Monday, April 28, 2008

Green Scare State Terrorism

Green Scare State Terrorism - by Stephen Lendman

In May 2005, FBI Deputy Assistant Director for Counterterrorism John Lewis told a Senate panel that ecoterrorism is "one of today's most serious domestic terrorism threats." Then the FBI's James Jarboe estimated that two organizations (the Earth Liberation Front - ELF and Animal Liberation Front - ALF) committed over 600 criminal acts since 1996, causing over $43 million in damage. For his part, Lewis said both groups committed more than 1100 such acts since 1976, "conservatively" resulting in around $110 million in damages.

What's going on, and is there anything to these charges? Coming from FBI sources makes them highly suspect, especially when there are two types of documented cases:

-- people guilty of non-violent offenses called "terrorism" and given excessively harsh sentences; and most disturbing

-- innocent people targeted, accused, convicted and sentenced to hard time for environmental activism or supporting animal rights; and that's on top of hundreds of other political persecutions and many thousands of innocent people (or petty criminals) in US prisons.

This behavior isn't new in America, but things heated up after 9/11 with the administration wasting no time getting going. That evening, George Bush addressed the nation and declared a "war against terrorism," asked for world support, and began the government's "emergency (preventive war strategy) response plans." It was planned and ready before 9/11 as a "war of terrorism" to defile the law, wage aggressive wars, usurp unprecedented powers, destroy our civil liberties, and convince the public to sacrifice freedom for the security they never got. In addition, the October 2001 USA Patriot Act (written well before 9/11) created the federal crime of "domestic terrorism" that broadened the definition and applied it to US citizens as well as aliens.

When John Lewis addressed another Senate panel in May 2004, he stated that "the FBI divides the terrorist threat facing (the country) into two broad categories, international and domestic....and during the past decade we have witnessed dramatic changes in the nature of the domestic terrorist threat." For a while "right-wing extremism" (loosely defined as the militia movement) overtook left-wing terrorism (but in) the past several years....special interest extremism (from groups like) the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), and related extremists, has emerged as a serious domestic terrorist threat." That view is amplified on the FBI's web site that states the Bureau "is part of a vast national and international campaign dedicated to defeating terrorism" with ecoterrorism a key part of it.

The FBI defined it in 2002 to mean: "the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally-oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature."

Activists refer to a tactic called "monkeywrenching" from the 1985 Dave Foreman/Bill Haywood-edited book "Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching." It describes it as:

-- "nonviolent resistance to the destruction of natural diversity and wilderness (and) never directed against human beings or other forms of life;

-- strategic....thoughtful (and) deliberate in order to succeed;

-- individual or very small (group actions) of people who have known each other for years (and have) trust and a good working relationship;

-- targeted (because) mindless, erratic vandalism is counterproductive as well as unethical;

-- timely (and) not....when there is a nonviolent civil disobedience action;

-- dispersed (to) hasten overall industrial retreat from wild areas;

-- fun (even though it's) serious and potentially dangerous;

-- not overthrow any social, political, or economic system;

-- simple (with) elaborate commando operations generally avoided; and

-- deliberate and ethical (by being) the most moral of all actions: protecting life, defending Earth."

The Earth First Journal defines the practice as: "Ecotage (environmentally-motivated sabotage), ecodefense, billboard bandit(ry by sawing offensive ones down), road reclamation (to remediate environmental damage), tree spiking (with nails to discourage destructive logging), even fire." These are unlawful sabotage acts "of industrial extraction and development equipment, as a means of striking at the Earth's destroyers where they commit their crimes and hitting them where they feel it most - in their profit margins." It goes "beyond civil disobedience. It is nonviolent, aimed only at inanimate objects. It is one of the last steps in defense of the an Earth defender when almost all other measures have failed."

In May 2004, Republican George Nethercutt targeted them by introducing the Ecoterrorism Prevention Act of 2004, but it didn't pass. If it had, it would have made a federal crime: "certain violent, threatening, obstructive, and destructive conduct that is intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with plant and animal enterprises, and for other purposes."

Republicans tried again in July with the Terrorism Against Animal-Use Entities Prohibition Improvement Act that would have amended the 1992 Animal Enterprise Protection Act and made it harsher. It also failed to pass, but defeat was only temporary.

On November 27, 2006, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) amended the 1992 act and became law with very harsh provisions. It's language is broad and vague, but it criminalizes First Amendment activities that advocate for animal rights like peaceful protests, leafleting, undercover investigations, whistleblowing and boycotts.

The new law updates the earlier act with penalties far exceeding comparable offenses under other laws. It also goes much further. It allows expanded surveillance of animal rights organizations, including criminal wiretapping, and makes it easier for a court to find probable cause for the vague crime of economic damage or disruption than for one requiring hard evidence a person or group plans to commit these acts.

The bill exempts "lawful public, governmental or business reaction to the disclosure of information about an animal enterprise," but that only applies to economic disruption claims, not damage, and makes it hard to distinguish between the two. It also:

-- expands the kinds of facilities covered by adding ones that use or sell animals and animal products;

-- covers any person, entity or organization connected to an animal enterprise;

-- applies to any form of advocacy;

-- criminalizes threatening conduct and protected speech as well as communication with anyone engaging in these practices;

-- protects corporate animal abusers with a vested interest in silencing dissent; and

-- targets any form of civil disobedience or protest activity and designates animal advocates as terrorists even when they cause no physical harm; in addition, the bill's language is so broad and vague (by design), it's hard to know the difference between legal and illegal behavior; it's an act of green scare state terrorism that, in fact, can be used against anyone.

Green Scare - A Definition

Activists equate it to earlier Red Scare periods after WW I and II when the government used various schemes to incite fear, sanction witch hunt prosecutions, and win widespread public approval for them. The term may first have been used in 2002 and refers to legal and extralegal government actions against animal liberation and environmental activists. The Spirit of Freedom prisoner support network defines it as "tactics the government and (their enforcement agencies use) to attack the ELF/ALF (Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front) and specifically those who publicly support them."

The term also refers to the 2005 arrests, indictments and convictions from the FBI's Operation Backfire against alleged ELF/ALF activists. It charged them with damaging property, conspiracy, arson and using destructive devices.

The Operation was the FBI's code name for its ten year domestic "war on terrorism" that's, in fact, a war on dissent. It resulted in 17 Pacific Northwest arson indictments with evidence that was very suspect. It came from a heroin-addicted self-professed serial arsonist whose former girl friend mentioned him in a grand jury proceeding. On December 7, 2005, it culminated when federal and local law enforcement agents began the largest ever roundup of alleged environmental and animal liberation activists. Seven arrests were made in four states, others got grand jury subpoenas, and people seized were charged with various acts of destroying property as part of ELF and ALF efforts.

Those arrested faced potential unprecendented sentences for non-violent acts from which no one was harmed. In some cases, they could be mandatory 30 year periods and in others life if found guilty on all counts. That compares to a median sentence of five years for arson.

With that as a threat, all but four defendants testified against the others in return for leniency. The remaining four struck plea bargains to admit responsibility but incriminate no one else. At sentencing in June 2007, the presiding judge was harsh. He included Terrorism Enhancements (TE) that are used when the justice department decides a crime aimed to influence or coerce government policy. It means sentences may be longer, and the Bureau of Prisons gets greater latitude in assigning prisoners that may be to "supermax" facilities for the most violent offenders.

In this case, sentences ranged from three years, one month to 13 years with most defendants getting added TEs. In addition, on October 26, 2007, FBI informant and serial arsonist Jacob Ferguson pleaded guilty to one count of arson and an additional count of attempted arson. According to his plea bargain, he won't be charged for his other offenses. Further, he's required to make no restitution, his formal sentencing keeps being postponed, it may come up ahead, but prosecutors recommend he spend no time in prison, receive no fines, and be able to keep the $50,000 or more he was paid for cooperating.

That's the state of things today where anything goes in the "war on terrorism" and publicizing arrests and convictions takes precedence over justice. Unless stopped, things will only get worse.

ELF and ALF - A Brief Description

On its web site, ELF describes itself as "an underground movement with no leadership, membership or official spokesperson" and uses its site "to inform and chronicle issues related to ELF." It further states:

-- "Any individuals who committed arson or any other illegal acts under the ELF name....choose to do so....and do so only driven by their personal conscience;

-- These choices are not endorsed, encouraged, or approved of by this web site's management, webmasters, affiliates, or other participants;

-- The intention of this web site is journalistic in intent only to inform and chronicle issues related to ELF;

-- The owners, management, webmasters, affiliates, or other participants of this website are not spokespersons, members, or affiliates of The Earth Liberation Front in any way; nor do the opinions of anyone acting in the name of The Earth Liberation Front or ELF, represent the opinions of" those affiliated with this site.

Others refer to the ELF as a collective of autonomous individuals or cells that use "economic sabotage and guerrilla war to stop the exploitation and destruction of the natural environment." The organization was founded in Brighton, England in 1992, spread across Europe by 1994, and is now an international movement in over a dozen countries. The FBI designated ELF its top domestic terror threat in March 2001 and called the group "ecoterrorists."

The ALF is an international animal liberation organization with roots in the 19th century and with no formal membership or leadership. Its web site defines "animal rights" as "the philosophy of allowing nonhuman animals to have the basic rights that all sentient beings desire; freedom to live a natural life, free from human exploitation, unnecessary pain and suffering, and premature death." It believes animals aren't property any more than humans are and asks if animal rights will become the "next great social justice movement." It cites President of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) David Weisbrot saying treating animals is increasingly becoming a social and legal issue as well as an important economic one.

Its members engage in direct action on behalf of animals, including removing them from laboratories and fur farms (they call liberation, not theft) and sabotaging animal testing and industry animal-based facilities. Its statements affirm it supports any acts that further animal liberation where reasonable precautions are taken not to endanger life. Its covert cells operate in dozens of countries clandestinely and independently of each other. In January 2005, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated ALF a domestic terrorist threat.

Examples of Witch Hunt Convictions

Many can be cited, but Jeff Luers' case is typical. In June 2001, he was sentenced to 22 years, eight months for burning three SUVs to raise awareness of global warming and how these gas-guzzlers contribute to it. No one was hurt, $40,000 in damages resulted, and the vehicles were refurbished and subsequently sold. Jeff is a political prisoner, and his sentence exceeds that for murder, kidnapping and rape under Oregon law where he resides. He appealed in January 2002, the hearing was held in November 2005, and on February 14, 2007 the Appeals Court remanded his case to the Circuit Court for resentencing. The case was heard on February 28, 2008 after which his sentence was reduced to 10 years.

Josh Harper is another political prisoner who committed no crime. He's an activist believer in animal liberation, preserving the wilderness, and participated in human freedom projects for over 10 years. In 1997, he co-created Breaking Free Video magazine and went on speaking tours in 1999. He also sabotaged a whale hunt, defied grand juries, and contributed to confrontational protest campaigns. It made him a target and got him indicted for violating the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA).

Evidence at his trial was mostly from two of his speeches in 2001 and 2002. He spoke about already committed political sabotage acts as well as European anti-vivisection campaigns he supported. He also ended one speech by demonstrating how to participate in a form of electronic civil disobedience called "black faxing" that involves sending multiple black paper sheets through an opponent's fax machine. It got him arrested, charged and convicted.

He was one of six animal rights activists in the so-called SHAC 7 (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty) case. Charges against one of the original 7 were dropped. SHAC is an international animal rights campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) - one of the world's largest contract research organizations, UK based, and operating on three continents. It's also Europe's largest contract animal-testing laboratory and uses around 75,000 animals each year in its operations.

UK-based activists established SHAC in 1999 and successfully closed down two animal-testing operations in their country. It's now a worldwide campaign, the first of its kind, and it operates in the UK, US, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy as well as many other countries. It calls its campaign "innovative" and states it doesn't "encourage or incite illegal activity."

On March 2, 2006, Harper and his co-defendants were charged and convicted of conspiracy to violate AETA (and several other charges) and got sentences of from four to six years. The case was an appalling miscarriage of justice for violating the defendants' First Amendment rights that AETA repealed for these activists. The defendants weren't charged with violent or threatening acts. Instead, the case was based on the notion that animal rights organizers are responsible for actions others take that the prosecution equated to a global conspiracy.

Briana Waters is another example of gross injustice. She's an innocent woman charged and convicted. On March 30, 2006, she was arrested and accused of being a lookout in connection with an alleged 2001 arson at the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture. Waters is a California resident, violin teacher and mother of a young child. She was indicted, then reindicted with other defendants on May 10 on charges that included using a destructive device that carries a mandatory 30 year sentence.

On December 26, 2007, her lawyers filed a motion accusing the Justice Department of concealing vital exculpatory information as well as producing a fraudulent FBI report. The agency is infamous for creating "evidence" out of whole cloth and getting manipulated informants to state it. Nonetheless, a hostile federal judge denied defense's motion and went further as well. He ruled against allowing a defense expert to rebut government "evidence" that a delayed incendiary device was a bomb.

One of Waters' attorneys expressed outrage over a common federal practice of "The government hand-picking (the) judge (and) manipulating court procedures. This is a classic case of a corrupt prosecution, and a judge who apparently chooses to look the other way." It's no surprise at a time two-thirds of all federal judges are from or affiliated with the extremist Federalist Society. It advocates rolling back civil liberties; ending New Deal social policies; opposing reproductive choice, government regulations, labor rights and environmental protections; and subverting justice in defense of privilege.

Waters was up against this when her trial began on February 11, 2008. She was further disadvantaged by the government's case being based on two informants who struck a plea bargain by pleading guilty to conspiracy, arson and destructive devices in return for leniency. On March 6, Waters was convicted on two arson counts, but the jury deadlocked on the more serious charges of a destructive device and conspiracy. Despite prosecution claims, no devices were found nor was there evidence of conspiracy. That raises serious questions of the government's falsifying evidence and lying to the jury about it. Again, no surprise under witch hunt justice with innocent people like Briana being harmed.

Her case also featured circumstantial evidence, including a folder containing radical pamphlets with a note on the cover from Waters to one of the informants. She testified that she didn't write them or subscribe to their views. The prosecution claimed otherwise. Her defense also argued that Waters knew nothing about the materials, they were substituted for ones she put in the folder, and her fingerprints weren't on the ones in it for proof.

Civil rights attorney Ben Rosenfeld said the "government's case was primarily based on character assassination and guilt by association (and that) evidence of other people's writings should never have been allowed to be used against her." He also denounced former Attorney General Gonzales for proclaiming Waters guilty in the media after she was indicted. He harmed her chances at the outset and showed convictions count more than justice, especially when charges of terrorism are raised. Waters strongly defends her innocence and will likely appeal the verdict. Sentencing is on May 30.

A Look Ahead

Post-9/11, future prospects look grim with fear prevailing over reason, a bipartisan effort exploiting it, and convictions more important than justice. If friends of the earth and animal rights champions are targeted, so can anyone. Governments today won't protect us and neither do courts that defer to their lawlessness. As a result, expect lots more innocent people hurt because those in power want unlimited amounts of it and won't let anyone stop them from getting it. It means hard times ahead when the law won't protect us, dissent is a crime, and the greater good is sacrificed to benefit the privileged.

What to do? Get active, organize, speak out, resist, and use the law for whatever justice is still under it. Things are very dire, change isn't coming next year, and, more than ever, apathy isn't an option. In America's "war on terrorism," we're all potential targets.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM - 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Breaking the Silence - Israeli Soldiers Speak

Breaking the Silence - Israeli Soldiers Speak - by Stephen Lendman

They're called "Refuseniks" but not for refusing to serve. They've done it proudly and courageously, and here's how "Courage to Refuse" members state their position:

"We, reserve officers and soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)....have always served in the front lines....were first to carry out any mission, light or heavy, (and we did it) to protect the State of Israel and strengthen it.

We....served....long weeks every year, in spite of dear cost to our personal lives, have been on reserve duty all over the Occupied Territories, and were issued commands and directives that had nothing to do with the security of our country (but were only given to perpetuate) our control over the Palestinian people. We('ve)....seen the bloody toll this Occupation exacts from both sides.

....the commands issued to us in the Territories (have) destroy(ed) all the values (we learned) growing up in this country.

....the (way) the Occupation (undermines the) IDF's human character and (exposes) the corruption of the entire Israeli society.

We....know that the Territories are not Israel, and that all settlements are bound to be evacuated in the end.

We hereby declare that we shall not continue to fight this War of the Settlements.

We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people.

We hereby declare that we shall continue serving the Israel Defense Forces in any mission that serves Israel's defense.

The missions of occupation and oppression do not serve this purpose - and we shall take no part in them."

These are courageous men and some women, hundreds of them. Their "Courage to Refuse - Combatant's Letter" web site lists 550 by name. There are hundreds more as well. Their numbers are growing, and their resistance is firm. There are five separate refusenik groups. They're listed below. Courage to Refuse is one of them.

Yesh Gvul (There is A Limit)

Yesh Gvul combats the "misuse of the IDF for unworthy ends" that includes the occupation of Palestine. It was established during Israel's 1982 Lebanon invasion that they denounced as a "naked (act of) aggression in which they wanted no part." It supports imprisoned members and their families, holds vigils where they're held, informs the public of their status, and embraces a peace agenda. They state that "as responsible citizens (they) declare that (they) will take no part in the continued oppression of the Palestinian people (nor will they) participate in policing actions or in guarding the settlements."

They further say that as "an Israeli peace group" they oppose the occupation and support soldiers who refuse to be part of it. They call the Israeli army's role "brutal" and "subjugating." It places servicemen "in a grave and moral and political dilemma (because it requires them) to enforce policies they deem illegal, immoral and ultimately harmful to Israeli interests." Many of their members are combat officers, they've served with distinction, and they rank from sergeant to major. They hold different political views, support peace but no one specific program, and they back a "two-state" solution they believe is "key to (peacefully resolving) the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

The Shministim

The Shministim is made up of high school seniors approaching age 18 after which Jewish and Druze men and women face mandatory military service, except for exemptions on religious, health and other accepted grounds. The organization no longer maintains a web site.

Courage to Refuse (The Combatants Letter)

The organization was founded in 2002 by a group of 50 combat officers and soldiers after its members realized that their missions had nothing to do with defending Israel. They're to colonize Palestine and oppress its people. They further believe that many commands issued them harm Israel's strategic interests and they refuse to obey them.

They've served their country and support it, but they determined that "fighting in Gaza and....West Bank (was counterproductive): by obeying orders they would not be protecting the lives of their dear ones." They believe "the Occupation poses a threat to the security of Israel." They stated their beliefs openly in "The Combatant's Letter." Hundreds of IDF members signed it and joined "Courage to Refuse." New members join weekly, and Yaffee Center for Strategic Studies surveys show that over 25% of Israelis sympathize with their struggle.

They continue to perform reserve duty, but won't serve in the Occupied Territories. Over 280 of them have been court-martialed and jailed for up to 35 days. Yet they've "won a warm place for the movement in the hearts of many Israelis" who support their self-sacrifice and willingness to be imprisoned for their beliefs.

Hundreds of Israeli professors signed petitions for them. Sami Michael is acting chairman of the Israeli Association for Human Rights. He said that refusing the occupation is not just a moral act, it's the purest form of patriotism in Israel today. Their reasons for not serving are stated above.

The Pilots Group

The Pilots Group maintains a web site in Hebrew only, so it can't be monitored by non-Hebrew readers. In September 2003, 27 of their members (including reserve Brigadier General Yiftah Spector) published their statement for the first time. It declared they would no longer fly missions against West Bank and Gaza civilians, that doing so is illegal and immoral, and they denounced targeted assassinations.

On Israeli television, one pilot said: "We veteran pilots and active pilots alike....are opposed to carrying out illegal and immoral attacks, of the type carried out by Israel in the Territories. the State of Israel (but) refuse to take part in air force attacks in civilian populations centers. We refuse to continue harming innocent civilians."

They knew they could be punished for their stance and for their "illegitimate" and "forbidden" statement, according to Israel's chief of army staff, Moshe Ya'alon. Israeli Air Force (IAF) chief Dan Halutz downplayed their action, said announcing it on national television was "inappropriate," and called it "the mother of all dangers to our people."

Because of it, they were expelled from the IAF, denounced as traitors, and went public again two months later to explain further. One captain's comment was typical: "In the beginning, we were pilots who believed our country would do all it could to achieve peace. We believed in the purity of our arms and that we did all we could to protect unnecessary loss of life. Somewhere in the last few years it became harder and harder to believe that is the case."

A single incident changed them. It was the bombing of Hamas military leader Salah Shehade's home that killed him and 14 members of his family, nine of whom were children. One pilot called it "murder," another "state terrorism," still another "vengeance," and all agreed they could no longer perform these missions.

Lt. Colonel Avner Raanan was one of them. He's one of Israel's most respected and decorated pilots. He signed the letter and stated: "If you look at the past three years, you see that, if we had a suicide bombing, the Israeli air force made a big operation in which civilians were killed, and that looks to innocent eyes like revenge. You hear it in the streets of Israel; people want revenge. But we should not behave like that. We are not a mafia."

Referring to an attack on Gaza's Nuseirat refugee camp, another pilot added: "Is it legitimate to take F-15s and helicopters designed to destroy enemy tanks, and use them against cars and houses in one of the most heavily populated places in the world....we have become blinded by the blood on our own faces. We cannot see that on the other a whole nation of innocent people."

The pilots' action and statements shook Israeli society. Their superiors condemned them, but over 500 supportive letters disagreed, including one from a holocaust survivor and others from fellow pilots. In addition, former left wing cabinet ministers also praised their courage.

Sayeret Matkal

This is an elite IDF commando unit that maintains no web site. In December 2003, 13 of its reservists and officers (including one major) wrote the Prime Minister declaring their refusal to serve henceforth in the Territories. Their statement read: "We say to you today, we will no longer give our hands to the oppressive reign in the territories and the denial of human rights to millions of Palestinians, and we will no longer serve as a defensive shield for the settlement enterprise."

Members of this commando group carried out the 1976 Entebbe, Uganda airport raid that rescued 100 hostages on an Air France hijacked plane. They rarely serve in the Territories, but their announcement was significant because of the group's standing in Israeli society. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak once commanded them and led a raid against a 1972 hijacked Sabena plane at Tel Aviv airport. He asked the signers to reconsider, called their letter a grave mistake, and said "it's not too late to correct it...." Other officials also condemned them, but Meretz Knesset Member (MK) Roman Bronfman believed they acted bravely, and Labor MK Ophir Pines said it requires that serious discussion be held.

In May 2004, Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy was supportive. He urged more soldiers to speak out, discuss their actions in the Territories, and ask why they serve there "to protect groups of delusional settlers (and) what their systematic abuse of the Palestinians has to do with many innocent people (have) they killed and (keep on) killing."

He noted that Israelis don't know what goes on in the Territories, so it's up to soldiers to "lift this screen....The Palestinians aren't believed, the Israeli press (keeps) its distance from the Territories and the international press is perceived as hostile. Only the soldiers can break the vicious circle....No one (can) deny their's time (for them) to stand up and speak they killed and jailed and humiliated for no good reason."

Excerpts From Soldiers Breaking the Silence

Breaking the Silence (Shovrim Shtika) dedicates itself to two purposes:

-- exposing IDF oppression in occupied Palestine; and

-- providing discharged Israeli soldiers and reservists a platform to explain what they were ordered to do on the ground.

In their own words, hundreds of their testimonies tell shocking stories - the ordeal they faced, its moral price, and the corrupting erosion it had on their values. They focus on orders gotten, rules of engagement and operational procedures that include frequent illegal commands:

-- firing at civilians posing no risk;

-- revenge operations for collective punishment; and

-- intentionally attacking Palestinian rescue forces, including ambulances.

Their accounts are disturbing. They portray institutionalized moral corruption, universal contempt for Arabs, and how it affects everyone from new recruits to commanders. Rules of engagement are unrestrained, government oversight is non-existent, so reporting abuse is urgent. They want it stopped and demand an independent body to do it.

It goes on everywhere in occupied Palestine with Hebron a prominent example because it's the only Palestinian city with an Israeli settlement in its center. Sixty-four soldiers from the Nachal brigade spoke out, they were there during the Second Intifada, and their testimonies recount horrors on the ground they were ordered to commit.

They call their experiences "shocking" with photos for confirming evidence. Their collective statement says: "In coping daily with the madness of Hebron, we couldn't remain the same people beneath our uniforms. We saw our buddies and ourselves slowly changing....

We were exposed to the ugly face of innocent family killed while at the Sabbath table. Countless engagements, bereaved families, innocent civilians injured, chase and arrests.

The settlers....rioted, occupied houses, and confronted the police and army....The constant curfew made Hebron into a ghost town....The school in Jebl Ju'ar has been an army post....We asked ourselves why an army platoon prevents children from going to school. We found no answers.

We decided to speak tell....Hebron isn't in outer space....But it's light years away from Tel Aviv....Come, see, hear and understand what's happening there."

Here are more paraphrased comments:

We man checkpoints, stop people from going somewhere, humiliate them, but "I'm doing my duty (and) inflicting pain on people, harming them unnecessarily." It affects your mind, your sleep the longer you serve there. Jews do as they please. There are no laws. Anything goes, breaking into shops, occupying Palestinian homes. Your judgment gets impaired when everyday your enemy is an Arab. You don't look at them as people. But they're not dogs, not animals, not inferior, yet they simply don't count, and since they're your enemy you can kill them.

At checkpoints, our job was don't let them pass. It was absurd, there were old ladies who had to get through to go home. Why was it forbidden to pass? It was collective punishment. "You're not allowed to pass because you're not allowed to pass." Then there are the curfews. "I'm certain that 80% of the time there was a curfew." We closed all the stores and sent everyone home.

I'm ashamed of myself because I realized I enjoy the feeling of power. I'm the Law. It's a mighty feeling. It's because you have a weapon, because you're a soldier, it's addictive. You can do whatever you want, unsupervised, enter people's homes, conduct random searches. Tell them what you want and they'll do it because they're afraid. Palestinians feel you don't let them walk in the streets, work, live or breathe.

I have a machine gun, it's loaded, the safety catch is off. I can shoot you any time, for any reason, split your head open with the gun butt and my commander will pat me on the back and say good job. It's crazy, I'm just a kid, but Hebron hardens you. I say to myself I'm doing something I don't believe in, and I'm putting myself in a position where someone wants to kill me because of it. You see things that couldn't possibly happen in your own home and shouldn't happen. But here everything is different.

Any time of day or night, whenever we feel like it, we pick a house, any house, and we go in. We move all the men into one room, the women in another, and place them under guard. We can do whatever we want. There's no justification for it. It shouldn't be happening.

Then there are the settlers. They run wild. There's no law. They do what they please. So they burn another shop, trash another home, occupy another one, no big deal, happens all the time. We just watch and do nothing.

If someone is sick and needs to go to the hospital, I ask my commander if I can let her pass. No way if there's a curfew. She's not going anywhere no matter how sick. All these stories are my daily routine for over six months. When it ended, I questioned whether I protected myself or my country. I began watching out for myself because I didn't believe in the ideology.

Serving in Hebron made me feel there's something different about being a Jew. I can't explain it. I'm supposed to guard the settlers who don't have the kind of morality I was raised to believe. I reached a point where I didn't know who the enemy was anymore, Jews or Arabs. Maybe I need to protect the Arabs, not the Jews who attack them. I feel emotionally injured. If someone's caught breaking curfew, we can let them have it aggressively. Hold them, make them wait eight hours with no water, sit and wait. "Why? Because he walked outside. Because he dared go buy something. Because he dared send his kid to school." We can even shoot them.

Selected Israeli Organizations Supporting Refuseniks

Several important ones are covered below:

New Profile

New Profile is a pluralistic feminist organization that includes men and women. It's goal is to transform Israel from a militaristic to a civil society. It opposes occupation and supports all conscientious objectors - from pacifists opposed to war to refuseniks who won't serve in occupied Palestine. Its charter states that "Israel is capable of a determined peace politics. It need not be a militarized society." It understands that "the words 'national security' have often masked calculated decisions to choose military action for the achievement of political goals."

It no longer is "willing to take part in such choices. We are no longer willing to go on being mobilized, raising our children for mobilization....while those in charge of the country go on deploying the army easily, rather than building other solutions."

It's "hard to express this type opinion in Israel today....An attitude that dares question the fundamental principle of willing enlistment is almost incomprehensible in a soldiers' state." We reject perpetuating war. We prioritize and protect life.

"We oppose the use of the army, police, (and) security forces in the ongoing oppression and discrimination of the Palestinian citizens of Israel (and in the Occupied Territories)," in demolishing their homes, "denying them building and development rights, (and) using violence" against them. Thousands of young Israelis are opting out and refuse to serve. They reject military service in Israel today. The IDF states that only one-third of reserve forces in fact serve actively.

Israeli law doesn't recognize conscientious objection. "We regard Israeli conscription law as discriminatory and non-democratic, and call for" recognizing every person's right to act according to his or her conscience. They should have the right to fulfill their social commitment by alternative civic or community means, including through non-governmental, voluntary organizations.

The Refuser Solidarity Network (RSN)

It was founded in 2002 to support Israel's growing "Refuser Movement." RSN supports Courage to Refuse, Combatants for Peace, Yesh G'vul, the Shiministim, New Profile and other Israeli organizations advocating peaceful conflict resolution in Occupied Palestine.

Its original 2002 "Call to Action" declaration said: "The time has come" to act against growing violence. Increasing numbers of Israeli soldiers reject serving in Occupied Palestine. They've seen what goes on, it has nothing to do with security, and its sole purpose is "perpetuating our control over the Palestinian people." They now declare they no longer will help "dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people."

The time has come "to listen to our consciences," summon our courage, and publicly support them. Israel can never have peace and security unless it withdraws from Occupied Palestine. This is a "crucial moment, a potential turning point." Their campaign was initiated from Chicago, but it resonates across the country as a "portal" in support of the Refuser Movement in Israel.

Combatants for Peace

Former Palestinian and Israeli cycle of violence participants are the founders - IDF soldiers and Palestinian resistance fighters. They believe their actions were futile, decided another way is crucial, and now work together for peace. Henceforth, they "refuse to take part (in further) bloodletting." They will only act non-violently through dialogue and reconciliation and work together cooperatively to understand each other's aspirations.

Their goal - end the occupation, halt the settlement project, and establish a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem alongside the State of Israel. They want to raise consciousness, educate both sides, and create political pressure to establish a constructive dialogue for resolution.

They hold meetings, conduct educational lectures and public forums, undertake joint projects, have bi-national media teams to get out their message, and participate in non-violent demonstrations against the occupation. It's motto reads: "Only by joining forces, will we be able to end the cycle of violence."

Israeli Laws Affecting Conscientious Objection and Refuseniks

Conscription existed since Israel became a state in 1948. Today, its legal basis comes under the country's 1986 National Defence Service Law. It requires all Israeli citizens and permanent residents (men and women) to serve. However, the Ministry of Defence has discretion under Article 36 to exempt all non-Jews, except the Druze. Israeli Arabs may volunteer, but they're not encouraged, and very few do it. Reserve service is also required up to age 51 for men and 24 for women.

Exemptions are possible for reasons of:

-- educational requirements,

-- religion (orthodox Jews are exempted),

-- health,

-- family considerations,

-- married or pregnant women or those with children,

-- persons convicted of crimes,

-- the undereducated (until they complete at least eight years of school), and

-- other considerations at the Ministry of Defence's discretion.

Israeli law rejects conscientious objection rights for men and only partly accepts them for women on the basis of religion. Those who cite it and refuse to serve are in trouble. They're subjected to unfair procedures and hearings that may, and most often do, recommend prosecution and imprisonment.

Israel signed the United Nations Charter and must, under its provisions, comply with the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Its Article 18 guarantees everyone "the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion." So does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights under Article 18 where it repeats that "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion..." By denying refuseniks this right, Israel violates international law and a fundamental human right afforded everyone under it.

No official figures exist, but refusenik numbers have grown since the Second Intifada began in September 2000. Most opt out in the Territories, and estimates of their numbers range from 1100 well-documented cases to as many as double that number. Here's what they face.

Article 35 (a) (2) of the National Defence Service Law states that:

-- failure to fulfill a duty under the law is punishable by up to two years imprisonment;

-- evading military service is subject to five years in prison;

-- refusing to perform reserve duties calls for up to a 56 day sentence that's renewable if the objector refuses repeatedly;

-- helping someone avoid military service is punishable by a fine and up to two years in prison;

-- disobeying call-up orders means facing up to five years imprisonment, although most often sentences rarely exceed 12 months.

Refuseniks are generally sentenced on one of the following charges:

-- refusing to obey an order;

-- absence without leave;

-- desertion; or

-- refusing to be mobilized.

Where exemption applications are denied, individuals are ordered to perform military or reserve duty. Continued refusal can mean discipline or court-martial, and repeat offenders face re-imprisonment in violation of Article 14, paragraph 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It states: "No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he (or she) has already been finally convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country."

Summary Comments

Peace activists, people of conscience and most notably Israeli refuseniks are in the front lines of a valiant struggle:

-- to free Palestinians from 41 illegal occupation years,

-- end decades of abuse,

-- achieve a just and lasting peace, and

-- protect everyone's fundamental human rights and freedoms that are guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for "all members of the human family...."

Israel must no longer be exempted from international law, from being allowed to flaunt it brazenly, from ignoring over five dozen UN Resolutions going back decades. Peace activists and refuseniks condemn the Jewish state for its actions, deplore it for committing them, and demand, call on and insist Israeli governments end them. Its lawlessness must end, and collective resistance can achieve it. It's no longer an option. It's an obligation to assure that everyone has equal dignity and the right to life, liberty, security and freedom under universal international law.

May 14 is the 60th anniversary of Israel's founding. Commemorations there and in the West will celebrate it. People of conscience won't participate. Refuseniks may not either. Use this time to demand an illegal occupation end and that Israel no longer be allowed a pass on the international law it disdains.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM - 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions on world and national topics with distinguished guests.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Hunger Plagues Haiti and the World

Hunger Plagues Haiti and the World - by Stephen Lendman

Consumers in rich countries feel it in supermarkets but in the world's poorest ones people are starving. The reason - soaring food prices, and it's triggered riots around the world in places like Mexico, Indonesia, Yemen, the Philippines, Cambodia, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan, Guinea, Mauritania, Egypt, Cameroon, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Peru, Bolivia and Haiti that was once nearly food self-sufficient but now relies on imports for most of its supply and (like other food-importing countries) is at the mercy of agribusiness.

Wheat shortages in Peru are acute enough to have the military make bread with potato flour (a native crop). In Pakistan, thousands of troops guard trucks carrying wheat and flour. In Thailand, rice farmers take shifts staying awake nights guarding their fields from thieves. The crop's price has about doubled in recent months, it's the staple for half or more of the world's population, but rising prices and fearing scarcity have prompted some of the world's largest producers to export less - Thailand (the world's largest exporter), Vietnam, India, Egypt, Cambodia with others likely to follow as world output lags demand. Producers of other grains are doing the same like Argentina, Kazakhstan and China. The less they export, the higher prices go.

Other factors are high oil prices and transportation costs, growing demand, commodity speculation, pests in southeast Asia, a 10 year Australian drought, floods in Bangladesh and elsewhere, a 45 day cold snap in China, and other natural but mostly manipulated factors like crop diversion for biofuels have combined to create a growing world crisis with more on this below. It's at the same time millions of Chinese and Indians have higher incomes, are changing their eating habits, and are consuming more meat, chicken and other animal products that place huge demands on grains to produce.

Here's a UK April 8 Times online snapshot of the situation in parts of Asia:

-- Filipino farmers caught hoarding rice risk a life in jail sentence for "economic sabotage;"

-- thousands of (Jakarta) Indonesian soya bean cake makers are striking against the destruction of their livelihood;

-- once food self-sufficient countries like Japan and South Korea are reacting "bitterly (as) the world's food stocks-to-consumption ratio plunges to an all-time low;"

-- India no longer can export millions of tons of rice; instead it's forced to have a "special strategic food reserve on top of its existing wheat and rice stockpiles;"

-- Thailand is the world's largest rice producer; its price rose 50% in the past month;

-- countries like the Philippines and Sri Lanka are scrambling for secure rice supplies; they and other Asian countries are struggling to cope with soaring prices and insufficient supply;

-- overall, rice is the staple food for three billion people; one-third of them survive on less than $1 a day and are "food insecure;" it means they may starve to death without aid.

The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reported that worldwide food costs rose almost 40% in 2007 while grains spiked 42% and dairy prices nearly 80%. The World Bank said food prices are up 83% since 2005. As of December, it caused 37 countries to face food crises and 20 to impose price controls in response.

It also affected aid agencies like the UN's World Food Program (WFP). Because of soaring food and energy costs, it sent an urgent appeal to donors on March 20 to help fill a $500 million resource gap for its work. Since then, food prices increased another 20% and show no signs of abating. For the world's poor, like the people of Haiti, things are desperate, people can't afford food, they scratch by any way they can, but many are starving and don't make it.

Haiti - the World Hunger Poster Child

The Haitain crisis is so extreme it forces people to eat (non-food) mud cookies (called "pica") to relieve hunger. It's a desperate Haitian remedy made from dried yellow dirt from the country's central plateau for those who can afford it. It's not free. In Cite Soleil's crowded slums, people use a combination of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening for a typical meal when it's all they can afford. A Port-au-Prince AP reporter sampled it. He said it had "a smooth consistency (but it) sucked all the moisture out of (my) mouth as soon as it touched (my) tongue. For hours (afterwards), an unpleasant taste of dirt lingered." Worse is how it harms human health. A mud cookie diet causes severe malnutrition, intestinal distress, and other deleterious effects from potentially deadly toxins and parasites.

Another problem is the cost. This stomach-filler isn't free. Haitians have to buy it, and "edible clay" prices are rising - by almost $1.50 in the past year. It now costs about $5 to make 100 cookies (about 5 cents each), it's cheaper than food, but many Haitians can't afford it:

-- 80% of them are impoverished in the hemisphere's poorest country and one of the world's poorest;

-- unemployment is rampant, and two-thirds or more of workers have only sporadic jobs; and

-- those with them earn 11 to 12 cents an hour; the country's official minimum wage is $1.80 a day, but IMF figures show 55% of employed Haitians receive only 44 cents daily, an impossible amount to live on.

Here's what it's like for poor Haitians. They have large families, live in cardboard and tin homes, there's no running water and little or no electricity, and life inside and around them is horrific. Bed sheets can be thick with flies, there's no sanitation, and outside garbage is everywhere. Children are always hungry, there's never enough food, often it's for one meal a day, illness and disease are common, life expectancy very low, and so-called Blue Helmet "peacekeeper" and gang violence plague communities like Port-au-Prince's Cite Soleil.

Now with a food crisis, Haitians are in the streets over prices for essentials that tripled in the past year and a president, prime minister and government doing practically nothing about it. For days, they were everywhere, throughout the country, and numbered in the thousands. They protested in Port-au-Prince, carried empty plates to signify their plight, smashed windows, set buildings and cars alight, looted shops, looked for food, tried to storm the presidential palace, shouted "we are hungry," and demanded President Rene Preval resign.

UN Blue Helmets (MINUSTAH) responded viciously the way they always do against peaceful or protest demonstrations. They shot and killed at least five Haitians (some reports say more), wounded many others, and that was just in downtown Port-au-Prince.

In Les Cayes (Haiti's third largest city) in the southwest, demonstrators stormed and tried to burn the local MINUSTAH offices. Others barricaded streets, looked for food, and shouted "Down with the high cost of living." Similar protests went on throughout the country:

-- in northern cities like Cap-Haitien and Gonaives;

-- Jacmel in the south;

-- Jeremie in the southwest where at least two deaths were reported; and

-- smaller towns like Petit Goave, Miragoane, Aquin, Cavaillon, Saint-Jean du Sud, Leogane, Vialet, Anse-a-Veau and Simon.

It's a familiar pattern in Haiti. Anger over injustice builds and then explodes with Haitians reacting in the streets en masse against intolerable conditions that are compounded by a repressive and hated UN occupation. It's there to protect privilege, not secure peace. It's the first time ever that the UN Security Council authorized so-called "peacekeepers" to enforce a coup d'etat against a democratically elected president (by a 92% majority).

Haiti's current president can't deal with the situation and has gone along with the state of things. He's been ineffective since his February 2006 reelection, hasn't alleviated the present crisis, instead ordered protests to stop, and here's how he put it in a shameful April 9 televised address: "The demonstrations and destruction won't make the prices go down or resolve the country's problems. On the contrary, this can make the misery grow and prevent investment in the country" that, of course, does nothing for most Haitians and Preval knows it.

After a week of protests, an uneasy calm followed, but things can break out any time without relief that's not forthcoming beyond some far too small proposed measures. Dismissively, Preval's prime minister, Jacques Edouard Alexis, blamed the problem on "global forces" and the high cost of oil saying there's no "quick fix," case closed. He also claimed the protests were manipulated by provocateurs, including angry drugs dealers reacting to a supposed closure of one of their transshipment points.

Alexis is now out, elitists debate over who'll replace him, Haitians in the meantime are starving, the IMF keeps extracting $1 million a week in mandated tribute to the rich, and only countries like Cuba (training Haitians to be doctors) and Venezuela (donating money, cheap oil, and over 600 tons of food aid sent April 13, more than first reported) seem to care. Chavez cares about all Latin America and last year donated about $8.8 billion in aid or four times the amount America provides the region.

For its part, the World Bank pathetically plans $10 million in "emergency aid" for a country with over eight million starving people. It also plans to double its African agricultural lending next year to $800 million and thus make a bad situation worse. It'll go to hugely indebted nations, unable to help feed their people as a consequence, and World Bank policy always is opposite of what these countries need.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon barely commented, made merely pro forma statements about the crisis and its seriousness, was as dismissive as Alexis, offered no remedial aid, is as uncaring as World Bank officials, and never forgets that his bosses are in Washington. Instead of doing his job and helping, he called on Haiti's leaders to restore stability because the country's security is threatened. Starving poor people aren't his concern. Let 'em eat mud cookies.

That's apparently Rene Preval's solution as well. Belatedly (on April 12), he announced a plan to cut rice prices 15%. It will do nothing to relieve the crisis, and Reuters (on April 15) reported that vendors still demand the higher price for supplies already in stock. It provoked new clashes on the streets, Haitians continue to starve, and "government officials were not immediately available for comment."

Raj Patel's new book explains the state of things today. It's titled "Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System." In an April 14 statement, he said: "What's happening in Haiti is an augury to the rest of the developing world. Haiti is the poster child of an economy that liberalized its agricultural economy and removed the social safety nets for the poor...." Two conditions create food riots:

-- "price shocks (and) modern development policies" (tariffs, corporate subsidies, grain reserve policies) make food unaffordable for many millions; and

-- "riots (then) happen when there are no other ways (to make) powerful people listen...." They'll continue to happen "with increasing frequency until governments realize that food isn't a mere commodity, it's a human right."

World Hunger - A Growing Problem for All Nations

The situation is so dire, protests may erupt anywhere, any time, and rich countries aren't immune, including America. Poverty in the world's richest country is growing, and organizations like the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) and Economic Policy Institute (EPI) document it. They report on a permanent (and growing) underclass of over 37 million people earning poverty-level wages and say that official statistics understate the problem. They note an unprecedented wealth gap between rich and poor, a dying middle class, and growing millions in extreme poverty.

It affects the unemployed as well in times of economic distress, but official government data conceals to what extent. If employment calculations were made as originally mandated, the true rate would be around 13% instead of the Department of Labor's 5.1%. The same is true for inflation that's around 12% at the retail level instead of the official 4% that's hooey.

Under conditions of duress, hunger is the clearest symptom, it's rising, and current food inflation threatens to spiral it out of control if nothing is done to address it. It's the highest in decades with 2007 signaling what's ahead - eggs up 25% last year; milk 17%; rice, bread and pasta 12%, and look at prices on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT):

-- grains and soy prices are at multi-year highs;

-- wheat hit an all-time high above $12 a bushel with little relief ahead in spite of a temporary pullback in price; the US Department of Agriculture forecasts that global wheat stocks this year will fall to a 30 year low of 109.7 million metric tons; USDA also projected US wheat stocks by year end 2008 at 272 million bushels - the lowest level since 1948;

-- corn and soybeans are also at record levels; soybeans are at over $15 a bushel; corn prices shot above $6 a bushel as demand for this and other crops soar in spite of US farmers planting as much of them as possible to cash in on high prices.

Growing demand, a weak dollar, but mostly another factor to be discussed below is responsible - the increased use of corn for ethanol production with farmers diverting more of their acreage from other crops to plant more of what's most in demand. Forty-three per cent of corn production is for livestock feed, but around one-fifth is for biofuels according to the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA). Other estimates are as high as 25 - 30% compared to 14% two years ago, and NCGA estimates one-third of the crop in 2009 will be for ethanol, not food. It's fueling US and world food inflation with five year forecasts of it rising even faster.

In the world's poorest countries, people starve. Here, they go on food stamps with a projected unprecedented 28 million Americans getting them this year as joblessness increases in a weak economy. However, many millions in need aren't eligible as social services are cut to finance foreign wars and tax cuts for the rich, with poor folks at home losing out as a result. A family of four only qualifies now if its net monthly income is at or below $1721 or $20,652 a year. Even then, it gets the same $542 monthly amount recipients received in 1996 to cover today's much higher prices or around $1 dollar a meal per person and falling.

This is the UN's World Food Program (WFP)'s dilemma worldwide at a time donations coming in are inadequate. Its Executive Director, Josette Sheeran, said "Our ability to reach people is going down just as needs go up....We are seeing a new face of hunger in which people (can't afford to buy food)....Situations that were previously not urgent" are now desperate. WFP's funding needs keep rising. It estimates them at $3.5 billion, they'll likely go higher, and they're for approved projects to feed 73 million people in 78 counties worldwide. WFP foresees much greater potential needs for unseen emergencies and for far greater numbers of people in need.

People (who aren't poor) in rich countries can manage with food accounting for about 10% of consumption. In ones like China, it's around 30%, but in sub-Saharan Africa and the poor in Latin America and Asia it's about 60% (or even 80%) and rising. It means food aid is vital, and without it people will starve. But as food prices rise, the amount forthcoming (when it's most needed) falls because not enough money is available and too few donors offer help.

Agencies that can are doing less with ones like USAID saying it's cutting the amount of food aid it provides but won't say why. It's mission is to help the rich, not the poor, or as it states on its web site: as a US government agency, it "receives (its) overall foreign policy guidance from the Secretary of State (and its mission is to) further America's foreign policy interests (in the areas of) economic growth, agriculture and trade...." That leaves out the poor.

Oxfam worries about what USAID ignores. It called for immediate action by donors and governments to protect the world's poor against rising food prices. One spokesperson said: "Global economic uncertainty, high food prices, drought (and other factors) all pose a serious threat to (the) vulnerable." Another added: "More and more people are going to be facing food shortages in the future. (Because of) rising food prices we need to think (of its) impact on (the world's poor) who are spending up to 80% of their incomes on food."

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, also expressed alarm. In comments to the French daily Liberation he said: "We are heading for a very long period of rioting, conflicts (and) waves of uncontrollable regional instability marked by the despair of the most vulnerable populations." He noted that even under normal circumstances hunger plagues the world and claims the life of a child under age 10 every five seconds. Because of the present crisis, we now face "an imminent massacre."

Besides the usual factors cited, it's vital to ask why, but don't expect Brazil's Lula to explain. Biofuel production is the main culprit, but not according to him. Brazil is a major biofuels producer. Last year it signed an R&D "Ethanol Pact" with Washington to develop "next generation" technologies for even more production.

In an April 16 Reuters report, the former union leader was dismissive about the current crisis and rejected criticisms that biofuels are at fault. In spite of protests at home and around the world, he told reporters: "Don't tell me....that food is expensive because of biodiesel. (It's) expensive because" peoples' economic situation has improved and they're eating more. It's true in parts of China and India, but not in most other countries where incomes haven't kept pace with inflation.

Biofuels - A Scourge of Our Times

The idea of combustible fuels from organic material has been around since the early auto age, but only recently took off. Because they're from plant-based or animal byproduct (renewable) sources, bio or agrofuels are (falsely) touted as a solution to a growing world energy shortage with a huge claimed added benefit - the nonsensical notion that they're clean and green without all the troublesome issues connected to fossil fuels.

Biofuel is a general term to describe all fuels from organic matter. The two most common kinds are bioethanol as a substitute for gasoline, and biodiesel that serves the same purpose for that type fuel.

Bioethanol is produced from sugar-rich crops like corn, wheat and sugar cane. Most cars can burn a petroleum fuel blend with up to 10% bioethanol without any engine modifications. Some newer cars can run on pure bioethanol.

Biodiesel is produced from a variety of vegetable oils, including soybean, palm and rapeseed (canola), plus animal fats. This fuel can replace regular diesel with no engine modifications required.

Cellulosic ethanol is another variety and is made by breaking down fiber from grasses or most other kinds of plants. Biofuels of all types are renewable since crops are grown in season, harvested, then replanted for more output repeatedly.

In George Bush's 2007 State of the Union address, he announced "It's in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply (and we) must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol (to) reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20% in the next 10 years. (To do it) we must (set) a mandatory fuels (target of) 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017 (to) reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

Congress earlier passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that mandated ethanol fuel production rise to four billion gallons in 2006 and 7.5 billion by 2012. It already reached 6.5 billion barrels last year and is heading for nine billion this year.

The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act gave added impetus to the Bush administration scheme with plenty of agribusiness subsidies backing it. Its final version sailed through both Houses in December, and George Bush made it official on December 19. It upped the stakes over 2005 with one of its provisions calling for 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022 to replace 15% of their equivalent in oil. It represents a nearly fivefold increase from current levels, and new goals ahead may set it higher as rising oil prices (topping $117 a barrel April 21) make a case for cheaper alternatives, and some in the environmental community claim biofuels are eco-friendly.

Hold the applause, and look at the facts. In a nutshell, organic fuels trash rainforests, deplete water reserves, kill off species, and increase greenhouse emissions when the full effects of producing them are included. At least that's what Science Magazine says on the latter point. It reviewed studies that examined how destruction of natural ecosystems (such as tropical rain forests and South American grasslands) not only releases greenhouse gases when they're burned and plowed but also deprives the planet of natural sponges to absorb carbon emissions. Cropland also absorbs less carbon than rain forests or even the scrubland it replaces.

Nature Conservancy scientist Joseph Fargione (lead author of one study) concluded that grassland clearance releases 93 times the greenhouse gases that would be saved by fuel made annually on that land. For scientists and others concerned about global warming, the research indicated that biofuel production exacerbates the problem and thus should be reconsidered. Others disagree and so far the trend continues with Europe and America both setting ambitious goals that pay little attention to the consequences they ignore.

Eric Holt-Gimenez, executive director of the Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, pays close attention and wrote about it in an article published last June by Agencia Latinoamericana de Informacion (ALAI) and thereafter widely distributed. It's headlined "Biofuels: The Five Myths of the Agro-fuels Transition." As he puts it: "the mythic baggage of the agro-fuels transition needs to be publicly unpacked."

1. Agrofuels aren't clean and green. As cited above, they produce far greater greenhouse gas emissions than they save and also require large amounts of oil-based fertilizers that contribute even more.

2. Agrofuel production will be hugely destructive to forests in countries like Brazil where vast Amazon devastation is well documented and is currently increasing at nearly 325,000 hectares a year. By 2020 in Indonesia, "palm oil plantations for bio-diesel (will continue to be) the primary cause of forest loss (in a) country with one of the highest deforestation rates in the world."

3. Agrofuels will destroy rural development. Small farmers will be forced off their land and so will many thousands of others in communities to make way for Big Oil, Agribusiness, and Agribiotech to move in and take over for the huge profits to be extracted in the multi-billions.

4. Agrofuels increase hunger. The poor are always hurt most, the topic is covered above, and Holt-Gimenez quotes another forecast. It's the International Food Policy Research Institute's estimate that basic food staple prices will rise 30 - 33% by 2010, but that figure already undershoots based on current data. FPRI also sees the rise continuing to 2020 by another 26 to 135% that will be catastrophic for the world's poor who can't afford today's prices and are ill-equipped to raise their incomes more than marginally if at all.

5. Better "second-generation" argofuels aren't around the corner. Examples touted are eco-friendly fast-growing trees and switchgrass (a dominant warm season central North American tallgrass prairie species). Holt-Gimenez calls the argument a "bait and switch-grass shell game" to make the case for first generation production now ongoing. The same environmental problems exists, and they'll be hugely exacerbated by more extensive GMO crop plantings.

Holt-Gimenez sees agrofuels as a "genetic Trojan horse" that's letting agribusiness giants like Monsanto "colonize both our fuel and food system," do little to offset a growing demand for oil, reap huge profits from the scheme, get them at taxpayers' expense, and that's exactly what's happening with Big Oil in on it, too, as a way to diversify through large biofuel investments. More on this below.

The Ghost of Henry Kissinger

Kissinger made a chilling 1970 comment that explains a lot about what's happening now - "Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people." Combine it with unchallengeable military power and you control everything, and Kissinger likely said that, too.

He said plenty more in his classified 1974 memo on a secret project called National Security Study Memorandum 200 (NSSM 200) for a "world population plan of action" for drastic global population control. He meant reducing it by hundreds of millions, using food as a weapon, and overall reorganizing the global food market to destroy family farms and replace them with (agribusiness-run) factory ones. It's been ongoing for decades, backed since January 1995 by WTO muscle, and characterized now by huge agribusiness giants with monstrous vertically integrated powers over the food we eat - from research labs to plantings to processing to the supermarket and other food outlet shelves around the world.

But it's even worse than that. Today, five agribusiness behemoths, with little fanfare and enormous government backing, plan big at our expense - to control the world's food supply by making it all genetically engineered with biofuels one part of a larger scheme.

By diverting crops for fuel, prices have exploded, and five "Ag biotech" giants are exploiting it - Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Agrisciences, Syngenta and Bayer CropScience AG. Their solution - make all crops GMO, tout it as a way to increase output and reduce costs, and claim it's the solution to today's soaring prices and world hunger.

In fact, agribusiness power raises prices, controls output to keep them high, and the main factor behind today's situation is the conversion of US farmland to biofuel factories. With less crop output for food and world demand for it growing, prices are rising, and rampant commodity speculation exacerbates the problem with traders profiting hugely and loving it. It's another part of the multi-decade wealth transfer scheme from the world's majority to the elite few. While the trend continues, its momentum is self-sustaining, and it works because governments back it. They subsidize the problem, keep regulations loose, give business free reign, and maintain that markets work best so let them.

As mentioned above, about 43% of US corn output goes for animal feed, but growing amounts are for biofuels - now possibly 25 - 30% of production compared to around 14% two years ago, up 300% since 2001, and today the total exceeds what's earmarked for export, with no slowing down of this trend in sight. The result, of course, is world grain reserves are falling, prices soaring, millions starving, governments permitting it, and it's only the early innings of a long-term horrifying trend - radically transforming agriculture in humanly destructive ways:

-- letting agribusiness and Big Oil giants control it for profit at the expense of consumer health and well-being;

-- making it all genetically engineered and inflicting great potential harm to human health; and

-- producing reduced crop amounts for food, diverting greater quantities for fuel, allowing prices to soar, making food as dear as oil, ending government's responsibility for food security, and tolerating the unthinkable - putting hundreds of millions of poor around the world in jeopardy and letting them starve to death for profit.

This is the brave new world neoliberal schemers have in mind. They're well along with their plans, marginally diverted by today's economic distress, well aware that growing world protests that could prove hugely disruptive, but very focused, nonetheless, on finding clever ways to push ahead with what's worked pretty well for them so far, so they're not about to let human misery jeopardize big profits.

If they won't reform, people have to do it for them, and throughout history that's how it's always worked. Over time, the stakes keep rising as the threats become greater, and today they may be as great as they've ever been.

What better time for a new social movement like those in the past that were pivotal forces for change. Famed community organizer Saul Alinsky knew the way to beat organized money is with organized people. In combination, they've succeeded by taking to the streets, striking, boycotting, challenging authority, disrupting business, paying with their lives and ultimately prevailing by knowing change never comes from the top down. It's always from the grassroots, from the bottom up, and what better time for it than now. It's high time democracy worked for everyone, that destructive GMO and biofuels schemes won't be tolerated, and that "America the Beautiful" won't any longer just be for elites and no one else.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM to 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Updating Sami Al-Arian - His Ordeal Continues

Updating Sami Al-Arian - His Ordeal Continues - by Stephen Lendman

For regular readers of this site, Al-Arian needs no introduction. For others, here's a brief snapshot of his case before updating his current status:

-- Al-Arian is a Kuwaiti-born son of Palestinian refugees who fled during the 1947-49 Nakba catastrophe;

-- he came to America in 1975 and was denied citizenship because of his faith and ethnicity; ever since, he's been an award-winning scholar, community leader and civil activist;

-- he was a distinguished University of South Florida (USF) computer science professor until being unjustly fired for his human rights efforts for Arabs and Muslims;

-- now he's one of hundreds of political prisoners doing hard time in US prisons and treated no differently than others like him at Guantanamo;

-- the system is a gulag (at home and offshore) and shame of the nation (;

-- Al-Arian's case is special; the FBI hounded him for 11 years; he was unjustly indicted, arrested, tried, yet exonerated in court - acquitted on eight false terrorism charges with the jury deadlocked on nine others 10 - 2 in his favor; DOJ routinely dismisses these cases; retrying them rarely happens; but it wasn't the plan for Al-Arian;

-- DOJ continued to pursue him, struck a plea bargain, then broke it; in violation of its terms, it subpoenaed him three times before grand juries;

-- the scheme is to entrap him under perjury and obstruction charges; on advice of counsel, Al-Arian won't testify; his plea agreement exempts him;

-- the first two times he was held in contempt and his sentence extended; it may be extended a third time; under his agreement, he was to be released for time served and voluntarily deported on May 1, 2006; DOJ had other plans; it likely still does;

-- Al-Arian is a "war on terrorism" trophy prisoner; he was targeted for his faith, ethnicity and political activism;

-- he's been in prison since February 20, 2003; held in over a dozen maximum and other federal prison facilities, treated punitively in all of them, held in solitary confinement for 37 months, and until April 14, 2008 (most recently) was in special housing unit (SHU) isolation at the Jessup, Maryland's Howard County Detention Center.

Here's how events unfolded this month. On April 11, Al-Arian was taken to the Alexandria, VA federal courthouse, held in a holding cell for three hours, then moved to the Alexandria Detention Center. He remained there until immigration authorities (ICE) took him to Fairfax, VA for processing.

At 10PM, he was taken to the Jessup, MD Howard County Detention Center and placed in the general population, according to standard procedure.

At 1AM April 12, he was transferred to the SHU unit, held in isolation under 23-hour lockdown, forced to endure frigid temperatures, and blasted with continuous deafening sounds for maximum punitive effect.

In January 2007, Al-Arian went on hunger strike (ingesting only water after 18 total abstinence days) to protest his abusive treatment. When it ended after two months, he lost 55 pounds, was very weak, unable to walk or stand on his own, and had to be confined to a wheelchair. He also endangered his life. Al-Arian is diabetic and needs regular sustenance for his health. Prison authorities were indifferent and abusive.

On March 3, 2008, Al-Arian again went on hunger strike. It's now in its 47th day, he's lost over 34 pounds (likely much more), been denied medical treatment, then on April 14 was transferred again - this time temporarily to an ICE holdover cell before being moved again to continue his ordeal.

Before the move, his family got 30 minutes with him behind a glass partition. His wife Nahla was here from Egypt where she moved and has now returned. His daughter Laila and son Abdullah were also there. They were shocked at what they saw. His son said "He (was) far thinner and weaker than the last time (they) saw him. (They) don't know how much more of this he can take. The government needs to release him, if for nothing else, than for his life."

Mrs. Al-Arian was visibly shaken and said "He looked like he'd been through a concentration camp. We want him to stop the hunger strike but he feels he has no other choice. This indefinite imprisonment has torn our family apart. We have had to suffer through three different release dates without him ever being freed."

So far, even in ICE custody, there's no indication it's planned, justice demands it now, it's been shamelessly denied, and "His life is on the line" according to his daughter. She urges all her father's supporters to "become involved at this critical stage" and tell DOJ to "do the right thing and let him go....But there isn't much time."

On April 15, ICE agents transferred Al-Arian again - this time to the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth, VA. Since arriving, he's been subjected to even worse treatment than in Maryland.

Initially, he was placed in the general population. Hours later, he was moved to a segregation unit and told he was put on suicide watch because of his hunger strike. He's being treated barbarically. He was placed in a cold prison cell. His eyeglasses, clothing and undergarments were removed and replaced with a thin hospital gown. He has no bed sheets, blankets or pillows, just a hard metal bed frame supporting a one-inch thick mattress. He also has no drinking cup which is vital for water during his hunger strike.

He was told he can have one telephone call every 15 days but none from attorneys. Before being transferred, ICE officials said Hampton Roads Jail wouldn't subject him to humiliating and abusive treatment. Instead, it's worse than in Maryland, Al-Arian is greatly weakened after 46 days without food, his situation is grave, prison authorities are hostile and dismissive, and DOJ may be trying to kill him.

The Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice supports Al-Arian proudly, it's backed him from the start, and it urges everyone of conscience to contact their elected officials, DOJ and DHS to demand that justice delayed him no longer be denied. His imprisonment term ended April 11, yet he remains confined. His plea bargain stipulated that his long ordeal end and that he be deported expeditiously.

The Bush administration disdains the law and shows no signs of complying. Its actions are vile and barbarous. It's up to thousands of Al-Arian supporters to act. Justice can no longer be delayed. His life now depends on it.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM - 1PM for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests.

On April 21 at noon US Central time, Laila Al-Arian will be interviewed for the hour to discuss her father's case. Listen and respond to its urgency.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Peter Hallward's "Damming the Flood" - Part II

Peter Hallward's "Damning the Flood" (Part II) - by Stephen Lendman

This is Part II of Peter Hallward's masterful account of recent Haitian history and what may lie ahead for its beleaguered people. Please refer to Part I that's posted on this site.

2001 - 2004: The Winner Loses?

In spite of its strength and resilience, FL had its faults and suffered the consequences. Its relative informality made it vulnerable to "opportunistic" infiltration by members of the "conventional political class" as well as former Macoutes, soldiers and criminal gang leaders. Some FL politicians also used their positions for personal gain and implicated the government in damaging scandals.

Further, the very strength of its support meant the opposition had to undermine the organization from within. Ways included money and weapons to neighborhood gangs to change sides and turning the state's own security forces (the USGPN Presidential Guard) against the President. Aristide's last Prime Minister, Yvon Neptune, believed by year end 2003, few national security force members could be trusted because they'd been corrupted by "members of civil society." In addition, some Aristide supporters became disillusioned by his fruitless negotiating strategy and for not being more decisive in the crucial pre-coup weeks.

The CD took full advantage, were able to buy off some of the FL hierarchy, and "paint a lurid picture of a government mired in drugs, embezzlement" and human rights abuses. Post-coup, there was even talk of a "Noriega-style indictment of Aristide (to) rid the US of their turbulent priest once and for all." When the idea faded for lack of proof and Aristide's willingness to cooperate with DEA while still President, old corruption and embezzlement charges resurfaced. Although bizarre and outlandish against a self-effacing priest, Aristide's opponents tried to tarnish him with charges of appropriating state funds for private gain, living in palatial luxury at his private home, and stealing tens of millions of dollars to do it.

More damaging were charges of Haiti's "worsening human rights situation." In the 2001 - 2004 period, reports from human rights groups like NCHR (Haiti's highest profile one), CARLI, and CEDH read like a CD script to provide ammunition for promoting regime change. Post-coup, however, these same groups seemed not to notice mass state-sponsored killings that accompanied and followed Aristide's ouster.

Along with others, Human Rights Watch (HRW) was notably egregious, given its reputation that's decidedly undeserved. In its 2001 report, it described 2000 as a year of "mounting political violence" and blamed it on Aristide supporters. It repeated the accusation in 2002, and in 2003 said that "worsening human rights conditions, mounting political turmoil, and a declining economy marked" (Aristide's government). "Human rights conditions remained poor (with) police violence, arbitrary arrests, and wrongful detention, among other problems" - clearly condemning Aristide for what the opposition caused. In contrast, in 2004, HRW didn't even mention Haiti in its annual report, but two weeks before the February coup it issued a press release blaming the government for the worst of the violence preceding it. Shamelessly, HRW blamed the victim and let the villain off scot-free.

Amnesty International (AI) was much the same. In the violent post-coup period, (directed at FL), AI and HRW muted their criticism and framed it in the continuing "cycle of violence and impunity that has plagued the Caribbean republic for so many years." What more could the putschists ask for? They couldn't buy better assessments.

Compared to tens of thousands killed under the Duvaliers, the generals and post-coup Latortue government, Aristide abhored violence, wouldn't tolerate political killings, and on their own, the PNH at most caused a handful of them in his second term. Yet HRW and AI equated the period to the worst state-sponsored violence in modern Haitian history, then ignored the whole human rights question in 2006 when it raged out of control.

A particularly damaging and equally untrue Aristide accusation was that he relied on violent gangs, called "chimeres," to maintain power, intimidate opponents, and control the country. The press bought it, and even the London Independent (two weeks before the 2004 coup) reported "Aristide's Thugs Crush Hopes of People's Revolution with Beatings and Intimidation." This and similar accounts painted Aristide as reinventing himself as a Macoute, yet it was outlandishly false.

In a country plagued by violence, unreported was why, and by and against whom. Haitians are desperately poor. Even those with jobs hardly earn enough to survive. The only way the country's factory owners can maintain the system is through intimidation, and they rely on the military and PNH as their enforcers.

In contrast, Aristide abhors violence and not a single opposition leader was killed or disappeared during his tenure, either time. Whenever pro-government forces turned violent, it was largely in self-defense, a practice Aristide condoned. At the same time, during Aristide's second term, substantial PNH elements turned against him and were beyond his control. There's no proof whatever, that FL, at any time, initiated, supported, or directed any form of violence. The media reported otherwise.

In addition, FL could gain nothing from violence. The country had an estimated 210,000 firearms with the vast majority of them in ruling class hands. Yet even if Aristide controlled them, his position was firm, and it stemmed from his liberation theology position. He insisted on peaceful reconciliation with his enemies. Had he wished, millions of Haitians would have instantly supported a popular uprising and sent his opponents packing.

However, ignoring realpolitik pressed Aristide in a corner, made him negotiate from weakness, and in the process, disenchant members of his original following. CD took full advantage.

Concessions like punishing structural adjustments took their toll. They alienated opportunistic FL supporters, and two of the country's high-profile peasant organizations (Tet Kole Ti Peyizan and KOZE-PEP) called them "anti-populaire" and condemned how they harmed Haiti's farmers. Yet most in the FL camp stayed loyal in spite of claims to the contrary. They were with Aristide at the beginning, stayed to the end, and still support FL today. So do the vast majority of Haitians. Aristide could mobilize them like no one else, that made him a threat, still does, and is the reason elitists insist he stay out of the country and region, hoping that out of sight is out of mind. Not then and not now.

2003 - 2004: Preparing for War

Hallward calls the February 2004 coup "consistent with the long-standing pattern and priorities of imperial foreign policy....a scandal....never inevitable....not irreversible....and (importantly) a failure." How so on the last point? Because the perpetrators "failed to accomplish their main objective" - eliminating Lavalas as an "organized political force." The February 2006 presidential election showed its resilience and began "a new phase in the Lavalas project" with miles to go nonetheless to achieve it. More on that below.

The second Aristide coup differed from the first. The imperial alliance needed support on the left as well as the right. It meant co-opting "progressive" NGOs along with stage-managed student protests. In addition, some militant (street gangs) and organizations sympathetic to FL had to be won over. Finally, in the end, it took US Marines to do what what Haitian proxies couldn't on their own.

Consider the importance of NGOs in a country like Haiti where estimates are that there are more of them per capita (from 10,000 to 20,000 total number in 1998) than anywhere else in the world. Their role is essential because of what they provide - about 80% of public services for food, water, health care, education, sanitation, and more. Equally crucial is their source of funding with at least 70% of it from USAID - a key imperial project agent. Its efforts are to pacify the country, create a secure investment climate, and assure most benefits flow to US interests.

Using NGOs as a tool makes it more appropriate to call them "other-governmental," not "non-governmental." They, in fact, put a respectable face on imperial harshness and to that degree are counterproductive. They mostly serve the powerful, not the people, and in the end (most often) have little to show for their efforts.

Some of them, in fact, played an open political role at the time of the 2004 coup in spite of disguising their partisanship behind a seemingly neutral or principled facade. Groups like Action Aid (against worldwide poverty), Christian Aid (for the same purpose), and Catholic Relief Services ("to assist impoverished and disadvantaged people overseas") are three notable examples. There are many others, and they make wonderful propaganda.

A notable Haitian-based one is Batay Ouvriye (BO) - a "small, quasi-clandestine network of labor activists." It claims to be on the left, but does more for the right. As the February 2004 approached, BO aligned with anti-FL forces to denounce the "outright criminal" Aristide government as the "main agent of corruption." It called FL anti-labor and anti-poor, was bought off to do it, and belatedly admitted getting $100,000 from USAID. Hallward says they did more to tarnish Lavalas than any other group.

Students did their damage as well. One "progressive" pro-coup group called them the turning point in the anti-FL campaign. They began protesting in the fall of 2003 about "lack of services and lack of university autonomy" and faced off against Haitian police. The scheme is very familiar.

In an effort to destabilize Lavalas, the IRI and G-184 found willing student recruits - with considerable time and money doing it and new groups created for the purpose. Leaders were chosen and bought off with money and visas to America and France in exchange for organizing protests. They were also trained in what to do. It was perfect. In exchange for a modest investment, the putschists bought an ideal cover - "idealistic young democrats" to denounce Aristide and FL and make great copy in the mainstream press.

Yet imagine the irony - they attacked a movement and President who did more for Haitian education than any other head of state in the country's history. They found a pretext to do it when the university's rector was removed in July 2002 even though his term had expired. Protests against it were staged, but were small and ineffective.

Not so a year later in December 2003 when a student rally supporting the G-184 turned ugly. Brawls between pro and anti-government protesters broke out, up to two dozen students were injured, the event was blown out of proportion but it worked, and some anti-Lavalas elements called the event the defining moment of FL's demise. They dubbed it "black Friday," but what actually happened wasn't clear cut. Aristide and Prime Minister Neptune condemned the violence, some witnesses blamed it on students, not police, and the actual amount of it was low and never spun out of control. Nonetheless, the damage was done, and the opposition and dominant media took full advantage.

Even so, by late January 2004, it was clear that more than demonstrations were needed to topple the government. Further, pro-government rallies dwarfed anti-government ones. In early February, it was time for stronger measures with a fury that had been building in Gonaives in the northwest and across the DR border.

2004: The Second Coup

From summer 2001, paramilitary attacks assaulted the Aristide government, but were minor hit-and-run affairs. By fall 2003, however, things changed. They became more regular and intense and spread from the Central Plateau to Petit Goave (in the south) and Cap-Haitian (in the north). So far, however, insurgents lacked a reliable neighborhood base. Up to mid-2003, they had none in Port-au-Prince (in the south) but managed success in Gonaives (in the northwest). Then they scored a success in the capital as well.

In mid-July, one Cite Soleil-based gang leader and his lieutenant were bought off with money (in the tens of thousands) and promises of visas. They were well-armed, supported by anti-FL police elements, and posed a direct challenge to pro-Aristide groups, but still not enough to unseat the government.

In Gonaives, however, on February 5, 2004, an "alliance of criminals, death-squadders and former soldiers" (called the Cannibal Army) launched the final operation (in the words of one rebel leader) to "liberate Haiti from the dictator Aristide:"

-- they overwhelmed the Gonaives police force in a three hour gun battle;

-- burned the station and released about 100 inmates;

-- torched homes of the mayor and other FL officials;

-- took a new name - the Revolutionary Artibonite Resistance Front;

-- on February 7, they undertook their most important engagement - ambushing an inept police counterattack, killing seven officers;

-- they now had total control of the city, took Hinche (in central Haiti) on February 16 and Cap-Haitien (in the northeast) on February 22.

The CD and dominant media trumpeted Haiti's impending liberation and created myths about why it approached - the Aristide dictatorship, criminal gangs portrayed as liberators, the CD never inciting violence, and Haiti's elites determined to achieve a "political" and "democratic" solution. Of course, these claims were lies with victims called oppressors and dark forces portrayed as liberating ones. All the while, however, the insurgency didn't proceed smoothly.

Despite their resources and backing, aside from Gonaives, Hinche and some Central Plateau villages, rebels were challenged by a resilient and well-organized resistance. Almost every time, an alliance of police and pro-FL activists sent the aggressors packing. On February 9, Lavalassians regained control almost everywhere. On February 10, rebels retreated to their Gonaives stronghold. Across the Central Plateau, Haitians recognized them as the return of the hated army.

Then later in February, well-armed insurgents "steamroller(ed) their way quite easily across most of northern Haiti." The government, in turn, concentrated on defending Port-au-Prince, and Aristide still hoped for a negotiated solution. It was wishful thinking.

As events unfolded, Aristide's retreat and refusal to issue a national call to arms sealed his fate. Rebels cut off the road from the capital to Cap-Haitien, halted food convoys to the north, fuel ran out in the city, electricity failed, hospitals closed, and conditions became desperate. Things were heading for a showdown, and by late February only Lavalas partisans could be trusted to protect the government. At the same time, pressure was building for Aristide to resign, but he persisted in seeking a negotiated solution.

In mid-January, he agreed to CARICOM's proposal to accept an opposition prime minister, hold new elections, take further measures to disarm his supporters, and reform the police. The opposition ignored him, and the effort fell flat. It was followed by a February 21 Roger Noreiga proposal in his role as the ruthlessly duplicitous regional Assistant Secretary of State. It gave everything to the opposition and called for Aristide's unconditional surrender. Even so, to quell violence, Aristide accepted it, yet even that conciliatory gesture was rejected.

The whole process was a charade, and Noriega revealed it by canceling final negotiations and ending any chance for settlement short of an Aristide resignation. The French were quite happy to go along and for good reason.

It stemmed from a 2003 Aristide call for France to repay the massive sum it extorted in 1825 compounded by a modest amount of annual interest. But at 5% up to 2003, it amounted to $21 billion dollars and clearly rankled the Chirac government. By September 2003, members of its embassy had a full-time anti-Aristide job, and except for the US, no other country so enthusiastically wanted him out.

By fall 2003, France rejected Aristide's request and called it based on "hallucinatory accounting." The French Socialist Party agreed, denounced the Aristide "dictatorship" and called for his resignation. After that, Aristide was too preoccupied with his survival to press the issue, and post-coup in April, his successor Latortue called the claim "illegal, ridiculous and was only made for political reasons. The matter is closed." More on this (made-in-USA) appointee below.

In the meantime on February 20, Colin Powell said the US wouldn't "object if Aristide agreed to leave office early." US Ambassador Carney called Aristide "toast," and Haiti's President told CNN on February 26 that an international community token gesture would have stopped the insurgency in its tracks. A single call from Powell would have done it. However, on February 25, the Franco-US alliance blocked the last-ditch CARICOM Security Council proposal to save the government. Then on February 28 (hours before the coup), the White House press secretary blamed Aristide for "the deep polarization and violent Haiti." It was about to come to a head at the hands of US troops.

By late February, Aristide was severely weakened, his position tenuous, and his government only controlled greater Port-au-Prince. On the night of February 28 into the early morning February 29 hours, it ended. The Franco-US alliance falsely claimed he resigned. Aristide vehemently denied it. In fact, insurgents couldn't unseat him, so US Marines were sent to do it.

Throughout February, Aristide repeatedly insisted he'd serve out his term and had no intention of resigning. In CNN February 26 and 27 interviews, he again reaffirmed his intention to stay and would only step down when his term expired on February 7, 2006. As late as 1AM February 29, he told no close allies he'd leave office - not his chief legal counsel, his press secretary or even his wife.

US claims that it was voluntary are false and consider the circumstances. The scheme:

-- was arranged in total secrecy;

-- it happened in the middle of the night into the early morning pre-daybreak Sunday hours;

-- there were no cameras, reporters or independent witnesses; and

-- it's inconceivable Aristide would choose the Central African Republic (CAR) as his refuge location; it's a repressive police state closely aligned to France, and on arrival he was held under house arrest and denied access to the media, telephone and all contact outside the country;

-- - numerous other inconsistencies also went unanswered and the dominant media didn't asked.

When he finally got a chance to explain, Aristide told CNN and others he was "taken by force by US military." They and Haitian security forces surrounded his home and threatened him with massive and immediate violence "to push me out and (against his will) sign a letter stating that "I have been forced to leave to avoid bloodshed." To his disgrace (post-coup) in mid-April, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan produced a Report on Haiti to endorse the official Franco-American storyline in every respect.

It was false and deceptive. For one thing, Aristide wasn't threatened by Haitian rebels. They were at least a week away from assaulting Port-au-Prince, and with mass FL support, they knew it might be impossible to succeed if they tried. Rebel commander Philippe, in fact, told reporters that at best they hoped to blockade the city, then "wait for the right time." He later admitted that the "rebellion" was largely a made-for-media bluff to scare Aristide into thinking their small force (around 300 in total) was strong and unstoppable.

In contrast, Aristide's real threat was from US Ambassador Foley and French Ambassador Burkard. They likely knew what Hallward explained - that if Aristide held on for another week or so "his government might well have been able to regain control of the situation. There was no popular revolution (or) crisis of leadership."

US and French hawks knew time was running out and they had to act. They tried threatening phone calls into the early February 29 hours. They didn't work. "Aristide wouldn't budge, and Foley (ran) out of options....Time was desperately short." It was harder concealing "the obvious links between the political and military wings of the US-backed opposition," and some sources said "the French in particular were starting to panic, and were now determined to force the issue at all costs."

Foley apparently agreed and "settle(d) for plan B: direct US abduction." At the same time, with time running out, no one else could be relied on, so orders went out for US Marines to finish the job and do it fast. With Aristide's commitment to non-violence, their job was easier. But Hallward believes his choice was strategically sound. Had he chosen to stay and fight, there'd have been a bloodbath, and Aristide would have committed suicide. By leaving and avoiding it, he exposed his conspirators and gave Lavalas a chance to "regroup and prevail in a longer-term struggle."

Even so, things got ugly. When word got out about his abduction, supporters took to the streets and vented their rage. Gas stations and banks were torched and USAID and CARE property stolen. Downtown shops were also looted. At the same time, opposition forces struck back and in the first few post-coup days killed between 300 and 1000 persons. They and Bel Air, La Saline and Cite Soleil residents (Lavalas loyalists) were the real coup targets, and their suffering had only begun.

2004: Revenge of the Haitian Elite

In the short term, the coup succeeded, but getting rid of Aristide was a diversion. The real aim was "to break once and for all the movement sustained by many dozens of pro-Lavalas 'organisations populaires.' " To prevent another Lavalas president, it would require:

-- in the short term, forming a pseudo-government of exclusive elitist members with plenty of foreign money and military power backing them; a campaign of anti-Lavalas organization aggression, especially in their slum area strongholds; and manipulating the electoral process to divide and conquer the opposition.

-- in the longer term, integrating Haiti into a stable neoliberal regional order; adopting "untrammeled privatization" and structural adjustments; increased reliance on foreign aid for elitists' interests, not poor Haitians; further reliance on co-opted NGOs; increased supervision of security forces; and more. These measures would reinforce class barriers and let Haitian industrialists and foreign investors get on with their imperial project.

Efforts in that direction began immediately, as in 1991 overt armed resistance was quickly suppressed, and putschists aimed to target their enemies as harshly as they dared. They dared plenty, and things turned ugly fast. Innocent victims were fair game while high-profile FL figures or anyone seen as a threat were hunted down and either fled or were jailed. Many went into hiding. Others reached exile.

Throughout the country, rebel thugs got free reign to terrorize and kill, did plenty of both, and did it openly in the streets. Hundreds ended up dead or missing. The state Port-au-Prince morgue was swamped with bodies, far more than it could handle, and on March 7 had to dump or bury 800 corpses - many with their hands tied behind their backs and bags placed over their heads.

Bodies turned up everywhere, in the streets, washed up on beaches, abandoned to pigs as food, and volunteers were still collecting them around Cite Soleil through the end of 2005. Anyone associated with Lavalas was fair game, but that could be anyone because its support was so strong and still is.

US Marines controlled the capital and within days 2000 foreign troops joined them - not to protect the public but to "soften up 'hostile' neighborhoods by clearing away their last remaining defenses" to defend against rebel attacks. Killings were commonplace to wipe out resistance, create an atmosphere of fear, and solidify the new ruling government's authority.

Democracy was nowhere in sight, and its establishment was farcical on its face. This was the process:

-- on February 29, Haiti's Supreme Court chief justice, Boniface Alexandre, was sworn in as in as interim president ignoring the constitutional requirement for the legislature to ratify his appointment and that he became an illegitimate coup d'etat appointee;

-- on March 3, a temporary "Tripartite Council" was nominated - comprised of one unauthorized Lavalas representative, the opposition, and the international community to assure the group was pro-elitist;

-- the "Council's" job, in turn, was to appoint another one - a seven-person Conseil des Sages (Council of the Wise) made up of nearly all anti-Lavalassians;

-- this group then chose an acceptable prime minister and imported a Floridian (for the past 20 years) for the job - Gerard Latorture, a neoliberal economist and former UN functionary who could be relied on as a loyal elitist ally. Like no other recent official in the job, Latortue held absolute power for the next two years, his government excluded all FL supporters, and he achieved wondrous results for his backers:

-- Haiti's literacy program was abandoned immediately;

-- subsidies for schoolbooks and meals were canceled;

-- agrarian reform was reversed allowing former landlords to reclaim their land;

-- income tax collections (from the elites) were suspended for three years;

-- price controls and import regulations were ended to benefit agribusiness, harm local production, and Haitian businessmen raised food prices up to 400%;

-- the new Tabarre university was shut down;

-- despite pledged $1.2 billion in donor aid, none of it went for job creation, production or public works beneficial to poor Haitians; in a country with 70% or more unemployment, one of Latortue's first acts was to fire several thousand public sector employees forcing them into destitution with little means to survive;

-- he also ended the careers of thousands of elected officials by closing down the government and replacing it with unelected hand-picked successors;

-- trial judges were also dismissed and replaced with more acquiescent ones; and

-- overall he served the powerful and abandoned any pretense of social investment for the most desperately impoverished people in the hemisphere.

Besides a suitable government, the other priority was security - reestablishing a "more army-friendly" Haitian National Police (PNH), in lieu of a more expensive Haitian army that wasn't needed. Doing it, however, meant reactivating the old death-squad network that would work just as well but it had to be done discretely.

Once established, every credible human rights organization visiting the country in 2004 and 2005 came to the same conclusion - the kind of thugs recruited waged an open "campaign of terror in the Port-au-Prince slums." They served as Haiti's largest and most brutal gang and had free reign to operate.

One of their most pressing tasks was arresting and imprisoning loyal Lavalassians. By late 2006, Haiti's jails overflowed with them and pro-Lavalas neighborhood residents. The capital's squalid penitentiary held four times its capacity, and only a fraction of them committed a crime. Most of them were grassroots FL supporters or OP members. One was former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, another was Rene Civil, one of Haiti's most respected activists. Still another was Father Gerard Jean-Juste who spent 26 years in exile working with Haitian refugees in Miami, then returned to Haiti after Aristide's 1991 election.

Imprisoning the opposition had its limits, however. It stretched the capacity to do it to the maximum. As prisons overflowed, anti-Lavalas efforts unleashed unprecedented levels of persecution, and a UN paramilitary force supplied heavy weaponry to supplement the more conventional kinds the PNH used.

2004 - 2006: Repression and Resistance

Hallward divides it into three phases:

-- an initial all out assault on FL activists followed by about two more months of similar tactics;

-- then an April 30, 2004 Security Council-authorized (Blue Helmet) MINUSTAH occupation force to take over from an initial Multinational Interim Force (MIF); it began its first of successive six-month deployments in June with this supposed mandate - to employ "less abrasive" tactics such as "pseudo-legal" arrests and "punitive imprisonment" in lieu of public executions; it's portrayed as "neutral" even though it's thuggish; and after an initial lull in violence, it's been as brutish as street gangs with high-powered weapons for added firepower; its mission is also illegal for being the first time ever Blue Helmet force supporting a coup d'etat against a democratically elected President;

-- a third 2004 phase began in late summer/early fall under the "retrained, rearmed and reinforced" PNH with plenty of MINUSTAH backup.

Nonetheless, in the aftermath of the coup, Haitian resistance remains strong, and brutish force is matched against it. It results in indiscriminate killing in Lavalas strongholds like Cite Soleil and an early example in Bel Air on the 13th (September 30) anniversary of the 1991 coup. Over 10,000 rallied to commemorate it, were shot at by police, up to 10 people were killed and many others wounded. Repressive incursions into neighborhoods followed with Bel Air a frequent target.

The reason is its remarkable resilience, unflinching support for Aristide, and proximity to the edge of the downtown's commercial center, national palace and police headquarters. Bel Air also learned how to defend itself, and its "comites de vigilance" led resistance against pre-Aristide military dictatorships. This combination of "poverty, solidarity and strength" made it essential to subdue. In the fall of 2004, repeated PHN/MINUSTAH incursions arrested dozens of people and shot many others. On October 11 alone, 130 people were jailed, and repression continued for months. It hasn't stopped.

No one knows the full toll that keeps mounting. But one study was startling. It was by Wayne State University, School of Social Work researchers Athena Kolbe and Royce Hutson. For the period February 2004 to December 2005, they used coordinate sampling and personal interviews to document the following in the greater Port-au-Prince area:

-- an estimated 8000 killings;

-- 35,000 sexual assaults;

-- about 21% of killings by the PHN;

-- another 13% by the demobilized army; and

-- still another 13% by paramilitary gangs like the Little Machete Army.

The report documented kidnappings, extrajudicial detentions, physical assaults other than rape, death threats, physical ones, and still others of sexual violence. Investigators concluded that "crime and systematic abuse of human rights were common in Port-au-Prince" involving criminals but also "political actors and UN (Blue Helmet) soldiers." It also stressed an overwhelming need on the ground for attention to "legal, medical, psychological, and economic consequences of widespread human rights abuses and crime." The study ended in December 2005, but rampant abuses continue daily in pro-Lavalas areas.

Cite Soleil is a frequent target. It's a Port-au-Prince slum, an FL stronghold, and with 300,000 residents is the largest neighborhood in the country by far. It may also be the poorest, most congested, and without even a pretense of infrastructure. Yet it shows a determined capacity to defend itself. In the ensuing post-coup months, hundreds were killed trying, the slaughter continues against Lavalas sympathizers, and UN Blue Helmets are the main perpetrators. Even so, and despite months of "open warfare" on Cite Soleil streets, MINUSTAH's attempt to subdue the community was no more successful than earlier PHN and co-opted street gang efforts. By late summer 2005, a dreaded moment for pro-coup forces approached - electing a new Haitian president.

The process was scheduled for October 2005, then November, and after four delays, took place on February 7, 2006 - at a time Jean-Bertrand Aristide was still the country's democratically elected President but in exile in South Africa with no ability to run or claim his office.

Fanmi Lavalas was to be excluded or at best "integrated" into the process like a more conventional political party, but its leaders had other plans. They would only participate with Father Jean-Juste as their candidate, a much beloved man like Aristide and a staunch supporter of Haiti's legitimate President. To prevent his running, however, masked police came to his bi-weekly children's soup kitchen. They beat and arrested him, then held him for weeks at the national penitentiary under appalling conditions. He was released in November, arrested again, and then allowed to go to Miami in January 2006 for urgently needed medical treatment.

At the same time, many Lavalassian OPs urged Rene Preval to run, offered full support if he would, got him to accept at the last minute, and caught the whole political establishment by surprise as a result. It let FL abstain from participating while encouraging its members to support a man representing Lavalas continuity with his Lespwa alliance. It worked like a charm, shocked the opposition, and in a free, fair and open election made Preval unbeatable. Yet a group of nine CD leaders were determined to try - at least if they could force a second round to pool their votes around one Preval opponent and do what they do best - arrange things so their man won regardless of how people voted and try any stunt to do it.

They controlled voter registrations and tried to limit them. Whereas the previous Preval administration provided over 10,000 locations, Latortue set up less than 500 in carefully chosen sites to disadvantage pro-Lavalas neighborhoods. In addition, compared to about 12,000 polling stations in 2000, only 800 were allowed in 2006, again with the same tactic employed. Pro-Lavalas strongholds like Cite Soleil and poor rural areas had none.

Nonetheless, turnout was huge - on a par with 1990 and 2000 at around 65%, with many thousands coming miles to vote and enduring long lines to do it. By February 9, with one-fourth of the votes counted, Preval was comfortably ahead at around 62% against his main opponent with 11%. Yet, when results were announced on February 11, they were predictable.

With the Latortue government in charge, they rigged the election, controlled the process, picked the winner and still lost. Thousands of valid Preval ballots went missing or were dumped, and there was little effort to conceal it. Others were mysteriously blank and still more were judged invalid. The near-final tally - Preval's huge majority evaporated to 49.6%, then was lowered on February 13 to 48.7%, making a second round necessary if the result held.

The response on Port-au-Prince streets and around the country was outrage, and it changed things. On February 15, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) decided to divide the "blank" ballots proportionally among the candidates. It was enough to nudge Preval above the 50% mark and provide him a first round victory. In point of fact, independent observers judged he got between 62% and 70% of the votes, and considering that he tallied 88% in 1996, those figures were likely too low.

Looking back since 1990, the "single most obvious feature of Haitian politics" was undeniable: populist candidates (Aristide or Preval) won each time - overwhelmingly with Aristide getting 92% in 2000 and he'd likely match it if he chose and were allowed again to run.

The 2006 victory was profoundly important, but as would be seen, equally compromised. It emphatically rejected the 2004 coup, yet got Preval to govern tactfully and timidly. More on that below.

By summer 2006, international donors pledged $750 million in aid. Initially, Preval announced plans for significant amounts of social investments. He also got commitments from Venezuela and Cuba (in spring 2007) in health care, electricity, other infrastructure and low-cost oil. Around the same time, he announced initiatives in education, literacy, road-building and tourism.

All the while, he had little room to maneuver. He was constrained by not having a legislative majority. He had it in Haiti's Senate but not in the lower Chamber of Deputies that was controlled by a pro-coup - pro-army majority. Even worse was the constant pressure he faced from dominant elitists and the long shadow of Washington always in the wings.

It made Preval extremely cautious, and it showed in his prime ministerial appointment - elitist Jacques Edouard Alexis to lead an eclectic cabinet having five CD members. The result - almost nothing of consequence was accomplished in his first year of office and, even so, the opposition wanted Alexis replaced by a still more "acceptable" alternative.

Preval was indeed hamstrung and it showed in his actions. He's done little for social change, and by spring 2007 was prepared to announce a new round of privatizations, including selling off Haiti's telecommunications company. One year into his second term, a Haiti Progres editor "conclude(d) that so far the government has done nothing at all." Preval was either "diplomatic" or "indecisive" on Lavalas election demands of "justice for (coup) victims, release of political prisoners, return of exiles, (and ending) militarized assault(s) on the popular neighborhoods."

Point of fact - Preval cut a deal with the devil. To win a first round victory (even though he won overwhelmingly), he agreed to painful concessions. Many prominent FL leaders, including Yvon Neptune, judged his indecisiveness damaging and "indefensible." Some Lavalassians called his Lespwa coalition "nothing" and would only be supported if it moved "in the right direction."

In fall 2006, it did the opposite when Preval and Alexis yielded to US and elitist pressure for more direct action against activist neighborhoods. To counter pro-Aristide/Lavalas rallies in Cite Soleil, they authorized a full-scale December Blue Helmet assault that "missed its targets but left around twenty innocents dead." More incursions followed with many more deaths. So far, Preval was colluding with the enemy instead of representing the people who elected him. Moreover, three years post-coup, some movement veterans believe conditions are "more discouraging than ever before."

Hallward notes that by March 2007, "there was little popular enthusiasm for a government whose hands were so firmly and so obviously tied by international constraints." Yet its existence is impressive proof that efforts to crush Lavalas haven't succeeded, and (even though near-impotent), "Preval's own fidelity to Lavalas remains strong. Whoever succeeds him (assuming a comparable election) will in all likelihood share a similar fidelity." Lavalas, even in disarray, "remains the most powerful political force in the country." It endures in spite of immense repression, is less dependent on one charismatic leader, is "less contaminated by opportunists (and has) fewer illusions about what must be done next."


At the time of his reelection, Aristide and FL were so popular, they threatened the old order with real progressive change. They had to be contained, and they were by a coalition of "first world diplomats, IFI economists, USAID consultants, IRI, (NED and) CIA (functionaries), media specialists, ex-military personnel, (security forces), NGO('s)," and more who declared victory on February 29, 2004. They ousted the people's government and "discredited the most progressive (one) in Haiti's history." And they used a familiar formula to do it:

-- starving the government of aid;

-- applying enormous economic pressure and obliging it to adopt unpopular policies like cutting public services and jobs;

-- tainting the government's democratic legitimacy by equating it with former dictatorships;

-- controlling security forces and co-opting opportunistic elements of the popular movement;

-- forcing the government to be defensive against paramilitary attacks and calling it intolerant of dissent;

-- presenting government opposition as diverse and inclusive and calling oppressors victims and victims oppressors;

-- getting dominant media support to vilify the government as intractable, authoritarian, and led by a despot;

-- overall, turning truth on its head and getting the world community to sign on to it and then stay mute in the face of intense repression; and

-- pressuring Aristide and Lavalas to make damaging compromises and mistakes.

In contrast, it's quite reasonable to blame Aristide for being too "tolerant," too "conciliatory," too "complacent," and too "lenient" with opponents and opportunists who took full advantage. His supporters might argue he failed to act with enough "vigor" and "determination" as they "were entitled to expect." FL also became "too inclusive, too moderate, too indecisive, (and) too undisciplined" after gaining an overwhelming mandate. Aristide more often was willing to negotiate with his enemies than mobilize his supporters to challenge them. He steadfastly rejected violence and resolutely wanted peace and conciliation.

Yet in spite of what happened, Hallward is hopeful. He believes Aristide's era "opened the door to a new political future." Lavalas was an experiment against the established order, and Aristide led it with a minimum of resources, no outside support, and intense opposition. The 2006 election and the three preceding it (in 1990, 1995 and 2000) show that Haitians "consistently and overwhelmingly" voted for "much the same principles and much the same people." In the long run, toppling Lavalas a second time may work no better than the first.

If presidential elections are held in 2010, Hallward believes Lavalas may likely win a fifth time and solidify its legitimacy further. It's no small factor that eight years under George Bush has encouraged progressive elements throughout the region, and it may pay off ahead for Haitians.

Lavalas has also begun to address its own limitations, to be less dependent on Aristide's charisma, to purge its manipulative opportunists and to build greater strength and resilience from a more solid base. Hallward refers to elements within Lavalas "emerg(ing) from the crucible of repression stronger than before," and it's encouraging to believe they'll build on it. Haiti first won independence through force of arms, it took a decade to do it, and Haitians did it on their own. Prevailing again won't be with weapons, it will take much longer, and it will require a remobilized Lavalas along with a renewed "emancipatory politics within the imperial nations themselves." After 500 years, Haiti's struggle continues and hope sustains it.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at

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