now after Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said "This committee is instructed not to seek out the truth but to single out Israel for alleged crimes." He accused the Council of having "practically (no) credibility at all."

Goldstone is currently a Spinoza Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in The Hague. He's received several human rights awards, most recently the MacArthur Foundation Award for International Justice to be awarded at The Hague on May 25, 2009.

On May 3, 2007, he was unequivocal as one of four panel members on the topic of whether war crimes trials do more harm than good. When asked to participate, he said "organizers must have known that I would be saying they do more good than harm and that, of course, is my view."

He cited Nuremberg successes as "the first attempt to hold individual criminals liable for violating international criminal law. It was the first recognition that the rule of law could be applied internationally" but did it through a "fair trial" exposing "the most appalling war crimes" by focusing on "the victims....They know what happened to them. They don't need to go to court and hear evidence....but they want official acknowledgment (as) the beginning of their healing process....I have no doubt that the world is a better place today (as a result of) the rapid growth of international criminal justice" and the Rome Treaty establishing the International Criminal Court.

B'Tselem's Guidelines to Investigate Operation Cast Lead

B'Tselem is the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. It's part of a coalition of Israeli human rights organizations pressing Israel to investigate allegations of its war crimes thoroughly and fairly. Of course, we now know it whitewashed them, much like it's done in the past.

Nonetheless, B'Tselem cites the enormity of lost lives, injuries, destruction, homelessness, and irrevocable human loss and suffering demanding full accountability. It prepared a document "to lay out the principal questions" regarding Israel's conduct and outlined guidelines to investigate it.

Firing at Civilians

Civilians were willfully targeted in violation of international law, and the vast majority of deaths and injuries were non-combatants. B'Tselem documented numerous incidents "in which young men not involved in hostilities were killed" or wounded.

"Examination of the (IDF's) conduct during the operation raises (serious) concerns as to the extent (it) complied with its obligations under international humanitarian law." Compelling evidence, by any standard or measures, indicates systematic and grievous war crimes.

During the conflict, B'Tselem got "particularly grave reports of soldiers intentionally aiming gunfire directly at civilian" non-combatants. They must be thoroughly investigated to learn if commanders ordered these actions or if troops acted on their own.

Lack of Protection of Civilians

Israel willfully trapped 1.5 million Gazans during the conflict. Border crossings were closed, and Egypt (in compliance with Israel and Washington) refused to open the Rafah one. Israel claimed dropping flyers was enough. False. International law requires that advance warning be given and all precautions taken to protect civilians. Instead they were targeted in their homes, schools, mosques, work places, and UNRWA shelters.

B'Tselem got testimonies that the IDF also used Palestinians as human shields. They were ordered into buildings ahead of soldiers to assure they weren't booby-trapped. Also to remove suspicious objects on roads and stand in front of troops so they wouldn't be shot. Fourth Geneva's Article 28 bans the practice and states:

"The presence of a protected person may not be used to render points or areas immune from military operations." In other words, act as human shields. In Adalah et al v. OC Central Command et al, Israel's Supreme Court prohibited the practice in any form for any purpose.

Targeting Symbols of Government

During the conflict, the IDF bombed hundreds of civilian targets, including homes, hospitals, schools, mosques and government buildings - in clear violation of international law. Israel's response: Targets "support(ing) the financing, planning, and carrying out terrorist acts" were struck. Other statements were similar but failed to say anything about these structures being for military purposes. B'Tselem concluded that "the reason for striking these targets was not related to the purposes for which they were being used" and thus were off-limits to attack.

For its part, Israel claimed everything related to Hamas was a legitimate target. Deputy chief of staff general Dan Harel stated:

"We are striking not only terrorists and launchers, but the entire Hamas administration, and all its arms. We are striking government buildings, manufacturing plants, security branches, and so forth. We demand governmental responsibility from Hamas and we do not distinguish between the various branches. Following the operation, no Hamas building will be left standing." Presumably he included hospitals, schools, mosques and private homes.

Another official statement said:

"When a terrorist organization controls the government, all government ministries are used to fulfill the objectives of the terrorist organization. Why do you assume that the Palestinian transportation ministry serves only to set bus routes? Maybe it serves other purposes. Hamas does not make the separation that is customary in an orderly-run country." Maybe also surgeons, teachers, women, and infants are covert suicide bombers and thus legitimate targets.

B'Tselem wrote to Israel's attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, "demanding clarifications on the attacks on civilian objects." The response "completely ignored the questions raised...."

Evacuation of Wounded and Attacks on Medical Teams

Numerous reports were that IDF forces targeted hospitals, ambulances, and medical workers, and "that soldiers (prevented) wounded persons from getting to hospitals." In some cases, they were fired on at close range or left stranded to bleed to death. Once Israel invaded, medical teams movement was impossible "as was access to hospitals in (Gaza's) central least 16 medical-team personnel were (targeted and) killed during the operation."

The ICRC deviated from its normal procedure by stating that Israel violated international humanitarian law that requires treatment and evacuation of wounded persons, and that prevention or delays were illegal and unacceptable.

On January 6, eight human rights organizations petitioned the Supreme Court "demanding that the military permit medical teams and ambulances to move about in (Gaza) and enable evacuation of wounded to hospitals." Israel claimed it gave unequivocal instructions to refrain from attacking medical teams and ambulances and let the wounded be evacuated to hospitals. It then qualified the statement saying:

"Reports (received) indicate clearly and unequivocally that the terrorist activities sometimes use ambulances to carry out terrorist acts, and also disguise themselves as medical-team personnel. This is a mode of operation, rather than isolated and exceptional incidents."

This is a typical Israeli defense to justify its most outrageous crimes of war and against humanity. It's a fictitious legal shield dismissed by international jurists. They're based on supposition, not facts, and would be thrown out of any legitimate court as unfounded and unproved.

International law is clear and unequivocal. Civilian hospitals, medical personnel, and all others tending to the wounded "may in no circumstances be the object of attack, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict." Israel blamed Hamas instead of taking full responsibility for its actions.

Collapse of Civilian Infrastructure and Public Services

During the conflict, Gaza's civilian infrastructure and public services "collapsed almost completely." Its power station ran out of fuel and shut down. Residents got only 25% of the electricity they needed. Water and sewage systems were impaired. At the peak of fighting, over 800,000 people had no running water. Sewage flowed onto farmland and flooded Beit Hanun streets. Hospitals had to run on generators. They also suffered shortages of virtually everything necessary to function. Food and other essentials were in short supply. Bakeries shut down for lack of flour, cooking gas and electricity. International agencies weren't able to distribute food and other supplies.

The result was a human catastrophe compounded by 18 months under siege. Two weeks before the conflict, an OCHA report said Gaza was in crisis, and its residents struggled daily to meet basic needs and survive - like get enough food, water, fuel and medical care. Most of them felt trapped "physically, mentally, and emotionally."

According to OCHA, in Q 2 2008, unemployment reached 50%, and in 2007, 79% of households lived in poverty and for 70% it was "deep." This was Gaza on the eve of conflict. Today it's far worse after so much destruction.


"The extent of the harm to the civilian population during Operation Cast Lead is unprecedented. Only now is the full magnitude of the destruction coming to light" with further evidence from newly revealed testimonies. Entire families were killed. Parents were helpless to prevent their children from dying. Others were powerless to prevent loved ones from bleeding to death. These are permanent scars, forever etched in the collective memory of a tortured people - isolated, uncared for, and ignored by world leaders.

Human rights groups and others demand full accountability "for the gravest of crimes." Israel claims its military acted properly. Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the IDF "the most moral army in the world....(that it) employed every possible means to avoid injuring people." The IDF's judge advocate general, Avichai Mandelblit, told B'Tselem:

"While we regret, of course, any harm to civilians, we emphasize again that the responsibility for that lies solely at the doorstep of the Hamas organization...."

B'Tselem was unforgiving in calling Israel's actions "unacceptable." International law protects civilians from the "horrendous effects of war....Using ambiguous terminology (and unwarranted justifications to condone) such grave harm to civilians, in an attempt to create a semblance of compliance with the law, constitutes" blatant deceit of the highest order.

Israel's conduct "raises grave suspicion that soldiers and commanders breached international humanitarian law" willfully and repeatedly. "In light of this, a public crucial....The scope and severity of the violations can be determined only in the framework of a comprehensive investigation - (one that is) independent, effective, open to public review, and conducted within a reasonable time."

B'Tselem calls on Israel to do it. It never has and won't now beyond claiming to have examined allegations and determined them to be unfounded. Only an independent body should be tasked. It remains to be seen if the UN Human Rights Council team under Richard Goldstone is up to the job. The whole world is watching.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Monday - Friday at 10AM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national issues.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Monsanto to Michelle: Please panic, don't go organic

Monsanto to Michelle: Please panic, don't go organic


Ain't no tyranny like that of a good example, I guess. Case in point: Michelle Obama and her organic White House veggie garden. Seems she's not only gotten some corporate panties in a twist, she's given them an Atomic Wedgie. The last thing the pesticide industry wants is for her to grow food for her children without dumping toxic shit all over it:

Did you hear the news? The White House is planning to have an "organic" garden on the grounds to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for the Obama's and their guests. While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made Janet Braun, CropLife Ambassador Coordinator and I shudder. As a result, we sent a letter encouraging them to consider using crop protection products and to recognize the importance of agriculture to the entire U.S. economy.

You can read the whole letter at the La Vida Locavore link. It's heavy on generalizations and carefully crafted language, but light on honesty and openness. And no wonder. If they said what they really were and what they were really about, they'd never get a hearing.

"CropLife Ambassadors" is their cute euphemism for pesticide industry lobbyists and shills. "Crop protection products" is their cute euphemism for pesticides. Presumably things grow better when covered with toxic, carcinogenic crap.

Well, I know one thing that grows better that way: Big Chem's profit margin. But veggies? Pppppfffft. It's amazing how much you can do without that extra outlay (and without poisoning anyone or anything.) I grow my own veggies--and enough to give away to family and friends--without any pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers. All I put on them is mine own humble compost (and the occasional tinfoil wrapper around my tomato stems, to baffle the cutworms). They grow like weeds. And the weeds? Well, some are edible, and those that aren't, are still compostable.

Not only that, but when you don't dump pesticides on your plants, you actually encourage insects to control the pests. Stands to reason: How's a praying mantis gonna eat your pests if it's getting poisoned? And what about the honeybees (and other pollinators, such as bumbles, flies, wasps, butterflies, etc.)?

And there is ample scientific evidence to support the idea that organic is the right way to go, be it for healthfulness, flavor and even--gasp--output. Yes, it's true--organic crops produce better, all around. Who'da thunk? Us organic gardeners, that's who. My full freezer and pantry don't lie. By the time I finish using up last year's frozen ORGANIC tomatoes, I'll have started harvesting this year's new crop!

I'm pretty sure Michelle O. will give this inane missive a quick, polite read-through (perhaps narrowing her pretty eyes with skepticism), and then toss it like the smart lady she is. And then she'll go back to her organic garden, confident in the knowledge that she's growing a better crop. In every sense.

PS: Things just got worse for Monsanto and Co. Germany just outlawed their Frankencorn.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Obama in Latin America & How The Nation Magazine Saved the American Empire

Mother Jones

Obama in Latin America

Introduction by Tom Engelhardt

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Here's a scheduling update. I'll be out of town and largely off-line Wednesday through Sunday, though it should barely affect the TD send-out schedule. I will, however, be unlikely to respond to letters, requests, admonitions, or anything else that comes in. As I've said before, I think of the TD email box as the university of my later life, regularly filled with surprises and fascinations, and I read everything that arrives with some care. I do my best to answer all of you, however briefly, but as I'm usually the only one here and regularly drowning in my complicated life, it's a hit or miss matter. Don't think, because no reply comes back, that I don't appreciate hearing from you. In addition, I'm truly appreciative of those who so generously have used the "Resist Empire. Support TomDispatch" button and sent in contributions (including recurring ones). They allow us to offer a little extra money to young writers, to be a bit more adventurous in thinking about future pieces, and to build up a modest rainy-day fund for… sigh… bad times. Think of this, then, as my collective bow to all of you, since I don't thank contributors individually. Tom]

Leaving London's March fog for the Caribbean's balmy tropical breezes, Barack Obama this week continues his administration's efforts to push the "reset" button on U.S. foreign relations. On Friday, he will attend the Summit of the Americas in Port-of-Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago. More than five centuries ago, that archipelago nation was one of Christopher Columbus's first stops. It's safe to say that, as in London and Paris, Obama will be greeted with fervor there.

After eight disastrous years of George W. Bush, Latin Americans are ready to breathe an enormous sigh of relief. The new U.S. president is wildly popular. Even Fidel Castro asked a visiting delegation from the Congressional Black Caucus how he could "help President Obama" succeed—though Cuba is the only American nation excluded from the meeting.

Keep an eye on how Obama's new policies begin to play out this week in Latin America, since—as historian Greg Grandin has written in his superb book Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism—previous administrations have regularly sorted out their future global policies in "our backyard." (Coming in June, by the way, is Grandin's newest book, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City, a deep dive into another hubris-ridden American experiment in Latin America.) History isn't exactly an American strength, but understanding where we've been is a great, underused tool when it comes to grasping where we might be heading. No writer at this site does that better than TomDispatch regular Grandin. So prepare to take a remarkable tour of our south-of-the-border past, all in the service of illuminating our unsettled and potentially unsettling future. Tom

How The Nation Magazine Saved the American Empire

What Can Obama Do in Latin America?
By Greg Grandin

What if Barack Obama had picked the Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel or Democracy Now! anchor Amy Goodman to advise him at the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago this week? Unlikely, to say the least, but 75 years ago President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did something just like that, tapping a former Nation editor and fierce critic of U.S. militarism to advise his administration on Latin American policy. As a result—consider this your curious, yet little known, fact of the day—anti-imperialism saved the American empire.

FDR took office in 1933 looking not just to stabilize the U.S. economy, but to calm a world inflamed: Japan had invaded Manchuria the year before; the Nazis had seized power in Germany; European imperialists were tightening their holds over their colonies; and the Soviet Union had declared its militant "third period" strategy, imagining that global capitalism, plunged into the Great Depression, was in its last throes.

When, soon after his March inauguration, Roosevelt put forward a call to the "nations of the world" to "enter into a solemn and definitive pact of non-aggression," the colonialists, militarists, and fascists who ruled Europe and Asia balked. Because the new president's global reach came nowhere near his global ambitions, the London Economic Conference—convened that July by the equivalent of today's G-20—broke up rancorously over how to respond to that moment's global meltdown.

Luckily for Roosevelt, the Seventh Pan-American Conference was scheduled to take place that December in Montevideo, Uruguay. Admittedly the very idea of pan-Americanism—that the American republics shared common ideals and political interests—was then moribund. Every few years, in an international forum, Latin American delegates simply submitted to Washington's directives while silently seething about the latest U.S. military intervention—in Panama, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, or Haiti. (Take your pick.)

Momentum was then building among Latin American nations for a revision of international law, which effectively granted great powers the right to intervene in the affairs of smaller republics. Venezuelan diplomats, for instance, were insisting that the U.S. affirm the principle of absolute sovereignty. Argentines put forth their own "non-aggression" treaty codifying non-intervention as the law of the hemisphere. Caribbean and Central American politicians insisted that detachments of U.S. Marines, then bogged down in counterinsurgencies in Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, get out.

FDR dispatched his Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, to the summit, but instructed him not to offer anything more than a promise to build a few new roads. The demand that the U.S. give up the right of intervention was "unacceptable."

Yet Roosevelt, who had a way of mixing and matching unlikely advisors, also asked Ernest Gruening (recommended by Harvard law professor and soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter) to accompany Hull. In 1964, as a senator from Alaska, Gruening would become famous for casting one of only two votes against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which President Lyndon Johnson would use to escalate the Vietnam War, but in the 1930s, he was already a committed anti-imperialist.

In the pages of the Nation and other left-wing journals, he had helped expose the use of torture, forced labor, and political assassinations that took place under Marine occupations in the Caribbean, atrocities he likened to European brutality in India, Ireland, and the Congo. After touring Haiti and the Dominican Republic, he lobbied Congress to cut off the funding of counterinsurgency operations in the region, and he excoriated the "horde of carpet-bagging concessionaires that are the camp-followers of American militaristic imperialism." That such an uncompromising critic of U.S. diplomacy would be chosen to advise the Secretary of State reflects the strength of the left in the 1930s—and Roosevelt's willingness to tap it.

Burnin' and Murdewin'

As the delegation set sail for Montevideo, Gruening was shocked to learn that the U.S. had "no program except to be friendly with everyone and radiate goodwill."

"Mr. Secretary," he reported himself telling Hull, "the one issue that concerns every Latin-American country is intervention. We should come out strongly for a resolution abjuring it."

Hull, whom Gruening later described as speaking in the thick accent of a born and bred member of the Tennessee gentry, dropping g's and wrestling with r's, replied that that would be a hard sell.

"What am Ah goin't to do when chaos breaks out in one of those countries and armed bands go woamin' awound, burnin', pillagin' and murdewin' Amewicans?" Hull asked. "How can I tell mah people that we cain't intervene?"

"Mr. Secretary," Gruening responded, "that usually happens after we have intervened."

Hull was, however, afraid of bad press. "If Ah were to come out against intervention," he said, "the Hearst papers would attack me fwom coast to coast... Wemember, Gwuening, Mr. Woosevelt and Ah have to be weelected."

"Coming out against intervention would help you get reelected," Gruening replied. It would, he insisted, help the New Deal jump off the merry-go-round of invasion, occupation, and insurgency that had badly crippled U.S. prestige throughout Latin America and much of the world.

He was right. In Montevideo, Gruening helped bridge the gap between U.S. envoys and "anti-American" Latin American diplomats, including those from Cuba where, well before Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, serial U.S. interventions had strained relations between Havana and Washington. Most importantly, he reconciled the Secretary of State to the principle of non-intervention.

Hull "rose to the occasion magnificently," Gruening wrote, announcing that the United States would henceforth "shun and reject" the "so-called right-of-conquest... The New Deal indeed would be an empty boast if it did not mean that." Latin American delegates broke out in "thunderous applause and cheers." And FDR, ever the agile politician, seized the moment, confirming that the "definite policy of the United States from now on is one opposed to armed intervention."

"Our Era of 'Imperialism' Nears its End," the New York Times announced. "'Manifest Destiny' Is Giving Way to the New Policy of 'Equal Dealing With All Nations.'"

Twenty-One Different Kinds of Hate

Not quite, of course. Washington would return to a policy of interventionism in the Cold War era. Nonetheless, the importance of this diplomatic sea-change cannot be overstated.

Montevideo was Roosevelt's first significant foreign policy success, marking a turn in the country's fortunes as an ascendant superpower. He then ordered the Marines to withdraw from Haiti, while giving the country back its national bank; he abrogated the Cuban constitution's hated Platt Amendment, which had turned the island into a U.S. vassal-state; and he began to tolerate a degree of economic nationalism in Latin America, including Mexico's expropriation of the holdings of Standard Oil.

FDR's enormous popularity in Latin America fired his aspirations to world leadership. Visiting Buenos Aires in 1936, he was greeted by more than a million ecstatic well-wishers who gave him a "wild ovation" and "pelted him with flowers." Even Buenos Aires's usually skeptical press heralded him as a "shepherd of democracy," while hospitals expected an "enormous crop of 'Roosevelts' among baby boys," despite a ban on foreign names for infants.

Improved relations with Latin America also helped the U.S. recover from the Great Depression. With Asia off limits and Europe headed for war, Washington looked south both for markets for manufactured goods and for raw materials, negotiating trade treaties with 15 Latin American countries between 1934 and 1942.

More importantly, Latin America became the laboratory for what eventually became known as liberal multilateralism—the diplomatic framework that, after World War II, would allow the United States to accrue unprecedented power. With the League of Nations practically defunct, diplomats began to discuss the possibility of a new "League of the Americas," which would eventually evolve into both the Organization of American States and the United Nations. (Each would enshrine in its charter the principle of absolute non-intervention.) Roosevelt himself would hold up the "illustration of the republics of this continent" as a model for global postwar reconstruction.

Cordell Hull got the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to found the U.N. and FDR took credit for overcoming "many times 21 different kinds of hate" to "sell the idea of peace and security among the American republics." But the thanks really should go to anti-imperialists like Gruening and guerrilla fighters like Nicaragua's Augusto Sandino who rendered militarism an unsustainable foreign policy.

Seventy-Five Years Later...

The parallels with today are unmistakable: a global economy in tatters; a new president with a mandate for reform, but blocked abroad by rising rivals and hamstrung by the rapid recession of U.S. power and prestige thanks to years of arrogant, unilateral militarism. And coming on the heels of a London summit of economic powers, a Latin American conference: the Fifth Summit of the Americas to be attended by 34 heads of state representing every American country except Cuba.

The last time this summit convened at the Argentinean beach resort town of Mar del Plata in 2005, Argentines greeted George W. Bush not as a shepherd of democracy but as an evangelizer for war, militarism, and savage capitalism. Thousands turned up from all over the continent to burn the president in effigy. Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Bolivia's Evo Morales convened a festive parallel "People's Summit," while Argentine soccer legend Maradona called Bush "human rubbish" and "a bit of an assassin." To paraphrase Michael Moore's Academy Award homage to the Dixie Chicks, when Maradona is against you, your time in Latin America is up.

With an aircraft carrier stationed just offshore and fighter jets buzzing overhead, Bush still was nervous and seemed distinctly out of his league. Coming just a few months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, with Iraq careening out of control, Bush's disastrous performance in Argentina, combined with an impressive display of Latin American unity, hastened the demise of the pretension of the neoconservatives to global supremacy. "The United States continues to see things one way," said one Latin American diplomat at the Summit, "but most of the rest of the hemisphere has moved on and is heading in another direction."

And so it had, with a left turn that started with Chávez's 1998 election as Venezuela's president and still continues apace. Last year, after all, Paraguay elected a liberation theologian as president; and last month, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front—the guerrilla group turned political party Ronald Reagan spent six billion dollars and 70,000 Salvadorean lives trying to defeat in the 1980s—finally came to power in El Salvador.

This week many will be watching to see if Barack Obama, in what will be his first real engagement with Latin America, is ready to reverse course at this Summit as Roosevelt did more than three-quarters of a century ago. To the United States, Latin America has not just been a source of raw materials and markets, but a "workshop," a place where rising foreign-policy coalitions try out new ways to project U.S. power following periods of acute crisis. FDR did it, as did Reagan and the New Right when, in the 1980s, they used Central America to experiment with junking multilateralism, while remilitarizing and remoralizing foreign policy.

Today, President Obama is enormously popular in Latin America. A number of local politicians in the region even legally adopted his name to give themselves an edge on ballots, and undoubtedly quite a few baby boys will be called Barack. Brazil's president, known simply as Lula, says he is praying for Obama—and even Maradona admits he likes him "a lot."

But popularity only goes so far. For the first time in many decades, an American president might find that the days when the U.S. could use Latin America as an imperial rehearsal space are drawing to a close.

The Colombian Option

So what will Obama offer in Trinidad and Tobago? He will, like Hull in 1933, be intent on "radiating goodwill," but he will not necessarily "be friendly with everyone." He's already poisoned the water by insisting that Hugo Chávez is an "obstacle" to progress. Love Chávez or hate him, he is recognized as a legitimate leader by all Latin American countries and is a close ally to many. For eight years, a Bush administration policy of driving a wedge between the rest of the region and the Venezuelan proved a dismal failure, except when it came to increasing the outflow of Washington's hemorrhaging power in the hemisphere.

On many fronts, however, the president is likely to discover that his real obstacles to progress south of the border lie uncomfortably close to home.

In preparation for the summit, the Obama administration has made some overtures to Cuba, responding to demands by nearly every Latin American country that Washington end its cold war against Havana. The need to keep Democratic senators from Florida and New Jersey (states with large Cuban-American populations) in the fold means that the general travel ban and trade embargo will, however, stay in place, at least for now. (In 1933, Hull tried to prevent the Cuban envoy from speaking, fearing that he would give a fiery anti-American speech; Gruening appealed to the principle of free speech to reverse the ban.)

Obama will probably reiterate recent official statements by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, among others, that the United States bears real responsibility for Mexico's drug-war violence and perhaps bemoan the way an "inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border" fuels drug-related killings. Like every other administration, though, Obama's will have to answer to the National Rifle Association (NRA), which at this point carries out its own foreign policy.

In 2005, for example, when Brazil held a referendum to implement a stringent gun-control law, the NRA spent considerable money lobbying to successfully defeat it. So expect the NRA to fight any attempt to stem the flow of guns south of the border. In fact, Wyoming senator John Barrasso hopes to use the fear of Mexican drug violence to force a greater distribution of assault weapons. As he put the matter, "Why would you disarm someone when they potentially could get caught in the crossfire?... The United States will not surrender our second-amendment rights for Mexico's border problem."

And so it goes: On nearly every issue that could either actually help relieve the suffering of Latin Americans or allow the U.S. to win back strategic allies, domestic politics will hinder Obama's range of action, even if not his immediate popularity.

Just recently, a study group made up of some of Latin America's leading intellectuals and policy-makers, including former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, declared the U.S. war on drugs a failure and recommended the legalization of marijuana. Obama is obviously sympathetic to this position, having instructed his Justice Department to back off "medical marijuana" prosecutions. But will he be able to de-escalate the war on drugs in Latin America? Not likely.

As a candidate, the president did say he wasn't opposed to all wars, just stupid ones—and this one is as stupid as they come. It hasn't lessened narcotics exports to the U.S., but has spread violence through Central America into Mexico, while entrenching paramilitary power in Colombia. Plan Colombia, the centerpiece of that war, is a legacy of Bill Clinton's foreign policy, and much of the six billion dollars so far spent to fight it has essentially been direct-deposited in the coffers of corporate sponsors of the Democratic Party like Connecticut's United Technologies and other northeastern defense contractors.

Rather than dismantling Plan Colombia, plans are evidently afoot to have it go viral beyond the Americas. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently commented that "many of us from all over the world can learn from what has happened with respect to the very successful developments of Plan Colombia," and suggested that it be franchised "specifically to Afghanistan." Washington Post White House correspondent Scott Wilson agrees, urging Obama to use Colombia as a "classroom for learning how to beat the Taliban." Buried deep in Wilson's recommendation was a revelation: U.S. officials, he wrote, "privately" told him that death-squad terror was a necessary first step in Plan Colombia, serving as a "placeholder" until the U.S. could train a "professional" army. The Bush administration kept "the money flowing to Colombia's army despite evidence of its complicity in paramilitary massacres."

The Path to Latin America Runs Through Brasilia...

Ultimately, imperial Washington's only real road may run through the Brazilian capital, Brasilia. After all, Obama approaches the region not as a leader of a confident superpower, but of an autumnal hegemon. As such, his best option may lie in forming a partnership with Brazil—Latin America's largest, most diversified economy, with enormous, newly discovered offshore oil reserves and a fulsome set of political aspirations—to administer the hemisphere. The White House clearly recognizes this to be the case, which was why an administration official called Lula's recent one-on-one meeting in Washington with Obama a recognition of Brazil's "global ascendancy."

Just before the G-20 meeting convened in London, Lula blamed the global financial collapse on the "irrational behavior of people that are white" and "blue-eyed." Standing next to the blanching British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, he continued: "I do not know any black or indigenous bankers so I can only say [it is wrong] that this part of mankind, which is victimized more than any other, should pay for the crisis."

If these words came out of Chávez's mouth, they would have been taken as but the latest indication of his irrational anti-Americanism, but the Obama administration needs Lula. In London, Obama could barely contain himself: "That's my man right here," he said, grabbing Lula's hand as Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner looked on. "Love this guy. He's the most popular politician on earth. It's because of his good looks." That certainly represented an improvement over George Bush, who asked Lula's Brazilian predecessor, "Do you have blacks, too?"

Yet Brazil's cooperation will come at a price, which Obama will have trouble meeting. This country's baroque and bloated farm subsidy and tariff program—which House and Senate members recently refused to let Obama cut—will prevent the president from bowing gracefully to Lula's central demand: that the U.S. live up to its rhetoric about free trade and open its economy to Brazil's competitive agro-industry.

...Around Caracas...

And then there's Venezuela. Seventy-five years ago, Secretary of State Hull feared the Hearst papers would attack him "fwom coast to coast" if he renounced interventionism. Well, the more things change...

When Obama's State Department declared Venezuela's recent referendum to remove presidential term limits (and so allow Chávez to stand for reelection) an internal matter "consistent with democratic principles," it was attacked by the Houston Chronicle, which is owned—you guessed it—by the Hearst Corporation. More criticism followed, sending administration officials "scrambling," according to the Wall Street Journal, "to assert that the Obama administration hasn't softened U.S. policy toward Venezuela."

Since the ongoing demonization of Chávez carries absolutely no domestic costs and its easing plenty of potential debits, Obama might be forced to keep up some version of the Bush administration's hard-line, perhaps providing the president cover to moderate rhetoric, if not policy, in real danger spots where far more is at stake—as in the Middle East.

...And Ends in Texas

Immigration is one area where Obama might have some room to maneuver, but he would have to overcome the Glenn-Beck wing of the Republican Party. Ordering Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to stop hunting undocumented Latin American workers (as the presidents of Mexico and Central America have demanded) and opening a real path to citizenship would go a long way toward improving relations with southern neighbors. It would also guarantee the loyalty of the Latino vote in 2012 and, by creating millions of new voters, perhaps even pull Texas closer to swing-state status.

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

Ultimately, however, Obama's vision will be limited by the smallness of the imaginations of the counselors he has surrounded himself with. There are neither Gruenings, nor even Hulls in that crowd. He has kept on George W. Bush's Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America Thomas Shannon and has picked Jeffrey Davidow to be his special advisor at the summit.

A career diplomat, Davidow's foreign service has been largely unremarkable, though his first posting was to Guatemala in the early 1970s when U.S.-backed death squads were running wild, and was followed by an assignment as a junior political officer in Chile, where he observed the 1973 U.S.-backed military coup that overthrew elected President Salvador Allende. Committed to the Clinton-era mantra of economic liberalization, these diplomats will never recommend the kind of game-changing ideas Gruening did.

Given that the global financial crisis will dominate this summit, Obama's appearance will be seen by some as a return to the scene of the crime. After all, it was in Chile that the now-discredited model of deregulated financial capitalism was first imposed. This occurred well before Presidents Reagan and Clinton adopted it in the U.S.

As it then spread through most of the rest of Latin America, the results were absolutely disastrous. For two decades, economies stagnated, poverty deepened, and inequality increased. To make matters worse, just as a new generation of leftists, taking measures to lessen poverty and reduce inequality, was recovering from that Washington-induced catastrophe, a reckless housing bubble burst in the U.S., bringing down the global economy.

Latin Americans will want an accounting. As even Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a close U.S. ally, put it: "[The] whole world has financed the United States, and I believe that they have a reciprocal debt with the planet." Hugo Chávez couldn't have said it better.

Greg Grandin is the author of Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (Metropolitan) and Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City, forthcoming in June. He can be reached at

Copyright 2009 Greg Grandin