TBR News December 21, 2012

Dec 21 2012

The Voice of the White House


            Washington, D.C., December 20, 2012: “It may take some time, but the once-powerful Israeli Lobby will discover that they no longer have the clout they once had. All it took was an order from their Embassy, via Tel Aviv, and all over the Beltway, bureaucrats jumped in obedience and across the Nation, the big media hastened to obey. But now, following an increasing arrogance, killing of civilians, giving a figurative finger to one and all outside their shaky borders, Israel has lost most of her neighboring support and finally, has begun to lose her influence. Netanahau demanded that Obama bomb Tehran in obedience to Israel’s wishes and when he would not, the Israeli Prime Minister went back to his Embassy and called the president “An ignorant nigger.” We should not forget that when Bibi was living in the United States as a young man, he modelled lady’s underware for Bonwit Teller! Look how far Bibi has come! Look how far Bibi is going!”




Neo-Cons, Israel Lobby Mobilize to Pre-empt Obama Pentagon Favorite


December 19, 2012

by Jim Lobe

Inter Press Service


WASHINGTON – Neo-conservatives and leaders of the powerful Israel lobby are mobilising their forces in what looks like an all-out campaign to pre-empt the nomination by President Barack Obama of an outspoken former Republican senator and decorated Vietnam War hero to replace Leon Panetta as secretary of defence.


The campaign was launched last week after senior White House officials leaked word that Chuck Hagel, who also co-chairs the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), was likely to get the nomination whenever, as expected any time, Panetta formally announces his retirement.


It gathered steam in the last few days with prominent neo-cons leading the charge against the former Nebraska senator.


If Obama goes ahead with the nomination, it could signal a key shift in U.S. Middle East policy, if only because Hagel, a Republican realist in the tradition of former President Dwight Eisenhower and Secretary of State James Baker, has been a forthright critic of some of Israel’s policies and a consistent advocate of diplomatic engagement with Iran.


In fact, some observers would see his nomination as “payback” to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who clashed repeatedly with Obama during his first term over Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and his repeated threats to attack Iran. Netanyahu also made little secret of his preference for Republican Gov. Mitt Romney in last month’s presidential election.


Indeed, fears among neo-conservatives and the more mainstream Israel lobby here that Obama intends to exert real pressure on Israel in his second term appear to be motivating the burgeoning campaign against Hagel’s possible nomination.


Their goal, therefore, is to convince Obama that he will pay an excessively high political cost if he goes through with Hagel’s nomination. If the nomination goes forward, most observers believe it will be very difficult to defeat given the reluctance many Senate Republicans would feel about rejecting one of their own (despite the fact that Hagel endorsed Obama for the presidency in 2008).


The main charge leveled so far against Hagel, who also chairs the influential Atlantic Council think tank, is that he is “anti-Israel” – some go so far as to call him “anti-Semitic” – and that he has repeatedly expressed scepticism about carrying out a military attack against Iran if it fails to bow to Western demands that it curb – or, preferably, in Israel’s view – abandon its nuclear programme.


“Hagel certainly does have anti-Israel, pro-appeasement-of-Iran bona fides,” wrote William Kristol, editor-in-chief of The Weekly Standard, in the magazine’s lead editorial this week.


“While still a senator, Hagel said that ‘a military strike against Iran, a military option, is not a viable, feasible, responsible option,’” noted Kristol, a co-founder of the neo-conservative Project for a New American Century (PNAC), which played a key role in beating the drums for war against Iraq one decade ago, and, more recently, the controversial Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI).


He was joined Tuesday by two other prominent neo-conservatives known for their strong support of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party – Elliott Abrams, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who served as George W. Bush’s top Middle East aide; and Bret Stephens, who writes the “Global View” column in the Wall Street Journal.


Noting that Hagel had once explained to a friendly interviewer that “the Jewish Lobby intimidates a lot of people up here (in Congress),” Stephens suggested that the use of that expression smelled of anti-Semitism, particularly in light of his criticisms of Israel during the second Palestinian intifada and its 2006 war in Lebanon, and his opposition to various sanctions imposed on Iran.


“…Mr. Hagel’s Jewish lobby remark, was well in keeping with the broader pattern of his thinking,” wrote Stephens, who went on to quote from an interview Hagel conducted with a retired U.S. Mideast diplomat in 2006, as alleged evidence of the former senator’s anti-Semitism or hostility to Israel.


“I’m a United States senator, not an Israeli senator,” Hagel told Aaron David Miller. “I’m a United States senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States. Not to a president. Not a party. Not to Israel.”


While such a statement would appear uncontroversial on its face, Stephens’ charges were nonetheless echoed by Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a pillar of the more-conventional Israel lobby.


“Chuck Hagel would not be the first, second, or third choice for the American Jewish community’s friends in Israel,” Foxman told neo-conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin.


“His record relating to Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship is, at best, disturbing, and, at worst, very troubling,” said Foxman who added that Hagel’s sentiments …about the Jewish lobby border on anti-Semitism.”


Still, Foxman, who, unlike the neo-conservatives, tries to remain scrupulously non-partisan, told The Times of Israel he would not oppose the nomination if it went forward.


The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most influential pro-Israel lobby group, has so far kept a discreet silence, although a former longstanding spokesman, Josh Block, who now heads The Israel Project, strongly denounced Hagel for his opposition to sanctions against Iran and his refusal to sign various letters and resolutions against Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas that were favoured, if not drafted, by AIPAC.


In some ways, the latest campaign is reminiscent of that carried out against Chas Freeman, a highly decorated retired ambassador, who was appointed to chair the National Intelligence Council early in Obama’s administration, only to withdraw from consideration after an intense campaign by leading neo-conservatives and the Israel lobby oppose him.


In that case, however, they focused less on Freeman’s criticism of U.S. policy toward Israel than on his allegedly close ties to the Chinese leadership.


With Hagel, of course, the stakes would be much higher given the importance of the Pentagon in policy-making, particularly in the Middle East where Obama, consistent with Hagel’s own views, is trying hard to lighten the U.S. footprint in order to “pivot” U.S. military forces more towards the Asia/Pacific.


Also, unlike the Freedman case, Hagel’s foes will find it difficult to use other non-Mideast issues to mobilise opposition to his possible nomination. Frank Gaffney, head of the hardline neo-conservative Center for Security Policy (CSP), denounced Hagel in a Washington Times op-ed Tuesday for his early scepticism about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, his belief that the Pentagon was “bloated”, and his support, along with other Republican realists, for gradual nuclear disarmament.


Another emerging argument is that if, as expected, Obama nominates Sen. John Kerry as secretary of state, putting another older white male at the top in the Pentagon would defeat the president’s belief that his cabinet should be demographically diverse.


In the very short time since the Hagel controversy has erupted, a number of prominent Jewish voices have spoken in his support, including Miller who told the Daily Beast’s “Open Zion” blog, “Hagel is a strong supporter of Israel…”


In addition, former U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer told ‘Politico’ that the criticism directed against Hagel was “terribly misguided”, while the “pro-peace, pro-Israel” J Street lobby group said Hagel “would be an outstanding choice” to head the Pentagon.


Most observers believe much now depends on whether prominent senators closely tied to the Israel lobby on either side of the aisle speak out against Hagel.


So far, Republican Senators McCain and Lindsay Graham, whose views generally reflect those of the neo-conservatives and who played a key role in rallying opposition to Obama’s possible nomination as secretary of state U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, have promised to grill Hagel on his “Jewish lobby” remarks if he is nominated but have not said they would necessarily oppose him, as they did with Rice.




Hagel Defended Against Anti-Israel Charges


December 20, 2012

by Bryant Jordan



More than a week after some pro-Israel organizations moved to torpedo the possible nomination of former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, Hagel supporters have pushed back.


Hagel is being slammed by groups including the Anti-Defamation League, the Zionist Organization of America and the Emergency Committee for Israel, which claim his record in support of Israel is weak.


An open letter in support of Hagel signed by eight former ambassadors was released Thursday, a day after a group of Hagel supporters began circulating a “Facts on Chuck Hagel” memo to rebut claims made by his detractors that he will not support Israel.


“We support, most strongly and without qualification, President Obama’s reported intention to nominate Senator Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense,” the group wrote.  The ambassadors praised Hagel for having the courage to do what is politically risky in the best interests of the United States.


“Each of us has had the opportunity to work with Senator Hagel at one time or another on the issues of the Middle East,” the ambassadors wrote. “He has invariably demonstrated strong support for Israel and for a two state solution and has been opposed to those who would undermine or threaten Israel’s security.”


Hagel is said to be favored by the White House for the top Pentagon job, not only for his knowledge of defense and foreign policy but because his Republican credentials would appeal to conservatives. If he is nominated and appointed, Hagel – a decorated Vietnam War veteran – would be just the third Secretary of Defense to have first-hand experience in combat.


But not only have members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, failed to rush to his defense in large numbers, some of those who have spoken say they are “concerned” with comments he made as a senator.


Neither the American Legion nor the Veterans of Foreign Wars would offer any comment when contacted by Military.com. Officials with Vietnam Veterans of America and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America spoke highly of Hagel for his work on military and veterans’ issues, but declined to talk about the ongoing attacks against him made by some major Jewish organizations and groups.


“We like Hagel. We think he’s a great guy, and having a combat veteran in there would be a good thing,” Vietnam Veterans of America President John Rowan said. “The Israeli thing? That’s not our thing. I’m not an expert on foreign policy. If there’s an issue, they’ll dredge it up at the confirmation hearing.”


Paul Rieckhoff, founder and Executive Director of IAVA, called Hagel “a balanced, thoughtful, honest, non-partisan guy, and I think for our community, especially, it would be really important to have a combat veteran in this job … I’ll let the experts on Israel comment on those [other] things.”


One exception was Jon Soltz, founder of VoteVets.org, who on Thursday called the anti-Hagel arguments and attacks “cheap political antics.”


Soltz, who is Jewish, told Military.com he has known and worked with Hagel. Hagel is neither an anti-Semite nor anti-Israel, Soltz said, but a moderate who has acted in the best interest of Israel.


“There is anti-Semitism in the world,” said Soltz. “There are people who are against Israel. [Hagel’s critics] need to reserve those comments for when it matter. What they’re saying hurts all Jews, it hurts their ability to understand when [anti-Semitism] does exist.”


Retired military analyst Chuck Spinney said there are legitimate reasons to question whether Hagel is right for the job. Spinney doubts Hagel will be tough enough to fight the entrenched interests at the Pentagon.


But Hagel is not anti-Israel or an anti-Semite, Spinney said.


“I am ambivalent about whether Chuck Hagel has the managerial and bureaucratic skills to make the kind of [Secretary] of Defense we need to clean out the Pentagon’s Augean Stables,” he told Military.com in an email Thursday. “[B]ut the outrageous neo-con assault on him because he does not kowtow to the [right-wing Israeli] party line is over the top.”


No sooner had Hagel’s name emerged as a possible successor to Leon Panetta in late November than critics of his views and past votes dealing with the Middle East began taking shots at him. Conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin accused him of wanting to negotiate with Hamas and not voting to label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.


For the most part the anti-Hagel campaign has been waged in ink and online, with scant television coverage. That changed on Thursday with a television commercial sponsored by the Emergency Committee for Israel urging President Obama not to nominate Hagel.


Hagel’s one-time Senate colleagues have largely remained quiet. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Diane Feinstein, both say they support Hagel.



Boehner forced to withdraw fiscal cliff bill after Republican revolt

Republican House Speaker concedes there weren’t enough votes to pass his ‘Plan B’ tax bill as it is abandoned by the party


December 20, 2012

by Ewen MacAskill in Washington



            The standoff between the White House and Congress over the fiscal cliff turned into a full-blown crisis on Thursday night when Republican House Speaker John Boehner was publicly humiliated, unable to command enough support to secure passage of his own bill.


Boehner had planned to push through the Republican-dominated House a bill that would have seen tax rises curbed for those earning $1m a year or less.


But he was forced to withdraw it in the face of a Republican revolt, with Tea Party-backed members unable to stomach the prospect of voting for any tax rise, even for those earning $1m or more.


Only hours earlier, his team had been confidently predicting it had enough Republican votes to get the bill through. But as the time for the vote neared, it became clear he did not have sufficient votes and called an emergency meeting. Boehner was unable to win over the rebels. Afterwards he announced passage of the bill had been abandoned.


“The House did not take up the tax measure today because it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass,” Boehner said.


The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, responding to the House debacle, issued a statement saying: “The president’s main priority is to ensure that taxes don’t go up on 98% of Americans and 97% of small businesses in just a few short days.


“The president will work with Congress to get this done and we are hopeful that we will be able to find a bipartisan solution quickly.”


The problem is that Obama no longer has a partner on the Republican side to reach a deal with, with Boehner having lost support.


The onus will now be on the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, to come forward to try to stitch up a deal as he has so often in the past, though he shown no appetite for getting involved up until now.


Earlier in the week, a deal had appeared close, with Boehner and Barack Obama thrashing out the details face-to-face and on the phone. But that effort has now ground to a halt.


If Boehner cannot control his own Republican party, it is difficult to see how a deal is going to be reached before 1 January.


Without an agreement by 1 January, every taxpayer in America will face a rise. Automatic cuts in federal spending will also kick in.


The bill Boehner had been proposing to pass, the so-called ‘Plan B’, was primarily tactical, with no chance of ever becoming legislation. The Democratic-controlled Senate would have killed it and, on the remote chance of it making it out of Congress, Obama said he would veto it.


The main aim of the ‘Plan B’ bill was to provide some cover for the Republicans so they would not get all of the blame if taxes go up.


The Republicans and Obama are at odds over the scale of taxation and spending cuts. Obama wants tax rises to start at $400,000, not the Republicans’ proposed $1m. Obama has offered $800bn in spending cuts but the Republicans are seeking $1.2tn.


Both the House and the Senate now look set to head off on holiday on Friday with no deal in place.


Having failed to get even a symbolic bill through, Boehner handed over responsibility to resolving the crisis to the Democrats, both Obama and the Senate leader Harry Reid.


“Now it is up to the president to work with senator Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff,” Boehner said.


The problem is that if the Senate passes a bill that would see taxes rise for those earning $400,000 and above, the Republican-controlled House will kill it.


The standoff is almost a rerun of a similar one in spring and summer 2011 when Boehner and Obama almost reached a deal on resolving the debt crisis but it had to be abandoned after Boehner faced a revolt.


Much of the Republican opposition is down to ideological distaste for voting for any tax rise. If the country goes over the fiscal cliff on 1 January , as seems increasingly likely, and every taxpayer sees a rise, there might then be a way out.


Ideological Republicans could then vote for a Democratic bill to reverse most of the tax rises, at least for those earning $400,000 a year or less.


Boehner faces re-election as Speaker next year but this debacle leaves a question over whether he commands enough loyalty in the Republican ranks any longer to make that a foregone conclusion.


• This article was amended on 21 December 2012. The Republicans are seeking $1.2tn in spending cuts, not $1.2bn as we said originally. This has been corrected.



Unauthorized Aliens Residing in the United States: Estimates Since 1986


December 13, 2012

by Ruth Ellen Wasem

Congressional Research Service


The number of foreign-born people residing in the United States (an estimated 40 million) is at the highest level in our history and, as a portion of the U.S. population, has reached a percentage (12.9%) not seen since the early 20th century. 1 The actual number of unauthorized aliens in the United States is unknown. The three main components of the unauthorized resident alien population are (1) aliens who overstay their nonimmigrant visas,2 (2) aliens who enter the country surreptitiously without inspection, and (3) aliens who are admitted on the basis of fraudulent documents. In all three instances, the aliens are in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and subject to removal.


The last major law that allowed unauthorized aliens living in the United States to legalize

Their status was the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 (P.L. 99-603). Generally, legislation such as IRCA is referred to as an “amnesty” or a legalization program because it provides LPR status to aliens who are otherwise residing illegally in the United States. Among IRCA’s main provisions was a time-limited legalization program, codified at Section 245A of the Immigration and Nationality Act, that enabled certain illegal aliens who entered the United States before January 1, 1982, to become LPRs.3 It also had a provision that permitted aliens working illegally as “special agricultural workers” to become LPRs.4 Nearly 2.7 million aliens established legal status through the provisions of IRCA.


How to address the estimated 11.5 million unauthorized aliens residing in the United States is perhaps the most controversial issue in the comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) debate.


Reducing the population of unauthorized aliens living in the United States is a common goal, but disagreement about how to do so remains. Some proponents of CIR favor large-scale legalization proposals that would enable most unauthorized residents to become LPRs, if they meet specified conditions and terms as well as pay penalty fees. Some proposals to provide immigration relief to unauthorized aliens would target only particular subsets of this population, such as those with pathways to LPR status under current law (e.g., those with U.S. citizen or LPR family members or employers who have petitioned for them), or unauthorized aliens who were brought to the United States as children.5 Others counter that Congress should not consider immigration relief or legalization until current laws are more reliably enforced. They also maintain that it would be unfair to reward unauthorized migrants at the expense of potential immigrants who are waiting to come legally and that legalization would serve as a magnet for future unauthorized migrant flows.6



This CRS report presents data estimating since 1986 the number of unauthorized aliens who have been living in the United States. There have been a variety of estimates of the unauthorized resident alien population over this period, sometimes with substantially different results. This report is limited to analyses of the Current Population Survey (CPS)7 conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics and of the American Community Survey (ACS)8 conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau so that there are basic standards of comparison over time.9 Because the CPS and the ACS are both sample surveys of the U.S. population, the results are estimates. Additionally, while the data distinguish between the foreign born who have naturalized and those who have not, they do not identify immigration status (e.g., legal permanent resident, refugee, temporary foreign worker, foreign student, unauthorized alien). Summaries of the detailed analyses of the March CPS, the ACS, and the monthly CPS are presented separately because each of these surveys is based on different questions and sample sizes.


1. The United States typically admits or adjusts about 1 million aliens annually, giving them the status of “legal permanent resident” (LPR), a term synonymous with the term immigrant. In addition to those foreign nationals who permanently reside legally in the United States, millions each year come temporarily on nonimmigrant visas, and some of these non-immigrants (e.g., foreign students and intra-company business transfers) may reside legally in the United States for several years. It is also estimated that each year hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals overstay their nonimmigrant visas.


2. See CRS Report RS22446, Nonimmigrant Overstays: Brief Synthesis of the Issue, by Ruth Ellen Wasem.


3. 8 U.S.C. §1255a.


4. 8 U.S.C. §1160.


5. CRS Report RL33863, Unauthorized Alien Students: Issues and “DREAM Act” Legislation, by Andorra Bruno.


6 CRS Report R41207, Unauthorized Aliens in the United States, by Andorra Bruno.



Instagram seeks right to sell access to photos to advertisers


December 18, 2012

BBC News

            Facebook’s photo-sharing site Instagram has updated its privacy policy giving it the right to sell users’ photos to advertisers without notification.


Unless users delete their Instagram accounts by a deadline of 16 January, they cannot opt out.


The changes also mean Instagram can share information about its users with Facebook, its parent company, as well as other affiliates and advertisers.


The move riled social media users, with one likening it to a “suicide note”.


The new policies follow Facebook’s record $1bn (£616m; 758 euro) acquisition of Instagram in April.


Facebook’s vice-president of global marketing solutions Carolyn Everson earlier this month had said: “Eventually we’ll figure out a way to monetise Instagram.”


A notice updating the privacy policy on the Instagram site said: “We may share your information as well as information from tools like cookies, log files, and device identifiers and location data with organisations that help us provide the service to you… (and) third-party advertising partners.”


“To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you,” it said in its terms of use.


But Instagram said that its aim was to make it easier to work with Facebook.


“This means we can do things like fight spam more effectively, detect system and reliability problems more quickly, and build better features for everyone by understanding how Instagram is used,” it said in a statement.


‘Suicide note’


However, the updated policy will not change how it handles photo ownership or who is able to see a user’s pictures, it added.


But the new policy has triggered a backlash among social media users, with some threatening to quit.


One user tweeted: “Good bye #instagram. Your new terms of service are totally stupid and nonsense. Good luck playing with the big boys.”


New York-based photographer Clayton Cubbit wrote on his account that the new policy was “Instagram’s suicide note”.


Analysts said that the new policies could deal a blow to Facebook’s reputation and alienate some users.


Richard Holway, chairman of TechMarketView, said: “Every time Facebook has altered their privacy policy it has led to a backlash and they’ve been forced to retreat. They tamper with people’s privacy at a cost. People are very upset.”


Alan Pelz-Sharpe, research director at 451 Research, added: “It’s a barefaced tactic that Facebook and Instagram have taken, and one that will likely meet with many challenges, legally and ethically.


“The fact is that Facebook has critical mass, and is quite confident that such moves may cause uproar, but not a flight of business.


“Larger firms like Facebook are essentially trailblazing before specific regulations can catch up with them, and as we have seen with Google in the past, regulations and laws have limited real impact on their business operations – so they tend to move forward regardless of opposition.”


An All-American Nightmare

Why Zero Dark Thirty Won’t Settle the Torture Question or Purge Torture From the American System

by Peter Van Buren



If you look backward you see a nightmare. If you look forward you become the nightmare.


There’s one particular nightmare that Americans need to face: in the first decade of the twenty-first century we tortured people as national policy. One day, we’re going to have to confront the reality of what that meant, of what effect it had on its victims and on us, too, we who condoned, supported, or at least allowed it to happen, either passively or with guilty (or guiltless) gusto. If not, torture won’t go away. It can’t be disappeared like the body of a political prisoner, or conveniently deep-sixed simply by wishing it elsewhere or pretending it never happened or closing our bureaucratic eyes. After the fact, torture can only be dealt with by staring directly into the nightmare that changed us — that, like it or not, helped make us who we now are.


The president, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has made it clear that no further investigations or inquiries will be made into America’s decade of torture. His Justice Department failed to prosecute a single torturer or any of those who helped cover up evidence of the torture practices.  But it did deliver a jail sentence to one ex-CIA officer who refused to be trained to torture and was among the first at the CIA to publicly admit that the torture program was real.


At what passes for trials at our prison camp in Guantanamo, Cuba, disclosure of the details of torture is forbidden, effectively preventing anyone from learning anything about what the CIA did with its victims. We are encouraged to do what’s best for America and, as Barack Obama put it, “look forward, not backward,” with the same zeal as, after 9/11, we were encouraged to save America by going shopping.


Looking into the Eyes of the Tortured


Torture does not leave its victims, nor does it leave a nation that condones it. As an act, it is all about pain, but even more about degradation and humiliation. It destroys its victims, but also demeans those who perpetrate it. I know, because in the course of my 24 years as a State Department officer, I spoke with two men who had been tortured, both by allies of the United States and with at least the tacit approval of Washington. While these men were tortured, Americans in a position to know chose to look the other way for reasons of politics. These men were not movie characters, but complex flesh-and-blood human beings. Meet just one of them once and, I assure you, you’ll never follow the president’s guidance and move forward trying to forget.


The Korean Poet


The first victim was a Korean poet. I was in Korea at the time as a visa officer working for the State Department at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. Persons with serious criminal records are normally ineligible to travel to the United States. There is, however, an exception in the law for political crimes. It was initially carved out for Soviet dissidents during the Cold War years. I spoke to the poet as he applied for a visa to determine if his arrest had indeed been “political” and so not a disqualification for his trip to the U.S.


Under the brutal military dictatorship of Park Chung Hee, the poet was tortured for writing anti-government verse. To younger Americans, South Korea is the land of “Gangnam Style,” of fashionable clothing and cool, cool electronics. However, within Psy’s lifetime, his nation was ruled by a series of military autocrats, supported by the United States in the interest of “national security.”


The poet quietly explained to me that, after his work came to the notice of the powers that be, he was taken from his apartment to a small underground cell. Soon, two men arrived and beat him repeatedly on his testicles and sodomized him with one of the tools they had used for the beating. They asked him no questions. In fact, he said, they barely spoke to him at all. Though the pain was beyond his ability to describe, even as a poet, he said that the humiliation of being left so utterly helpless was what remained with him for life, destroyed his marriage, sent him to the repeated empty comfort of alcohol, and kept him from ever putting pen to paper again.


The men who destroyed him, he told me, entered the room, did their work, and then departed, as if they had many others to visit that day and needed to get on with things. The Poet was released a few days later and politely driven back to his apartment by the police in a forward-looking gesture, as if the episode of torture was over and to be forgotten.


The Iraqi Tribal Leader


The second torture victim I met while I was stationed at a forward operating base in Iraq. He was a well-known SOI leader. The SOI, or Sons of Iraq, were Sunni tribesmen who, as part of Iraq War commander General David Petraeus’s much-discussed “Anbar Awakening” agreed to stop killing Americans and, in return for money we paid them, take up arms against al-Qaeda. That was 2007. By 2010, when I met the man, the Sons of Iraq, as Sunnis, had no friends in the Shia-dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad and the U.S. was expediently allowing its Sunni friendships to fade away.


Over dessert one sticky afternoon, the SOI leader told me that he had recently been released from prison. He explained that the government had wanted him off the street in the run-up to a recent election, so that he would not use his political pull to get in the way of a Shia victory. The prison that held him was a secret one, he told me, under the control of some shadowy part of the U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces.


He had been tortured by agents of the Maliki government, supported by the United States in the interest of national security. Masked men bound him at the wrists and ankles and hung him upside-down. He said that they neither asked him any questions nor demanded any information. They whipped his testicles with a leather strap, then beat the bottoms of his feet and the area around his kidneys. They slapped him. They broke the bones in his right foot with a steel rod, a piece of rebar that would ordinarily have been used to reinforce concrete.


It was painful, he told me, but he had felt pain before. What truly wounded him was the feeling of utter helplessness. A man like himself, he stated with an echo of pride, had never felt helpless. His strength was his ability to control things, to stand up to enemies, to fight, and if necessary, to order men to their deaths. Now, he no longer slept well at night, was less interested in life and its activities, and felt little pleasure. He showed me his blackened toenails, as well as the caved in portion of his foot, which still bore a rod-like indentation with faint signs of metal grooves. When he paused and looked across the room, I thought I could almost see the movie running in his head.


Alone in the Dark


I encountered those two tortured men, who described their experiences so similarly, several years and thousands of miles apart. All they really had in common was being tortured and meeting me. They could, of course, have been lying about, or exaggerating, what had happened to them. I have no way to verify their stories because in neither country were their torturers ever brought to justice. One man was tortured because he was considered a threat to South Korea, the other to Iraq. Those “threatened” governments were among the company the U.S. keeps, and they were known torturers, regularly justifying such horrific acts, as we would also do in the first years of the twenty-first century, in the name of security. In our case, actual torture techniques would reportedly be demonstrated to some of the highest officials in the land in the White House itself, then “legalized,” and carried out in global “black sites” and foreign prisons.


A widely praised new movie about the assassination of Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty, opens with a series of torture scenes. The victims are various Muslims and al-Qaeda suspects, and the torturers are members of the U.S. government working for the CIA. We see a prisoner strapped to the wall, bloody, with his pants pulled down in front of a female CIA officer. We see another having water poured into his mouth and lungs until he wretches in agony (in what during the Middle Ages was bluntly called “the Water Torture,” later “the water cure,” or more recently “waterboarding”). We see men shoved forcibly into tiny confinement boxes that do not allow them to sit, stand, or lie down.


These are were among the techniques of torture “lawfully” laid out in a CIA Inspector General’s report, some of which would have been alarmingly familiar to the tortured men I spoke with, as they might be to Bradley Manning, held isolated, naked, and without sleep in U.S. military prisons in a bid to break his spirit.


The movie scenes are brutal, yet sanitized.  As difficult to watch as the images are, they show nothing beyond the infliction of pain. Horrific as it may be, pain fades, bones mend, bruises heal. No, don’t for a second think that the essence of torture is physical pain, no matter what Zero Dark Thirty implies. If, in many cases, the body heals, mental wounds are a far more difficult matter. Memory persists.


The obsessive debate in this country over the effectiveness of torture rings eternally false: torture does indeed work. After all, it’s not just about eliciting information — sometimes, as in the case of the two men I met, it’s not about information at all. Torture is, however, invariably about shame and vengeance, humiliation, power, and control. We’re just slapping you now, but we control you and who knows what will happen next, what we’re capable of? “You lie to me, I hurt you,” says a CIA torturer in Zero Dark Thirty to his victim. The torture victim is left to imagine what form the hurt will take and just how severe it will be, almost always in the process assuming responsibility for creating his own terror. Yes, torture “works” — to destroy people.


Khalid Sheik Mohammed, accused 9/11 “mastermind,” was waterboarded 183 times. Al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Haj spent six years in the Guantanamo Bay prison, stating, “They used dogs on us, they beat me, sometimes they hung me from the ceiling and didn’t allow me to sleep for six days.” Brandon Neely, a U.S. military policeman and former Guantanamo guard, watched a medic there beat an inmate he was supposed to treat. CIA agents tortured a German citizen, a car salesman named Khaled el-Masri, who was picked up in a case of mistaken identity, sodomizing, shackling, and beating him, holding him in total sensory deprivation, as Macedonian state police looked on, so the European Court of Human Rights found last week.


Others, such as the Court of Human Rights or the Senate Intelligence Committee, may give us glimpses into the nightmare of official American policy in the first years of this century. Still, our president refuses to look backward and fully expose the deeds of that near-decade to sunlight; he refuses to truly look forward and unambiguously renounce forever the use of anything that could be seen as an “enhanced interrogation technique.”  Since he also continues to support robustly the precursors to torture — the “extraordinary rendition” of captured terror suspects to allied countries that are perfectly happy to torture them and indefinite detention by decree — we cannot fully understand what men like the Korean poet and the Iraqi tribal leader already know on our behalf: we are torturers and unless we awaken to confront the nightmare of what we are continuing to become, it will eventually transform and so consume us.


Peter Van Buren, a 24-year veteran Foreign Service Officer at the State Department, spent a year in Iraq. A TomDispatch regular, he writes about Iraq, the Middle East, and U.S. diplomacy at his blog, We Meant Well. Following the publication of his book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, the Department of State began termination proceedings against him. Through the efforts of the Government Accountability Project and the ACLU, he instead retired from the State Department in September 2012.


Russia sends navy squadron to Mediterranean


December 18, 2012

by Vladimir Isachenkov



MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian navy squadron has set off for the Mediterranean amid official talk about a possible evacuation of Russians from Syria.


The Defense Ministry said Tuesday that the ships will rotate with those that have been in the area since November. Russian diplomats said last week that Moscow is preparing plans to evacuate thousands of Russians from Syria if necessary. The ministry did not say whether the navy ships are intended for an evacuation.


The Interfax news agency, citing unidentified naval sources, reported that the navy command wants the ships to be on hand for the task if needed. It said the mission’s duration will depend on the situation in Syria.


Last week, a senior Russian diplomat said for the first time that Syrian President Bashar Assad is losing control and the rebels might win the civil war, a statement that appeared to signal that Moscow has started positioning itself for an endgame in Syria. But the Foreign Ministry disavowed Mikhail Bogdanov’s statement the next day, saying his words were misinterpreted and that Moscow’s position on the crisis hasn’t shifted.


Russia’s base in the Syrian port of Tartus is its only naval outpost outside the former Soviet Union. Moscow has been Assad’s main ally, shielding him from international sanctions over a brutal crackdown on an uprising that began in March 2011 and turned into the civil war, killing more than 40,000 people.


The squadron of five ships that sailed from the Baltic Sea base of Baltiysk includes a destroyer, a tugboat, a tanker and two large amphibious vessels that could evacuate hundreds of people.


Another group of three navy ships departed Tuesday from Severomorsk, the main base of Russia’s Northern Fleet on the Kola Peninsula. While their official mission is anti-piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden, the ships will sail past the Syrian shores and may linger there if need be.


Earlier this year, Russia sent several ships to Tartus on a mission to evacuate its personnel and equipment, but authorities decided then that the situation in Syria didn’t require such a move yet.


The latest naval deployment comes as the Russian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that two Russians were kidnapped alongside an Italian in Syria and that their captors have asked for a ransom for their release. The three, who worked at a Syrian steel plant, were kidnapped late Monday on the road between Tartus and Homs.


The ministry identified those kidnapped as V. V. Gorelov, Abdesattar Hassun and Mario Belluomo and said the kidnappers have contacted the Hmisho steel plant by telephone and demanded a ransom for their release. It did not specify the amount.


Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, said “all necessary steps are being taken in Syria and other countries that may influence the situation,” according to Interfax.


The kidnapping of foreigners has been rare, but as Syria descends further into chaos the abduction of Syrians has become increasingly common across many parts of the country.


Most of those kidnappings appear to have sectarian motives, part of tit-for-tat attacks between rebels and pro-regime gunmen. But there have been many cases of gunmen capturing wealthy people for ransom or settling personal scores.


Jim Heintz contributed to this report.


McDonald’s puts Christmas Day profits at $5,500 in urging stores to open

Pattern of retailers opening on holidays looks set to continue after stores and restaurants see successful Thanksgiving profits


December 19, 2012

by Dominic Rushe in New York



            How much is Christmas worth? McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant chain, has an answer: $5,500.


The number comes from an internal memo obtained by Ad Age in which the burger chain pushes franchisees to open Christmas Day following a successful campaign to get some of them to give up Thanksgiving.


“Starting with Thanksgiving, ensure your restaurants are open throughout the holidays,” reads the memo from McDonald’s USA chief operating officer Jim Johannesen. “Our largest holiday opportunity as a system is Christmas Day. Last year, [company-operated] restaurants that opened on Christmas averaged $5,500 in sales.”


The move comes as US retailers including Walmart and Target have faced a furious backlash from workers forced to work through the holidays. But while retail workers have gone on strike and protested at stores across the US, the cash registers have been ringing. Walmart had a record Thanksgiving, selling 5,000 items a second.


McDonald’s, too, looks set to have a bumper Christmas if it can convince franchisees to cancel theirs. McDonald’s owns about 10% of its restaurant chain and Johannesen told franchisees that sales at those restaurants were “more than $6,000” this Thanksgiving. According to Ad Age, about 6,000 more locations opened their doors this Thanksgiving than did last year, generating about $36m in additional sales.


Cancelling holidays has already paid off once this year for McDonald’s. Earlier this month McDonald’s reported a 2.4% rise in sales for November, far higher than analysts had been expecting and boosted in part by all those cancelled Thanksgivings.


“Our November results were driven, in part, by our Thanksgiving Day performance,” said Johannesen. “Thanks to proper planning and your great execution, we capitalised on the opportunity to be open while our customers were on the road – and those customers rewarded us.”


The restaurant staff that do heed McDonald’s call won’t be alone. According to a Harris Interactive poll for Inspirato, a vacation homes company, 25% of those planning to take time off over the holidays plan to keep working part of the time.


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Robert Bales: Court martial for US sergeant over Afghan deaths


December 19, 2012

BBC News


The US soldier accused of killing 16 Afghans and injuring six others could face the death penalty if found guilty of murder, the US Army says.


Staff Sgt Robert Bales will face a court martial on murder and assault charges for a March attack on two villages in southern Afghanistan.


No date has been set for the trial, which will take place at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.


No US service member has been executed in more than 50 years.


Sgt Bales faces 16 counts of murder and six counts of attempted murder, as well as charges of assault and using drugs and alcohol while deployed.


Seventeen victims were women or children, and most of them were shot in the head.


A preliminary hearing last week was told that Sgt Bales had a “clear memory” of what had happened, as demonstrated by statements he made a few hours after the incident.


Military prosecutor Maj Rob Steele told the hearing Sgt Bales was conscious of his actions.


Sgt Bales is the only known suspect in the killings – despite repeated Afghan assertions that more than one American was involved.


His defence team has said the government’s case is incomplete and have pointed out inconsistencies in pre-trial testimony.


They have not yet said whether they will be using post-traumatic stress as a defence. Sgt Bales served three previous tours in Iraq.


In March, his lawyer said Sgt Bales – whom he described as “a decorated soldier” with an exemplary record before the shooting – saw his friend’s leg blown off the day before the killings.


The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose by 17,000 last week


December 20, 2012



WASHINGTON — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week by 17,000, reversing four weeks of declines. But the number of people seeking aid is consistent with a job market that continues to grow modestly.


Unemployment claims rose the week of Dec. 15 to a seasonally adjusted 361,000 from a revised 344,000 the week before.


The less-volatile four-week moving average fell 13,750 to 367,750, lowest since late October. Applications had surged in early November after Superstorm Sandy, then dropped back.


Just over 5.4 million people were receiving some type of unemployment benefit the week ended Dec. 1, down from nearly 7.2 million a year earlier.


Applications are a proxy for layoffs. So the drop of the four-week average suggests that companies are cutting fewer jobs, even if they aren’t hiring enough to lower the unemployment rate significantly. The economy has generated an average of 151,000 jobs a month in 2012, not enough to significantly drive down high unemployment.


The unemployment rate did drop to a four-year low of 7.7 percent in November from 7.9 percent in October. But the rate fell mostly because unemployed people gave up looking for work. The government counts people as unemployed only if they’re actively seeking jobs.


Still, the steady drop in unemployment applications suggests that companies aren’t laying off workers in advance of the “fiscal cliff” — the package of tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect next year if Democrats and Republicans can’t reach a budget deal.


President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he was “pretty close” to an agreement with House Speaker John Boehner to avoid a Jan. 1 shock to the economy. But Democrats and Republicans are still sparring over details of Obama’s effort to raise taxes on higher-income earners.


“The steady improvement in weekly claims won’t matter one bit if the economy enters the new year with fiscal cliff-induced uncertainty,” said Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG LLC, wrote in a note to clients. “Claims will shoot higher as businesses shift staffing levels in front of an anticipated drop in demand during the beginning of next year.”


The U.S. economy has endured weak growth since the Great Recession ended in mid-2009. The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the economy grew at a better-than-expected 3.1 percent annual pace from July through September. It has grown at a tepid 2.1 percent pace the first nine months of the year.


Economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics don’t expect much progress in 2013. They expect the economy to expand at a 2.1 percent pace next year. They expect unemployment to remain high, averaging 7.7 percent next year.


‘Did we just kill a kid?’: The moment drone operator who assassinated Afghans with the push of a button on a computer in the U.S. realized he had vaporized a child… and could not go on


December 16, 2012

by Helen Pow

Daily Mail


A former U.S. drone operator has opened up about the toll of killing scores of innocent people by pressing a button from a control room in New Mexico.


Brandon Bryant, 27, from Missoula, Montana, spent six years in the Air Force operating Predator drones from inside a dark container.


But, after following orders to shoot and kill a child in Afghanistan, he knew he couldn’t keep doing what he was doing and quit the military.
             I saw men, women and children die during that time,’ he told Spiegel Online. ‘I never thought I would kill that many people. In fact, I thought I couldn’t kill anyone at all.’

            Bryant joined the military by accident when he accompanied a friend who was enlisting in the army and heard that he could go to university for free if he signed up to the Air Force.


He excelled in his course and was assigned to an intelligence collection unit where he soon learned how to control the cameras and lasers on a drone, to analyse ground images, maps and weather data.


He was made a sensor operator, the equivalent of co-pilot, and at just 20 flew his first mission over Iraq – seated in the safety of a control room in Nevada.
            Bryant joined the military by accident when he accompanied a friend who was enlisting in the army and heard that he could go to university for free if he signed up to the Air Force.


He excelled in his course and was assigned to an intelligence collection unit where he soon learned how to control the cameras and lasers on a drone, to analyse ground images, maps and weather data.


He was made a sensor operator, the equivalent of co-pilot, and at just 20 flew his first mission over Iraq – seated in the safety of a control room in Nevada.
            But it began to take its toll immediately.


The first time he fired a missile, he killed two men instantly and cried on his way home.


‘I felt disconnected from humanity for almost a week,’ he said.


But it was an incident when a Predator drone was circling above a flat-roofed house made of mud in Afghanistan, more than 6,250 miles away, that really sticks in his mind.
            The hut had a shed used to hold goats and when he received the order to fire, he pressed a button with his left hand and marked the roof with a laser.


The pilot sitting next to him pressed the trigger on a joystick, causing the drone to launch a Hellfire missile. There were 16 seconds left until impact.


‘These moments are like in slow motion,’ he told the website.


As the countdown reached seven seconds, there was no sign of anyone on the ground.


Bryant could still have diverted the missile at that point.


            But when it was down to three seconds, a child suddenly walked around the corner.


The next thing he saw was a flash on the screen – the explosion. The building collapsed, and the child disappeared.


Bryant had a sick feeling in his stomach, he told the website.


‘Did we just kill a kid?’ he asked the pilot next to him.


‘Yeah, I guess that was a kid,’ the man replied.


Thoughts jotted in his diary on uneventful days clearly show the heavy burden his job was placing on him.


‘On the battlefield there are no sides, just bloodshed. Total war. Every horror witnessed. I wish my eyes would rot,’ he wrote on one occasion.


He began to shut himself off from his friends, and his girlfriend complained about his bad moods.


‘I can’t just switch and go back to normal life,’ he said to her. He stopped sleeping and began to exercise instead.
            One day he collapsed at work, doubling over and spitting blood. The doctor ordered him to stay home, and not to return to work until he could sleep more than four hours a night for two weeks in a row.


‘Half a year later, I was back in the cockpit, flying drones,’ Bryant told Spiegel Online.


But he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.


Now Bryant has left the military and is living back at home in Montana where he feels he is slowly recuperating.


‘I haven’t been dreaming in infrared for four months,’ he said with a smile.


Changes in law aim to protect kids’ online data


December 19 2012

by Richard Lardner



WASHINGTON (AP) — Aiming to prevent companies from exploiting online information about children under 13, the Obama administration on Wednesday imposed sweeping changes in regulations designed to protect a young generation with easy access to the Internet.


Two years in the making, the amended rules to the decade-old Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act go into effect in July. Privacy advocates said the changes were long overdue in an era of cellphones, tablets, social networking services and online stores with cellphone apps aimed at kids for as little as 99 cents.


Siphoning details of children’s personal lives — their physical location, contact information, names of friends and more — from their Internet activities can be highly valuable to advertisers, marketers and data brokers.


The Obama administration has largely refrained from issuing regulations that might stifle growth in the technology industry, one of the U.S. economy’s brightest spots. Yet the Federal Trade Commission pressed ahead with the new kids’ privacy guidelines despite loud complaints — particularly from small businesses and software apps developers — that the revisions would be too costly to comply with and cause responsible companies to abandon the children’s marketplace.


As evidence of online risks, the FTC last week said it was investigating an unspecified number of software developers that may have illegally gathered information without the consent of parents.


Under the changes to the law, known as COPPA, information about children that cannot be collected unless a parent first gives permission now includes the location data that a cellphone generates, as well as photos, videos and audio files containing a human image or voice.


The Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus commended the FTC for writing the new rules. “Keeping kids safe on the Internet is as important as ensuring their safety in schools, in homes, in cars,” caucus co-chairman Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said at a Capitol Hill news conference.


Data known as “persistent identifiers,” which allow a person to be tracked over time and across websites, are also considered personal data and covered by the rules, the agency said. But parental consent is not required when a website operator collects this data solely to support its internal operations, which can include advertising, site analysis and network communications.


The rules offer several new methods for verifying a parent’s consent, including electronically scanned consent forms, video conferencing and email.


The FTC sought to achieve a balance between protecting kids and spurring innovation in the technology industry, said Jon Leibowitz, the agency’s chairman.


The final rules expand the definition of a website or online service directed at children to include plug-ins and advertising networks that collect personal information from kids.


But the rules were also tightened in a way favorable to some Internet heavyweights, Google and Apple. Their online apps stores, which dominate the marketplace for mobile applications, won’t be held liable for violations because they “merely offer the public access to child-directed apps,” the FTC said.


Google and Apple had warned that if the rule were written to include their stores, they would jettison many apps specifically intended for kids. They said that would hurt the nation’s classrooms, where new and interactive apps are used by teachers and students.


A Washington trade group that represents independent apps developers criticized the agency for addressing the concerns of large businesses while doing too little for the startups that make educational apps parents and teachers want. The FTC’s belief that the apps industry will figure out how to thrive under the new rules is akin to jumping off a cliff then building a parachute, said Morgan Reed, executive director of the Association for Competitive Technology.


“While that may work for big companies, small companies lack the silk and line to build that parachute before they hit the ground,” Reed said.


Companies are not excluded from advertising on websites directed at children, allowing business models that rely on advertising to continue, Leibowitz said. But behavioral marketing techniques that target children are prohibited unless a parent agrees. “You may not track children to build massive profiles,” he said.


The agency included in the rules new methods for securing verifiable consent after the software industry and Internet companies raised concerns over how to confirm that the permission actually came from a parent. Electronic scans of signed consent forms are acceptable, as is video-teleconferencing between the website operator or online service and the parent, according to the agency.


The FTC also said it is encouraging technology companies to recommend additional verification methods. Leibowitz said he expects that this will “unleash innovation around consent mechanisms.”


Emailed consent is also acceptable as long as the business confirms it by sending an email back to the parent or calling or sending a letter. In cases of email confirmation, the information collected can only be used for internal use by that company and not shared with third parties, the agency said.


The FTC’s investigation of apps developers came after the agency examined 400 kids’ apps that it purchased from Apple’s iTunes store and Google’s apps store, Google Play. It determined that 60 percent of them transmitted the user’s unique device identification to the software maker or, more frequently, to advertising networks and companies that compile, analyze and sell consumer information for marketing campaigns.




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