Saturday, May 27, 2006

Washington's Wars and Occupations: Month in Review #13

By Max Elbaum, War Times/Tiempo de Guerras


Karl Rove started talking about "game changers" during a speech at the
conservative American Enterprise Institute May 15. George Bush's top political hatchet
man is looking for something that can "push the political debate in new and
more congenial directions."

And no wonder.

Bush's approval rating is at an all-time low, with one poll even putting it below
30%. Public confidence in Bush's handling of Iraq, the economy - even the "war
on terror" which was once his unbeatable trump card - has all but collapsed.
Harsh criticism of the President is now coming from conservative pundits, retired
generals, elite opinion-makers and even Bush's increasingly restive and divided
grassroots base.

And most recently the administration has been challenged by millions-strong actions
for immigrant rights. Huge marches, rallies and boycotts have not only transformed
the terms of the country's immigration debate: they have reminded everyone of the
power of mass action and the exploding importance of the country's Latino

This changed political terrain provides greater opportunities for denting the
right-wing's hold on power and policy than at any time since 9/11.

But there are grave dangers as well. Bush and Rove have already shown that their
"game-changer" on immigration is sending the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico
border and building a fence. And they keep sending ominous warnings that their
gamble-everything game-changer is an attack - possibly with nuclear weapons - on Iran.


Inside the Washington Beltway, the upsurge for immigrant rights has translated into
some unexpected Senate votes against the most repressive anti-immigrant measures.
It is also causing tremendous anxiety among Republican leaders fearful of alienating
the entire Latino population for decades to come.

But the nativist/racist right is still pressing its agenda of demonization, deportation
and militarization. Bush's May 15 speech, as even the New York Times pointed out,
"swiveled in the direction of those who see immigration, with delusional clarity,
as entirely a problem of barricades and bad guys." The Senate meanwhile is
adding repressive amendments (such as authorizing a border fence) to its already
bad Hagel-Martinez "compromise" bill. Any further compromise with the
terrible measure the House passed earlier will only make things worse. The Center
for Human Rights and Constitutional Law rightly points out that Congress is actually
considering immigration policy regression, not reform.

In response, grassroots immigrant rights groups - especially in Latino communities
- and allies are building on the momentum of the huge April and May 1 protests to
carry on the fight for fairness and legalization for all. To follow the battle in
Congress and find information about mass actions, go the websites of the National
Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights - - and the Rights
Working Group:


The administration's attitude toward civil liberties is equally backward. Tapping
international calls without obtaining a warrant is now old news. The latest revelation
is that the National Security Agency is assembling the largest database in history
- a record of every call made from every phone in the U.S. General Michael Hayden
- who ran the NSA secret domestic eavesdropping program until last year - is now
nominated to head the CIA. Most Democrats as well as Republicans are expected to
vote for his confirmation.

The administration's brazen defiance of the law and the Constitution provision against
"unlawful search and seizures" (the Fourth Amendment) is no isolated incident.
As the Boston Globe reported April 30, "President Bush has quietly claimed
the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting
that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts
with his interpretation of the Constitution."

Things have gotten so far out of hand that it is almost impossible to even investigate
- much less stop and punish - Bush administration illegalities. After the NSA's
warrantless spying program was first exposed, the Justice Department launched a
probe to see if it was legal or not. That investigation has now been closed - because
the lawyers assigned to conduct it were denied security clearances necessary to
get any information about the program!


While Bush keeps talking about Iraq "turning points" and media coverage
focuses on the newly formed "permanent government," life for ordinary
Iraqis gets more difficult every day. A May 18 story from Baghdad in the San Francisco
Chronicle opens with the line: "Dread and hopelessness have taken hold in this

The story goes on from there:

"Since the bombing Feb. 22 of the Shiite Askariya Shrine in Samarra, Baghdad
has descended into a maelstrom of killing that shows little sign of abating. Most
of the victims have been taken from their homes and executed, their bodies dumped
in residential streets and alleys. At least 3,500 Iraqis have been killed this year,
according to official statistics. In April alone, according to the Health Ministry,
762 people - primarily civilians - were killed in Baghdad. The previous month, the
Baghdad morgue received 1,294 bodies, more than double the 596 received in March
2005... As many as 100,000 people have fled their homes in Baghdad..."

The presence of U.S. troops, rather than staunching the bloodshed, only fans the
flames. The latest proof is a Pentagon probe into the death of Iraqi civilians last
November in the Iraqi city of Haditha. According to Rep. John Murtha, the report
will show that U.S. Marines "killed innocent civilians in cold blood."
NBC news reports that military officials have confirmed that the Marine Corps' own
evidence appears to show Murtha is right. This kind of news disappears from the
U.S. media and public consciousness in a flash. In Iraq, incidents like this - which
happen frequently, if not usually on this scale - are not forgotten, and fuel the
ever-rising anger at U.S. occupation.


U.S. threats to attack Iran are rapidly becoming a top-priority international concern.
Respected analyst Aijaz Ahmed, writing in India's Frontline magazine (May 6-19),
says: "The possibility of a nuclear strike against Iran has now entered mainstream
political discourse in the U.S. This needs to be seen in the perspective of U.S.
determination to attack Iran but the virtual impossibility of achieving all its
objectives through non-nuclear means, and the predominance, at the highest levels
of the Bush administration, of men who believe that problems of a global war and
the consequent overstretch can and should be resolved by deploying "mini-nukes"
- not retreat, but escalation to a higher level."

While threatening Iran, Washington stands by quietly as nuclear-armed Israel announces
plans to unilaterally "settle" the Israel-Palestine conflict. "Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert won formal approval for his coalition government today, and
he told Parliament he was prepared to set Israel's boundaries during its four-year
term," reported the New York Times May 4. "'The borders of Israel that
will be formed in the coming years will be significantly different from the territories
under Israel's control today', Olmert said. He has not specified the exact borders,
but he has said that Israel's West Bank separation barrier will form the basis."

Israel's plans - like its current occupation - are in much clearer violation of
U.N. resolutions and international law than anything Iran is doing. But Washington
backs Israel instead of uttering even a word of protest.


Likewise, Washington - which is supposedly "promoting democracy" - is
quiet when the Egyptian government violently cracks down on citizens demanding judicial
independence. Reuters reported that thousands of riot police deployed in central
Cairo May 18 and that plainclothes security men beat and arrested hundreds.

In Afghanistan, one of the deadliest U.S. air strikes since the 2001 invasion killed
at least 16 civilians it the village of Azizi in Kandahar province May 21. Outcry
from the populace pressed President Hamid Karzai to order an investigation into
the bombing and to express ''concern at the coalition forces' decision to bomb civilian
areas.'' The head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission in Kandahar,
Abdul Qadar Noorzai, said villagers coming in to see him reported 20 to 25 civilians
killed and 30 to 35 wounded. U.S. authorities defended the decision to bomb the
village on the grounds that Taliban fighters were allegedly hiding there.


The United Nations panel that monitors compliance with the world's anti-torture
treaty became the latest prestigious body to call for the U.S. to close its prison
at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and avoid using secret detention facilities May 19. The
call came on the heels of the same demand from Britain's Attorney General, Lord
Goldsmith, who declared that Guantanamo had "become a symbol of injustice"
and that its existence was "unacceptable". A few days earlier, on May
3, Amnesty International declared that torture and inhumane treatment ere "widespread"
in U.S.-run detention centers in Afghanistan, Iraq, Cuba and elsewhere. The Amnesty
official report noted that Washington has sought to blame abuses on "aberrant
soldiers and lack of oversight," much ill-treatment actually stemmed from officially
sanctioned interrogation procedures and techniques.

With voices like these condemning Bush administration actions, Washington is more
globally isolated than ever. Roger Cohen writing in the International Herald Tribune
May 17 described the dilemma facing Karen Hughes - Bush's "Undersecretary of
State for Public Diplomacy" - whose job is to promote a positive image for
the U.S.:

"She gives the impression of a woman racing against the tide. The tide in question
is anti-Americanism, perhaps the fastest-growing force in the world today.... The
image of the U.S. is in something close to a free fall....somewhere along the way,
most acutely in the past few years, people in the world got tired. They got tired
of America's insatiable need for an enemy.... alarmed at the American fear that
appeared to fire American aggression; and disdainful of the distance between
declarations and deeds. In short they stopped buying the American narrative.

"It's hard to seduce people at charming airports when they're getting fingerprinted.
It's hard to sell 'a message of life and opportunity' when kids are being killed
every day in Iraq. It's hard to convey a message of openness when American embassies
are being transformed into fortresses. It's hard to attract the world's best students
when visas get held up."

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